Easter is coming up. The last Sunday in March (there are five this year) is Palm Sunday and the first Sunday in April is Easter. The dates are March 29th and April 5th. Those of you that observed Ash Wednesday and/or the season of Lent are aware of these dates already, as well as anyone planning church activities and worship services. And it is those individuals – pastors, preachers, minsters and directors of music, all worship leaders – that I wish to address.
I spent several years in a ministry that included a daily chapel service. Not only did we observe Palm Sunday and Easter but we had the opportunity to celebrate each day of Holy Week. We could talk about the Triumphal Entry on Sunday and focus on the different aspects of Jesus’ final teachings with the Apostles each day that week. We could give a full day to the Last Supper, another to the arrest and false trial, and spend Good Friday detailing the events of the crucifixion. With all of that said and done the focus of Easter Sunday was entirely on celebrating the resurrection. Continue reading
The synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – tell the story of Jesus’ life in a narrative form. Everything in Mark can be found in either Matthew or Luke, and many events can be found in all three. The Olivet Discourse, for example, occurs during Holy Week and begins in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. John’s Gospel is different. Continue reading
Today is Memorial Day in the United States. (Since many of us have a three day weekend, look for Happy Monday on Tuesday this week.) While I’m not suggesting Memorial Day is a religious holiday, there is definitely a biblical basis for memorial. Continue reading
Jesus is often referred to as “braking bread.” He blessed bread and broke it at the feeding of the five thousand, and again for the four thousand. He broke bread at the Last Supper, and finally in one of the post-resurrection appearances. That’s when they recognized him, as he broke bread, then he vanished from their sight!
So what’s up with breaking bread? Hebrews in the Old Testament had swords and daggers, and we know there were skilled craftsmen in Israel. Jesus himself was a carpenter; obviously they had the ability to slice bread. It’s not that Jews couldn’t slice bread, they simply did not slice their bread. Thanks was given to God before food was eaten, and bread was probably offered at every meal. There may not be a command from God to not cut through bread, but there actually were rules about cutting stones for the alter of sacrifice. The Temple was made of all sorts of carefully worked materials, but the alter was put together with stones that no tool had worked. Beams, doors, cup, bowls, candle holders, et. al. were cut, carved, beaten into shape, etc. But the alter was carefully fitted together using stones in their “original” God-given shape. Breaking bread, especially right after thanking God for it, reminded the Jews were their meals really came from. It would have been disrespectful to cut their bread with tools.
Our communion wafers are uniform in shape and size; they come out of the box that way. They go together well with the little 3 oz plastic cups we use. The bread and the cup remind us that Jesus’ body was broken and his blood spilled. The symbol would work just as well with Oreo’s and Kool-Aid. But if you really want a feel for the disciples at that first last supper, try baking a loaf and passing it around. Each believer could tear off their own piece. You could go the distance and dip your bread into
wine grape juice rather than sipping it. Just remember what is important – Jesus body was broken. What we need is a savior.
The banner at the top of this page is da Vinci’s portrait of the Last Supper. Renaissance Christians knew that Jesus and his disciples were not white with brown hair and blue eyes. They would not have been sitting in chairs at a table either. Despite the cultural “anomalies” the most important things are still visible; Jesus broke bread and passed the cup. That, after all, was the point.
This is Holy Week, the final days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. On Easter Sunday we celebrate the resurrection, but these days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday are about remembering the last precious days that Jesus had with his closest followers. This would be the last time they celebrated Passover together, and Jesus still had a lessor or two he wanted to share. During the course of the meal, he gets up from the table and removed his outer robe. He then ties a towel around his waist, kneels on the floor, and begins washing the disciples feet. We know what happens to our own feet during the summer months, going about in sandals or flops. Imagine wearing sandals everyday and walking everywhere you went. He then asks if they understand why. Jews did not wash feet; feet are unclean, both literally and religiously to the Jews. He was their Master and Lord (and maker of heaven and earth) but he was humble like a servant. If he then, he explains, is willing to wash their feet they should each be doing the same. It is not a literal command to wash feet, but a lesson about humility and service to others.
Jesus broke bread to remind his followers that his body was broken. The fruit of the vine in the cup reminds us that his blood was poured out. He said that without taking part in his body and blood we had no part in him. But if we receive the one he sends – the Holy Spirit – then we receive him. And if we receive him, we receive the one who sent him – God the Father. The Hebrews had been celebrating Passover since they were brought out of Egypt. When the death angel saw the blood of the sacrifice it “passed over” that home, sparing the first born. Jesus takes the elements of that meal, and gives them new meaning for his followers. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. When God sees the blood of Jesus on our hearts, his judgement will pass over.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he was taking an ancient Hebrew tradition and giving it new meaning. (Matt. 26) For the followers of Jesus, taking communion reminds us that Jesus’ body was broken and his blood shed just like Passover reminded the Jews that the death angel passed over Egypt. Jesus is the Lamb of God that was slain, much like the sacrificial lamb was slain in the Old Testament; the difference is that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice so that no more is needed. (Heb. 9)
If you listen to this sermon, remember that I’m speaking to middle and high school students. LOTS of backstory and explanation is given, and I am well aware that I often repeat myself. I believe the message is the truth of God’s Word, and the Gospel is clearly presented. Click here to listen (mp3)