The Greatest Meal of All Time
Matthew 26: 17-29
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had? The most memorable one? The most meaningful one? Or the most delicious one? As I thought about those questions, I decided to ask Google what the greatest meal of all time is. And the internet provided some interesting answers. Food Network’s website told me Scallops Provencal was #1, Best Sweet Potato Casserole was #2, and Ree’s Perfect Pot Roast #3. Tasteofhome.com ranked Creamy White Chili as #1, Best Ever Banana Bread as #2 and something called Cheeseburger Soup as #3. Allrecipes.com said their most popular recipe was Mom’s Chicken Pot Pie followed by World’s Best Lasagna, and in place was Scott Hibb's Amazing Whisky Grilled Baby Back Ribs. Finally, I saw CNN had an article about the best food in the world. It was more of a cultural article with different countries’ finest foods on it, things like croissants from France, hamburgers from Germany, and buttered popcorn and donuts from the United States. I was happy that one of my personal favorites was their #1: massaman curry from Thailand.
Now why all this talk about food? Well it’s because today is the first time that four of our Sunday School students will have the most important meal of their lives. Or perhaps a better way to say it is the first of many most important meals of their lives. Theologically speaking, there’s nothing about your “first” communion that makes it any more special than your second or third or one hundredth communion, but practically speaking it’s a big deal. It’s an important event and so we celebrate.
Holy Communion is known by many names: the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar. Holy Communion is one of two Sacraments in the Lutheran church. The other one being Holy Baptism. Martin Luther taught that there were three things necessary for a practice to be considered a sacrament. First, it needed to be something Christ told us to do in scripture. Second, there must be a physical element involved. And third, it must communicate a promise of God’s love and grace. If something includes all three of these then it’s a sacrament in Lutheran theology.
So when Jesus gave the disciples the Great Commission in Matthew 28, he told the disciples to baptize all nations. And of course, in what we just read this morning, the story of the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples to do this meal in remembrance of him. So instructions to practice baptism and communion are straight from the Bible. Now for physical elements, we of course have water in baptism and bread and wine in communion. And both sacraments include a promise of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, salvation, and new life. Sacraments use physical elements to impart spiritual realities. They use earthy stuff to connect us to the divine.
It's important to know that to understand what these rituals mean in our tradition. And it’s important to know why we do them too. What is it that makes them so necessary or good for us? Why would Jesus tell us to do such practices in the first place?
It all starts with the fact that the world needs healing. We all individually need healing and humanity collectively needs healing. Anyone who wasn’t born yesterday knows that this world can be a pretty messy place. We see that the world as a whole and each of us individually needs help. All people, if they’re honest, recognize there’s a disconnect from the way life is and what our hearts most long for. We struggle, we sin, we feel disconnected from God, disconnected from other people and creation, even disconnected from ourselves. This state of disconnection and dis-alignment with reality is what theologians call sin. Primarily, sin is not a word to label the bad things we do, it refers to a way of being we are trapped in. Specific sins are the result of this larger existential problem.
That larger problem is that there is something fundamentally off about the way we live in and experience reality. Sure we have our good days and can be capable, decent human beings in the midst of an imperfect world, but there’s a lot of incompleteness to life as we know it. We long for spiritual wholeness. We long for reconciliation. We long for liberation, for freedom from sin.
That’s where Jesus comes in. As St. Paul said in Second Corinthians chapter five: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Cor. 5:19). That’s a packed sentence. It describes how in Christ, God has and is continuing to reconcile the world to himself, and how we the church are entrusted with the message and ministry of reconciliation.
In Jesus Christ, God freed the world from the state of sin. That state of disconnection, dis-alignment, and self-centeredness. Christian theology teaches that because of the cross of Christ we are freed from the existential crisis of sin. Because of Christ’s death and Resurrection, we are freed from the power of sin and death. Because of Christ, we are free, and we can live into the new life God intends for all people. To shine as the image of God we were created to be.
And it is through the sacrament of Holy Baptism that we ritually end our old way of life and rise to new life in Christ. That sacrament is a one-time thing. And it is through the sacrament of Holy Communion that we continually receive Christ’s body and blood, so that we are reminded of what Jesus did and still does for us. And in receiving the body of Christ, we become what we eat: the body of Christ.
When I met with our First Communion students, we learned how the phrase “Body of Christ” has multiple meanings. There is of course the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth. And then there’s the bread we receive during Holy Communion. And then there’s also us, the church, we are the Body of Christ. We are what we eat! And at the risk of sounding too simplistic, that’s the point of communion: to become what we eat. To be Christ in the world. To continue his mission with our bodies. His message of reconciliation has been entrusted to us. We are called to share that message by the way we live. To serve a world in need. To love our neighbors as ourselves. To be “little Christ’s” as CS Lewis put it. To let our light so shine. To do what Christ does and love and serve all creation.
The early church understood very well that they were called to be servants of a world in need. They knew they weren’t supposed to just gather in worship for the sake of gathering in worship. They were to gather in worship to hear God’s Word and receive God’s sacraments so that they could then go out and be Christ in the world. To continue his mission. To be ambassadors for Christ. Ministers of reconciliation. The Body of Christ to a world in need.
And so, when we receive Holy Communion today, let us remember that it is both a gift and a calling. In Holy Communion we hear the promise that sin has no power over us. That we are free indeed and reconciled with God. And following Holy Communion, we are sent out to be Christ in the world. This is a joyful meal where God comes to us in bread and wine. Where we experience the mystery of Christ’s real presence. Where we receive the promise of God’s grace, healing, forgiveness, and love. And where we are inspired and empowered to be the Body of Christ for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God for the gift of Holy Communion: the greatest meal of all time!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.