Sunday’s sermon: Prayer is Complicated

Text used – 1 Samuel 1:9-20; 2:1-10

  • Well, y’all, I have to be honest with you: it’s starting to feel like this year of Narrative Lectionary readings are all about difficult texts.
    • Began with story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent in the Garden of Eden → never an easy story to tackle because it forces us to look at the active and complicit role we play in disobeying God
    • Continued a few weeks later with the story of the first Passover → tough story because we catch a glimpse of God’s vengeance in the final plague: the death of every first born in Egypt
    • Last week’s story about the Israelites and the golden calf and Moses talking God out of punishing the people harshly for their rebellion → not exactly a warm and fuzzy bedtime story!
    • Thread that binds all these challenging stories together = the steadfast nature of God’s promise
      • God’s promise remains even in the face of our human fickleness and failings
      • God’s promise remains even in the face of injustice and oppression from those in power
      • God’s promise remains even in the face of God’s own frustration and indignation over human stubbornness and doubt
        • Promise of God’s presence
        • Promise of God’s love
        • Promise of God’s hope, even in situations where hope seems most minimal
  • And then we come to today’s text: the story of Hannah, her prayer, and her son, Samuel. → painful story in and of itself
    • First, let’s fill in some of the gaps around today’s portion of the story.
      • Elkanah has 2 wives: Hannah and Peninnah → Peninnah has children, Hannah does not
      • Earlier in 1 Sam 1: Every year [Elkanah] would leave his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD of heavenly forces in Shiloh … Whenever he sacrificed, Elkanah would give parts of the sacrifice to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But he would give only one part of it to Hannah, though he loved her, because the LORD had kept her from conceiving.[1]
      • Also revealed in the earlier part of 1 Sam 1: Peninnah would tease Hannah mercilessly because she had no children
    • Today’s story opens on just one such time: Hannah is particularly distraught and so she goes to the temple to present herself to God → And in Hannah’s words, we hear a prayer that is especially, painfully poignant as we recognize October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month – text: Then [Hannah] made this promise: “Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! Give her a boy! Then I’ll give him to the Lord for his entire life. No razor will ever touch his head.”[2] → I think it’s hard for us to understand the true power behind Hannah’s prayer and her vow. She is pleading with God with every fiber of her being for a child, and her longing is so deep and desperate that she is promising to give that child back to God if only she can bring him into this world.
      • Not a prayer simply relegated to the pages of Scripture and history → This is a prayer prayed by women around the world every day. “If only, God, then I’ll give you this … I’ll do that … I’ll be this … I’ll change that … Anything you want, God, if only …” If only, God … if only.
      • Hannah’s prayer exemplifies everything that is both culturally wrong and wholly right when it comes to our attitudes about prayer → Hannah’s prayer is raw and real. It is revealing in the most intimate of ways, bearing her heart and soul openly to God. It’s the kind of prayer that we aspire to … but also the kind of prayer that makes us uncomfortable to witness. It’s not the “Minnesota nice” form of prayer: “Please and thank you, God, if you have time.”
        • Rev. Joanna Harader: Hannah’s prayer is simply not proper. She is far too bold before God. Far too emotional. We are much more comfortable with the way Jesus taught us to pray. Head bowed, eyes closed. (O.K., that’s not actually in the Bible, but we know that’s how it works.) “Your will be done; give us our daily bread.” It’s a modest, humble, controlled prayer. There is much good in the prayer that Jesus taught us. It is our model. That is why we pray it—or a version of it—almost every Sunday. [But] I want to lift up the virtues of the improper prayer; of Hannah’s gut-wrenching, emotionally charged tirade and bargaining session.[3]
    • And so Hannah is there in the temple, distraught to the point where she is sobbing uncontrollably. And then we have this strange and uncomfortable interaction between Eli, the priest, and Hannah.
      • Hannah is standing there praying and crying – text: Hannah was praying in her heart; her lips were moving, but her voice was silent.[4] → We can just feel the passion and the fervor in Hannah’s prayers, can’t we, because we’ve all prayed prayers like this at some time, haven’t we? Prayers into which we pour every ounce of ourselves – our hopes, our dread, our desperation, our longing, and our whole hearts.
        • Prayers we’ve lifted for ourselves
        • Prayers we’ve lifted for our loved ones
        • Prayers we’ve lifted for our neighbors
        • Prayers we’ve lifted for our country and our world
        • These are the soul-bearing, soul-altering prayers of our deepest selves – the prayers that we pray in anxiety and distress, the prayers the give voice and hope to the most fervent hopes and fears of our souls, the prayers that cannot help but have a lasting effect on the course of our whole lives.
      • Eli finds Hannah pouring her heart and soul, her words and tears into this whole-body prayer. – response is awkward (to say the least): Eli thought she was drunk. “How long will you act like a drunk? Sober up!” Eli told her. “No, sir!” Hannah replied. “I’m just a very sad woman. I haven’t had any wine or beer but have been pouring out my heart to the Lord. Don’t think your servant is some good-for-nothing woman. This whole time I’ve been praying out of my great worry and trouble!”[5] → Did you just cringe? ‘Cuz I did! In the midst of this greater lesson prayer, Eli gives us this delicate and uncomfortable lesson on snap judgments, right? Eli assumes he knows exactly what’s going on, so he reprimands this lone woman who’s acting a little odd, expecting her to apologize and repent. But instead, Hannah pours out her heart to him, begging him to believe that she is not drunk but instead is distraught. Yikes. A reminder that you never know what struggles someone is bearing in silence.
    • After Hannah’s explanation, Eli sends her off with a blessing à Hannah heads home with Elkanah → text: The Lord remembered her.[6] → Hannah becomes pregnant with Samuel
  • And, friends, there’s so much that’s challenging wrapped up in that turn of events!
    • So many difficult questions:
      • Were Hannah’s prayers so much better … so much louder … so much more effective than the prayers of thousands of others who have prayed exactly the same thing with no result?
      • Was there something special about Hannah that God chose to remember her while refusing or neglecting to remember so many others who have felt the same pain and prayed the same prayer?
      • Was there something about Eli’s blessing that tipped the scales in Hannah’s direction, that turned a spotlight onto her plight and drew God’s attention in an undeniable way?
      • I don’t think the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” and yet we cannot help but ask them, can we? Because whether we realize it or not, we all know someone who has struggled with fertility, with pregnancy loss, with the loss of a child. Statistics say one in four women will suffer some sort of miscarriage or pregnancy loss in their lives. One in four will pray the same kind of prayer that Hannah prayed. Some will conceive … or conceive again. And some will not. And that leaves us wrestling with just how complicated prayer can be.
        • Complicated in the asking – the how, the why, the words
        • Complicated in the waiting
        • Complicated in the response – whatever the response
    • Prayer is the rawest, realest, most fragile and precarious act of faith that we can engage in because it involves nothing but our greatest vulnerability.
      • Involves naming our weaknesses and our deepest longings to God
      • Involves holding them out in hope that God will act – trusting that God will act – but without any kind of assurance that God will act in the way that we want God to act
      • Involves uncertainty … And human beings are not very good at uncertainty. I think our golden calf story from last week proved that pretty well.
        • Paul speaks of prayers like this in Romans: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.[7]
        • Kate Bowler, author and assistant professor at Duke Divinity School (in Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved): I plead with a God of Maybe, who may or may not let me collect more years. It is a God I love, and a God that breaks my heart.[8]
      • Sometimes we get to pray the prayer that Hannah prays at the end of our Scripture reading this morning – a prayer of joy and thanksgiving that is literally overflowing from her soul just like her tears overflowed as she prayed in the temple at the beginning of our text. And sometimes we are left aching and wondering. And I wish with all I am that I could tell you why this morning – that I could wrap this all up for you in a neat, easy theological package and say, “Here’s the solution. Pray exactly this way, and God will always do what you ask.” But I can’t.
        • What I can tell you: Getting an undesired response to prayer is not a reflection on the way you prayed – the form, the frequency, the fervor, or the faith behind your prayers → There’s a lot of really bad, really twisted, really harmful theology swirling around in Christian circles today that will try to tell you that if you’re suffering, it’s because you haven’t prayed hard enough or faithfully enough. This theology will try to tell you that cures and miracle fixes and the answer to all your problems lies right around the corner if you’d only get your prayers “right.” But that’s wrong. Do you know what lesson we can take from this difficult text on prayer and pain this morning? God’s presence. God does indeed hear our prayers. God holds sacred space for them all – the happy ones and the sad ones, the desperate ones and the delighted ones, even the most boring and basic ones and the ones that we cannot even put words to. God is there with us in the midst of prayer, arms open, heart open, grace open and beckoning. Because in the end, friends, that is why we pray: to remind ourselves that God is, indeed, there as promised, and to remind God that we are here and we are willing to engage in our faith … even when it is gut-wrenchingly, soul-achingly hard. Amen.

