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A service of Communion for Advent

The following is a liturgy I wrote for use during Advent.  Permission for use in worship is granted.  A note that it was “written by Robb McCoy, at http://www.fatpastor.me” would be appreciated.  If you’re going to use it, I also love hearing about it in the comments below, but that’s not necesarrt.  The musical settings found in the liturgy are Copyright 1990 Steve Garnaas-Holmes. Published by The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church.  The links are to a pdf file.  Some of the Words of Institution are also from the United Methodist Book of Worship.

Communion Liturgy for Advent

One:      In this season of expectant waiting, we are invited to Christ’s table here and now.  Coming to Christ’s table is a way to experience the grace of God.  Therefore it is open to all.  The only requirement is a sincere heart.  The only barriers to the table are created in our own heart.  So we come together as a people to confess our sins to God.  We confess as a people because we all fall short of God’s plan of perfect love.  We do not confess to avoid punishment.  We confess to free our own hearts and minds, so we may remove the barriers we build between ourselves, our God, and our brothers and sisters.

All:          We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.   We go about our lives as if Christmas is an event to be celebrated, but not lived.  We hear the good news, but do not heed it.  We turn away the holy family for there is no room in our hearts.  We hear the cry of the expectant mother, desperate for care and a place to lie, but listen instead to the carols.  We see the lowly children, born in mangers among the filth of the world, but we look instead to the decorations.  We hear the call of the Angels to come and worship the newborn King, but we bow down to the idols of our culture.  Forgive us, we pray.  Forgive us and free us for joyful obedience.  Remove the barriers that we construct, and empower us to be a people doing the real, gritty, holy, graceful, loving work of Christmas every day. In the name of the Holy Spirit, we pray.  Amen.  (pause for silent confession and prayer)

One:      Out of the wilderness a voice calls out.  Prepare ye the way of the Lord.  Prepare ye the way of love.  Prepare ye the way of forgiveness.  The Christ child was born in the midst of darkness.  The waiting is over.  Christ may be born today in your heart.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we are all forgiven.

All:         Joy to the World. Amen.

(Musical Setting)

One:      The Lord be with you

All:         And also with you.

One:      Lift up your hearts.

All:         We lift them up to the Lord.

One:      Now let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

All:         How good it is to give thanks and praise.

One:      It is good to give our thanks and praise.  It is a good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to you, God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.  You create the world from chaos.  By simply speaking, you set the cosmos into motion, and create all things from the dust of stars.

All:         Blessed are you, O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth.

One:      God of many blessings, you called out a family to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.  You gave them a land, and promised to make of them a great nation so that all of the nations of the world could be blessed.

All:         Blessed are you, God of Abraham and Sarah.

One:      God of salvation, when the people were but slaves in Egypt you called upon your servant Moses.  You gave him the power to speak salvation to the Pharoah, and led your people out of slavery.  You led them over the water, and helped them Passover into freedom.  When the people were hungry, you gave them food from the sky.  When the people were thirsty, you brought forth water from the rocks.  When the people were no people, you gave them the Law.

All:         Blessed are you, God of our salvation.

One:      When the people asked for a King, you anointed David to be a just ruler. Though flawed, David united the people, and you promised to be with his line forever.  When the Kings rebelled, as you warned them they would, you anointed the prophets, who called the people back to obedience.  The prophets spoke the truth to power, and called the people to remember who and whose they were.  The prophets warned the people of the consequences of injustice and false worship.  When the people fell into exile, the prophets spoke words of hope and restoration when all around them, there was nothing but despair.

All:         A voice is crying out: “Clear the Lord’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!

One:      You promised the coming of an anointed one, who would lead the people to peace and righteousness.  You promised that the descendant of David would rule forever.  You promised that out of Bethlehem would come the Prince of Peace.  You promised the coming of your Kingdom, when “swords would be beaten into plows, and spears into pruning hooks.”

