Eucharist Reloaded: Meditation Before Receiving Holy Communion

Luke 22: 14-23
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
Message
As a person who celebrates the communion, I retrospect to look at how casually I celebrate the Holy Communion or Eucharist or how casually people receive the Eucharist. We have become numb to the great privilege it is to be invited to the Lord’s table and to be partakers of his meal. We live in a world that highlights the absence in our lives which becomes our voice. We say “I do not have this…, I lack— quality,…Only if I had this job…., Only if my partner had—-quality,…..I do not have —Model Car,…. Wish I had better friends who understood me.” In the matrix of the “Absence” of our lives, Holy Communion reminds us the Presence of Christ. Let us see through this text the few dimensions of Holy Communion so that we participate meaningfully and prayerfully.
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. “ (Vs 15) Christ eagerly waits to have this fellowship with you and me. It is his desire where he has invited you to the table. That is the call that brings us to the table where Christ extends his hospitality and love. Christ calls us very passionately. He has taken the initiative. In the time of Jesus, to invite a person to your table means you find him worthy. Therefore it was a scandal when Jesus dined with Lepers, tax-colectors, prostitutes and the rejects. While Jesus calls us to the table, let us remember we are a community that is there not because of fulfilling some criteria of righteousness or qualification, but that in his invitation he qualifies us as his Sons and Daughters, a community around the table. He is the host.
Now while saying this that Jesus is the host, there is a paradoxical part in it. He is also the guest. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3: 20) While Christ invites us to the table, he also waits to be invited to your house (lives). In the story of Zacchaeus, when he was far and distant on a Sycamore tree, satisfied with a glimpse of Jesus, time freezes. It is not that He sees Jesus. He is shocked to know that Jesus is seeing him. Archbishop Rowan Williams says that Jesus looks at him and says “Zacchaeus are you not inviting me to your home?” And we know what a dramatic effect it had on Zacchaeus once Jesus came to His home. When I was studying in the seminary, final year, I had a habit of keeping my room in a mess. With assignments piling, my room just had madness written all over. And at the height of the piling of mess, without any notice my parents arrive at the Seminary. Normally there is a guest room where we entertain our relatives, so I did not bother to set my room in order. While talking to my parents in the guest room, my mother said “ I want to see your room.” I had an earthquake in my heart and shuddered. I gave her a reason that no one is allowed in the rooms and my mother had to comply by rules. My mother went straight to the Hostel Secretary, who was my friend, Brijith. My mom asked “I want to see Merin’s room”. I prayed to Triune God that he says no. But this Brutus said “Parents are allowed to go to rooms” I did not know where to hide or what to do. So like a lamb about to be slaughtered I was led to my room and my meticulous parents had a heart attack seeing the room. My mother in her characteristic way said “Seminary vannitum nee nanaayi illelo da (You did not improve coming to seminary)”. My poor mother in her enthusiasm set the room straight in a matter of 10 minutes. Jesus also asks us “Are you not inviting me into your lives?” We are afraid to expose the mess we have got ourselves in. But Eucharist reminds us that he is eager to come and set straight the mess that only he can get us out of. Jesus is knocking… Will you open up?
But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. (Luke 22: 21-23)
