At the Table of Jesus

 

IMG_0318  Of course, the church’s sin against women is not exclusive to women. Somehow, shortly after St. Paul and the gospels were written came the selective interpretation of the scriptures. A selective interpretation that was nothing more than proof texting for the exclusivity of a  male dominated church. You can selectively sort through St. Paul’s letters and come up with sentences here and there that seem to cast women in lesser roles. But reading the whole of his letters paints a different picture.  To exclude women, or anyone, was not Jesus’ message or how he lived his life; nor was it Paul’s nor is it in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts women are preaching, teaching and are ordained.

The new Jesus movement as we see it in the gospels and in Acts is a Jewish movement whose purpose and identity was grounded in the universal inclusion of all people in the new covenant faith. The gospel message is that there is no barrier of age, race, gender, ethnicity, class or status. All were welcome. As all were welcome at the table of Jesus who even ate with sinner, even with tax collectors!

St. Paul and the other apostles saw their mission to preach Jesus’ death and resurrection as a universal imperative which included pagans and gentiles, and was intended to reach to the ends of the earth.  No one was excluded. What has happened to us? To the church? On religious grounds, false religious grounds I might add, people of different orientations are being excluded. We are suspect of anyone of a different faith. Whose practices are not like ours?

In Acts it becomes clear that ALL barriers are eradicated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. One of the first signs at Pentecost, the sending of the Spirit of Christ into the world, was that people of different tribes, speaking different languages, could understand one another. Being baptized not by apostles but in the name of the Spirit of Jesus, not only erased ethnic diversity which was so strong at the time, but also made it possible to bring everyone to the table. To the table of Jesus. He even sat down and ate with Pharisees, with his enemies.

How outrageous then are those purveyors of Christianity who refuse anyone to come to the table of the Lord. Even to say you need to be free of sin to come to the table seems ludicrous. Who needs Jesus more? And who is to judge the human heart?  When we remember Jesus’ last supper this week, as we participate in the remembrance of Jesus’ last supper, we need to be aware that just as he welcomed everyone to every meal he ate during his public life, we too might work to include rather than exclude. For there are no barriers to love. And it was only the women and a lone Roman soldier who stood with and witnessed the embrace of Jesus for everyone on that Good Friday.

 

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Passover and Maundy Thursday

 Passover began this past Monday evening. During Passover, our Jewish brothers and sisters invite friends and family into their homes for a Seder supper, to celebrate Passover together. The Seder supper recalls  the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Pharaoh’s house of slavery. In preparation for their being led out, Yahweh gave instructions to the people as to how to prepare themselves for their flight from Egypt. It is also called the feast of Unleavened Bread because the people had no time for the bread they would take with them to rise. The name for Passover comes from the their sprinkling the blood of a lamb over their two doorposts and lintel so that the angel of death, one of the plagues set upon  Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go, would pass over the houses of the Hebrew people.

Jesus’ last supper was the Passover meal. Tonight Christians go to their respective churches to celebrate the Last Supper. It is called Maundy Thursday as it recalls Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples before  the Passover meal they shared together.  The meal together becomes a sign of his self-giving, his sense of service to his followers. The Last Supper recalls the Exodus and the Passover meal Jesus shared with his friends the night before he died. The words of the Eucharist celebration are the words St. Paul puts down in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27 that he received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you. They are the words that turned Jesus’s last supper, his final Passover feast, into the Eucharist, the Mass, as the Christian remembrance of Jesus’ Passover from death to life.

There is much speculation outside the gospels accounts of the Jesus’ last meal with his friends, as to what actually occurred there. The gospels tell us that Jesus knew one of his own would betray him. It would not have taken super powers for Jesus to know that there were those who were out to put an end to him and his teachings. He was surely aware that John, whose work he most likely took up after his cousin’s death, had been killed because he challenged the status quo both religiously and politically.

As a devout and faithful Hebrew, one very familiar with the sacred writings of Israel, he would have read, along with singing the Psalms, the story of the Exodus.  At the close of the reading he would have held the scroll up and said ‘this is the word of the Lord.’ Soon enough he would be raised up to the world as the living Word, the Word of G-d become flesh.

Part of the readings that night would recall Yahweh’s command to Israel in the Book of Exodus to perform Passover as a yearly ritual in remembrance of the day Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. You will observe this ordinance each year at the appointed time. For St. Paul these words that Jesus’ disciples heard at the Passover meal with him would also be remembered as Jesus’ own instructions to remember what they did together that night on the final Passover he most likely knew would be his last to celebrate with them.

In the Passover meal Yeshua of Nazareth stands as the center point, at the heart, of the ongoing faith journey of G-d’s sacred people. The people chosen and meant, called to be his own. Part of the promise given to Israel was that she would bring the rest of the world to faith in the one G-d, the Lord of Life, the I Am Who Am.

Yeshua of Nazareth came to his own people. He came to a scattered and oppressed Israel.   His mission as he understood it was to the Hebrew people. We understand from St. Paul too, that being saved, saved from oppression, being set aside as a sacred people for G-d, would come to the Jews first and through them to the rest of the world.

Israel gave us Jesus. We believe Yeshua (which means Yahweh saves) of Nazareth to be the Christ. Our faith in Christ is also faith in the G-d of Israel.

As we all join this week in spirit if not in place to celebrate the Passover of the Lord let us remember together with gratitude the bitter tears and the suffering of our shared faith journey that transformed forever who we are, a people all, meant and sacred.  Let us remember as charged the G-d of Israel and of Jesus, who brought us from slavery to freedom, from death to life, giving us a way of being his, a way to  him.