Tag Archives: holy communion

My Dog Sunny and the Apostle Peter Have Something in Common [OR Jesus’ Commands Us to Love One Another – How’s That Going?] John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church for Maundy Thursday on April, 1, 2021

John 13:1-17, 31b-35  Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

[sermon begins]

 

My dog Sunny doesn’t like baths. I’ve seen videos of dogs who loves baths loaded with bubbles, laying on their backs with shower caps on just to be silly. Sunny? Not so much. I have to coax her with treats into the tub and remind her that I love her while she presses her head into my shoulder. This makes washing her face a real challenge. You’d think we’d have this down after almost seven years, but it seems it’s as good as it gets. This story about Sunny is a tricky because, yes, I’m comparing Sunny to Peter in the Bible story. He doesn’t want a bath either. His issues may be different than her issues, in fact they really are different, but the bottom line is the same. He won’t get in the water. Well, he won’t put his feet in the water. You’d think he’d have this down after several years of ministry with Jesus. Jesus tells them what to do and they do it, right? Peter seems to mess up the process over and over again. It’s handy that Peter does this a lot because it makes it easier to see ourselves in the story. If the Bible were full of perfect people being with a perfect Jesus it would be much harder to connect.

Many of us are like Sunny and Peter. We find it hard to trust and would rather come up with our own ideas. That’s pretty much what the Holy Week and Easter stories are – we find it hard to trust and would rather come up with our own ideas. Thank God for Jesus. Jesus reminds Peter and us that our own ideas may not be best for us or each other. The Bible story says that Jesus knew that he came from God and was going to God. Right after that, Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around his waist and starts washing dirty, stinky disciple feet. He gets to Peter. Peter argues with him. He looks up to Jesus. Jesus is his leader. He doesn’t want Jesus washing his feet. Jesus basically tells Peter that this is the way it works. This is the way Jesus works. Jesus is a servant. A servant from God who washes feet and tells us to love each other like he loves us, a love in service to each other.

Before anybody runs out and starts washing other people’s feet, think bigger. We are named ‘child of God’ as we’re bathed in the water of baptism in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Children of God, washed by God. Like Jesus in our Bible story today, we can say that we now come from God and one day we will go to God.[1] That’s handled. And by the power of the Holy Spirit through our baptism we are given gifts that help us serve in the way that Jesus asks us to serve.

During Communion Instruction class, I asked each parent to say something that they liked about their child. The answers included “love of music, zest for life, loves dogs, kind, snuggly, determined, and loves to read.” Being limited to one answer is tough. I’m sure the lists of what you parents like about these kids would be a mile long. But the point is this, the list of qualities, things about you that make you you, these can also be called gifts from God. Gifts that you can use to serve and love the world. It’s pretty simple even though we complicate it with ambition, goals, and what everyone else seems to be doing. Those are distractions. Gifts you’re given to serve are the very ones you’re given to lead. Jesus led his disciples and leads us with wisdom, determination, kindness, intensity, vulnerability, love, grace, and more – a real mishmash of gifts. We’re not Jesus but we’re similarly mishmashed.

It’s been a mishmash kind of year though, so we fit right in. It’s been a year of figuring a lot of things out including how to serve each other. Our old standbys of service like hugs, spending time with people who need a boost of emotional support, serving meals, and holding a hand have been changed. Everyone who works or goes to school outside their home has experienced dramatic changes in how we serve through our different roles. We had to get creative in our ways to work, learn, serve, and stay in touch. Reimagining so much of our lives has been an adjustment in using our mishmash of gifts.

Jesus doesn’t leave us there though, with our confusing jumble of gifts. Jesus gives us each other as the church to figure out those gifts and he gives us the food we need for the journey. That’s what Holy Communion is about at its most basic level. It’s food for the journey of faith. First, it’s food for the journey purely as a gift from God – a blessing and promise of forgiveness and faith from God to us. It’s also food for the journey to do what God asks us to do. To be strengthened and freed to love and serve each other as Jesus loves and serves us.

Jesus’ meal of bread and wine that we share in communion draws us deeply into an even wider community too. The other Bible story that we heard together was long ago. It’s called the Passover story. It’s a story about how God freed God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Our Jewish cousins in the faith celebrate Passover to this day. Jesus was a Jew and connected the lifeline of Passover to the lifeline that we celebrate as Holy Communion when he was with his friends at a Passover celebration. Jesus expanded the promise that God made to the Jews to be a promise for all people. His new covenant connects us with God’s ancient promises as we move into the future. Jesus’ set a table for one and for all people, as Jesus table set for you.

Things happen quickly during communion. There are words, and prayers, and often singing. It can be easy to miss what’s happening in the special celebration that Jesus gave us. The words from our other Bible reading are the main words to hear. Listen to that Bible reading again:

…Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. [1 Corinthians 11:23b-25]

These words are the promise. Jesus promises that what he did – every word he spoke against harm, greed, and hatred while speaking for love of God, enemy, and neighbor, for grace and forgiveness, for faith and generosity, for hope and healing; every word that made him that much more vulnerable to death on a cross – is a promise strong enough to claim us by faith.

Today we celebrate Jesus’s table, where there is a place for everyone and there is a place for you.

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[1] John 13:3

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1 Corinthians 11:23-26   For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Exodus 12:1-4,  11-14   The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. [5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. ] 11This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

 

 

Festival of Michael and All Angels [OR ☩ May God’s Holy Angels Watch Over You][1] Luke 10:17-20 and Revelation 12:7-12

**sermon art:  Lily Yeh, 1994, Paint, A Mural of Contemporary Angels, Interweave exhibition, Jamaica Arts Centre, New York: Artasiaamerical.org/works/256

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, September 29, 2019

Festival of Michael and All Angels [OR ☩ May God’s Holy Angels Watch Over You][1]

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 10:17-20   The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Revelation 12:7-12  War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.
11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
12 Rejoice then, you heavens
and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!”

[sermon begins]

Holy Communion is an open table here at Augustana. It’s Christ’s meal, not ours. This means that during communion, Pastor Ann and I extend the open invitation to everyone here as well as the invitation to those who’d like to come forward but, for reasons of their own, would rather receive a blessing instead of receiving communion.  The blessing that I most often say to children and adults alike is, “The body and blood of Jesus Christ ☩ is given for you; and may God’s holy angels watch over you.”  It sums up a lot of scripture in a short blessing:  Jesus comes first; the self-sacrifice of Jesus is given in love for you; and angels are powerful, heavenly beings, created by God and busy on God’s and your behalf.

Angels seem to hold cultural appeal if their appearance in books, movies, music, and art is any indication.  But their appearance in scripture and sermon is bound to put some of us on edge.  Artwork is fine…harmless even.  But for many of us, angels are in the category of aliens and UFOs – not saying they don’t exist, but the personal experience with them is zero to none.[2]  When it comes to scripture, though, angels are hard to avoid. In the Bible, they turn up often – 234 times, and even more than that if you include all the verses about heavenly hosts.  In the Old Testament, “angels comforted Hagar in the desert, delivered Lot from Sodom, guided Israel through the wilderness, fed Elijah under the juniper tree, surrounded Elisha with chariots of fire, saved Hezekiah from Assyria’s onslaught, led Isaiah to spiritual commitment, and directed Ezekial into ministry.”[3]  Angels show up in human form or sometimes in supernatural shimmer-lights; sometimes angels have wings and sometimes they don’t.[4]  Regardless of form, they appear in the Bible from Genesis through Revelation.

Angel presence intensifies around the birth of Jesus.  The angel Gabriel from heaven came to a woman named Mary and announced that she would conceive and bear a son named Jesus; an angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds, keeping watch over their flock by night, “the good news of great joy for all people.” That angel was joined in song and praise by a multitude of heavenly host.  From there, angels are involved in Jesus life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.[5]  Angels abound.  So why don’t we get any of those stories for the festival of Michael and All Angels?

In our readings today, those stories are nowhere to be seen.  In some ways, those are easier and oddly more accessible stories.  Even though angels seem to startle people when they appear.  Angels’ opening remarks are often some form of, “Do not be afraid.”  Why would they have to say this but for the reason that the human in the story is probably very afraid?  (Maybe a “Keep Calm and Carry On” angel t-shirt would have helped?)  Just like in the communion blessing in which Jesus comes first, angels begin their work after God instigates the work to be done.  Angels are not rogue creatures acting of their own accord.  They are God’s creatures – messengers of God’s will.

