Sixth Sunday after Easter-Sermon
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Ma nishtana ha lyla ha zeh mikkol hallaylot? [Why is this night different from all other nights?] These words begin the Jewish Seder meal and are spoken by the youngest member of the family. They are a call to order so to speak of all that will transpire on that Passover night. This call to order, this call to remember is mirrored not only by the other questions that will follow it, but will be seen in the meal itself. A meal of matzah bread only, of bitter herbs dipped in salt water, and roasted lamb. The meal accompanied by the questions and their answers not only tell the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt’s hands, but reenacts it. So important is this question to the Seder that even if one was forced to celebrate it alone, he is to ask and answer the question himself. Because the night of the passover, and the night of its remembrance is truly unlike any other night. It is a meal of haste, a meal of bitterness, a meal of celebration, and a meal of victory. In participating in the Seder the people participate in the story of Israel’s redemption from the bondage to slavery. In keeping the words and the story of that sacred night, Israel shows her love for God’s deliverance.
Now why am I talking about passover? Dear Pastor, some of you might be thinking, has lost it again. He’s lost track of time, doesn’t he remember Passover was about 6 weeks ago, and we’re long past that! It’s Easter, actually the 6th Sunday of Easter with 2 more to go and I can reassure you that I haven’t lost it. I bring up the seder and the meal of remembrance because though we have not traveled back in time, our gospel readings have so to speak. The words we hear from our Lord this morning are not words of the resurrection. They are not words spoken by Jesus on the shore or in the locked room, but rather they are spoken in the upper room on the night of His betrayal. It is Jesus gathered together with His disciples to remember why that night is different from all other nights, but not in the way they normally would have. It is a night that He would reinterpret the passover meal, making it a new meal with a new focus. Taking into his holy, precious, and yet to be pierced hands bread and a cup, He makes it a new passover meal, one of His own sacrifice. This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me. That Passover night, Jesus made it different from all other Passover nights, because He gave to them not the sacrifice of an earthly lamb, but the sacrifice of himself for them, for Israel, and for all.
But the meal of remembrance, the meal of Christ’s haste, bitterness, celebration and victory was not the only thing different about that night than from all other nights. For it was filled, as St. John records for us, His final words to His disciples. They are the last and most important things that He wished to tell them about Himself, and about discipleship in His name. Not only did He give to them His body and blood, He washed His feet and gave to them a new commandment one that until now had not been heard before. Love one another, as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Here our Lord speaks old words, but makes them new. To love one another had been known throughout Israel’s life and faith, but Jesus as he is known to do intensifies this love, not to love one another as best we are able, but to love one another as Christ has loved us. The new command to love is to love one another with the very love of God. A command insurmountable to our weakened sinful flesh. A command that is the divine goal for our lives, but one that we always and forever will fall short of.
This He knew, and thus a new commandment was not all that He spoke of that night different from all other nights. For it was also filled with words of promise and of gospel to the apostolic band on the eve of their sorrows. I am going to prepare a place for you. I will take you to myself. I am the way, the truth, and the life. I will give you the Helper to be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you. The world will not see me, but you will see me. Here in Easter 6, we remember as we stand on the verge of Pentecost Sunday that all that Jesus spoke of that night, different from all other nights, is fulfilled. That his promise to the Church has been fulfilled. The Helper came with sound of rushing wind and of flames of fire. In Him the Church has been made alive and blessed with faith and new life in Jesus Christ. He has given to us, His disciples these 2000 years later that same faith with the same gifts, not orphans abandoned by Christ, but by the Spirit’s power adopted as sons and daughters of the Father of Jesus, and brothers and sisters of our Lord. Baptized into the name of God, into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Church empowered by the Holy Spirit remembers, truly remembers Christ and His salvation.
It is why each Sunday we take bread and wine, as Christ took bread and wine, and celebrate that night different from all other nights and that Passover meal different from all the other Passover meals that had come before it. Each week we are called to remember through this holy and life giving meal all that our Lord has done for us, and the depth of love that he has for us. Such love that willingly and freely sacrifices Himself for the sake of us, for Israel, and for all the world. In the meal we participate and make present the story of God’s love for us, His redemption through the offering of His Son, and the unity, the communion we now have with God. In the celebration of the meal of Jesus, the eucharistic feast of victory, the Church shows her love for God’s redemption and for His word. Christ’s meal lovingly given to us, is the very meal of our celebration and love for God, by keeping it in remembrance of Him and with the eyes of faith given by the Helper, we see Jesus present before us.
This is how Jesus’ words “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” can truly be understood. It isn’t a legalism that Jesus demands of his disciples if “x”, then “y”. For we cannot love Christ, except for the love by which He has loved and redeemed us. It is His victory that becomes our victory. It is His meal that becomes our meal. It is His death and resurrection, that becomes our death and resurrection. It is His love that becomes our love. It is His forgiveness that becomes our forgiveness. It is His Spirit, that creates in us clean and right spirits. It is His life that becomes our life. Thus we keep, treasure, His commandments by celebrating His feast and all that he has done for us. For we can never participate enough in communion with God and we can never remember enough why this meal, the Sunday, is different from all other days. The day of His love, His victory, and our union with God a foretaste of the banquet that awaits us in heaven.
Though our Lord’s meal is the highest and most important celebration and meal of remembrance the Church can ever have, it is more than likely not the only celebratory meal that we will have this weekend. This weekend is undoubtedly filled with vacation plans, and barbecues. An extra day given from the rest from our daily toils. Yet Monday, Memorial Day, is not unlike the Lord’s day in that it is given for the purpose of remembrance. The meal tomorrow or today with family and friends is a good celebration, but it lacks its purpose if it is not accompanied by a call and word to remember. Like the Seder, we to might want to ask of ourselves and our nation, why this Monday is different from all other Monday’s. As citizens of the Kingdom of God keep before us always the memory of God’s love and sacrifice for us upon the Cross. As citizens of this land, far below the majesty and splendor of God’s kingdom, we still ought keep before us the the memory of those who have given their last full measure of devotion for our country and for our earthly liberty. It is a day for us Christians to render unto caesar, so to speak, the respect and honor and thanksgiving that is due to our fellow brothers and sisters, those who have died defending our nation and those who still suffer from the tragedies and wounds of war. Let it be a day to keep their memory alive in your own hearts and families as you share the stories of loved ones who have served. Let it be a day to lament war and pray for Christ to come and make all wars cease. Let it be a day to honor and pray for those who continue to serve our nation. Let it be a day and a meal, to remember and hope for the peace of Christ to reign throughout the world.