Date; October 7, 2007 (World Communion Sunday)
Texts: Lamentations 1:1-6, 3:19-26; II Timothy 1:1-14
In his cold and dark dungeon, in isolation, separated from his comrades, Paul writes a letter to his friend, Timothy. “I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day… I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy” (1:3-4). In the piece of the letter we heard this evening we hear from a broken man, in chains, desperate for companions, comrades in the gospel.
On this World Communion Sunday, I’m struck by Paul’s longing for faithful friends. He searches for lines of communication to sustain friendships beyond the separation of bars and walls. Letters—parchments and ink extend the reach of his hunger.
Sure, it seems the Apostle Paul has received word that Timothy’s ministry is like a boat caught in rough waters, maybe even about to sink. And Paul intervenes with this letter of encouragement. He says, “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you” (v6).
But in Paul’s voice we also hear a sharp cry for solidarity, for companionship, for union despite the frustrations of prison life. “Do not be ashamed,” he says, “of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God” (v8).
Don’t be ashamed of me, dear Timothy. Don’t forget about me, locked up in prison… my friend, Timothy. And when you remember me, when you think of me, I want you to remember the gospel—that’s how we can be united, even while separated by bars.
Shut away from the world, Paul needs to know that his friend Timothy is fighting the good fight, proclaiming the good news—that our Savior Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life through grace (v10). And if Timothy gives up on that message, Paul knows that Timothy also gives up on him. They are united in their confidence, their faith, their trust, that Jesus has saved them from death, no matter what darkness may overtake them.
And now Paul is where the rubber meets the road. Sitting there in the dungeon, where people are forgotten, where death and torture reign—does this Jesus really save? When his fiery hope and ministry is cooled by the damp dungeon, he needs to know that there are others, out there, who still have hope, who still believe the sound teaching that he entrusted to them (v14). He needs to know that there are still believers, that he is not alone, that death will not have the last word.
Will Timothy remember? Will Timothy pay him a visit? Will Timothy continue to trust? Can the saving grace of Jesus Christ pass through prison bars?
On World Communion Sunday we come together and eat at the Lord’s Table. We eat and drink—“the body of Christ, broken for you… The blood of Christ, shed for you.” That’s what Monica and I will tell you as we offer you this bread and this cup in a few moments.
And I can’t help but see our communion today through the light of the Apostle Paul’s longing from the prison, his hunger for a companion—because with the companion, comes Christ. As Jesus says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
But Paul is alone, without another. And so he can only pray, and write, and remember, companions who bring God’s presence: “I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day… I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.”
At the Lord’s Table, we receive the grace of God’s invitation to unite ourselves to Christ, and with one another, so that we may be filled with joy—that longing we hear from Paul, all the way from a prison two thousand years ago.
Church, and this table at our center, is about this same hunger and our longing for intimacy with God and with one another. It’s about solidarity; it’s about trust; it’s about depending on Christ, and the people who commit themselves to be Christ to us—the people who follow in the life-giving way of Jesus.
It’s about our shared joy that comes with our shared life, which is how we receive one another as gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But it is also about hope. It’s about hearing the good news of the church in Ukraine that Dave and Laura shared with us. It’s about praying for them, like Paul prays for Timothy, and longing for the day when we will be united with them at the heavenly banquet—and maybe sometimes before—when our joy may be complete, where we will be drunk with the Holy Spirit that pours out of our lives.
But communion is a kind of hope that takes lament and mourning seriously. It’s a hope that doesn’t forget the terrors of Lamentations. Our feast isn’t the kind of party where we get drunk enough to forget about all our troubles, and the troubles of the world. Our celebration must not forget the one in Lamentations who, it says, “weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies” (1:2).
At this celebration we remember those who suffer, because we remember the suffering death of Jesus. We remember that our host, Jesus Christ, was tortured and killed, abandoned, violently taken from us. The words of institution from I Corinthians 11 force us to remember because it closes with this haunting line, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We proclaim a death.
We come together at the Lord’s Table, and receive the grace of God poured out for us, and celebrate the joy of companions for the journey, companions that will not abandon us when we may be separated like Paul was from Timothy… But we also remember, and lament, and hope for that heavenly banquet where no one will be forgotten, where all will eat and drink with each other, where our joy and our love will be made complete.
Communion is an invitation to a longing, a hunger, a mission to celebrate and share the love of Christ, the grace of God, and the permeating union of the Holy Spirit.
Communion is about learning how to hunger and thirst after that God who brings us friends and companions—the God who brings us the joy of the Holy Spirit, the joy of union, the joy of companions, with every new person at our table.
When we eat this bread, we come to see how our lives are the grain. And the path of our lives is the cross of Christ, where we are crushed into flour. But through the power of the Holy Spirit we become one loaf of bread, the body of Christ. But it is the body of a broken Christ, crucified.
Our church, like Christ, is this loaf, broken for the world. And our church, like Christ, is this cup, poured out for the world. And as we remember, with our lives, the gracious gift of God’s Son, who has given us life everlasting and invited us to that heavenly banquet at the end of the ages where every tear is wiped away, let us be that bread of life broken for the world, that cup of Christ poured out for the world.
So, let us eat and drink the Supper of our Lord.
Pray with me:
God of perfect love, through Jesus, your Son, we have come to know you. In the company of the whole communion of saints, we come before you as we remember the death of Jesus, and receive with gratitude the redemption of his resurrected life.
God of grace, we come to this table, your table, with our hearts filled with joy. God, may this be a sign to us that you are a God who forgives us gladly and accepts us graciously. May this bread and cup show Christ’s work of redemption in our midst. In this Holy Supper, make us one with Jesus Christ that we may be steadfast in following him.
God, send your Spirit to sanctify us that we might praise our Redeemer and taste his presence now and evermore. Let the bread we break and the cup we drink be our communion of the body and blood of Christ, and our union with one another. Hear us for his sake, merciful God, as we pray as your Son taught us to pray, “Our father…”
Words of Institution (from I Cor. 11):
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.