FEAST OF VICTORY
Preached at Trinity/Cherokee, IA
I don’t imagine it is different here in Cherokee than it is anywhere else: a family’s busy schedule pulls children, even parents, in a dozen different directions at once. Everyone’s on the go and so meals have the tendency to be on the go too. There was a time in our American culture, where the family dinner table was a place of fellowship. Maybe you parents, certainly you grandparents, remember this. The evening dinner table was where the members of the family gathered together, not just to share the food, but also to share the conversation; to catch up on what was going on in each other’s life; to talk about the joys and the sorrows of each individual, and to strengthen and support each other through the love and unity of the family bond.
That great American institution seems to be on the wane. And, chances are, what goes with it is a regular time of mutual conversation and consolation. American families are growing up apart rather than together. Conversations have moved from face-to-face and intimate, to text messages and whatever can be expressed in 140-character tweets. Rugged American individualism has turned into isolated individuals, even between family members living under the same roof.
I am sure the youth are thinking-maybe some of you adults are thinking-that I am making way too much of not sitting down together with the family for dinner. But, you only need to look at the history of the Bible to see that a time of sharing food and conversation together was essential part of the life of God’s people; not just for social reasons, but for spiritual reasons as well. Think of the vital role that meals played throughout the history of the Scriptures. There is the matter of all of the Jewish Feasts in the Old Testament which always included precisely what the name implies-a feast or banquet of rich foods. But they were also times of prayer and recalling the grace and mercy of God. Remember the high feast of the Old Testament?: the Passover Supper that time when God’s people ate the memorial meal which marked their deliverance from slavery in the land of Egypt.
Maybe there is one meal from the Old Testament that you don’t think of. The story of man’s salvation begins with the eating of a meal a meal of fruit, the fruit of that especially forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. And the Scriptures close with a meal, as the book of Revelation depicts the saints in the glory of heaven gathered together for what is called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It is for all this, that the eating which takes place in today’s text carries a much more profound significance than what we might first think. The disciples were frightened by the sudden appearance of Jesus. They thought, the text says, that He was a ghost. At that point, Jesus asked the disciples for something to eat. And, we are told that He ate a piece of fish in their presence.
The point is, Jesus didn’t do that simply to prove that He was not a ghost. Yes, He did have flesh and bones. That message was part of the resurrection message. His physical body was alive again. But, in addition to that, He partook of that simple meal to establish the rapport; to fellowship with them; to say that the unity was still there among them.
The disciples really needed to be reassured of that fact. For, if you will remember, back on the night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested, the Scripture says that they all deserted Him. They scattered. They broke off from that fellowship. It was as if each one of them had betrayed Jesus.
It is little wonder then, that when Jesus chose to calm the troubled, guilt-ridden hearts of the disciples, He came and eat with them. In Jesus’ day, eating with someone carried the significance of establishing fellowship together.
Remember the charges that the Jewish church leaders levied against Jesus during His ministry, when He shared a meal with Matthew the tax collector, when He sat down at the table with that wee little man Zaccheus? They said, “This fellow eats with sinners.” Jesus was always sharing meals with the public sinners of His time. And, once again, that act of sharing a meal together meant so much more than just spending a few hours in friendly socializing. It was a sign that the participants were in fellowship with one another; that there were no barriers; that they shared something in common. It was the way in which Christ demonstrated that He came into this world for these very kinds of people He came for the sinners. He came to seek and to save the lost.
And just as Jesus demonstrated this type of outreach to those public sinners, He now reaches out to His disciples. He did the most personal thing one could do to re-establish a bond of unity with His disciples. He shared a meal with them.
And all of a sudden Christ our Lord raises the matter of sharing a meal to a much higher level. “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.’ ”
This is no everyday meal, this is no everyday conversation! This is heavenly talk. This is a meal joined together with Words from the mouth of God Himself. It is about Jesus suffering and dying for us for the forgiveness of our sins. At the heart of both the meal and the message is the very heart of Christianity.
And in this very same way Christ reaches out to frightened, guilt-ridden sinners still today. He comes to us as the resurrected Savior so that we might share a meal in His presence and be comforted by His Word to us.
Throughout the history of the Christian Church, two components have formed the basis of the believer’s worship life: teaching and eating in the presence of Christ. The first half of our divine service centers upon the Word-God’s Word as it is proclaimed in the liturgy, in the Scripture readings and in the sermon. In this way Jesus talks to us. He comforts our troubled hearts with His eternal Word concerning the forgiveness for all our sins.
You and I have betrayed Christ in so many ways. You and I break the commandments by our thoughts, words, and deeds. There is no one of us who is righteous, not one. But Christ is not like us prideful sinners. He doesn’t stop speaking to those who have offended Him as we so often do. He keeps the lines of communication open. St. John tells us in the first chapter of his first letter that God’s Word is always there to say to us “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Jesus is here to teach us. Jesus is here to eat with us. And the meal which our Lord has established for us is no ordinary meal; He has elevated it to a more glorious level; for the food He offers us is His own body and blood which was offered up as the all-atoning sacrifice for us. The same body and blood, which was given into death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, is given to us in the Lord’s Supper. It is Christ’s way of establishing fellowship with us-telling us that everything is all right between Him and us; not by virtue of what we have done, but by virtue of His mercy; His death gives us life, His righteousness makes us righteous, His resurrection assures us that there is for us life after death.
There is something about breaking bread together, and enjoying each other’s company and conversation, which prove to be memorable blessings. Maybe you recall the family gathering for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner; the celebration of an anniversary or birthday maybe a confirmation meal today will become one of meals your family will remember. But as special as these meals are, none of these bring with it the blessing we receive when it is Christ Himself Who serves as the host as He does here in our worship together. He speaks to us, He teaches us, and then He invites us to partake of His heavenly banquet. In the Lord’s Supper we share a meal, not just with those Christians kneeling next to us, but with all true believers in this world and with all the company of heaven.
While the family tradition of sharing mealtime fellowship together may be on the decrease, here at Trinity is one place where fellowship will always be on the increase as Christ brings more and more into His fellowship by His Word and Sacrament.
So, dear children of God (confirmands), so all you dear children of God (the whole congregation), welcome to the Feast of Victory. Welcome to the foretaste of the Feast to Come.