The week-end is different now.
Our week-ends are different now…
And they’re all at it…
Dine in for £10-00
Waitrose, Tesco, M&S
Two courses and wine for two people for £10-00.
Relax and enjoy.
This is no ordinary week-end.
Have you ever noticed how
sharing a meal together changes things…??
Offers us a chance to get close to each other…
To ratchet up the intimacy…??
How it can be an opportunity really to get to know someone
In a new way…
You know how the connection is progressed…
when you move beyond
meeting someone for a cup of coffee, and you take it to the next level…….to having them round for dinner or for their tea……leading possibly to a new friendship…
Jesus certainly liked to eat with people…
So much so, he was accused by some of his critics of being a “glutton and a drunkard…”
But he clearly knew that something different happened in the shared dynamic of a meal together…
In different contexts, there were different experiences…
But always new connections,
New discoveries made…
It was his habitual eating with disreputable people that gained him his bad press…
This man eats with sinners, his critics complained..
It didn’t seem to bother him too much,
Because he kept doing it!
Though he wasn’t exclusive…he would eat with anyone…
Pharisees and prigs included…
He was prepared to ignore barriers, at whatever end of the scale he encountered them…
In order to take the opportunities on offer
From whomsoever they came…
To get up close and personal…
To let people see beyond the myth, to the man himself…
For the context of a meal together offered that special chance to brush aside the caricatures and meet the real Jesus…hear what he really had to say…to you: to get beyond the stereotyping and the self- imposed prejudices about him…and meet the man as he was…with openness and honest engagement.
Relaxed around the table was the time to meet, to discuss, to engage…to reveal…
So to share a meal with the man Jesus was a crucial and often pivotal moment…risky, surprising…when friendship might be found…truth disclosed…discoveries made:
whether that was five thousand at an unexpected picnic on the sloping meadowland beside the Sea of Tiberias…
Or a little group of rather nervous disciples by a crackling fire on the seashore…when the risen Christ gives them fish and bread and hope…
But in these encounters something is going on…a new place is reached and their relationship with him is taken …beyond polite recognition…to intimacy…a feeling of belonging.
Out of the abstract - and into their experience:
the difference between hearing about someone…and listening to them yourself…
the difference between knowing a bit about someone…and knowing that someone for yourself.
This is a critical shift in the dynamic…a whole new ball-game.
And there was that famous meal…the Passover supper…the last Supper…with its sinister undertones mingling with such special feelings…
betrayal and sharing…
giving and treachery…
sombre anticipation…telling symbolism…
death, blood and brokenness…
The sense of something ending…and yet something mysterious and wonderful beginning…
Promise of new things…solidarity of friendship and the certainty of abandonment…the whisper of tasks soon to be completed, missions soon to be accomplished…
So many tremors of intent, so many moods and moments…gathered in that candlelit room with his closest friends and his terrifying future. Jesus sat at supper with his disciples…and he took bread…
And in that closeness and intimacy
Love is poured out…
And they knew this was special. This would last.
And like his Church ever since…
They knew this was where they belonged.
It’s this specialness, this intimacy of spirit, that is echoed in the story of the disciples, after Easter, encountering the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus – and how they discover the new reality of the living presence of their risen Lord…as they settle down to share a meal of bread and wine…and they are transfixed and inspired by a close encounter with Christ’s characteristic action and deepest gift.
They understand now, that life and love and his living promise are with them…and this is the new truth that transforms their tomorrows.
Gloom is turned to glorious hope.
Their hunched and drooping shoulders are stiffened with resolve…and they know that their lives and the life of the world are changed forever.
Because of him.
Because he is with them…and will be.
I am his and he is mine…
Sharing a meal is the context where
Such things can happen.
Because it offers a special place, a safe place
in which there can be an increased
closeness, enfolding, affirming.
And this is what it’s all about
This is what meals shared
They bring us closer
They open us up to each other
The connection can never be the same as distant and aloof as it was before…
Because we have shared a meal…given something of ourselves to each other…
This is why so many romantic relationships
Appropriate and inappropriate
Or soon involve a candlelit dinner…
Over the relaxed experience of a shared meal
Defences are lowered
Closeness is encouraged
The softening up process happens
Intimacy beckons…if it feels right…if feels that this is where you belong. You want to feel that feeling more.
But, sometimes it’s hard to feel you belong…
intimacy has a hard time
In a world of walls and barriers
Prejudices and caricatures
Fragile egos protected by cold formality
We fear exposure -
in every sense.
