Matthew 26:17-30 – The Lord’s Supper

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 42

Each of the gospel writers tells the Story of this meal a little differently. Matthew chooses to include this detail not told by the other three: That when Jesus instructs the disciples to go into the city and make preparations for the Passover with a certain many, they are to tell that man “The Teacher says, ‘My appointed time is near.’” There’s no record that they asked Him what He meant by it, nor that the man to whom they quoted it asked. Perhaps to them it was clear.

He had been telling them since He set His face resolutely toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), and especially all the week He taught at the temple since entering town as a king, that it was time for Him to be crucified. He had answered any protest of it with rebuke. This was His time: time to do what He had been set apart and had come to do; time to finish what He had begun. And after the meal celebrating the Passover of the firstborn sons, the consecrated Son of Israel would be taken by death – becoming the sacrificial Lamb of God.

A Prayer Over the Bread

Glorious God and Father of our Lord, we remember in this simple meal the sacrifice of Your Son, too powerful for any other sacrifice to succeed it. We remember His body given to rescue all of us – not just our firstborn sons – from certain and final death. We seek to comprehend that He was slain from the foundation of this world – perhaps from the moment of mankind’s first sin – and that this sacrifice was His time and His purpose. And we know that in this time, He has given us His purpose to live out for the remainder of our lives, strengthened by this bread, members of His body, always given and giving. May Your blessing rest upon this bread, and through it, upon us. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

God of inscrutable wisdom, we are not a people for whom sacrifice and blood as a sign of penitence for sin or of gratitude for blessing or of recognizing Your holiness has been a lifelong experience. We have not seen the ceremonies of slaughter, nor eaten the feasts of celebration. Still, the ideas that sin leads to death and that deliverance comes from God have come to us through the Story of Israel and Your prophets’ words and – most powerfully – through the blood of Your Son. This cup of blessing reinforces and expresses these powerful truths of penitence and gratitude and holiness. May your blessing rest upon this cup, and through it, upon us. Amen.

John 13 – Washing Feet

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 41

It has been a week or less since Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha, washed the feet of Jesus. As the twelve reclined at the Passover table, ready to be served, Jesus demonstrated this same gesture of humility and servitude to them. He washed their feet. Peter objected, and was told that unless he is washed, he has no part in his Lord. Jesus explained that this example was for them to follow; that greatness in His kingdom was to be measured in humble service.

After dismissing Judas to do what the betrayer had committed to do, Jesus tried again to remind them that He would soon be gone, and despite Peter’s good intention to try to follow, he would not be able to. In fact, before the day was out, he would three times turn his back on His Lord.

A Prayer Over the Bread

Glorious Father of the suffering Servant, we see in His example the humility you intend for us to display in our lives. We perceive our deep need to be washed, not only our feet but our whole selves, without and within. We have bold intentions and proclaim deep commitments, but too often turn our backs on the One to whom we have committed our lives. Forgive us our denials, we pray, in our proclamation of His body in this bread. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

Our holy and righteous God, be glorified we pray in the washing of our inner being by the contents of this cup, Your Son’s blood. Grant us the grace to wash each other’s feet when our feet become dirty and stumble together. Help us to always remember the Master who knelt as a servant kneels, the Lord who washed as a slave washes, the Jesus who gave Himself fully that we might give His example to all. Amen.

John 12 – An Anointing, A Resurrection

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 40 (Alternate)

In an incident that so closely echoes the one described in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 7 that it has long been debated whether they are one and the same, John names the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet at Bethany with expensive perfume. In this record, she was Mary, one of two sisters of Lazarus who had been recently raised from death to life by Jesus. As the fragrant perfume filled the house, Judas Iscariot – who would later sell Him out – objected aloud to the waste of money, which could have been used to bless the poor. With Lazarus right there at the table with them, Jesus countered the objection by saying that she was anointing Him for burial; that they would always have poor people to bless, but they would not always have Him.

It must have been incomprehensible to them that this One who had power over death for others would yield that power when it came to Himself. But the plot to take His life was already in play; had begun in earnest when Lazarus was raised. At this table, Judas the purse-pilferer (John 12:6) shared his frustration with the way the ministry’s finances were viewed – and may have experienced the first motivations to become a part of that plot just six days before the Passover would be celebrated in Jerusalem.