All:         “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

One:      John the Baptist came, telling the people to “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”  John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. And so now we come, having confessed our sins, searching for the Holy Spirit to come and fill us with expectant grace.  We come to be transformed by what has already come, and waiting with hope for what is to come.  We deck our halls with joy, but it is our hearts that truly matter.

All:         Prepare the way of the Lord in our world.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our communities.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our churches.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts.

One:      And so, in hopeful anticipation, we give thanks to you, God of Creation,  God of Abraham and Sarah,  God of salvation, God of the Law, God of King David, God of the Prophets, God of hope and deliverance, God of John, and God of us all.  We join in praise and come together to sing unending hymn of the saints of glory.

(Musical setting)

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.  God of power and might adored, heaven and earth are shining bright with the glory of your light.  Loud Hosannas now we sing. In the highest they may ring. Blessed is the coming one. Christ Emmanuel your son.  Glory in the highest. Holy God, your name is blessed. 

One:      Holy are you, and holy is your Son Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who is the one to whom John pointed in the wilderness.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who was born to us in a manger, for there was no room in the inn.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who came to show us the way to your love.  He proclaimed good news to the poor.  He restored the sight to the blind.  He called the children to his side, taught the women, ate with sinners, and called out the religious leaders blinded by the letter of the Law.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who was betrayed by those who loved him.  Who was persecuted by those who feared him.  Who was crucified by those who thought that his death would be the end of him.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who, on the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:

All:         “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

One:      And when the supper was over, took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples and said:

All:         “Drink from this, all of you.  This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

One:      And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:         Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

One:      Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.  Make us a Christmas people, secure in what has come, and hopeful for what is yet to be.  By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.  Keep us vigilant in our Advent waiting until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.

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The Open Table

Click on the picture to see a part of Amy's house concert.

Click on the picture to see a part of Amy’s house concert.

It was a nearly perfect night.  Ever since, I’ve been thinking, “Can we do that again?”

We gathered in at our home.  It was the first cool night of autumn, and we started the night with some chili and hot apple cider around a fire pit.  Then we came inside.  There were 15 friends sitting in couches and chairs around our living room.  Amy Cox, a talented singer-songwriter with a heart for Jesus and a passion for justice, brought her guitar, a mic, and a small speaker.

She sang.  She told stories.  The kids came and went as they pleased.  The older ones stayed upstairs, listened to the music and whispered to each other in their own little world. The younger ones came and went, going from the floor to the basement to play when they felt like being more rambunctious.  The littlest ones stayed in laps and arms – not necessarily the laps and arms of their own parents.  At one point I looked around at this group of people, all of whom I care for deeply, and my heart was warmed.

“This,” I thought, “is church.”

It was a holy moment, one which I want to re-create.  My wife and I have talked since.  “Do you think we could do that again?”  And time and again our answer is, “I don’t know if we can, but we need to try.”  Unfortunately, Amy Cox isn’t available.  She’s busy planting a church in Virginia, and I wish her success.  She was able to come through the Quad Cities on a cross-country trip to San Diego, and I’m so glad she was able share a night with us.

Luckily, I have some friends with some musical talent, and I’m hoping we can create something together.  Picture this:

It’s a Thursday night.  People come to our house at 6:30.  Hopefully everybody’s had dinner, but we’ll have some small snacks, wine, coffee, and we’ll just chat for a little while as everyone arrives.  Eventually, we’ll write down something for which we would like prayer, and throw it in a basket.  All are invited to share if they’d like, but don’t have to.  We share a brief time of prayer and silence.  Someone with a guitar leads sings a couple of songs.  Some sing along.  Some of the kids stick around for the music.  Some have gone down to the basement to play.  Someone reads a passage of Scripture.  I talk about it for ten minutes or so.  It’s not really a sermon – more like a guided discussion.  We wrap up the discussion, then we talk about a mission or ministry – local or global – and take an offering for it.  Sometimes instead of an offering, we might put do some kind of hands-on mission.  Then I get a nice loaf of bread and grape juice, and we share in Communion.  We sing another song or two, and go home.  Before we leave, everyone takes one of the prayers that was written down at the beginning of the night and we promise to be in prayer for whatever we draw over the course of the week.