[1] 1 Sam 1:3, 4-5.

[2] 1 Sam 1:11.

[3] Joanna Harader. “1 Samuel 1:4-18” from Spacious Faith: Spiritual Practices, Worship Pieces, and General Ponderings blog. Posted July 20, 2008, accessed Oct. 18, 2020.

[4] 1 Sam 1:13 (emphasis added).

[5] 1 Sam 1:13b-16.

[6] 1 Sam 1:19.

[7] Rom 8:26 (NRSV).

[8] Kate Bowler. Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. (New York, NY: Random House, 2018), xv.

Sunday’s sermon: Trying to Fill the Void

Text used – Exodus 32:1-14

  • You may have heard that the Nobel Committee is starting to release the names of this year’s Nobel Prize winners in various categories. One of the most interesting awards this year comes in the category of physics.
    • This year’s physics award[1]
      • Honors decades of research about black holes
      • Shared by 3 people:
        • Half to Roger Penrose (University of Oxford) → showed mathematically that black holes could exist
        • Half shared by Reinhard Genzel (Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and UC Berkeley) and Andrea Ghez (UCLA) → provided the most convincing evidence that the black hole at the center of our very own Milky Way galaxy does, in fact, exist
    • So what’s the deal with black holes, anyway? What are they?
      • From an article in The Atlantic this week: Black holes are among the most mysterious phenomena in the universe. Forged from the cores of dead stars, they are so dense that nothing can escape their gravitational pull, not even light, which renders them invisible. Entire stars, once luminous, can be extinguished if they cross a black hole’s boundary, and pass the point of no return.[2]
      • Same Atlantic article included a paragraph that really intrigued me
        • Mentions recent research (published in Jan. 2020) that revealed scientists had found the closest known black hole to Earth – only 1,000 lightyears away and located in the Telescopium constellation: That nearby black hole is no threat to Earth. No known black hole is. If anything, we benefit from their existence. The stellar explosions that produce black holes also spew elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen into space. The collisions of black holes and neutron stars help spread heavier elements, such as gold and platinum. These elements make up our Earth, and our own selves.[3] → And the idea that stuff of our every day – our planet, our atmosphere, our homes, even our very bodies – were quite possibly spun from the vast void of a black hole resonated in a powerful way with me this week as I thought about this morning’s Scripture – a story about a golden calf and the void that the Israelites were trying to fill … and the voids that we try to fill in our hearts and souls and lives today.
  • So let’s talk about the Israelites and that golden calf.
    • Uncomfortable story on a number of levels
    • Grand Story of Scripture up to this point
      • Israelites have been led out of Egypt by Moses (accompanied by his brother Aaron, his right-hand man)
      • Despite Pharaoh’s sudden and violent change of heart, Israelites managed to evade the pursuing Egyptian army when God parted the waters and Moses led the Israelites across
      • Israelites have begun to wander in the wilderness … and have begun to get sick of wandering → already doing some grumbling and doubting
      • Most recently: Israelites have arrived at Mount Sinai → Moses has gone up on the mountain to speak to God
        • While on the mountain, Moses is receiving instructions from God → 10 commandments[4], instructions on all sorts of other instructions (about proper worship, proper sacrifice, proper treatment of others, proper festivals, proper construction of the tabernacle, about observing the sabbath, and so on)
  • Problem: this discussion between God and Moses was taking a long time! → That’s where today’s reading comes in: The people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come on! Make us gods who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.”[5]
    • First reason that this Scripture is uncomfortable: the anxiety level of the Israelites → Here they are in the middle of the wilderness having followed this Moses fellow out of Egypt … and how he’s gone and disappeared. He’s disappeared up the mountain claiming to be talking to God, but all that the people at the base of the mountain can see are clouds and lightning. All they can hear is thunder. And all they can feel is the absence – the absence of Moses and, by association, the absence of God. And that absence has made them anxious. It’s made them fearful. It’s filled them with so much doubt that they start casting about frantically for something else – anything else! – to worship. They feel that deep, dark void within themselves, and they are desperate to fill it in whatever way they can.
      • Even more uncomfortable because maybe this hits a little close to home, especially in these crazy, mixed-up, contentious, separated times in which we’re living right now → we are …
        • Anxious about COVID
        • Anxious about social and economic ramifications of the pandemic
        • Anxious about blatant and violent racism rampant in our society today
        • Anxious about the political contention and unrest
        • Anxious about all of the other things that we would normally be anxious about if the world weren’t totally upside-down
          • Relationships
          • Finances
          • Raising children
          • Loved ones’ wellbeing
          • Future plans
      • And all that anxiety sort of hollows us out. It exhausts us and wears us down until we feel that void within us, too, doesn’t it? And when it does, very often, we aren’t so different from the Israelites in our story.