A Prayer Over the Bread

A Giver of great extravagance are You, our God … and no gift excels that of your Son. Were His feet among us at this Table, they would deserve the richest of our gifts of gratitude. But we see that not only His feet, but His body is present in this bread and in those of us who share it. Help us also to see in it the purpose of His ministry: to sacrifice self for others, so that all who are poor may be richly blessed through what He gave. Give us feet that carry this fragrant gospel. Help us always to anoint Him not only as buried, but as immortal King. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

This cup, righteous God, contains the priceless blood of Your Son, which purchases life for the lifeless. As we share in its power, bless us with a yearning for that life of selfless giving. Help us to see that we are the ones in spiritual poverty, enriched in a way we cannot earn. Help us to see the incomparable value of the eternal over the temporal. Help us to see Jesus, we pray in His name: Amen.

Luke 19:1-26 – Setting Things Right

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 40

Zacchaeus was a tax collector, but not just a tax collector; he was a chief tax collector. Since that meant to most citizens of Roman-occupied Israel that he was a collaborator who probably collected too much (and was, as Luke tells us, wealthy), that meant he was a chief thief – a sinner. He had heard of Jesus, but wanted to see this great teacher. His stature may have been short, but he was long on ingenuity, and so he ran ahead and climbed a tree. Passing by – or perhaps under – Jesus saw him there and invited Himself over to stay. Zacchaeus welcomed Him. The crowd was taken aback at this, and began to mutter about Jesus and this sinner.

Though Luke mentions no meal – and he is the only gospel writer to record the incident – no act of hospitality in those days would have been complete without the host offering a meal. Whether at the table or elsewhere, Zacchaeus stood to his full height to set right what had been muttered about himself. He committed to give half his goods to the poor. And, in addition, he promised to restore fourfold anything he had cheated anyone out of having. Jesus confirmed that Zacchaeus’ character testified that he was a descendant of the quintessential patriarchal host, Abraham – not a Roman collaborator … and that salvation had come to his house. Perhaps to the crowd gathered around and clustered to the windows, Jesus also explained that He had come to seek and save the lost. He had come to set everything right.

A Prayer Over the Bread

God of all of us – from Abraham to Zacchaeus – thank you for setting right all that has ever gone wrong through your Son, Jesus. As we surround this table of penitence, we have no claim of spotless character; no magnanimous promises to make that prove our innocence. We have only our gratitude for this broken body, this bread of heaven, given for us – for all of us who sin. Bless us through it we pray in the name of Jesus: Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

In this cup, righteous and holy Father, we see the blood of your Son poured out for us … the blood of the One who came to seek and save the lost. And so we were: hopelessly lost, unaware that we were sought, all but unconscious of our guilt. We have no need to climb a tree to see Him, for He spread His own arms upon a tree and was lifted up for all to see. May this cup make us powerfully aware of the price You paid – because we were powerless to restore fourfold or twofold or onefold what we owed. We ask your blessing of salvation on your house through this blood, in the name of our Host: Amen.

Luke 7:36-50 – Served by a Sinner

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 39

A man named Simon invited Jesus to dinner at his home; a devout man known as a Pharisee. While they were reclining at the table, a local woman known for her sin began to weep at Jesus’ feet, and anoint them with perfume, and wipe them with her hair. Simon kept his thoughts to himself, but Jesus knew them anyway, and answered him with a riddle about debt and love. When Simon responded correctly, the Lord then turned to the woman, but continued to speak to Simon.

When Jesus entered Simon’s home, no servant had washed His feet; no traditional kiss of greeting graced His face; no gift of cooling oil was offered His head. She supplied all this out of gratitude for His power to forgive, and Jesus freely gave it. He said to her the words each of us yearns to hear: “Your sins are forgiven.”

A Prayer Over the Bread

Righteous and holy God, we greet our Lord as the host of this table with tears for our sin, and through grace bring this bread to our lips. As He was served hospitality by a sinner, we are served salvation by the sinless One. You have forgiven us much through the free giving of His body, and for us the answer to the question “Who is this who even forgives sins?” is clearly seen in this bread. He is Jesus, Your Son, crucified, resurrected, before us and among us and within us. Bless us, we pray, in the sharing of this bread. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

This cup, our Father, we recognize as containing something more precious than any alabaster perfume box; it holds the blood of Your only Son. We owe more than we can pay in debt for our sin, yet this cup holds what forgives that debt. In our gratitude for it, we can only weep at His feet transfixed by the nails. Forgive us, God, as we share in this cup. Amen.