This is my vision.  It is kind of scary to put it out there like this, but I do so because I wonder, does anyone out there have a similar experience?  What kind of worship have you experienced outside of church walls?  What is the value of gathering in homes?  What are the pitfalls?  I’d love to hear from you.

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Six reasons I share Communion with kids

wine and breadCommunion is one of my favorite things about worship.  It is a ritual ripe with meaning and power.  People ask me sometimes about Communion and children.  I have been giving my daughters Communion since they could take solid food.  Some wonder if their kids are allowed to take Communion, so I offer this as my answer.  As far as I’m concerned, children are always welcome at the table, but I also respect the wishes of the parents.  If there is a new family coming forward, and they have a little one, I always say something like, “Your child is welcome to partake, if you are okay with it. If not, I’d be happy to give her a blessing.”   In that moment, it is difficult to go into all the details of why I invite that child to share in the bread and the cup.  So now I give you these reasons why any child (or any other person for that matter) will always be welcome to Communion at a table over which I preside.

  1. Communion is a means of Grace.  I believe that Communion is a powerful act.  I believe that God is present in the bread and the cup.  In that holy moment of eating and drinking, one can feel the presence of God.  This is at the foundation of my Communion theology, and everything follows from this precept.  God meets people in Communion, so why would I do anything to get in the way of that meeting?
  2. It’s not my table.  One of my favorite things to say during the course of any service is, “This is not my table.  This is not a Methodist table.  This is Christ’s table, and all are welcome.  Come, for all is ready.”  If it is Christ’s table, who am I to guess his guest list?  If Christ wants to meet someone at his table, that’s his call, not mine.  Jesus told a story about inviting guests to a banquet, and one of the most important lessons of that story is that we don’t make the guest list.
  3. There’s no kiddie table.  I’ve always thought of Communion as the family meal, and there’s no kiddie table.  If we consider kids to be a part of the family of God, why would we exclude them from the family meal?  Even at family gatherings where there is a special table for the kids, we always bring food to them too.
  4. No one fully understands what’s going on at this table.  People say to me, “We don’t bring our kids until they know what’s going on.”   My first reaction is to ask that person to explain to me their theology of atonement to make sure that they understand.  No it’s not.  That would be stupid.  We don’t have to pass some comprehension test to be invited to Christ’s table.  My actual first reaction is, “I’m not sure I fully understand what’s going on.”  Yes, I can write about the incarnation.  I can tell you what a Sacrament with a capital S is.  I can tell you about forgiveness, the body of Christ, and sacrifice, but I don’t think I can tell you with any real certainty what happens in Communion.  I believe God is present in the bread and the cup, but there is an element of mystery in the act that is unknowable.  That doesn’t mean we let kids think it’s snack time.  We teach them as we go.  Kids understand the difference between play time and serious time.  They know when something is important, if we tell them that it is.  When I hand a child a piece of bread and a cup of grape juice, I don’t say “this is the body and blood of Christ.”  I tell them, “Jesus wants you to have this so you remember how much God loves you.”  That’s all they need to know.  Sometimes that’s all any of us need to know.
  5. Children might not understand what’s going on, but they have a sharp understanding of what it means to be left out.  That is a feeling I want no child to feel in any church I am called pastor.
  6. Children are a vital part of the Body of Christ right now, as they are, not for what they might become.  I’ve heard many people say that “Children are the future of the church.”  I understand the sentiment, but I vehemently disagree.  Children are the right now of the church.  They are the church just as much as anyone else.  If we only value children for what they might become, or who they might bring with them (get the kids, and the parents follow), then we are not valuing children.  I want to be a pastor of a church that values real kids, not just the idea of kids.  I want a church that loves kids who are loud at the wrong time, who don’t sit still, who make messes when they eat, and ask rude questions sometimes.  Does this mean we don’t provide guidance, or boundaries, or expect good behavior?  Of course not.  It means that we love them as they are, and try to model for them behavior that is life-giving.  We don’t chastise or shame them.  We embrace them for all of their kid-ness.  Children are a vital part of the body of Christ, and I do not believe in treating them as anything less.

So there you have it.  These are six of the reasons why I share Communion with kids in worship.  I always leave the final decision up to the parent, but hopefully all the parents at my church know that when they come, all are welcome.

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Communion Liturgy lifting up Extravagant Generosity

The following is a Communion liturgy that I wrote for use at the opening worship service of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference.  The service took place in Peoria, Illinois on June 5, 2013.  It was a great honor to be asked by my friend and colleague, Eric Swanson, to write this liturgy.  It was a great experience to be in worship with 1000 of my clergy and lay brothers and sisters to hear Rev. Jan Griffith and Bishop Jonathan Keaton read these words, even if there was a slight technical glitch.

 

The Lord of be with you

And also with you

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, creator of heaven and earth, giver of all good gifts, and source of all blessings.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is right and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth.  You formed us in your image and breathed into us the breath of life.

You created us man and woman in your image, and provided all that we would ever need.  You placed us in a garden to care for your creation so that we may know peace.

You delivered us from captivity.  Through days wandering in the desert you sent to us manna from heaven so that we could eat.  You let water pour from the rocks so that we could drink.  You commanded us to trust in what you provided, and warned us against hording.

You made covenant to be our sovereign God.  You gave to us the Law, the great gift that could guide our ways.  The Law commands us to honor the Sabbath, and to be satisfied with what we have.  Above all, the Law reminds us that there is but one God, and we are to love you with all of our hearts, our mind, our soul, and our strength.

You spoke to us through your prophets, who reminded us to care for the widow and the orphan.  They spoke the truth of your Word to the powers of the world, and stood up to injustice.  They raged against those that would gain wealth on the backs of the oppressed.  They commanded kings to follow God first.

And yet we fell away.  Our love failed.  We choose disobedience.    We try to horde the bread.  We pursue our own goals on the Sabbath.  We mock the Law.  We deny the prophets.  We forget your promises of plenty.  We ignore the needs of others so that we might protect our own interests.  We hold onto blessings with white knuckles, not trusting enough to let go.  Forgive us, O God, for the times that we have failed you.

 Hear the good news.  God’s love remains steadfast.   God’s Law is righteous.  God’s prophets still speak   the truth to power.  God’s promises endure.  God’s grace knows no bounds. Despite our sin and brokenness, God calls us to this table.  Even while we wander, God invites us to return.  Even while we cling to the things of this perishable world, God calls us to extravagant generosity.  In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Thanks be to God, Amen.

And so, with your people on earth and all the company of heaven we praise your name and join their unending hymn:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.

Holy are you, and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ.  Your Spirit anointed him to preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty with those who are oppressed, and to announce that the time had come when you would save your people.

When no one thought there was enough, he fed the multitudes.  When no one thought the lepers could be healed, he cleansed them.  When there was no way to cross social boundaries, he talked to a Samaritan woman.  He told stories of a wasteful forgiveness, and unfair generosity.   When hope was lost, he raised the widow’s son and called Lazarus out of the tomb.   Here today, while we wonder if there is enough, Jesus reminds us that there is plenty.  There is enough food for all to be full.  There is enough water for us all to drink.  There is enough joy for us all to dance.  There is enough forgiveness for us all to embrace.  Here in this place, Jesus reminds us that there is enough love for us all to live abundantly.

By the baptism of his suffering, death, and resurrection you gave birth to your church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit. When the Lord Jesus ascended, he promised to be with us always, in the power of your Word and the Holy Spirit.

On the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said: “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

When the supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for forgiveness of sins.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

And so, in remembrance of these mighty and generous acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice.  Let the generosity of Jesus, which enabled him to pour himself out for us, be embodied in all that we do.  May our every word and deed reflect a spirit of thankfulness for all with which we have been blessed, so that we may be in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ; that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.  By your spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we may feast at his heavenly banquet.

Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty God, now and forever.  Amen.

 

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Walk of shame, interrupted

When I was a sophomore in high school I was kicked out of a football game for kicking someone.  It was a stupid.  I was near the bottom of a pile, and I felt like the guy on the other team that was on top of me was taking his sweet time in getting up.  Instead of just waiting for the guy to get off, I got mad, and started kicking.  I don’t think I actually kicked anyone.  I wasn’t aiming at anyone in particular.  I was just mad and reacted.  Unfortunately the ref saw me and said “You, 62 – you’re out of here.”  I couldn’t believe it.  So I stormed off the field in anger and sulked on the sideline for the rest of the game.  Strangely, none of the coaches even said anything to me.

After the game, none of the coaches said anything to me.  When I was back at school, had changed and was ready to go home, none of the coaches had said anything to me.  I was a little perplexed, but also pretty nervous.  I knew I wasn’t going to escape punishment.  They must be letting me stew.  I figured that at the next practice I’d be running laps around the field for the duration.  I started to walk home, despondent.

I didn’t get far when Mr. Selke pulled up and asked me, “Do you need a ride?”  Mr. Selke was an intimidating guy.  With his hair slicked back and suit on, he looked like he could have been cast as an associate of Joe Pesci.  He didn’t give sophomore football players rides home.  He was not a coach.  He was the Athletic Director.  I lived about a half mile from school.  I didn’t really want a ride.  I just wanted to sulk my way home.  “No thanks,” I said.  “No, let me give you a ride,” he said.  I realized that this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I’d say we had an interesting conversation on the short ride to my house, but that would imply that I said something.  He didn’t raise his voice.  The power of his words did not need volume.  “You will not do something like that again,” he said simply.  “Your family is too good for that.  Your Mom, Dad, brother, and sister have given you a good name.  And you will not do anything like that again.”

I didn’t run laps at practice on Monday.  None of my coaches ever said anything to me about it.  It was like it never happened.

When I think of that interrupted walk home, I am reminded of another interrupted walk of shame.  In Luke 24 we find the story known as “The Walk to Emmaus.”  The walk to Emmaus was a walk of defeat.  It was a walk of devastation, confusion, and anger.  Two men were going home – back to Emmaus.  They were leaving Jerusalem after a tumultuous week.

They were devastated, because the man that they thought was going to redeem Israel had been crucified.  We don’t know how long they had been following Jesus.  We don’t know how much they had given up, but we know that as the walked home, they were walking in shame.  they were walking in confusion, despair, and anger.  Their walk to Emmaus was a walk of shame.  And then they were interrupted.

They were interrupted by the living Christ.  They were interrupted in their despair, and at first, they were annoyed by this stranger that didn’t understand their pain.  “Haven’t you been paying attention?” they ask him.  “Have you been paying attention?” he responds.  He does two things for them after their encounter.  He allows them to tell their story, then he tells them his version.  Their version went like this:

“Because of [Jesus’s] powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.” (Luke 24:19-24, Common English Bible)

It was a story of despair, loss, and confusion.  Jesus responds by telling them the story again.  This time he starts with Moses.  He tells of God saving the people from slavery.  He tells of the giving of the Law.  He tells them about the Land that God provided the people.  He tells them about the Prophets that spoke the truth to power.  He reminded them about the God that saves.

Eventually it was time to eat.  So they gathered at a table, and Jesus broke the bread.  When they saw him break the bread, it all came together.  They knew that were in the presence of Jesus.  They knew that Jesus had risen.  They knew everything had changed.

While they gathered at the table, their story was no longer one of despair and fear.  Their walk was no longer a walk of shame.  It was a walk of triumph.  In the breaking of the bread, this act of friendship, companionship, and relationship, they knew that they were in the presence of the living God.  He re-framed the story.  He re-presented the bread.  He re-newed their hearts.

Like Mr. Selke did for me during my walk of shame, Jesus reminded them of who and whose they were.  All of us need that reminder every now and then.  All of us take long walks of shame.  We take a wrong turn.  We veer off the path.  We forget who and whose we are, and suddenly we find ourselves someplace we never intended to be.  We find ourselves on a path of shame – somewhere God never intended us to be.  It is in the midst of such walks that Jesus has a funny way of showing up.  We may encounter Jesus on our path when we are least expecting him to show up.

No matter where you may be on your path, no matter how lost, no matter how hurt, no matter how bitter, an unexpected encounter with the Divine can bring you back home.  Be open to the Scriptures, and the story of God’s salvation.  Be open to breaking bread with those that might surprise you.  Be open and know that you never need walk this path alone.  You never have to make a walk of shame again.

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Maundy Thursday Liturgy

Maundy Thursday

Liturgist:     Jesus spent his life teaching us the meaning of love.  Through word and deed Jesus showed us how to love God and to love one another.  He fed the hungry.  He healed the sick.  He invited the women and the children and the tax collectors and the sinners to come to his table.  He broke bread with the least and the lost and shared the cup of redemption with them all.  He crossed boundaries of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, and class.  He challenged religious authority, and he scoffed at pomposity and self-absorbed grandeur.  He called out the hypocrites.  He admonished the scribes and the Pharisees for their hardened hearts.  He brought a simple message: Love God, love yourself, and love one another.

All:       We gather in the name of Jesus and remember the way that he showed us.  We gather to remember not just his death, but his life.

UM Hymnal #174 – His Name is Wonderful

Liturgist:     The way of Jesus goes through the cross, but we are not there yet.  It is close.  We can see its shadow.  We can feel the cold, dark, night. We know that the enemies of God are conspiring.  They have had enough of him.  He threatens their comfort.  He threatens their way of life.  He threatens their power.  They will come for him.  First though, we will gather.  We gather with Jesus and his closest friends.  We gather with those that called him teacher, Rabbi, friend.  We gather for the Passover meal, to remember that God saved the people from slavery.  God saved once.  God saves forevermore.

All:       God saved the Israelites at Passover, and revealed that it is God who reigns, not the Pharaoh.  Our God saved once.  God saves forevermore.

UM Hymnal #448 – Go Down, Moses

Liturgist:     Even as they were sharing this sacred meal together, the disciples were not of one heart.  Jesus knew that he was asking much from these men, and he knew that they would fail him.  Judas had already agreed to betray Jesus to the religious authorities.  Was he angry at some slight?  Was he disappointed that Jesus would not raise an army against the Romans? Was he upset with the value of the oil that the woman “wasted” when she anointed Jesus?  We will never know Judas’ heart, but Jesus knew that he would be betrayed.  And did Jesus do with the man that would betray him?  He broke bread with him. All of the disciples were deeply saddened, and they asked:

All:     I would never betray you, Lord.  It’s not me, is it?

Leader One:      On the night in which Jesus was betrayed by his friend, he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: “This is my body, which is broken for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

Leader Two:    When the supper was over he took the cup, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me.”

Leader One:      And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:       Christ has died. Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Leader One:    Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and the cup.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood.  By your Holy Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, and we feast at his heavenly banquet.  Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your Holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father now and forever.

Communion in silence

Liturgist:     When the holy meal had been shared, the disciples began to argue over which one would be the greatest.  Even here, at the end of their time together, they did not seem to understand what Jesus had been teaching them all along.  He reminded them that to be great in the Kingdom of God meant to serve.  After Jesus’ talk of betrayal, the disciples’ argument, and Jesus’ rebuke of them, the disciples seemed to be growing anxious. Peter proclaimed:

All:       “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Liturgist:     And Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day until you have denied three times that you know me.”

