Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jesus Prays for Us

This is my sermon from the Maundy Thursday service tonight.  It followed a wonderful time of fellowship around tables full of bread and soup.

Psalm 143

John 17:12-26

Heavenly Father, open every eye to see, every ear to hear and every heart to understand your Word today that it might transform the world in powerful and surprising ways. All this we lift to you in the name of Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit for the Glory of the Father, Amen.
I once heard someone joke that there are three sacraments observed by the Presbyterian church: Baptism, Communion and the Potluck Dinner.
You’re laughing, but seriously: think about how important shared meals and even snacks and coffee are to the life and vitality of a congregation.
There is something unifying about a good meal. It really feels almost sacred the way it brings people together. 
While my introverted husband prefers I don’t invite too many people into the house at one time, there are few things I love more than having a ton of people over for dinner. I love to fill our house with loved ones and prepare way too much food. 
I love the cooking, the eating, the laughing. . .
There are so many good memories wrapped up in sitting around the table with friends and family.
Jesus loved a good meal with friends too. . . and as we remember this last day before His arrest, “The Last Supper” is one of the big important things that come to mind. One of the very last things we think about Jesus doing before His arrest is sharing a meal with His dearest friends.
We didn’t read the passage tonight that tells the story of the last supper – what I read was part of the prayer that Jesus prayed that night after the meal - but we will hear Jesus’ words of institution shortly when we celebrate communion. Listen closely to them, they are beautiful.
What we call “communion” or “Eucharist” is more than just remembering a specific meal that Jesus had where He said some neat things.  Other meals were important and memorable enough to be recorded in the gospels.  Some were even miraculous. But this meal was something even higher and deeper in meaning. In fact, the dictionary definitions of the words we use to talk about our celebration of it are:
com•mu•nion . . .from Latin communion-, communio mutual participation
1    : an act or instance of sharing
2    : a Christian sacrament in which consecrated bread and wine are consumed as memorials of Christ’s death or as symbols for the realization of a spiritual union between Christ and communicant or as the body and blood of Christ
: the act of receiving Communion
: the part of a Communion service in which the sacrament is received
3    : intimate fellowship or rapport : communication
4    : a body of Christians having a common faith and discipline[3]

The word Eucharist, another word often used for the celebration of Communion comes from roots meaning gratitude, favor, grace.
            The Last Supper and Jesus’ final prayers for His followers are inseparable. In fact, John blurs them together far more than the other gospels do.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all seem to be telling a story that has a message, while John is more telling a message that has a story. So while the others spend less time on what exactly Jesus prayed between the Last Supper and His arrest, John goes into great detail about what it was that Jesus prayed.
As I picture it now, I can see the scene of Jesus praying in Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion.
Believe it or not, I had never seen the movie until this week.  I don’t watch movies often and just hadn’t gotten around to it.  I’ve been to Stations of the Cross.  I’ve attended and performed in live action Passion plays, including Godspell.  But the movie just sat in my Netflix queue for literally years until finally I decided if ever there was a time to watch that movie, it was during Holy Week while writing a sermon for Maundy Thursday.
The first thing that surprised me was where the film started.  It’s called “The Passion” so I assumed it would start at Palm Sunday or perhaps the Last Supper, just like all of the passions I had acted in did.  But it doesn’t start there.  It starts where the Stations of the Cross usually start: at the garden when Jesus was praying.
The movie dialogue is all in Aramaic and Latin with subtitles, but with the exception with a few lines, Jesus’ prayers are not subtitled. This is in spite of a subtitled scene of Jesus in the garden resisting a creepy, pale Satan- a scene that appears nowhere in the Bible.
That’s a problem. What Jesus prayed is important. The Last Supper and institution of this observation are important. The Last Supper and Jesus’ prayers aren’t two separate isolated incidents.
In His darkest hour, Jesus prayed for His followers.  Not just the 12 disciples, for ALL of His followers.  For Peter, James and John, certainly, but also for Paul, Stephen, Francis of Assisi, C. S. Lewis, the Pope, you, me, all of us! He ate a meal, a communal, culturally significant, relationship building event and immediately began to pray for community, for relationship, for unity.
I find it a bit sobering, humbling and perhaps even chilling to read the prayers that Jesus prayed in Gethsemane between the Last Supper and his arrest. 
Even in this very final hour, he is keeping his followers, even future followers, in his prayers.
Jesus, praying for us. 
The savior, praying for us.
Not only is He praying for us, but He is praying for the very thing that our souls cry out for when we are in pain or trouble:
“my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. . .Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit.”
God heard our cries for salvation and for His presence and in this prayer, he prayed with us for that salvation and presence.
  In His darkest hour, Jesus is praying for us in our darkest hours.
Jesus’ sincere prayer for his followers is that we would, through Him, find unity with one another and with God.
Today we celebrate our unity:  Our unity to one another through Christ and our Unity to the Father through Christ. We are not called to be Lone Rangers exploring an individual spirituality or religion. We are called to be a family, a body.
As we break bread and pour the cup tonight and pass it around the table, let us remember the power of Unity in Christ. We share with one another our own unity and our unity with God through Jesus.

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ps 143:1–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 17:12–26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[3] Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

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