Palm Sunday – Week 6 – Come to the Table: Diving Into the Why of Communion
I pray you enjoy this message and God speaks to you through it. To listen to this message you can hear it on the Beech Grove United Methodist Church Podcast (podcast releases Monday mornings), or by clicking here.*
Also every week I offer sermon notes as an opportunity for folks in my congregation to have something to take with them for reflection on the sermon or to help in sharing with others. Check them out here!
*Note: Sermon audio does not match the manuscript…sometimes the Spirit moves
Coming to Receive
1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. — Mark 11:1-11
Sometimes I wonder if it would change our perspective on things if we knew what would happen.
Would we still be as enthusiastic as we might have been?
No matter the result would I still be willing to put in the effort?
Would I still do everything in my power to try and make sure that result happened?
Or would I resign to the fact that the events are coming and just allow them to happen?
When I was 14 I was witness to one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports. I watched my favorite baseball team, The Boston Red Sox, come back from being down 3-0 to win the American League Championship Series over our biggest rivals the New York Yankees, and then go on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. It is still, to this day, one of the most incredible memories I hold on to from my childhood.
I often reflect back on how I would react if I had known.
What would I have done if I knew the results? Sure I can sit back and with the confidence of any naive fan predict a great comeback and keep hope that my team can come through, but short of it happening it still ends up being a pipe dream.
What if I truly knew before the series started that the Red Sox would go down 3-0, that in game 4 the Red Sox would be losing 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th? What if I knew that Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer ever would give up a lead-off walk, that Dave Roberts would steal second, or that Bill Mueller would get the hit to score him, that David Ortiz would hit a walk-off home run in the 12th inning and win the game and turn the series? Would I have argued with the same tenacity? Would I have had the same hope? Would I have had the same composure?
Or to take it from the opposite end of the spectrum
I have had my fair share of sporting disappointments. Before those same Red Sox won in 2004 I endured a decade of heartache in watching them fall short each and every year. I am a UVA fan, and while I know has been a small amount of time, I once watched the best basketball team in the nation lose to a 16 seed (well I missed it and Sara woke me up to tell me). What if I knew these outcomes before they occurred? Would I cheer as hard? What would happen to my hope that I might otherwise have? As Sara definitely can attest to I am a sore loser and when my team loses I am not a fun person to be around. So would she even want to be around me if I knew beforehand?
Well spoiler alert: we approach, as does Jesus, the events of Holy Week knowing exactly what will happen.
We know that Jesus will march into Jerusalem, he will curse the fig tree, enter the temple, turn the tables in the temple, that he will dine with his disciples one final time, and will be arrested, tried, and ultimately executed. All of this happened in the course of a handful of days, but many of us know the story. By now it is nothing new, and amazingly for Jesus what the future of his time in Jerusalem holds is not new for him. It is a narrative that he has conveyed to his disciples before. The nature of his death sets the stage for us to understand his death in a way that is echoed when we come forward for Holy Communion.
Jesus continues throughout his ministry to give and even shows his giving spirit…even to the very end of his earthly ministry.
The knowledge we take from this gift offered by God through Christ is in the nature that we “receive.”
Jesus gives, all the way to the point that society cannot handle the message he is sharing and therefore, the only action they feel they can take is to eliminate the “problem.” However, we as Christians should look at that and see the ultimate act of love conveyed by Jesus’ message. It is in this way that Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Knowing full well what awaits, and yet embarking on the journey with the same passion and drive he has had for his whole ministry.
Yes, it is to fulfill a prophecy, but would you, knowing what might await you in Jerusalem be as willing as Jesus to enter the city which holds your own death?
This understanding makes this “Palm Sunday processional” feel less like a triumphal entry into the Holy City and more like an act of protest. Jesus is not willing to allow the critics to overpower the message that he has for his followers. Jesus has been told to be silent, and rather than listening has taken up the mantle of speaking out for the lost, the naked, the hungry, the poor, the destitute, and all others society writes off on a daily basis. This is the gift that is given. This is how that ride into Jerusalem changes the course of history and sets in motion a great awakening where people’s lives are guided by the call to make this world as the Kin-dom God has always intended it to be.
In that understanding of Kin-dom theology, there are two manners.
The manner of giving
The manner of receiving
The manner of God to give and the manner of humanity to receive.
Yes, we will become givers, but only through God’s power and grace do we do so.
Communion is about both giving and receiving:
We start with receiving because we must first receive before we can give.
The way we receive is based on the way Christ gives to us. It is because of what is being offered through Holy Communion that we are called to receive.
What does it look like to receive?
I think the scripture shows us two ways of receiving, both of which give us insight into how we receive from the Communion table itself.
First is what the disciples receive at the beginning of the passage. The gospel writer writes,
“When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’”1
What is Jesus doing here?
He is giving instructions.
This a task he has probably done for the disciples every day for the last 3 years of their lives, but here it provides a gentle reminder that even when we may be confused Christ is guiding us. Think of how confused the two disciples Jesus sends must be at this odd request. Yet the instructions are there, and the disciple’s willingness to receive them genuinely follows through with their ability to abide by them even when confronted.
What is first received are the teachings of Christ.
We receive Christ’s teachings throughout our own ministry. Christ offers us a lifestyle of love and through the scripture and other disciplines like prayer and worship, we learn what that lifestyle looks like.
The other understanding of receiving is how we receive through Christ’s presence.
This is why we hear in this scripture the shouts,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”2
We are shown that receiving is how we live in the presence of Jesus at the moment. Jesus gives himself to this crowd as he rides on the back of the donkey. He embodies at this moment the sheer vulnerability of the messiahship he is living, and he shares it with all of those who have come. Those who have opened themselves to receive what Christ is offering through this action. Those who are genuine, authentic, and intentional about their need for a Savior. I’d like to think that none of those shouting “Hosanna” on Sunday are yelling “Crucify Him” on Friday because I see in this crowd people who truly want to have Christ in their hearts and in their lives. They opened themselves up to receive as Christ was offering.
In the Communion meal, we have an opportunity to receive Christ. While I made explicitly clear last week that the substance of the bread and juice are not changed we still believe that through Christ’s presence at the meal we are receiving part of that mystery of Christ that is being offered in the meal. This is played out in full by the manner in which we receive the elements. There is a reason that I encourage you to come with your hands cupped and extended to physically receive the bread. It is because that visual example of receiving allows us to place ourselves in the narrative that is being conveyed in this meal. It is Christ’s nature to give to you, all that Christ has planned for you to receive, and as disciples of Christ, it is on us to receive that gift of grace.
Christ gives of himself over and over again through the gospels. Fighting for those who need it the most, and it is in Christ’s giving that those who need it receive. However, if we are not vulnerable enough to allow ourselves to truly receive then what has been gained through the offering of Christ. It is what is learned by the image of coming forward with hands ready to receive that allows us to then contemplate how we may go and give to others.
As these events of Holy Week unfold do not be surprised by the events. They are coming, they will happen, and Christ will be executed.
What do we learn about who Christ is from his death?
We began this journey a little more than a month ago on Ash Wednesday being reminded of our human nature. We were reminded that we are not worthy of all that God has given to us. However, through Christ, we have seen what God has offered us and still being unworthy we come willing to be made worthy by that gift that God is offering.
We come with hands ready to receive and say, “Yes, God work within me. Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”
Reflect this Week
I want you to consider that this week. As you come Thursday and hear the stories of Maundy Thursday and the Passion reflects on what Christ has given to you. Reflect on the love Christ has shown you. Reflect on the life he lived so that we may know who God truly is, and ask yourself, am I willing to receive? Do I come with my hands extended and my heart open, or do I try and set my own rules? What is Jesus working on in you? What is Jesus trying to give you? Are you ready and willing to receive it?
Mark 11:1-3 NRSV
Mark 11:9b-10 NRSV