The Faith We Sing, Hymn #2112 – Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley

Liturgist:     Afterwards, Jesus led his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane.  He asked them to pray for him, for he wanted to be alone.  There, Jesus prayed.  He asked his friends to keep watch, but they kept falling asleep.  He prayed for another way out.  He prayed in anguish.  He prayed as a man who could feel pain, who would be hurt by betrayal, who would be scarred by the scourge, and would bleed when nails were driven into his arms and legs.  He prayed as a man who knew that if he followed God’s will, he would be charged, convicted, mocked, humiliated, abandoned, and nailed to a cross.  Knowing all of this full well he prayed, “Not my will, but yours.”  Then he stood up for all that he had lived for.  When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come to into the time of trial”

All:       Judas said to Jesus, “Rabbi” and kissed him.  Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.

UM Hymnal #290 – Go to Dark Gethsemane (verses 1-3 only)

Liturgist:     There was a brief skirmish at the arrest, but his disciples quickly scattered.  Peter, who had only hours before promised to go with Jesus to prison, even death, followed from a distance.  During the trial, Peter remained hidden in the shadows.  First a servant girl saw him and said, “This man was also with him.”

All:       “Woman, I do not know him.”

Liturgist:     A little later someone else, on seeing him said, “You also are one of them.”

All:       “Man, I am not.”

Liturgist:     Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man was with him; for he is a Galilean.”

All:       “I do not know what you are talking about.  I do not know Jesus.”

Liturgist:     At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.  The Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him, and he wept bitterly.

UM Hymnal #288 – Were You There

Stripping of the table (All of the items that adorn the Lord’s table, and all of the liturgical banners are removed in silence)

There will be no sending forth or postlude.  People are asked to leave in reflective silence, and return for Good Friday service and Easter Sunday service.

Good Friday Stations of the Gospel through Luke

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My hope rests

The United Methodist Church is dying. I have heard the numbers, and they don’t lie. I’m not going to quote them here, but trust me.  The numbers aren’t pretty.  And it’s not just the United Methodist Church.  In the United States, churches of all brands, denominations, theology, and politics are seeing decline.  There are some that celebrate the death of religion.

But I’m here to tell you that the reports of the death of the United Methodist Church have been greatly exaggerated.  Is it the same Church it was 50 years ago?  No – Thank God.  The numbers tell one story, and it is an important story that we need to pay attention to.  There are many reasons why churches have been in decline for the last forty years.  I was reminded this week that the United Methodist Church is about more than numbers.

Today I celebrated the wonderful and holy meal of Communion.  I enjoyed this meal in a conference room of the United Methodist Building in Washington DC.  It is a building that sits at a corner.  Across one street is the Supreme Court building.  Across the other street is the US Capitol.  I’ve spent the last few days amongst leaders in the United Methodist Church with the General Board of Church and Society.  It has been a full week.

It has been full of information, meetings, inspiration, prayer, walking, fellowship, and friendship.  I have met two Congressmen, and a General Secretary.  I have stood in awe of the great monuments dedicated to the history of this nation.  My greatest thrill however, has been the chance to meet the amazing young leaders that have dedicated their lives to serving Christ in the United Methodist Church.  I’ve met real people with hopes, passion, talent, and skill.  I’ve shared stories, ideas, and laughs.

This whole experience has been incredibly uplifting.  Today as I walked toward the bread and the cup, I was filled with hope.  I felt an amazing rush of power – Holy Spirit power.  I looked around at the faces of people that were once colleagues, and are now friends.  I saw Jordan, Becky, Chris, Beth, Chris, Bethany, Jessica, Ann, Andrew, and so many others.  I looked at the faces of these servant leaders, and I felt the power of hope.

I still know all the numbers.  I’m not hiding my head in the sand as the church is in decline.  Even while I’ve been here I have heard the stories of church decline, and of the struggles that we face across the United States connection.  This week though has been a great reminder that our church – the imperfect, troubled, struggling church I love – is about more than numbers.

My hope rests above all in the Jesus’ love and righteousness.  My hope resides also in the leaders that are working to open hearts, minds, and doors in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

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Come to the Feast

“The Five Thousand” by Eularia Clark, 1962. Click on the image to be taken to the Methodist Church Collection of Modern Christian Art.

