Old Testament: Exodus (12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14)
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell 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. If 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. [Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.] This 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. For 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. The 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. This 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.
nsgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
The Response: Psalm (116:1, 10-17)
1 I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.
10 How shall I repay the Lord *
for all the good things he has done for me?
11 I will lift up the cup of salvation *
and call upon the Name of the Lord.
12 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord *
in the presence of all his people.
13 Precious in the sight of the Lord *
is the death of his servants.
14 O Lord, I am your servant; *
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.
15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and call upon the Name of the Lord.
16 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord *
in the presence of all his people,
17 In the courts of the Lord’s house, *
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
The Epistle: 1 Corinthian (11:23-26)
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, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In 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.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The Gospel: 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. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus 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.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After 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? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little 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.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
I hope all of you had something to eat before you came here this evening. Otherwise, our readings might have a tendency to make you feel at least a little bit hungry; because all of them are about food and about eating. More specifically, they are about eating together.
The passage from Exodus places the observance of the Passover supper within the context of Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. And it concludes with the admonition that this day, together with its meal, is to be a “day of remembrance for you… throughout your generations.”
Psalm 78 continues the story of the Exodus, recounting the way that God provided both food and drink for the Israelites even in the wilderness.
And in the readings from First Corinthians and Luke, the focus is again on a meal: a meal shared together. It is a meal that points forward, as Jesus indicates, to the fullness of the kingdom of God. But it is also a meal for their and our present life together; for during that meal, Jesus speaks in the present imperative as he instructs his followers to “keep doing this in remembrance of me.”
That instruction – to eat this communal meal in remembrance of Jesus – adds a deeper dimension to this communal meal. But what? What does it mean to eat this meal “in remembrance of” Jesus?
The words “remember” and “remembrance” in both the Old and New Testaments are powerful words. They refer to much more than just a casual calling to mind. Genuine remembrance is a form of presence. It includes not only the people remembering God and all that God has done for them, but also God remembering them. It is a term that is used repeatedly in biblical prayers, and especially in the psalms, to call both God and God’s people to action. It calls both parties to remember their relationship with each other in such a way that they will act in accordance with that relationship.
In the case of the meal that we call “the Eucharist,” the meal on which we focus in a special way this evening, we remember not only what Jesus did in his death and resurrection, but also our baptism into him, and our solemn commitment to share in both his death and his resurrection. It calls us to remember our relationship with God and with one another, and it calls us live in accordance with that relationship.
Sharing in the bread and cup is a serious thing, maybe even a dangerous thing, to do.
The older versions of The Book of Common Prayer included an “Exhortation” to people before they came to share in Holy Communion. Priests were required to read it to the congregation on certain occasions throughout the year. It cautioned those coming to receive the sacrament not to do so unless they had truly repented; otherwise, they were warned, they needed to be ready to face punishment from God. (There is, by the way, a slightly toned-down version in Rite One of the current Prayer Book. Thank God, it is no longer required to be used.)
While we no longer live in fear of God coming down and punishing us for sharing in Holy Communion while we are in a less-than-ideal state, we would still do well to stop and think about the implications of sharing in the Eucharist, about “doing this in remembrance” of Jesus. St. Paul highlights those implications in the closing words of our second reading when he notes that “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Proclaiming Jesus’ death is an act of remembrance: not just a detached calling-to-mind of the fact that Jesus died, but a solemn commitment on our part to do as he has done. When we gather at the Lord’s table, we recommit ourselves to the promises that we made in baptism: solemnly vowing that we will be just as faithful in living the values of the kingdom of God as Jesus was, no matter what the consequences. That realization should stop us in our tracks before we decide to come forward to share in the sacrament.
Maybe those of us standing around the Lord’s table should begin our sharing of Communion by publicly declaring, “We are again committing ourselves, committing our lives, to living in and proclaiming and working for the kingdom of God. If you are willing to make that commitment, too, then reach out your hands and eat the bread with us; reach out your hands and drink the cup with us; because that is what sharing this meal with us means.”
Sharing in Holy Communion is far from just a nice and friendly, but largely innocuous, thing to do. That all-too-common approach reflects a search for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great pastor and theologian who died at the hand of the Nazis, referred to as “cheap grace.” As he declared in his classic The Cost of Discipleship, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” One of my seminary professors used to caution us, “Grace is free, but it is never cheap.”
As we gather here to begin the church’s Great Three Days — essentially one service in three acts — we pause to remember once again what we do each time that we together eat the bread and drink the cup. We pause to remember once again the sobering commitment that we are making by daring to come to this table. We pause to remember once again what it means to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”