  • So even as we feel that anxiety along with the Israelites, we witness them try to fill that void: appeal to Moses’ brother, Aaron, for “gods who can lead us” → Aaron relents (seemingly without any qualms??) and instructs the Israelites to give him all the gold they have → Aaron melts down all their gold and cast the golden calf → Aaron builds an altar to the calf → Israelites get up early the next morning to have a worshipful festival for the calf[6]
    • Major, inexcusable mistake that Aaron makes – text: When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf. Then Aaron announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!”[7] → Heb. that Aaron uses for “Lord” is, in fact, the most holy name for God … the name that the Israelites use only for God and God alone … the name that is so special, so sacred that when they encounter it when reading Scripture, they don’t even say the name → This is the name Yahweh. This is the most holy and precious name for God. And Aaron has used it not speaking of the God who made sacred covenants with their ancestors Abraham and Isaac and Jacob … not speaking of the God who has led them out of slavery and through danger … not speaking of the God who has called them God’s own beloved and treasured, chosen people … but of the golden calf. The false god. The inexcusable, completely incomparable, wholly inadequate substitute.
    • Ways we try to fill that void = not so different from the Israelites
      • Purchases: cars and “big toys,” clothes and shoes and jewelry, knick knacks and home décor and things that fill up our spaces
      • Relationships – some healthy, some not
      • Addictions – alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.
      • We try to fill that void within us with whatever we think might bring us happiness and peace … and maybe they do for a moment as we feel that dopamine hit. But that euphoria doesn’t last, and before long, we’re back where we started: anxious and wanting for more. → feel like there’s a black hole inside us and try to elevate all sorts of things to “false god” level … but false gods, they remain.
  • Not surprisingly, God’s reaction to this major transgression on the part of the Israelites is not good. → this is the other uncomfortable portion of this text
    • God’s reaction is swift and fierce – text: The Lord spoke to Moses: “Hurry up and go down! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, are ruining everything! They’ve already abandoned the path that I commanded. They have made a metal bull calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it and declared, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I’ve been watching these people, and I’ve seen who stubborn they are. Now leave me alone! Let my fury burn and devour them. Then I’ll make a great nation out of you.”[8]
      • Definitely an uncomfortable impression of God
        • A God who is offended
        • A God who is hurt
        • A God who is frustrated
        • A God who is feeling slighted
    • But it’s crucial for us to look at the story as a whole, not just these verses isolated in and of themselves.
      • What comes next? → Moses intercedes on behalf of the Israelites[9]
        • Intercedes for the lives of the people
        • Intercedes for the covenant that hangs by a thread
        • Intercedes by recalling the words that we read only a few weeks ago – God’s covenant with Abram that God would make his descendants “as many as the stars in the sky”[10]
      • Result of Moses’ intercessions – text: Then the Lord changed his mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people.[11]
    • As a whole, even in the face of the discomfort that this whole story stirs within us, we’re reminded of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
      • Heb. “changed his mind” is much more nuanced than we can grasp in the English translation = connotations of compassion, comfort, and allowing oneself to be sorry → This is the picture of God that we are left with in this story. So often, we talk about how we as humans are created in God’s own image, and when we do that, we tend to talk about the happy, heart-warming, exciting parts of being human: creativity, love, joy, and so on. But today’s story shows us that being created in God’s image also includes a compassion born out of altercation and struggle. It shows us that being created in God’s image includes comfort in the face of some really difficult, contentious, painful circumstances. And it shows us that being created in God’s image includes the capacity for forgiveness – both seeking it and giving it, frequently at the same time.
        • Brings it around to Jesus’ role in the Grand Story of faith and declares the good news of the gospel for us
          • That Jesus makes that intercession for us first, foremost, and forever
          • That the grace extended to us through the life and death and resurrection of Christ bridges even the most contentious moments in our lives
          • That we are only made truly whole – that the only thing that can truly fill that void within us gnawed out by anxiety and doubt and fear and frustration – is the love of God
            • A God who has been there
            • A God who knows all about our mishaps and loves us still
            • A God whose forgiveness is greater than we can even begin to imagine
            • Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Marina Koren. “What Earth Owes to Black Holes” in The Atlantic. Posted Oct. 7, 2020, accessed Oct. 10, 2020.

[2] Koren.

[3] Koren.

[4] Ex 20:1-21.

[5] Ex 32:1.

[6] Ex 32:2-7.

[7] Ex 32:5.

[8] Ex 32:7-10.

[9] Ex 32:11-13.

[10] Ex 32:13.

[11] Ex 32:14.

Sunday’s sermon: Table of Refuge, Table of Grace

Text used – Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8

  • There’s a show on the Food Network called “Cutthroat Kitchen.”[1] Some of you may be familiar with it.
    • Hosted by Alton Brown
    • One of those reality competition shows for chefs
    • Basic format
      • 4 chefs compete in 3 rounds
      • Each round is themed (“pub food,” “fish and chips,” “red velvet cake,” etc.)
      • Chefs have 1 minute to gather all the ingredients that they need for their dish
      • Chefs get 30 mins. to prepare their dish
      • Chef with the least pleasing dish is eliminated after each round
    • Twist
      • At the beginning of the episode, each chef is given $25,000. Throughout that episode, the chefs are given the opportunity to use that $25,000 to buy items and restrictions to sabotage their competitors – things like …
        • Cooking with one hand taped into an oven mitt
        • Cooking with only children’s-sized pots and pans
        • Having to run through a maze of velvet ropes to get from their prep area to their cooking area
      • Sabotages are also auctioned off during the rounds, so not only are the chefs frantically trying to make the best dish they can as fast as they can, they’re also trying to calculate how much money they have left, who might have a better dish than they do and therefore need to be hindered, and worrying about whether their fellow competitors are going to stick them with a culinary disadvantage.
    • Winner keeps whatever they have left from the $25,000 they were given at the beginning of the episode
    • Now, many of you know that I love to watch cooking shows. I’ve watched Cutthroat Kitchen a few times, and to be honest, I have trouble with it because of the whole premise of the show: the sabotages. I know that’s why most people watch it. I mean, let’s face it: it’s funny to watch a professional chef trying to turn out a gourmet dish using nothing but plastic cutlery or canned versions of the beautiful, fresh ingredients that they originally selected. But the reason I love watching these cooking shows is because I like seeing what these incredible chefs come up with. I like to watch their creative process and see the beautiful, delicious-looking dishes that they produce. It’s inspiring! And when they’re so drastically hindered by such ridiculous restrictions, that takes some of the fun out for me. It ceases to be about the food and instead becomes about the strategy and the scheming. And Lord knows we witness enough strategy and scheming in our world today without scripting any more.
      • Reason why “Cutthroat Kitchen” struck me as the perfect contrast with today’s Scripture reading
        • Reality show: all about the intrigue and the sabotage à meal end up coming second
        • Scripture: all about the meal despite the intrigue and sabotage that was happening in the lives of the Israelites
  • Today’s Scripture reading = story of the 1st Passover meal
    • Backstory (because we’ve skipped quite a bit between Joseph’s story last week and today’s passage):
      • Moses = son of a Hebrew slave in Egypt → in order to save his life, his mother placed him in a basket and set the basket in the river → basket and baby were picked up downstream by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as a son in Pharaoh’s house → ran away from Egypt as an adult after killing an Egyptian taskmaster for abusing a Hebrew slave → married into Midianite tribe and lived as a shepherd, watching his father-in-law’s flock → encountered God in the burning bush → God revealed Moses he is called to free the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt → Moses returned to Egypt and demanded that Pharaoh set God’s people free over and over again and got turned down by Pharaoh over and over again → God brought the plagues on the land of Egypt to try to convince Pharaoh to set the Hebrew people → Pharaoh continued to deny the people their freedom, even doubling down by making their working conditions harsher and demanding even more work from them[2]
    • Brings us to today – preparation for the final plague: the death of the firstborn – God in text: I’ll pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I’ll strike down every oldest child in the land of Egypt, both humans and animals. I’ll impose judgments on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.[3] → Now, I will admit that this part of the Grand Story of our faith is a difficult one to wrestle with – a God who would sweep through the land and take the lives of all the firstborn. As people of faith, part of our jobs is to struggle with some of the stories that make up our collective history – to struggle with what they mean for us today, to struggle with how they speak to our faith, to struggle with what they tell us about God. And your spoiler alert for today, friends, is that I don’t have the answers to this one. There are definitely some darker, harsher, more uncomfortable threads in our Grand Story of faith, and this is certainly one of them. So if you feel uneasy about this particular facet of this story, that’s okay. I do, too.
