"While they were eating"-Sermon for Palm Sunday 2020, Matthew 26:14-27:66
So, as I am want to do…and my apologies…for I feel like I have been using my own poetry quite often of late in my sermonic musings…and know I will again come Good Friday. But, in hopes that the images and words resonate with at least some, and, of course, it all comes from my heart, I want to begin this morning with a poem called “Table Magic” that I am yet to share publicly…so a world internet premier…and here goes:
Calling all to attend to the moment
Like a gentle warning that the show is about to begin
Candles flitting that guide our gaze from plate to person
From person to plate
All senses on boarded
A scene set with textiles to touch
Patterned china like art
Metal utensils with which to play
Savory and sweet smells
Primordial parts of our mind switched on
That’s garlic for sure
Browned butter and citrus combined
Roasted meat whose chemical transformation
Is the lasting gift of the world’s first peoples
Earthen, hummus-like, scents from the garden
Bringing the outside in
Tender yet crisp
Just a bit of fire releasing their God-made potential
And let us not forget the salt
It brings out the best in all
And grace is then offered
Like an ephemeral wooden spoon
That stirs together all that is set before us
With that which we bring to the table
Our own selves, souls and bodies
Hearts overflowing with gratitude
For the roof over our head
For the food we take delight in
For the hands that prepare it
For mother earth’s bounty
For the Beautiful Mind who thought the whole thing up
For the family to which the table calls us into together
Then taste buds wake up as glory enters in
Delight in complexity and richness
In fat and marrow and grain and grape
That all together make the heart glad
The very center of us satisfied
All saying together
Humans, earth, and divine alike
Wake up and pay attention
This is magic in our midst
I share this poem as it has at its center…really at what I would describe as its heart…the table. And I speak of the table as a place of gathering…maybe more than usual right now…but a place of gathering both literally and figuratively, with those we love…a place where we feed not only on food and drink that sustains our physical lives…but a place where we feed our hearts…our very souls…as we say most Sundays just before we receive Holy Communion by faith and with thanksgiving. At our altar when we are and will be again in church together, at the tables in our homes, at all the other places, secular and sacred, where we gather with each other, with God’s own beloved…we literally feed our hearts, again, by faith and with thanksgiving. Faith in the power of the love we share with one another, those with whom we share table-fellowship, a love that sustains our lives, enlivens our minds, quickens our hearts, and provides the courage and solace we need for the living of our days. And thanksgiving for the tangible gifts we wondrously discover at our various tables…like the very food on the plate, the resources and work that purchased it, the good body or good bodies that grew it and prepared it, and the home or building that provides the safety and setting for the occasion. Thanks to God, the greater provider of all that is and the first and forever lover of our souls, and thanks to those with whom, again, we share our table-fellowship, share our lives, who generously fill us with their love and friendship and unwavering faith in us.
And I lift up the table for our consideration this morning…as a table sits directly between the two climatic stories we remember together on Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday each year. The first story is that of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the very first Palm Sunday. Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem buoyed by the cheers and adoration of those who have come to know him and love him…those who have been immeasurably blessed by his healings and teachings. And the second story is of Jesus’ Passion…his self-emptying…pouring out his life…all of it…for the very life of the world…even you…even me. And between palms and passion…we again find a table. For after entering Jerusalem and before being lifted up on the hard wood of the cross, Jesus breaks bread and shares wine with his friends and family around a table…what we call the Last Supper…a last meal before the events of Good Friday and Easter. And I believe God planed it that way…that Jesus actually intentionally orchestrated the events of the last week of his life for this very meal to happen…to sit between palms and passion.
And I say this because there are some clues that suggest as much found in the story the bible tells between the palms and the passion. Between those two climatic events, Matthew writes, “On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, my time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.” You see, Jesus had already made arrangements for this Last Supper even before it had taken place. He had already determined where it would be. He had already told the host that at the appointed time his disciples would arrive to let him know the time had come for the meal and that they would make ready for the gathering in this unnamed man’s home. So again, I believe that Jesus quite intentionally places this moment of table-fellowship, this Passover Meal, this Last Supper directly between the palms and the passion.
So, to what end…what was Jesus’ purpose…why set a meal…a table…a formal dinner between the two? Well I think it is because it is with and only with his beloved, his friends and family, that he wanted to both celebrate and prepare. To celebrate the life they have shared together…all the teaching and learning…all the tears and joy…all the healing and hope…all the experiences and memories that they had made together on their three year journey across the Holy Land. This world changing ministry they shared in together, as together they let God’s bright light of love shine out into our world…the light of love that no darkness can ever overcome. And, to prepare…to prepare for the suffering that was just about to unfold. Jesus’ suffering on the hard wood of cross…and his friend’s and family’s suffering as they endure the grief that just such a death would heap upon their hearts. I believe Jesus needed the love his friends and family shared with him around that table at the Last Supper to face the cross…to endure its pain…to accept his death. And Jesus knew his friends and family needed the love he expressed at the same table for them with his words and prayers, by washing their feet, and instituting the sacrament of Holy Communion…for that love…those acts…that lasting gift left to the church…the bread and wine that promises that he is with us always…they needed that, whether they yet knew it or not, to endure all that was coming…beginning just the very next day. For they gather at this table on the very night before Jesus goes to the cross.
And our own tables both literal and metaphorical with which I began this sermon exist…if we but intentionally allow them…exist to do and be the same. The place where we celebrate and prepare. Celebrate and name, gathered with those we love, what we have accomplished together and the love we have and do share with one another that makes us whole and gives us meaning. The life we have lived together that has shaped us into the capable and beautiful people God has made us to be…and that we will continue to live together…as we remain wonderful works in progress. And, to prepare for all that we face in our undiscovered future…the suffering that comes with things like social distancing and disease…things like economic uncertainty and loss and the grief that follows…but also to prepare for and expect the joy and wonder that lies ahead…the new memories that we will surely forge together. For though the table that Jesus shares with his friends and family at the Last Supper falls between the palms and passion neither moment are the end of the story…the real climax to the story of complete love on earth, that is Jesus’ life on earth, is still a short way off…it is discovered at Easter…in God’s great proclamation that life and love are stronger even that death.
Thus, I will share a third purpose for the table…the places where we gather together…for the love we share in our togetherness exists to point us to a sort of table magic that was written before time even began…an invitation to wake up and pay attention to the Easter like hope that is being birthed into our very midst. The love we share at the tables we share is a foretaste of what is to come and that no darkness, death, sin or disease can ever overcome. For the love we have and will share through all our joys and suffering is everlasting. That love is front and center as we gather at all the little altars and tables that exist in the span of one’s life. This is indeed magic in our midst and promises that life and love spring eternal…from the empty tomb…for all of us. For all of our table-fellowship exists, all of God’s love that we share one with another exists, to remind us that in the fullness of time we will all be gathered together, in bonds of pure love and affection, with God alone as our host for all time and forever.
I hope that the table in your own home can serve this purpose in the time we are apart and that our altar at St. Julian’s can continue to serve this purpose when we are together again. Amen.