Thanks for Broken Things--November 26, 2020
"While there were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom'." [Matthew 26:26-29]
I don't know that I had thought it this way before, but this probably wasn't the way Jesus would have wanted to spend his holiday. But it was necessary... for the sake of love.
Church folk are so used to hearing this story as the origin of what we call Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper, or we just leap past this story on the way to the cross, that we forget that Jesus was celebrating a holiday with his closest friends in this scene. And not just any holiday, this was Passover--the central festival of Israel's religious, national, and cultural life. Picture it like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July all rolled into one. It's a big deal. And of course the tradition was to eat the usual Passover Feast with your family, and to eat it with joyful remembrance. You pulled out all the stops to make everything just right. You joined with family and neighbors to have enough people around the table to eat the whole roasted lamb. And as one of the festivals specifically prescribed in the Torah, it was a matter of faith to get it right.
And yet here was Jesus, knowing that it wasn't the way he would have wanted. He knew it was mere hours before he would be abandoned by his followers. He knew the sham trial was waiting, and torture by the state and the empire's cross after that. He knew he wasn't going to be in his hometown. He knew all the aunts and uncles and extended relatives wouldn't be there. He knew they were putting it together as well as they could with a borrowed room in a strange city filled with tension in the streets. And so as much as the calendar told them all it was a day for celebration, it was just obvious--this wasn't the way things were "supposed" to go.
And yet, Jesus bears with the needs of the circumstances... for the sake of love. Things are different, but he is willing to let them be different--because the people he loves need it to be different. He is headed to a cross--and for two millennia, Christians have dared to claim that he offered up his life out of love for all the world to redeem and rescue all of us. Jesus also loved his disciples and didn't want them to misunderstand what was about to happen--he needed them to understand that the cross wasn't the empire's victory over him, but rather his subversive choice to break the power of death itself. He wanted them to understand he wasn't a helpless victim caught up in the machinations of powers beyond his control, but his chosen surrender to set his people free--like the Passover lamb itself, whose blood on the doorpost guarded the Israelites from the power of death.
So he takes the bread, breaks it, and gives thanks for it in its brokenness, and tells his disciples it is his own body. He takes the cup, meant to be celebrating the sweetness of freedom from slavery, and gives thanks that his own lifeblood can free the world anew.
He chooses to let this holiday celebration be different, for the sake of love. He gives thanks--lifting up the bread and the cup--even though the thanksgiving is colored by sorrow and suffering. Even though none of it is "the way it's supposed to be." Even though it wasn't like any Passover they had ever celebrated before. But love is worth letting the traditions change sometimes. Love is willing to go to additional lengths, and often that means going out of our comfort zones.
By comparison, the ways this year's Thanksgiving will be different are small changes. Yes, we are all making changes this year. Yes, many of our gatherings are smaller and feel subdued. Yes, the traditions change, and it's ok to name that it feels uncomfortable for things to be different. Yes, we miss the face to face gatherings with the larger groups. Yes, lots of things are different this year. And "different," as an adjective by itself, is neither good nor bad. The question is, "Why--why should things be different?" And when the answer is, "love," well, then, maybe there is something beautiful in the difference this year, even in the bittersweetness.
Jesus himself gives us a picture of how love sometimes leads you let the traditional celebration be different. Sometimes circumstances and love require us to let go of the mental picture of "how it's supposed to be," and to do things in new ways, for the sake of others and their needs--whether they understand what we are doing for them or not, whether we can draw a straight line between our actions and their well-being or not, and whether we get to see the direct impact of our choices for love. Jesus, after all, allows his Passover celebration to be different because he intends to offer up his life for the world at the cross, and the rest of the watching world doesn't even understand what's happening. He is willing to let things be different, even while the world remains blissfully ignorant. He is willing to set aside his picture-perfect holiday celebration, because sometimes that's what love does.
Today, lots of folks are making small sacrifices for the sake of love. Folks are not traveling or gathering in large crowds to avoid the possibility of spreading sickness. Folks are working extra-long shifts at the hospital and at nursing facilities, risking exposure themselves. Folks are trying extra hard to find new ways of being together... separately--dropping off meals at the homes of neighbors who could use a sign of care, making a phone call to someone who needs a reminder they are loved, writing a note card and taking the time to send it. We are also having to learn to let go, for a time, of some of our pictures of "the way things are supposed to be," for the sake of love. None of us is being asked to die on a cross for the sake of the world... but we are called to the same love. And sometimes what the way of Jesus look like is to take broken things and thank God for them anyway, and to let love lead us to do things differently.
Today, in whatever ways you are giving thanks, and with whatever things feel different or out of sorts or even broken like bread, remember that there is something beautiful in the choice to let it be different for the sake of love. Love turns broken bread and leftover wine into the very feast of God.
Lord Jesus, thank you for what you did for us... thank you for your presence with us... thank for the ways your love leads us still to face new situations in your goodness.