Sunday, November 13, 2022

HOMILY: "Lazarus at the Table?"

A Meditation on Communion
Sunday, November 13 / The Season of Creation

Note: I didn't get to preach this sermon, not this morming anyway...due to a bunch of things (wonderful things, actually) that happened in worship.  But I offer it up anyways, as a meditation on communion and our shared practice of discipleship, abundance and truthtelling in the church.


Our celebration of communion is many things.  For starters, it’s a sacrament of presence—the presence of the Risen Christ in our ordinary lives and ordinary habits, and especially in the breaking of bread at a common table.  When we break this loaf and offer it freely and without judgment to one another, we dare to believe that Jesus is beside us, within us, among us.  Whatever the hunger in our hearts.  Whatever the sadness in our spirits.  Whatever the injustice we face.  We are known, and we are blessed, and we are fed.  So communion is a sacrament of presence.  I hope you open your hearts to that gift this morning, that presence in your life.  The Risen Christ among us.

And we might add this to that: that communion is also our witness to the resurrection.  Our witness to the resurrection.  Now we’ve got a hundred different ideas of what resurrection means, and what Jesus’ resurrection means for the world.  And I imagine we’ve got a thousand provocative questions about resurrection, and the power of love over death, and the promise of new life and healing and wholeness when the world seems so broken and unfair.  Important questions, every one of them.  And still the resurrection is something like a master metaphor for the Christian story, for the faith that gathers us at the table this morning.  And when we break bread here, when we open our eyes here, when we feed one another here, we lean into the mystery of it, the untamable wonder of it, the irrepressible promise of resurrection.  Not because we grasp the resurrection in our minds.  Not because we can articulate, precisely, the mechanics or the love that sets it in all motion.  But because we dare to practice resurrection together—because we dare to entrust our lives to a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  When you reach out for the bread this morning, you are leaning into the resurrection.

So it’s a sacrament of Christ’s presence, holy communion, and it’s our witness to the resurrection.  And all of that is gathered up in a sacred practice, a shared practice that unites us in a particular kind of community.  We commune together.  As wildly diverse as we are.  As strangely different as our stories are.  For all of our questions, and all of our doubts, and all of our fears and vulnerabilities and worries about somehow not belonging.  All of that angsty stuff dissolves at the table of the Risen Christ.  All of that diversity is gathered up in glory as he breaks bread for you and me and everyone else in the room.  So the presence of God, and the mystery of the resurrection: it all shines in the passing of bread from hand to hand, in the smile of a friend extending to you our common cup, in the rainbow church singing HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST, HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!

Again, I don’t want to presume to tell you what to believe about communion, and I don’t want you to feel there’s a right way to think about it, or a theologically precise way to interpret what’s happening here.  You’ve got your questions and doubts, and I’ve got mine.  But—all that’s to say—I really do hope you’ll open your eyes and hearts to the mysteries of Christ’s presence in this feast, and to the despair-defying resurrection that animates us together, and to the gifts of community among us.  This broken bread and this common cup: they invite you to open up your life, release your fears, see with your heart, and walk alongside the Risen Christ.  You are meant for this.  You are chosen for this.  Ordained for it.  Holy communion.


But the parable Jesus tells this morning and the particular way David Ervin interprets the parable in his own stirring composition—well, I wonder if this might add yet another dimension to our practice.  To the sacrament.  Even a crucial, urgent dimension to Christian communion in the 21st century.

You know, before we get to that parable, it’s worth noting that this theme of economic practice, this critique and concern over economic injustice shows up over and over again in Luke’s gospel.  It’s there in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, of course; and it’s there in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, too.  How might we practice generosity and imagine faithful and equitable communities of sharing—in our families, villages and faith communities?  How do we counter the empire’s narrative of scarcity and fear, with God’s story of abundance and love?  It’s perhaps the central theme of Luke’s gospel, and Jesus’ teaching there  

And it’s not just about economics or policy, right?  Lazarus represents a holy human being, a fragile human being, a hungry human being—made in the image of God.  And Jesus wants us to know that how we share our lives with Lazarus, how we include Lazarus in a human commonwealth, how we care for Lazarus’ wellbeing is a spiritual thing.  To fully embrace the amazing grace of our amazing God, to fully enjoy the wonders of our wonderful Creator, to live freely and fearlessly upon the earth—has so very much to do with watching for Lazarus, and knowing who Lazarus is, and bringing Lazarus to our table, and building a world with Lazarus where Lazarus doesn’t have to beg and plead and suffer alone anymore.  