Today’s readings have to do with the archangel Michael.  In the reading from Revelation, Michael and his angels have thrown down the dragon (a.k.a the devil a.k.a Satan a.k.a. the deceiver of the whole world) from heaven to earth by “the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their own testimony.” It’s easy to get caught up in the imagery and, frankly, to start arguing about the book of Revelation in general.  Much of it is thought to be written in code for Jesus followers living and dying by 1st century Roman persecution.  The writings inspire faithfulness during an outbreak of violence against the early Christians.  Cracking the code of Revelation has been attempted many times to mixed results.  The worst of which is probably 19th century rapture theology.[6]

At the level of story, though, this snippet about the archangel Michael tells a cosmic tale of evil in its death throes at the beginning of time – an act of desperation on the part of the deceiver because he knows that his time is short.  How do Michael and his angels defeat the deceiver?  Verse 11 says that “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”  It’s the classic children’s sermon answer that fits almost any question.  In this case the question is…how do Michael and the angels throw down the deceiver?  Answer: Jesus.  While we’re preparing for communion, we sing about “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and we ask to be granted peace.  The Lamb of God is one of Jesus’ many epithets (and maybe not quite as popular as a children’s sermon answer).  Lamb of God means the One whose self-sacrifice on the cross closes the gap, what we often call sin, between God and us.  So Michael and his angels are able to overcome the deceiver by the blood of the Lamb of God, by the blood of Jesus.

Meanwhile, the disciples in the gospel reading from Luke returned from their long walk through many towns.[7]  The seventy “returned with joy” from making demons submit to them in Jesus’ name.  Jesus does what Jesus often does when his disciples go off the rails by refocusing them, rejoicing that their “names are written in heaven.”  This is relevant because, for Jews, there is a destination called the End of Days. Biblical prophets including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, and Hosea repeatedly point to the End of Days messianic era marked by world peace with no wars or famine, and enough for everyone to live on.[8] Rabbi Dubov writes that “even in his darkest hour, [the Jew] hopes and prays for a brighter future – a world of peace and spirituality.”[9]  Jesus and his disciples understood this.

There’s another problem with the cosmic battle imagery of rapture theology. Some people see themselves as earthly extensions of a cosmic battle yet to be finished. “Some people” include neighbors, friends, politicians, and more. Hollywood has picked up rapture theology quite successfully and made millions. But there’s a significant, scriptural problem with the violence that is glorified in final battle imagery. Christian scripture argues that the final battle is already won by Jesus on the cross. Being told that the final battle is already won is confusing for people itching for a fight.  Even more problematic for people who want a smack down in the name of Jesus is that Jesus is the one who was smacked down by violence. One of the things the cross reveals is that violent human solutions are a dead end.

Jesus died on the cross in non-violence – putting violence to death and bringing death to life.  The end is known.  The angels know it too, so we celebrate with them and their message today. Whatever cosmic battle we think we’re participating in, think again.  From an earthly perspective, evil can seem unstoppable.  Evil rages not because it is powerful, but because it is vulnerable.[10]  It’s “time is short.”[11] Christ has already won the victory.  The deceiver and all his empty promises are exposed when we proclaim this good news with the angels.

The body and blood of Jesus Christ ☩ are given for you; and may God’s holy angels watch over you.  Amen.

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[1] Sermon artwork: Lily Yeh, 1994, Paint, A Mural of Contemporary Angels, Interweave exhibition, Jamaica Arts Centre, New York: Artasiaamerical.org/works/256

[2] Inga Oyan Longbrake, Pastor, Messiah Community Church (ELCA), Denver. Michael and All Angles sermon, September 2013.

[3] Ibid.  I’m grateful on so many levels that that Pastor Inga preached this sermon ahead of my own so that you all can benefit from her study and proclamation.  Her sermon echoes throughout mine.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Barbara R. Rossing. The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 178-181.  Rapture theology is a 19th century construct, a recent biblical interpretation.

[7] The mission of the seventy is described in Luke 10:1-12.

[8] Rabbi Nissan D. Dubov, Director of Chabad Lubavitch in Wimbledon, UK. “What is the ‘End of Days’?” for Chabad.org. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/108400/jewish/The-End-of-Days.htm

[9] Dubov, ibid.

[10] Craig R. Koester, Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, MN. Revelation and the End of All Things (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001).

[11] Revelation 12:12