As an athlete, one of my favorite times was the few moments before a game.  I loved the anticipation of getting ready – putting on the uniform just right, lacing up the shoes, sharing eye contact with a teammate communicating a sense of common purpose in nothing more than a nod.  I loved getting ready with music playing.  It was like I was in my own movie, and the song I chose was my soundtrack.

Come to the Feast, by Christopher Grundy

Today I go through a similar ritual before worship.  I get myself ready.  I breathe a little deeper.  My adrenaline starts to flow.  I sit in my office for a few moments, and sometimes I crank up the music.  Often it is the same song: Come to the Feast, by Christopher Grundy (Grundy is professor at Eden Theological Seminary and a great musician. You should go to the link and listen to and buy his music).

“Come to the Feast” speaks to the heart of the gospel.  “Come to the feast.  There’s always room for one more and there’s all you can eat.  Come and take some to go. Gather all you can hold and then go.  Go spread the feast.”  We are a people of the feast.  We are a people of the Table.

At the heart of everything we do as Christians is the table of Jesus Christ.  How we think about the table informs how we think about everything else.  Where does the pastor stand?  Behind the table in a gesture of welcome and inclusion, not with her back to the congregation.

What do we serve?  Bread and grape juice as a sign of hospitality to those that cannot have alcohol.

Who is invited?  Everyone.  Children?  Yes.  They may not understand what is going, but then again, are we kidding ourselves if we think we do understand?

Unbaptized?  Yes.  The moment of communion is so powerful that it can be a moment of conversion and transformation.

Democrats and Republicans? Yes. We don’t bar you for voting a certain way.

Rich and Poor? Yes – and they each get the same amount.

Black and White?  Yes, although we repent for times when this wasn’t true.

Gay and Straight? Yes, for God created all and said it is “good.”

The Lord’s Table is a table for all.  On it holds the feast which has transformed lives.  On it rests the bread that has been broken for us all.  Jesus broke the bread and told us to “do this in remembrance of me.”  It was not simply to remember that Jesus’ body was broken.  It was remember that his body held life.  When we break the bread we are to remember that Jesus was more than a sacrificial lamb led to the slaugher.

When we hear “Do this in remembrance of me,” we should hear Jesus saying: “When we got together in the home of tax collectors and sinners – Remember that.  When the women came to me and broke free from their man-made roles of servitude – Remember that.  When you guys tried to keep the children from getting to me, and I said ‘let them come’ – Remember that.  When we sat in the crowd of 5,000 people and all we had were five loaves and two fish and you all thought there was no way that we would have enough, and then everyone ate – Remember that.”

“Remember when the Pharisees tried to use the Law to put up barriers between who is in and who is out – Remember that I broke those barriers as easily as I break this bread.  When they used the Law to condemn and tried to trap me in legal issues –   Remember when they asked me what was the greatest commandment, hoping that I would trip on my words – Remember what I told them?”

“And things aren’t looking good right now.  The Romans and the leaders are coming.  They are going to beat me and crucify me.  After that happens I want you to remember me at this table saying to you, my body is broken for you.  And when I come back, maybe then you will get it.  Maybe then you will finally see.  Maybe then you understand all the things I did and said and showed you.  I break the bread so that you may have life.”

When we come to the Table of Christ we are invited to a feast.  We are invited to a table of plenty.  We are invited without merit.  We are invited without deed.  We are simply invited to come and be loved.

But when we are invited to come to the feast, it is imperative to remember that we are also sent.  We are not invited to get full and go home fat and satisfied.  We are invited to be fed so that we may feed. We are invited to forgiveness so that we may forgive. We are invited to be empowered so that we may go out and empower.  So, as the words of the song so elegantly say, “Come and then go. Go spread the feast.”

“Come to the Feast” is (c) by Hand and Soil Music.  Visit www.christophergrundy.com to listen to more music.

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