We fear being known in our vulnerabilities
We hold back from sharing
because sharing leaves us naked and raw
We are known as we are
Without illusion or the ability
To hide, to pretend.
Over a meal together
We dare to let each other in.
We give something of ourselves away
And we trust the people we give it to
To respect that gift…
If it’s the sense of belonging
That we want
Then the experience of being the church together,
In worship and fellowship and shared service - suggest
the church is a place where that intimacy might be encountered
Indeed, where it can hardly be avoided.
Here all are welcome – that’s what we say anyway,
That’s what we sing…
We are learning how to make that high sounding idealism
A real experience
For any one…
However, if the last thing we want is intimacy
And, for some, that is the last thing they want (!)
Then, please, watch us as we bring formality to the front of the queue
Make sure any attempt to winkle open
Each other’s feelings
Keep it in the head
Well away from the heart.
Keep the distance
Keep the silences
Or, alternatively, carefully structure everything
In such a way that
Rule the day
And sharing –risk – spontaneity
Are well and truly smothered
By the rigorous demands to
“Do things in the right way”
There may be cultural and geographical
Factors in all of this.
If we are dour Scots - locked into a model
Of religion that is more about
Good order than good feelings-
And if the way the church we worship in is set up
Conspires to aggravate that “distance between”
Rather than bridge it –
Then it is no wonder
We take a long time to
Break through legalistic language
And the things that “have to be said
In the way they have always had to be said.”
There is a kind of escapism or denial at work here.
Keeping the lid on things
Thereby preventing the Spirit
From daring some disruption
Some living moment
That stirs, touches, disturbs
Warms – challenges
Dares us to reach out over the barriers
To touch and hold and listen and enfold.
And sometimes, truth be told
The last person we want intimacy with
We’ll talk about Jesus
Till the cows come home
But talk with Jesus…?
Talking to God
Being with God in the stillness
Takes us beyond the safety zone
Into close connecting
Into that moment when
Spirit addresses spirit
And there is nowhere to hide -
No legal language to shelter behind
Only the two
God and us
Scary – unpredictable – precious
Holy and awesome
Tender and fine.
But definitely different
From “religion at one remove”
God at arm’s length.
When we have chosen to move out of the ordinary
Into the possibility of the extraordinary.
And religion is no longer words
Even fine and lovely words
It is feelings, and spiritual awakenings
And who knows what:
Because now there are just the two of us
The protective barriers of formalism gone
And we stand, we kneel
We listen - and we wait on God.
And nowhere is that level of intimacy, that sense of belonging
More available to us
Than in the sacrament of Holy Communion
The shared meal of the church
Echoing the intimacy of the Upper Room,
where Jesus, in the crisis of imminent suffering,
enjoys a special moment with his friends
And over the meal
He is succoured and sustained
Encouraged and embraced – part of who they are
As they are part of who he is…
And he offers them his love
And his life - to nourish and sustain them
For the battle ahead
The mission they are called to.
There, in the gloom and fragile warmth
Of the upper room
The table spread
The bread and wine in their hand
They are as close as they will ever be
With each other
And with their Lord.
When we allow the Spirit of God to re-create something of those feelings
something of that connection
something that is really communion
then the Sacrament is a powerful moment
a deep thing of the soul.
We share together in deep expressions
Of spiritual love
And this is so much more than an occasional
But becomes a sacred event
Full of tenderness and commonality:
For we all feel the love
We all share the wet –eyed wonder
That he died for us
Because he loved us so much…
We look around at our brothers and sisters
In the church family
And love binds us together
A sense of privilege
And mystery drives us to our knees.
There is nothing here about
“Making sure we do it right”
Adhering to the book of rules
It is not an official banquet for foreign dignitaries
Where the pressure of protocol
Puts everyone on edge and on their best behaviour
This is a meal a friend shares with his friends…
And when we block its creative power
With the walls of man-made division
Man-made fear of doing something out of order
Then we wreck its true purpose
And rob ourselves of its possibility
It’s capacity to reach us
In deep places of our soul.
Who are we this thing called the Church?
A disparate group who share a hobby
An enthusiasm for a particular philosophy of life?
Or brothers and sisters in Christ
Drawn together by his Spirit of love
Caring and carrying
Willing to walk together into the fiery furnace
That is the presence and the love of God
Daring the lion’s den of intimacy
With each other
Glad that we belong to one another
Because we belong to him!