Matthew 9 – Dinner at Matthew’s House

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 38

As Matthew relates his gospel, Jesus encounters him at the tax collector’s booth in the middle of traveling and miraculously restoring the paralyzed, the blind and mute, the internally bleeding ill and even a little girl who had died. Matthew invites Jesus to dinner at his house with some of his tax collector friends, and the Pharisees are scandalized that Jesus sits down to dine with them. John the Baptist’s disciples are scandalized that they fast and His disciples don’t.

To the Pharisees, He says that it is the sick who need healing; not the healthy, and He recommends that they discover the meaning of mercy over sacrifice — and he is the only gospel writer to include this detail from Hosea 6:6. To John’s disciples, He predicts a time of mourning when the Bridegroom is taken and fasting will be appropriate; when new wine will be poured into new wineskins – because old ones could not contain it. In the meantime, He shares the table with those who hunger and thirst; those whose spiritual health is in need; those who recognize that their long fast is finally over, and the Messiah is serving.

A Prayer Over the Bread

Our God, our Father, our Holy and Righteous One … we are in need of being restored as surely as the paralyzed, the blind, the mute, the bleeding and the dead. We are honored that You have chosen us to dine at Your table, though we have sinned as surely as any tax collector among Matthew’s friends. Thank you for Your mercy in providing the Sacrifice we needed in order to share in this table of Your Presence. Thank you for this bread, the body of Your Son. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

You, our heavenly Father, have given a Bridegroom in troth to us, His bride, at the price of His very life. Make us new in order to receive Him; make us worthy to contain this new wine of Your mercy, Your healing, Your restoration of us to a relationship with You as children of Your grace. May it always be so.

Mark 6 and 8 – Five and Four Thousand

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 37

Jesus sent his twelve out two by two to preach repentance to heal. While they were gone, his cousin John the Baptizer was arrested and beheaded. The twelve returned, excited to tell of the results of the authority He had given them – but He needed time away to mourn; and they to rest. Yet the crowds followed, and from the lunch shared by one boy, He fed more than five thousand.

After walking across a wind-choppy lake that night, arguing with Pharisees about what causes sin, healing a foreign woman’s child and a deaf-and-mute man, Jesus once again fed a crowd, and again from a little bread and a little fish. Once again, baskets full of leftovers are gathered – all because, as He told the twelve, “I have compassion on them.” Yet He also warned the twelve about the Pharisees’ leaven, which does not bring the blessing that the multiplying loaves could bring.

A Prayer Over the Bread

Lord of bounty and unbounded compassion, we recognize Your providence in this bread. It is the tangible expression of Your great love for us; unprepared in a lonely place, yet hungering for the words He speaks – just as He hungered only for Your sustenance in the desert where He was tempted (Luke 4:1-13). We remember His words to His twelve about the yeast that grows and spreads, compared to the bread which keeps on giving. This bread we also recognize as Your Word – Your Son – Jesus. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

Father, we recall Jesus’ words to the Pharisees about washing and sin. Your providence, whether we think of it as ordinary or miraculous, was surely expressed in its fullness by the giving of the blood of Your Son – caressed now in this cup. Wash us from sin that corrupts from within us through this fruit of the vine. We pray this through Christ Himself: Amen.

John 6 – The Bread of Heaven

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 36

By the sixth chapter of his gospel, John records Jesus speaking of Himself as the “bread of heaven;” that we should eat His flesh and drink His blood. Whether Jesus is foreshadowing His last supper with his closest disciples, perhaps we can’t know for certain. But all three of the other gospel writers agree (Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22) that Jesus said the bread was His body, and the cup was His blood. And His servant Paul would later add in his instruction to Corinth (1 Corinthians 11): “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Still, at the time Jesus shared this great and mysterious truth, it must have sounded repugnant to those who heard it; like some sort of teaching that encouraged cannibalism. After His last supper, His crucifixion, and His resurrection, this truth makes the kind of sense that prophecy can only make when it is fulfilled. Not all of the questions we have about this proclamation may be answered, but it is certain that Jesus is the bread of heaven. Like manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16), He sustains us and fills the emptiness we feel. Like water from the rock, He refreshes and brings life that would otherwise eke out of us in the dryness of the Desert of Sin (Exodus 17).

A Prayer Over the Bread

Lord of life, as Your Son proclaimed His own identity as the bread of heaven, so we too proclaim it as we share these loaves. Nourish us. Sustain us. Empower us. Most of all, forgive us. Too often we have kept this great truth to ourselves, while others around us hungered for it. As Israel obeyed Moses by keeping the manna in the ark of the covenant for the generations to come (Exodus 16:32), may we always share this bread, keeping the Christ treasured and securely seated upon His throne in our hearts. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

Praise and worship are due You, our God. Thank You for your providence in giving us these emblems of Your Son’s sacrifice: His body and His blood. May we always consume them while being consumed by His passion. May we always be filled and drenched with this His redemption. Grant us the courage and privilege to share our life-blood in service to You, proclaiming the power of Jesus’ blood in us: Amen.

John 1, Matthew 4, Luke 4 – Bread Alone and Wine Together

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 35

We know nothing of the circumstances when Jesus left Joseph’s carpentry business and went out to the river Jordan near Bethany to be baptized by his cousin John. We know from the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke that the Spirit immediately drove him into the desert, where Jesus fasted forty days and nights and was tempted by Satan. We also know from John’s gospel that the next day after returning, He recruited followers … and the day after that, He went with them to a wedding feast at Cana of Galilee.

What happened during that extraordinary span of preparation for ministry was that Satan flung the first of three temptations at God’s Son: a challenge for Jesus to turn stones into bread that would assuage His gnawing hunger. And He resisted, because – as He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 – “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” John’s gospel begins by telling us that Jesus was that Word (John 1); He was, therefore, self-sustaining and sustained by God.

John also tells us that Jesus was subtly challenged by His mother when the wedding party ran out of wine. The Son obliged … to the amount of, perhaps, more than a hundred gallons of what the wine steward called the best vintage. Jesus realized that the old was gone; the time when those set aside – priests of God, and Nazarites like His cousin John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) – would no longer be forbidden from receiving the wine that He would supply by virtue of His own blood. It was a new day; a day for the Bridegroom to seek His bride, to share His life with her, and to celebrate (Ephesians 5:25-33). Even at this early point, bread and wine were figuring prominently in His ministry.

A Prayer Over the Bread

Holy One of heaven, we adore Your Name and appreciate Your providence of this sustaining bread, the Word of God, the High Priest of Your temple, the Messiah set apart to give up His own life so that ours could be purchased with a dowry of unmatched value – His own body. That You would desire to have us brought into Your family at such price humbles us completely. Accept our own lives, we pray, as we accept this gift of bread and Your infinite hospitality through Jesus. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

Father God: in praising You, we recognize that among us are children of Yours who have not had ideal marriages; the wedding cup holds only bitter dregs for them. Yet we also recognize that the we, the church, the bride redeemed by the blood of the perfect Bridegroom – Your Son – we have been washed in His baptism and this marriage has been made pure. And in sharing this cup, our hearts overflow with joyous gratitude for Your love shown to us in Christ. Amen.

Candor Ahead

After all, if I can’t be candid with you folks after almost 14 years, I can’t be candid with anyone.

I don’t write much anymore.

This is tough for a writer to admit.

I know it’s a kind of writer’s block, and last night I figured out/admitted which one it is.

Fear.

Not fear of failure, but of unintended success. I’m afraid that once I start, it will all come tumbling out, burbling in words of anger and frustration and sorrow at the way the world is and shouldn’t be. I’m afraid I will successfully communicate the way I feel using the words I normally wouldn’t use and I will cause wounds and rifts and pains that would at least be minimized if I keep holding them in. I’m afraid the words will take on the power of incantations that alienate and destroy.

No, you’re right; keeping them in is probably not healthy. And I do share them in prayer, very candidly, but I don’t get a lot of response these days.

So I keep on not writing.

And that is probably not healthy either.

I fumbled along in a writing job graciously offered for several years, earning part of my keep by maintaining a web site as well, but pretty much incapable of writing to meet the needs of my employer and audiences. I will always be grateful for that opportunity, and saddened that I wasn’t able to live up to the challenge.

Sure, there are thousands of texts out there that say “You were able! You are now! Just try! Just do it! Be a Nike sneaker!” and people like me buy them thinking that somehow they will be the needed kickstart and magically boot the chockblock from in front of the wheels. But they don’t.

The old magic isn’t there, because unleashing it would level Hogwarts.

So it’s best to chain it in the dungeon with the three-headed dogs and gigantic spiders and monstrous serpents and just say it isn’t there.

At least for now.

Until the spell can be found to keep it disciplined and under control.