      • God forewarns Moses and his brother (and right-hand man), Aaron that they need to make preparations
        • Much of the text for today is details about preparations for the meal itself – what the Israelites should eat, how they should prepare it, how they should eat it, even how they should be dressed when they eat it. – text (sample): Don’t eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over fire with its head, legs, and internal organs. Don’t let any of it remain until morning, and burn any of it left over in the morning. This is how you should eat it. You should be dressed, with your sandals on your feet and your walking stick in your hand. You should eat the meal in a hurry.[4]
        • Preparations to protect the Israelite households from what is to come – text: They should take some of the blood [of the lamb] and smear it on the two doorposts and on the beam over the door of the houses in which they are eating. … The blood will be your sign on the house where you live. Whenever I see the blood, I’ll pass over you. No plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.[5]
        • Preparation for leaving because surely Pharaoh will free the Israelites after this final act and God will fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham – text: Moses said to the people, “Remember this day which is the day you came out of Egypt, out of the place you were slaves, because the Lord acted with power to bring you out of there. … Today, in the month of Abib, you are going to leave. The Lord will bring you to the land … that the Lord promised your ancestors to give to you, a land full of milk and honey.[6]
      • In all these preparations, God was directing the people to set a table – a table of resistance and freedom, a table of promise and hope, a table of refuge and safety in the face of real and impending danger. → God (through Moses) ensured that this critical element would be an established and essential part of the Grand Story of the Israelites faith – text: You should perform this ritual in this month. You must eat unleavened bread for seven days. The seventh day is a festival to the Lord. Only unleavened bread should be eaten for seven days. No leavened bread and no yeast should be seen among you in your whole country. You should explain to your child on that day, “It’s because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.”[7]
  • And of course, this is the same table that was set by Jesus and the disciples thousands of years later in that Upper Room just hours before Jesus’ arrest.
    • Matthew: On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”[8] → As faithful and observant Jews, Jesus and the disciples made the preparations and carried out the same holy meal that their ancestors had so many millennia before. They honored the sacrifice. They honored God’s promise to the people and the people’s faith in God. They honored that glimmer of hope in the darkest, most desperate of times.
    • But of course, Jesus knew dark and desperate times were just around the corner as well, so he added an element to nourish and sustain the disciples own faith: While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven.”[9] → Jesus set for the disciples a table of sacrifice and redemption, a table of grace and steadfast love, a table of promise and hope.
  • And so today, we come to that same table. And on this special Sunday – the World Communion Sunday – we come with siblings in faith all around the world celebrating this same meal … this same grace … this same hope.
    • World Communion Sunday[10]
      • Established by Rev. Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr, pastor at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA in 1933
      • Grew out of the congregation’s Division of Stewardship as an attempt to bring churches together for a service of Christian unity
      • Adopted as a denominational practice in 1936
      • Promoted by the Department of Evangelism of Federal Council of Church (precursor to the National Council of Churches) to extend the celebration of World Communion Sunday among other denominations and other countries in 1940
      • From the Presbyterian Mission Agency article about World Communion Sunday: “Today, World Communion Sunday is celebrated around the world, demonstrating that the church founded on Jesus Christ peacefully shares God-given goods in a world increasingly destabilized by globalization and global market economies based on greed.”
    • And so today, we come. We come to this table of refuge, this table of grace. We come with siblings all around the world seeking community and a place to belong … a place to be loved. We come with siblings who are weary and heart-sick, siblings who are desperate for a light in the darkness in which we live. We come hungry for hope. We come hungry for freedom. We come hungry for forgiveness. We come hungry for love that will never run out. Because that was God’s promise in bread and wine. That was God’s promise millennia ago with Moses and the Israelites. That was God’s promise millennia ago with Jesus and the disciples. That is God’s promise today and tomorrow and forever. Alleluia. Amen.


[2] Ex 2-11.

[3] Ex 12:12.

[4] Ex 12:9-11b.

[5] Ex 12:7, 13.

[6] Ex 13:3-5 (minor parts omitted).

[7] Ex 13:5b-8.

[8] Mt 26:17.

[9] Mt 26:26-28.