(Adults, begin by reading the Gospel aloud to the child.)
Two Sundays after Pentecost, the Gospel reading returns to the moment of the Last Supper. We wonder why this might be so.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, the disciples said to Jesus, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’
We know that the Passover is the most holy meal for the Jewish people. In one of the oldest books of the Bible, we hear God give them this meal to celebrate. They celebrate God with them, God saving them, God's gift to them of God's own Word. They have been celebrating the Passover meal every year in exactly the same way ever since. For over three thousand years, throughout time and space, they have said the same words, sung the same songs, eaten the same foods, asked the same questions. In doing so, the Jewish people grow closer to God. We say they live in covenant relationship with God.
While he is on earth, Jesus lives this covenant relationship with God, too. When he is little, living with Mary and Joseph, he celebrates the Passover meal with them, in exactly the same way. When he is a grown adult, traveling with the disciples, he celebrates the Passover meal with them, in exactly the same way. However, at the Last Supper before he dies and rises to new life, Jesus does something brand new.
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
These words are not part of the Passover meal celebration. On the night before his death, Jesus changes the ritual. Why does he do this?
Jesus gives them the bread and says that it is more than bread. It is his body--his body that will be crucified and will die. He gives them the wine and says that it is more than wine. It is his blood that gives him life--his blood that will be poured out in death. He makes a gift to them of his body and blood--he gives them his whole life--before the soldiers ever come to take it away. Can they take away something that he has already given?
But Jesus does die on the cross and the disciples bury him in the tomb. What good is it that he gives them his body and blood? He is dead. He has no life. That's what they must think.
But what do we know?
We know that God raises him to new life. The disciples spend forty days with Jesus, touching his body that is so alive, experiencing him in this new Risen life. Now they know that life is stronger than death. Now they know that Jesus saves.
We know what happens next. We know Jesus returns to God in heaven to watch over the building of the Kingdom of God. We know that he sends the Holy Spirit at Pentecost so that so many people hear the Good News spoken in their own languages. We know that three thousand people are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. But these three thousand people did not ever know Jesus personally. How can they follow a shepherd they have never seen?
The disciples remember Jesus' words at the Last Supper: "the covenant...poured out for many..." They realize that Jesus has given them a gift. Just as God gives the Jewish people the Passover to celebrate the covenant, Jesus has given the disciples a way for these three thousand people to celebrate covenant relationship. They do not wait for a whole year to pass. They gather in people's homes with bread and with wine. They repeat those words of Jesus.
This is my body.
This is my blood.
The Holy Spirit, who is so very present with them now, makes it so. Once again, Jesus is with them. Now they all know him in the bread and in the wine. This is a shepherd they can follow. There is a difference though. When Jesus gives them his body and blood before his death, he has not yet risen to eternal life. Now, though, when all these people gather after Pentecost, Jesus is present in his Risen life--his life with God--in the bread and in the wine.
It is a mystery and they love him for it.
We gather now after Pentecost, throughout the years, throughout the world, to celebrate our most holy meal. We celebrate God with us, God saving us, God's gift to us of Jesus, God's own Son. We have been celebrating this new meal--the Eucharist--in our churches in exactly the same way ever since. For over two thousand years, throughout time and space, we have heard those same words and received the Risen life of Jesus into our very selves. In doing so, we grow closer to God. We say we live in covenant relationship with God.
It is a mystery and we love God for it.