Does this make sense to you?  For Jesus—like the Hebrew prophets before him—economics and spirituality are two sides of the very same coin.  So to speak.  Abundance is the language of grace, the practice of hope, and perhaps the face of Christ’s resurrection among us.  On the third rock from the sun.

But David’s anthem is some kind of wake-up call, right?  If we continue to turn away from abundance as a spiritual practice, we desensitize our souls to the wonders of creation.  As if creation is a zero-sum game, a lottery you only win if you’re lucky.  If we continue to deny Lazarus’ place at the table, if we continue to blame Lazarus for our political woes and despair, we waste our passion on consumption and our creativity on materialism.  And if we give up on tundras and oceans, coral reefs and climate refugees, we give up on ourselves.  We give up on hope.  And that’s a spiritual thing.  That’s a chasm that will hurt our generation and every generation for years and years to come.  The chasm, Jesus says, is sad and serious business.

There’s no doubt, then, that Jesus’ parable, and David’s anthem too, are powerful expressions of the grief Rob Grabill talked about in his sermon last week.  

Moses and the prophets, hurricane destruction, with loss of human life.
Moses and the prophets, coastal devastation, and relocation strife.
Moses and the prophets, weather out of season, drought, polluted air.
Moses and the prophets, habitat depletion, extinction, and despair...

The chasm, Jesus says, is sad and serious business.  And I hope you’ll remember—if you were here last week—that Rob Grabill insisted on grief as a critically important first step in our work to repair creation, to heal the climate and to embrace a spirituality of creativity and lovingkindness and grace.  There are no shortcuts.  I’m not sure he put it just that way, but he might have.  We’re at a moment in earth’s history, and human history, where grief for species lost and grief for glaciers melted and grief for whole communities displaced—that grief is real, and it’s painful, and it’s (in a very important way) holy and sacred and our only path forward.  

So we make space for that pain, and we give voice to that grief; and as we do, we begin to tap other resources within our human and God-given spirits.  Resources like passion.  Resources like creativity.  Resources like resistance and defiance.  Resources like holy and life-giving LOVE.  This has always been the way.  Grief and imagination dance arm in arm.  So I, for one, am so grateful to Jesus for this morning’s parable—because it wakes me the heck up.   And David’s anthem does exactly the same thing: it wakes us the heck up.  So much so that I want to join with brave, bold, loving and daring friends—like all of you—to give my life to Lazarus, and to the fields and forests and ice floes and tundras that make this planet a home we can all share together.  See how it works?  Grief and imagination dance arm in arm; they move us to new visions, and new songs, and new possibilities.  But we’ve got to be honest about the pain.  We’ve got to get real with all this pain.

So what if we think about communion for a minute, in light of Jesus’ parable and David’s anthem?  What if this feast of holy communion is also a radically urgent invitation—first to grief and loss, and then to joyful imagination and blessing and sharing?  What if we were to give ourselves permission—at Christ’s table—to mourn for the wars and the destruction, for the extinctions and the callousness and greed that got us here?  But then, as we remember how holy life is, and as we break bread and share it all over again, maybe communion is also our way of committing again to a spirit of abundance, to a practice of ecological celebration and protection, to creative and collaborative human projects intent on saving the earth from human greed, jealousy, injustice and violence.  

Imagine Lazarus at the table this morning.  Imagine Lazarus whole and alive and blessed and connected among us.  Imagine a world where Lazarus dances around this table with you and me.  What kind of world would that be?  And how will we build it together?  Maybe that’s that communion means in 2022—holy hutzpah and collaborative imagination and a church ready to get to work redeeming and glorifying creation.

So as you step forward for communion this morning, I really do hope you’ll hear the voice of Love speaking your name and inviting you to this practice of ecological celebration, inviting you to this community of abundance and hope.  That sweet and holy voice might move you to weep for coastal devastation, or maybe for relocation strife.  That sweet and holy voice might move you to grieve for pollution, habitat destruction or all manner of extinctions past, present and future.  Let your tears flow.  Let your grief pour out upon the bread, into the cup, for all that’s been lost and all that might yet be redeemed.

And then take the Bread of Life in your hand, receive the promise of Christ’s love in the depths of your heart.  Because we are called to his table not to give in, but to wake up.  Because we are called to his feast not to despair, but to resist.  Because we are called to communion not to rage, but to rejoice.  The one who was crucified by cruelty is among us to serve and love.  The one who was hanged by racists is among us to plant seeds of hope and peace.  The one who has always opened his heart to Lazarus is opening his heart to you now.  And there is life ahead for all of us.  Abundant life.

Amen and Ashe.