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This year, as I (Mario) was speaking to our students during Table of the Lord, I asked them this question: What is your favorite meal? The responses were as varied as the kids themselves. Everyone one had a story as to why a particular meal was his or her favorite. Even for the parents, the discussion evoked a sense of nostalgia and remembrance. Food is a powerful storyteller. I like to binge watch Food Network programs and I’m struck by the number of times I hear how a person’s love of food is coupled with a desire to reach their community. In a world where there is still much tribal division, sharing a meal with someone from another part of the world reminds us that we all share something in common. The table, then, has a way of bringing people together who might otherwise stay apart.
Let’s think about it another way. My favorite animated film is Ratatouille. If you haven’t seen it, it’s been out for a while. 12 years to be exact, so what follows may contain a spoiler or two if you have not seen it. The movie centers around a rat named Remy who has an unusual passion: He loves to cook. Not only does he love it, he’s quite skilled and gifted in the kitchen. This of course, creates a dilemma. Who in the world would ever eat a meal prepared by a rat?
Fortunately for Remy he has an accomplice, Linguini. Linguini is heir to Gusteau’s, a Paris eatery that had seen better days. Gusteau’s famous motto, “Anyone can cook,” was met with disdain and disapproval from the leading culinary critic of his day, Anton Ego.
However, as Remy and Linguini begin to revive the restaurants reputation for quality food, Ego is angered. He had knocked a star off the one time 5-star restaurant and he was determined to do so again.
The climax of the movie features Anton Ego in the now revitalized Gusteau’s, awaiting his dinner service. What would Remy and Linguini serve him in order to win him over? Remy (yes, the rat), makes ratatouille, a simple peasant’s dish. This scene is a sermon all by itself. Anton Ego, pen is hand, bites into the plate of food and is instantly transported to a simpler time. The movie shows him as a young boy, crying after what must have been a difficult day, at the door of his home. Anton’s mother brings him into the house and feeds him a plate of ratatouille.
Instantly, Ego’s heart is warmed, the pen drops and a look of joy radiates from his face. He eats the rest of the meal, not as a sophisticated, snobbish critic whose written words meant success or failure for Gusteau’s, but instead, as that young boy, being nourished at the family table, fed by someone who loved him unconditionally.
This picture paints a beautiful picture into our understanding of the sacrament of Communion. This simple meal of bread and wine, accompanied by Jesus’ words to partake in order to remember him, tell us the whole story of Gospels. It is the story of the one true God who loves his creation so much, that he refuses to let sin and death have the last word. It is a meal that reminds us of God’s saving action in the past, sustains us in the present and moves us towards his future. This is why, over the years, I have often lamented that our conversations surrounding the Lord’s Table often deal with the, “how,” and “how often” instead of the “why.”
What is the story behind Holy Communion? Briefly, it is the story of exodus from exile and into a land of promise. When Jesus instituted his supper to his disciples, they were celebrating Passover. The event that led to Israel’s exodus from slavery into the land promised them through their forefather Abraham. Most of us are familiar with that story. God’s people are in bondage, Moses is sent to deliver them, Pharaoh is unwilling to let them go.
God sends ten different plagues upon Egypt, only to find Pharaoh’s heart increasingly hardened after each one. The final plague was a visit from the angel of death. God’s people were given a sacrifice and sign to avoid this final plague: The blood of a lamb that had been sacrificed. The lamb was provided by God and each family was to appropriate this provision to their own door frames. Doing so led to their liberation from Egypt.
Yet, this drama was only a signpost into a more urgent exodus that awaited all of humanity. Jesus now, as our Passover lamb, is the one who offers his body and blood so that we too, might pass from death to life. It is the meal he promises to share with us again when the Kingdom of Heaven is fully consummated at the end of the age. In the mean time, it is at this table where we experience forgiveness of sins and are nourished for our spiritual journey in the present.
At LCM; we extend an open invitation to the Lord’s Table. It’s not the pastor’s table, it’s not a Lutheran table, it is Jesus’ table. When we invite others to come, we do so knowing that we too, are still continually invited as well. Our invitation is given with the expectation that those who respond do so in faith. Just as Jesus never turned anyone away who came to Him, so to, by opening the Table to all who would respond, we follow in Jesus’ steps. What should we expect to find once we respond His invitation?
We should expect to find Him! Yes, Jesus. Though the bread and wine stay bread and wine, the sacred mystery is that Christ is there, present in this meal. I have a dear friend who is a pastor in Salt Lake City. He begins their weekly time at the Lord’s Table by saying, “This is not a table for people who have it altogether. It is a table for imperfect people who know their need for grace.” He is right and we would do well to remember that. In other words, our ability to respond to the invitation has little to do with our own sense of entitlement or righteousness, but instead, on a complete trust of the sufficiency of Christ. Luther put it this way, the words that Jesus did this “for you” require all hearts to believe. For you! Does it get any better that that?
Finally, why is Communion a central part of our worship? It’s one of the ways Christ is made known to us. If you remember from Luke’s Gospel (the 24th chapter), The resurrected Jesus is walking form Jerusalem to Emmaus. It is on this 7-mile journey that he speaks with Cleopas and Mary, two of his disciples. Their hearts were downcast and they were puzzled. They had hoped Jesus would be the one to bring God’s Kingdom to Israel only to have their hopes dashed by a Roman cross. To make matters more complicated, some of the women in their company made the extraordinary claim that Jesus was alive. Their eyes were kept from seeing Jesus as he opened their minds to the story of Scripture. As they arrived at Emmaus, Jesus acted as if he was continuing on his journey. They begged him to stay. It was at dinner, as Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, that their eyes were open. They realized they had been with Jesus. It was at the table, with the breaking of the bread, that the burning within their hearts made sense as Jesus taught them.
I am persuaded that for these two disciples, as well as the many who followed Jesus at that time, after encountering the risen Lord, experienced Communion much like Anton Ego experienced ratatouille. The meal was a reminder of Israel’s past, and of Christ’s suffering, It was a reminder that they had been brought of a land of exile and into the promises of eternal life. We partake in the bread and wine that offers nourishment and grace in the present, while reminding us of the party to come. It also is a foretaste of what’s to come, when we will share this meal with Jesus again. This meal is one of remembrance and transformation.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that as often as we eat of this bread and drink of this cup, we proclaim (preach, tell, share) this story time and again. Communion is a paradox, for in it we find a cup of suffering as well as a cup of celebration. We find the community living within this sacred truth: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! We have been ransomed, bought with a price. We are reminded of that price each time we receive the Lord’s body and blood through the bread and wine.
Every time you are served, remember, the table has been set, the feast prepared and the celebration begun! Come and feast with glad and open hearts. The bread and wine truly are the gifts of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
The Seven Questions:
1. What kinds of meals evoke special memories for you?
2. Is there a dish that reminds you of a loved one or of your childhood?
3. How can inviting someone over to your home for a meal make someone feel loved and accepted?
4. How can this be a reflection of Jesus’ invitation for everyone to partake at his table?
5. What does it mean for Jesus to be truly present at Communion?
6. Read the Exodus story again. How does the cup of communion remind you of the blood on the door posts?
7. How might you explain what communion is to someone who has never heard the Words of Institution or been invited to partake because they don’t feel worthy?
Mission Focus:
At the center of our story is a table. On that table sits bread and wine. The bread and wine is offered by way of invitation. “Come! This has been done for you!” This Lent season, invite a neighbor over for dinner and lavish them with hospitality. If they ask the occasion, tell them that it’s in gratitude for the example set by Jesus to welcome everyone to his table and to participate in his story.
Your Thoughts: