Saturday, October 04, 2008

One Bread, One Body

Texts: Exodus 20:1-20, Ephesians 4:4-5

If you have ever been to a Passover meal, you may have heard this prayer: “Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheynu melech ha’olam, kidshanu b’mitzvotav.”

“Blessed are you, Adoni our God, Ruler of the Universe, who makes us holy with your commandments.”

This joyful festival of remembrance begins with prayers thanking God who has given the people commandments and that may not be familiar prayer to us. Perhaps some of you do, but I know I rarely – if ever – give thanks to God for these rules to live by. Giving thanks for boundaries and structure by which we live probably isn’t all that common in any of our relationships – let alone our relationship with God. Parents, do your children often thank you for telling them they can’t stay out past 11 or that they have to do their homework before they can play? Doctors, do your patients thank you when you tell them they can no longer eat their favorite foods, even if it will help save their lives? Yes, these rules are good for us, but it’s not just toddlers who don’t like to be told “no.”

If we think of the 10 commandments as just rules, blessing God who makes us holy with them may never roll off our tongues with authenticity. But the 10 commandments are not just about the rules – what to do and what not to do. They are more than the laws we must follow lest we be tried in God’s court.

To have a fuller appreciation of these commandments, it’s important to remind ourselves when these commandments were given. The people of Israel have just escaped slavery in Egypt. They have fled the land of oppression and are now in unfamiliar territory, wondering where they are fleeing to. Things are chaotic—they’ve already had a clash with some of the locals—and in the midst of uncertainty, the people who God as called out from the land of death are already looking back at this land with nostalgia. Sure, they were slaves and things were rough, but at least they knew their role and knew where they belonged.

In response to this uncertainty, God offers these commandments. The commandments begin with where all things begin – God. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” The first commandment and all the following do more than just provide a good way of living, they orient these directionless people – ordering the people away from things of death to the things of life and the Lord of life. Instead of saying “I am the Lord your God, the Creator of the Universe, the Beginning and the End,” God is much more personal, reminding the people what God has done for them.

The ten commandments make the people holy—as the Passover prayer says—in that they connect the people to the Holy One. Kathleen Norris suggests that these commandments help us find our way home. In the wilderness, in the uncertainty and the unknown, the people have a home, a way of relating with one another, a purpose – all bound up in their relationship with God which these commandments solidify.

Wherever the people would go, their commandments would go with them – literally and figuratively. The stone tablets Moses held were placed in the ark of the covenant – the place the people understood God to be. This ark, the God it represented and the tablets it contained, went everywhere – into battle, into their new land, into the new kingdom. This community was called to a new life by God and bound together in God.

We no longer have the ark, no longer have the stone tablets Moses held, but we still have the ten commandments – and we still have the relationship with God and with one another that these commandments helped to form. Certain Christian traditions would recite the Decalogue in worship every Sunday. We may not celebrate these commandments with our worship each week, but we do honor the relationship with God and one another they represent. And we have our own markers and makers of community we celebrate in our worship.

Together we gather in prayer, in word, song, and silence. Together we confess our sins, together we listen to God’s word and for God’s word, together we go out filled with the Spirit longing to serve the Lord. Together too we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

The first Lord’s Supper was Jesus’ Last Supper – the Passover meal. As Jesus gathered with his community, thanking God for the laws, remembering what God has done, and celebrating God’s work in the life of the people, he was creating a new feast of remembrance and celebration, a new way to form and observe community.

As the people of Israel were reminded when they were wandering in the wilderness, in God we all have a home. In God we have a family. God is the source of our unity. And we are called to this table to be one people. As one, we celebrate the life of our one Lord. At this table we are filled with the one Spirit and sent to live into our calling together.

No matter where you are, if you go to another church or another country, you can find home here at the table. All are welcome to share in the bread and drink from the cup. All are encouraged to find sustenance in this gathering and in our God. How wonderful to know that even when you’re in an unfamiliar town, even if you don’t know the people sitting next to you in the pew, you are at home in God.

Diana Butler Bass shares this story in her book Christanity for the Rest of Us: On the first Sunday his congregation was worshipping in their new sanctuary Jesus Reyes, minister at Iglesia Santa Maria in Falls Church, preached a sermon welcoming people—many of whom are Spanish-speaking immigrants—home. “Think of the joy of going home to the house you grew up in,” he said, “with the smell of mother’s cooking in the kitchen, the tastes of food, the sounds of family. Here, like your mother’s table, the Lord’s table welcomes you home. Here we are an extended family in the Spirit through communion. You are members of God’s house.”

Butler Bass noted that several people in the congregation wiped tears away at those words. Many members of this congregation would never return home to their mother’s table or their mother country. “They must make a new home in God.”

All of us are members of God’s house – wherever we worship and in whatever language we worship in. At this table we have a home, because in God we have a home. Right now, with heartbreaking stories of families losing their homes, we all can appreciate how dear having a home – a spiritual place of comfort and shelter – truly is. With the uncertainty the chaos our economy is in creates, we can appreciate how important it is to find rest and renewal in the grace of God.

Through the commandments, through the Word, through this meal we call the Eucharist, we are nourished and nurtured. Through these gifts of God’s grace, we rest the temptations to turn against the laws and the community God gave us. We can say no to the idols of greed or pride, no to overworking ourselves, no to longing for things that are not authentic to who God has created us to be. We can say yes to one another, yes to the image of God within us, and yes to the God who calls us together.

In our gathering together for worship—particularly at the table—we honor God’s vision of one body partaking from this one bread. As we share our bread and the cup, we remember and celebrate that no matter the type of bread, the shape of the cup, the place of worship—when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are one in Christ. We are home in God.

Blessed is Adoni our God, Ruler of the Universe, who makes us holy with the commandments and brings us home to the table. Amen.

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