As we journey through Holy Week, we continue our Lenten theme of ‘wilderness’. Since Ash Wednesday we have been reflecting on the wilderness journey of our human experience, our faith and spirituality, our church… and, in these past weeks, a global pandemic. Here’s how we launched the theme:
The wilderness can be a scary and disorienting place. It is desolate, there are few comforts, there are no roads. The key to survival in the wilderness is, first and foremost, finding the will to survive. We must find hope. Hope gives us courage to see steep terrain as an opportunity to climb higher. Hope gives us assurance that, although we are lost, we are not alone. Hope inspires us to see healing beyond our illness, peace beyond our conflict, joy beyond our grief.
As we reflect together today, I encourage us all to remain hopeful in our present circumstances as well as in our future together.
In fact, it was a lack of hope, in one sort or another, that contributed to so much anguish for many of Jesus followers during the week leading up to his crucifixion. Judas betrays Jesus, Peter, James, and John fail to stay awake with Jesus in Gethsemane, the disciples desert Jesus, Peter denies Jesus, and the crowds shift from ‘Hosanna’ or ‘crucify him’.
When we shift from hope to despair… things are most assuredly going to fall apart. But, even during this final stage of the wilderness journey to the cross, Jesus encourages his friends and followers to hope when he shares the Passover Meal with them in a new way:
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29 NRSV
This meal, called the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, is still a central foundation of our relationship with Jesus and each other. This meal has been prepared, and invitations to this table have been extended, across the centuries, cultures, and nations of the world consistently since the very night Jesus shared it with his disciples.
Of all the hope-less events of Jesus’ last week, the Lord’s Supper endures as a counterexample to isolation, despair, denial, and hopelessness. This meal reminds us that God’s love endures even when we are at our most unlovable. This meal reminds us that God’s forgiveness endures even when we are at our most faithless. This meal reminds us that God’s grace endures even when we are at our most fearful. This meal reminds us that the Kingdom of God is coming, will continue to come, and eventually will be fully established. When Jesus invites us to His table, he calls us to commune with him and each other, he calls us to community built on faith, hope, and love. Finally, he calls us to extend the Good News of Jesus and the table of communion to everyone everywhere who are crippled by hopelessness and are in need of love, forgiveness, grace, friendship, and a sure and certain future with hope.
We can’t gather physically at the table of Holy Communion in these challenging days… but one day soon we will again. In the meantime, and especially this week, we can reflect profoundly upon what this meal means to us and how it remains central to our faith, and an anchor to our hope, in difficult times as well as times of celebration.