Jesus said that betrayer is with him at the table. Interestingly disciples question which of them it would be. It is not important who would betray. The point is that all of them had the potential to betray. At the table let us remind ourselves that “I too have the potential to be the ‘One who betrays’” Instead of asking who will it be, Richard Rohr says that Jesus makes us realize that I have potential for evil rather than pointing fingers at the other and making a scapegoat. So it is a time of repentance saying “Lord, I am capable of betraying you. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As once the famous Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen was giving invitation to the congregation people were expecting him to say “Only Catholics are allowed to receive the communion.” But he shocked the people by saying “Only sinners are allowed to receive the communion.” Dear friends “Only sinners are allowed…”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22: 19-20)
Here Jesus is looking towards the experience of cross by connecting it to the broken bread and wine poured out as his body and blood which are about to be broken. He is saying “This is the definitive sign of God’s welcome and God’s mercy.” Instead of this being the ultimate tragedy, it is an open door into the glorious welcome of the father. It is the commemoration of the death of Christ in affirmation of his resurrection. Eucharist points us forward to the mystery of both the cross and resurrection. Jesus looking most clearly and vividly to his death on the cross, He gives thanks. Jesus giving thanks at the moment before breaking and spilling, before the wounds and blood, it is as if he is connecting the darkest places of human experience with God the Giver. He is saying that even in these dark places God continues to give. The disciples later on made the connection as the earliest name for Holy Communion is Eucharist which comes from the Greek word “Eucharistia” which means thanksgiving. So Holy Communion is a time when we meet to give thanks, even in the heart of the darkest experience. When we make the connection of all gifts to God the Giver, we are filled with thanksgiving, and the absence in our heart recedes to the over powering presence of Christ and we realize that He is enough. Aatami Kuortti, a Lutheran pastor in Russia, was sentenced to ten years of hard labor in a concentration camp because of his refusal to become a spy for the government. A very large proportion of the prisoners were Christians, whose only offense was their Christian faith. One of the Finnish believers received a package from home, a little bread and a few apples. The first thing he thought of was that it would be possible now to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He proposed this to Pastor Kuortti. The pastor thought it impossible. “The guards would certainly interfere.” “But it is all arranged,” said Kajada. “I have already crushed the apple juice in a mug and the crusts will serve as communion bread. We can have the holy ordinance in the corner where my brother and I have our place, and the Russians if they see us will think we are drinking tea.” “I gladly fell in with the proposal of the brethren. After repetition of Scripture, I blessed the bread and the mug of apple juice, and we ate the Lord’s Holy Communion. The altar was but a dirty plank, and the pastor, as well as his flock, was in rags, yet we realized the presence of Christ.
For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Vs 16-18)
Jesus is saying to his disciples here that he will not  eat and drink again until the kingdom of God comes. Jesus when he is inviting to this fellowship of the table also is pointing us to a beyond. The Great Banquet of eternity and kingdom of God. While Holy Communion is an exercise in giving meaning to our lives in the world, but Jesus also points us to a beyond that his resurrection brings us. It is the hope that only He can give. In my 8th standard, I had the dreaded Jaundice. My parents took the Ayurveda route for my treatment. The diet was very strict with no salt and no non-veg food. One day, I became very adamant and said I want to have chicken and fish. My mother in tears in her eyes said “Once you are well, I will prepare a grand meal, where you can have what you want. But till then Papa and I will not have any non-veg food. We will have it only with you once all the effects of Jaundice is over.” Christ is eagerly waiting for us in the rooms that he has gone to prepare, waiting to have a grand banquet. We live in that hope.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal
Eucharist

Geese In The Barnyard

Text: Mark 8: 27 – 33

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Message

In the passage that we are going to meditate we are with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asks them the most important question. “Who do you say I am?” I can picture Peter being the smartest boy in the classroom who always has his hand raised up to give the answer. “You are the Messiah” is his prompt reply.  It is a high point in his life as a Disciple to be the first one to Declare Jesus as the Messiah. But before we wait too long, Jesus tells the disciples that His journey to the Cross is through suffering, rejection, death and finally rejection. This was not appealing to Peter who took Jesus to his side and rebuked him. He could not imagine his Messiah being so vulnerable and weak. He did not imagine suffering, rejection and death the ideal for the Lord he was following. He had much more spectacular expectations from his Messiah. And how did Jesus respond? “Get behind me Satan” “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Peter like most of us was ready to have a Messiah and declare him as one but wanted to follow him in his own terms. Being a disciple to a Messiah who was a Superman was great. He healed, He walked on water, He taught with authority. But a Messiah who was going to suffer, was going to be killed was not to the liking of Peter.

Recently the movie “Man of Steel” the Superman movie was released. I did not watch it yet but there was an article that said that this Superman was designed on a Jesus archetype. It feasts on a savior complex of us where we need a savior who cushions us from all sufferings and the fear of death. It has increased our obsession as people of faith to be more and more obsessed with ourselves. We want a Superman who will fulfill all our needs and keep us safe. But in act of faith we seldom think of sacrificing or suffering for Christ.  So lofty ideals of sacrifice, loving your neighbor, purposeful living, Feeling the presence of God, are more matters that sound good in sermons or books. Let us also remember that even though our faith practices has made us self centred, we still love to hear the great stories of people with faith, who sacrificed and laid their life for the Lord. We become all emotional and content to live this vicarious life. Soren Kierkegaard explains this phenomenon in a beautiful parable. It goes like this.

“A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it.  Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk to fly beyond the barns. One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. ‘My fellow travellers on the way of life,’ he would say, ‘can  you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence? I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.”

The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. ‘How poetical,’ they thought. ‘How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.’ Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.

And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!”

We are very secure in the World of Malls and Online stores. It all cushions us from all realities of life. We draw great security from the things that we can buy and own. It gives us stability and calmness. This is the reason why retail therapy is catching on. So as long as I grow more and more selfish and self- obsessed, things will keep falling in place. I do not have to worry about anything. My biggest worry is “I now have iPhone 4, when will I Buy the next.” Or “This particular car is my dream, when will it be mine”. We are conditioned to believe that these are very essential to our life and circumstances. We will keep rationalizing with ourselves and at the same time feel very happy to read the verse ‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ (Matthew 16: 24). As a Church we have a huge cloud of witness that have laid down their life, sacrificed and became heroes of faith. They denied themselves and took up the cross to follow Jesus. Today these heroes make us feel proud. We own them. We feel all emotional that they are part of our tradition. We may also trace our ancestry to them. But we will not fly. For the corn is good and the barnyard is secure. The living presence of Christ that moves people to action, to lay their lives down for God and their neighbor is now lost.

As a child the song that I ridiculed the most was the classic Malayalam song “Ennod Ulla Nin Sarva nanmaggal Kay”. This is song No 67 in our Kristhiya Keerthanam. Whenever there is any material or familial fulfillment like a House is bought or at the time of the Girl about to leave for the wedding this song is ritually sung. It is a song that articulates thanks giving in the best possible manner. One day when I was talking to my friend Rev Abraham Thomas, who is the Youth Chaplain of Bangalore, he told me the story of a man of faith, P.V. Thommi. He was an evangelist who ministered to the villages in Kunamgullam, in Kerala. He was a great witness. Because of his preaching and works, many people came to faith. One day the epidemic of plague broke out in one of the villages. Many well-wishers advised him to leave the village and run for security as the epidemic was fast catching up. But Thommi said that “I have thus far preached about love. Now is the time to practice it. I am going nowhere. I am going to serve my people in this time of crisis.” With his relentless work,  exhaustion caught up with the 38 year old Thommi. He too became the victim of plague. He had a choice of running for security. But he decided to deny himself and carry the cross.  Holding his 5 year old daughter close to him he sang this song which is credited to him “Ennod ulla Nin sarva nanmagal.” He looked into the eyes of death and suffering and sang a song of gratitude and hope. Because for Thommi after the suffering and death, there is the resurrection that Jesus has promised. The song writer of Classics like “Innu pagal Muzhuvan”, “Enth athisheyamme Daivathin Sneham” wrote his ever beautiful song “Ennod ullla Nin sarva nanmagalkay” on his death bed. The faith in Jesus challenges us to embrace suffering and death in our stride so that we can fly in the hope of resurrection.

 

Like Peter we too wish to be secure in faith declarations. That is important. But when we are faced with real choices in life to practice faith, we run for security and comfort. There is too much of noise around us but if there is silence we can hear Jesus rebuking us “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati