Maundy Thursday / First Communion
April 5, 2007 / Resurrection Lutheran Church
When it finally happened, I was so excited that I could hardly contain myself. The day that I was “invited” to eat at the “grown-ups table” was truly a rite of passage in our family that still continues to this day. The practical reason for such a tradition was that there simply wasn’t enough room for all of us to gather around my mother’s favorite dining room table. The room was small and so was the table. And so as our extended family grew in number…it became pretty obvious that something had to give.
It was then that I remember the card tables came from out of nowhere, and a whole new cast system was born. Not to say that the children were suddenly treated like second class family members, because we weren’t. Reality was that until a larger table could be squeezed into a very small space…there just wasn’t going to be enough room for everyone to eat at the same table.
Which brings me to the subject of this table tonight. We have nine young people who have been waiting their entire lives for this very special moment. Two will be receiving on Easter Sunday morn with their families while seven will be receiving their very first communion tonight. Whether they realized or not, and most of them will tell you that they did, they have been coming to this altar rail for a blessing, but not allowed to eat. Well…tonight all of that changes! Tonight they will experience communion…as Jesus meant for it to be experienced.
One of the things the kids learned in our First Communion class was that this meal comes by several different names. Depending on what you were taught in Sunday School, it has been called…The Last Supper…the Eucharist, which simply is a fancy word for “thanksgiving”…Holy Communion…and my favorite, the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is the one that sticks with me because when we think about it…it is Jesus who does everything in this meal!
He is the one who instituted it on the very night of his betrayal as he and his disciples were sitting down to eat their last meal together. It was meant to be a Passover meal…pure and simple…but it was Jesus who changed the menu that night. With all the trappings of a fine Jewish Passover spread out before them, it was Jesus who reached out and took the bread…and did the most natural thing in the world. He blessed it…by saying “thank you” to God. I tell you his parents would have been proud.
And yet it was the next thing that he did that was most memorable. Knowing that in a matter of hours he was about to be handed over to his enemies…and put to death…Jesus did something with the bread that had never been done before. He called it “his body”…and when he broke it, whether they got the point or not, he was illustrating what was about to happen to his very own person. It was then with tears in his eyes…that he “gave it to his disciples” saying:
“…take and eat…this is my body…which is given for you.”
Notice that I said “given”, as in Jesus chose to lay down his life for us. A very important point, and yet our story doesn’t end there.
Sometime near the end of the meal, Jesus picked up a cup full of wine…and once again said a big “thank you” to God. He then announced that from here on…a new agreement had been reached with God…a new covenant…in which God would accept the sacrifice of Jesus as payment for our sins. No strings attached. The new agreement would be signed and sealed by Jesus in his blood…and would be “for all people” for the forgiveness of their sins.
To put it into a simple visual, what Jesus did…was to suddenly make room at this table…for all people. People of every color…creed…nationality…economic situation in life… even age is not to be a barrier. As far as I can tell…the only rite of passage became not a “what”…but a “who”. Jesus himself. After all, it was Jesus who said:
‘I came that they might have life…and have it abundantly.”
In saying that, Jesus becomes our rite-of-passage into a life overflowing with the goodness and grace of God. Our job, if one can call it that…is to simply open ourselves up to receive what God is so graciously willing to give, which brings me to another important point.
We learned in our First Communion Class about the difference between “taking” and “receiving”. It has to do with what we do with our hands (and hearts for that matter) when we come to the altar. The kids learned that we come with our hands open…with palms facing up…as Martin Luther once said, as beggars before God. Knowing that there is not one thing that we can offer, we come to the altar with only one purpose in mind…”to receive” what God in his mercy has chosen to give to us: the precious body…and blood…of His only Son.
It is then, in faith, that we receive Jesus himself into our hearts and we begin to live as we have never lived before. And so tonight, it is with great joy that these young people are being welcomed to the table of life...to receive what Jesus alone can give: a “happy meal” for life. Prepared only…by the giver of life himself.
Thanks be to God…through Jesus…room has been made for everyone…at the table of our Lord. Amen