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7th August 2022

Do You Remember?

Passage: Mark 14;12-28


READING: Mark 14, verses 12-28. The Last Supper.

Have you ever noticed that, when you talk about something that has happened to you, you re-live that story? As you recount your frustration and fury at a hospital appointment cancelled at the last minute for the third time, do not you experience that fury and frustration all over again? And when you share the story of a wonderful birthday celebration, do not you experience that same joy and excitement? Telling a tale of something funny makes you laugh again; telling a tale of something sad brings tears to your eyes again. As we share our stories, we re-live our memories.

And, in re-living our memories we are, to a certain extent, re-shaping our lives. Continually telling fury and frustration, keeps us wound up, meaning that we react to a fairly minor set-back with far more stress than it warrants. Whereas dwelling on happy memories helps to keep us strong for the future.

Even listening to other people’s stories can have an effect on us where we are. Take the tale of the Sleeping Beauty. Fairy godmothers; a curse involving a spinning wheel; deep- sleep for a hundred years; princess woken with a kiss makes everything all right- a long way from life in 21st century UK.
But now think of parents thrilled at the birth of a child; planning a celebration which leaves somebody out who should have been invited; fear that your child is now vulnerable; taking every means to protect her; your child falling into a dark place and not only you but everyone in your life is drawn into that same darkness. This remains a familiar enough story. We might even have been there ourselves.

Think of the child herself: innocent, happy, unaware that there is danger in her world until it is too late. Have we been there?
The good fairy godmothers wanting to give every possible advantage to a child they love- I am sure we have been there. The bad fairy godmother, hurt, angry, wanting to lash out and punish someone- maybe we have been there too.
All the ordinary people- the maids, grooms, guards, in the castle, going about their daily work, hardly aware of larger issues until they too are caught up in the deep, dark, sleep. Sound a bit like us in the world as it is today? And the triumph of love breaking the sleep of darkness; restoring life and happiness? I hope we have all been there.

A memorable story, even somebody else’s, will be one into which we can enter at different points in our own lives and think “me too. This is about me as well as them.” Story breaks the boundaries of time and culture. It helps us to make sense of where we are and where we might be heading.

Story was a crucial part of the Jewish religion, as described in our Bible. Each generation must tell their stories to the next. Before much writing was done, children learned the stories of their faith off by heart. And with good reason. “Remember the tale of the great flood as a warning against irresponsible, destructive behaviour. Remember that your people were once slaves and wanderers in foreign countries, and promote justice for slaves and shelter for refugees. Remember that God has been there for you in the past and now keep hope and faith alive through the future.
“In the Beginning” wrote C.S.Song, “were stories, not texts.” Our lives and our faith are shaped and re-shaped by story.

Which is, I think, why Jesus gave his followers this story to repeat to each other and to re-enact with each other.
The Last Supper took place during the feast of Passover, a festival celebrating the miraculous escape of the Jewish ancestors from slavery in Egypt. This story then, is set in the context of freedom from enslavement. And there is more than one way of being a slave. Physical slavery of one human being by another is an abomination but there is also the slavery of living under political oppression, where you are not free to voice your thoughts or practise your faith. There is the slavery of long-term mental and physical illness; the slavery of sin- constantly doing what you know to be wrong; the slavery of a relationship which has turned toxic, but you cannot escape.
We all experience some form of slavery and know how hard it is to shake off those chains. Jesus’ whole ministry had been about releasing people from their own form of slavery. As he sat down with his friends, their Passover story took on a new significance. This was not just about what God had once done for their ancestors but also about what God was doing in their own lives right here, right now.

The meal continued and, in that civilisation, sharing a meal was the ultimate sign of solidarity. In eating together, you were committing to one another. Jesus had named these people his friends and ate with them, yet he knew full well that one was planning to betray him to death and that all the others would abandon him. So, this meal was not a conditional agreement: “I will eat and drink with you so long as you remain loyal to me.” It was unconditional: “I will eat with you because I am 100% committed to you no matter what your level of loyalty to me.”

Jesus’ breaking bread and sharing wine reinforced that commitment and his willingness to sacrifice himself for their freedom. My body will be broken for you. My blood will be poured out for you. All Jesus is asking in return is that they keep doing this together in his name. Because he knows that, over time, this action is going to have a profound effect on all who find themselves entering that story, that is, in sharing Holy Communion.

In my opinion, far too many academic arguments have raged over the precise meaning of Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper. The result has been church division, spiritual confusion and incredibly hurtful exclusions. But if we do what Jesus actually told us to do and simply re-enact the story; do this to remember; we find it making sense in our own lives and of our own lives.

For, if we believe that Jesus was God himself living a human life then in this story we discover solidarity: God with us. No matter how dark the place or how bad the sin, God is committing himself to us. People have received Communion in prison camps, on death beds, in the ruins of shattered churches, in homes they are unable to leave and with people they have never met. And in doing so they have known that God is there.

And if this is so, we start to recognise a story of redemption and release. If there is no place so dark and destructive that God cannot be there, then there is no place so dark and destructive from which God cannot release us. It is a story of forgiveness: the One inviting us to eat and drink with him knew those sitting at table with him would abandon him and one betray him. He knew about the corrupt religious and political leaders waiting out there to kill him. He trusted his divine power to forgive all of this, meaning that this power of forgiveness is there for us, greater than anything and everything we get wrong.

So it happens that every Communion we share will look forward to the hope of resurrection. Jesus gives himself in bread and wine. As we share in his name, he enters our lives: our souls and bodies. He enters our very deepest levels of pain and sin, so that we may enter the triumph of his resurrection: life redeemed and made new; life which will never die.
And yes, this is a story into which every single person can enter, no matter how broken, betrayed or guilty. And, as a Christian Minister, it is my privilege to invite you to hear the story, re-enact the story, enter the story, find your story here and meet with Jesus Christ. Amen.