Weekly Sermon Illustration: Nickolet's Sermon Writing on Pentecost

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Day of Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from Acts:

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Here is an excerpt from the novel The Final Beast where Pastor Theodore Nicolet is trying to write a sermon for Pentecost:

HE LAY behind the barn with his jacket folded under his head. The rim of the sun had just appeared above his father's house, and long diagonals of light came slanting down at him from the peak of the roof. "The birthday of the church took place in the midst of terrible fire," he began, his thin lips barely moving. "I've got this sermon to do. . ." Don't ham it up, Nick. That's cheating.

 As the sun cleared the roof, the light became almost intolerably clear. Every detail of texture and color seemed too visible, dazzled him; it was like looking at pebbles through the flashing water of a stream—the flakes of rust on the wheel of the ruined cider press, the beaded brilliance of orange rinds that lay tumbled down the slope of the compost heap. "You tell me, old Lillian, bare-shanks, how do I preach the power from on high?"

Just look around you, Nicolet. Her eyes swelled the chipmunk smile.

"I see a tiny red bug crawling up a tree trunk. I see where my tragic old dad dumps the slops."

Call on his name now.

"The bug's?"

The Lord's.

"Oh Lord..." he began, stopped then. "My prayers move creepy-crawly like the bug. Help me."

His real name.

"Jesus?" He whispered it. "Makes me think of corn belt parsons with china teeth and ghastly old Jesus hymns. Beulah Land. Melodeons."

It's his name. Call upon it.

"Later." There were other saints. He leaned over on one elbow and took the pencil in his hand. "Power," he wrote, "from on high," with a little feathered arrow pointing up. The professor of homiletics had told them always to put into one sentence the central point and never to preach for less than twenty minutes--”Sermonettes make Christianettes," he had said. "It comes down," Nicolet added. Did it? He crossed out what he had written and in block letters wrote, "IS IT TRUE?" Was that, secretly, what they came to find out Sunday after Sunday, just that, yes or no? He thought of them settling down to silence, old jaws clamped in a look of imbecile concentration, as he took his place at the lectern and unfastened the paper clip from his notes, glancing down at where they sat—the queer old lady hats set square like little mansard roofs, hearing-aids in the front pews, here and there a palm leaf fan flickering and the muted complaint of a cough. Rooney would sit in the back with her hair tucked into a bun getting ready to add up the hymn numbers but not yet. For those few moments before he began to speak, he could believe that they had come for something, were dreaming that maybe this time he would tell them: IS IT TRUE? "It's the awful question you avoid like death," Rooney had once said in a fury. Like life, some saint said to him now. They waited. You waited. Sometimes you felt as though you had swallowed an anchor, waiting there. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight. . . .

Weekly Sermon Illustration: The Jailer

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Here is this week’s reading from Acts: 16:16-34:

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation." She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, "These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe." The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Here is Buechner’s description of a different type of jailer, first published in Whistling in the Dark (later also published in Beyond Words):

HELP

As they're used psychologically, words like repressiondenialsublimationdefense, all refer to one form or another of the way human beings erect walls to hide behind both from each other and from themselves. You repress the memory that is too painful to deal with, say. You deny your weight problem. You sublimate some of your sexual energy by channeling it into other forms of activity more socially acceptable. You conceal your sense of inadequacy behind a defensive bravado. And so on and so forth. The inner state you end up with is a castle-like affair of keep, inner wall, outer wall, moat, which you erect originally to be a fortress to keep the enemy out but which turns into a prison where you become the jailer and thus your own enemy. It is a wretched and lonely place. You can't be what you want to be there or do what you want to do. People can't see through all that masonry to who you truly are, and half the time you're not sure you can see who you truly are yourself, you've been walled up so long.

Fortunately there are two words that offer a way out, and they're simply these: Help me. It's not always easy to say them—you have your pride after all, and you're not sure there's anybody you trust enough to say them to—but they're always worth saying. To another human being—-a friend, a stranger? To God? Maybe it comes to the same thing.

Help me. They open a door through the walls, that's all. At least hope is possible again. At least you're no longer alone.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Light

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Sixth Sunday of Easter. Here is this week’s reading from Revelations:

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day--and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Here is Buechner’s description of Light, first published in Wishful Thinking (later also published in Beyond Words):

WE CAN'T SEE LIGHT ITSELF. We can see only what light lights up, like the little circle of night where the candle flickers—a sheen of mahogany, a wineglass, a face leaning toward us out of the shadows.

When Jesus says that he is the Light of the World (John 8:12), maybe something like that is part of what he is saying. He himself is beyond our seeing, but in the darkness where we stand, we see, thanks to him, something of the path that stretches out from the door, something of whatever it is that keeps us trying more or less to follow the path even when we can hardly believe that it goes anywhere worth going or that we have what it takes to go there, something of whoever it is that every once in a while seems to lean toward us out of the shadows.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Bebb's Speech at Revonoc

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Fifth Sunday of Easter.  Here is this week's reading from the Gospel of John:

John 13:33-35

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Here is a portion of Leo Bebb's famous speech at Gertrude Conover's Revonoc in Princeton, NJ from Frederick Buechner's Love Feast (later also published in The Book of Bebb):

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a great feast. That's the way of it. The Kingdom of Heaven is a love feast where nobody's a stranger. Like right here. There's strangers everywheres else you can think of. There's strangers was born out of the same womb. There's strangers was raised together in the same town and worked side by side all·their life through. There's strangers got married and been climbing in and out of the same fourposter together for thirty-five or forty years and they're strangers still. And Jesus, it's like most of the time he is a stranger too. Even when he's near as the end of your nose, people make like he's nowhere around. They won't talk to him. They won't listen to him. They keep their eye on the ground. But here in this place there's no strangers, and Jesus, he isn't a stranger either. The Kingdom of Heaven's like this.

"He said, "We all got secrets. I got them same as everybody else—things we feel bad about and wish hadn't ever happened. Hurtful things. We're all scared and lonesome, but most of the time we keep it hid. It's like every one of us has lost his way so bad we don't even know which way is home any more only we're ashamed to ask. You know what would happen if we would own up we're lost and ask? Why, what would happen is we'd find out home is each other. We'd find out home is Jesus loves us lost or found or any whichway."

The room flickered like the scratched print of an old newsreel, the hands of Bebb jerky as Woodrow Wilson laying a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Shadows. Faces. Afros like puff balls of dust under beds, more air than hair. Grainy, light-struck blizzarding of old film.

Bebb said, "Eating. Feeding your face. Folks, I've eaten my way 'round the known world. I've eaten snails out of their own shells in Paris, France. I've eaten octopus in Spain and curry in India so hot it makes your eyes water and the skin on your head go cold as ice. I've eaten hamburgs pitiful and grey like the sole of your shoe in greasy spoons from here to Saint Joe. I've eaten the bread of affliction, all of us has. We got to eat or—food, it's life, but all the food in the world, all the turkey and fixings plus your ice cream the shape of hats, it's not life enough to keep you alive without you eat it with love in the heart.

"Dear hearts," Bebb said, "we got to love one another and Jesus or die guessing."

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Disaster

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Here is this week’s reading of Psalm 23:

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Here is Frederick Buechner’s excerpt on Disaster from Beyond Words:

ON THE EVENING OF THE DAY the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists, a service was hastily improvised in one of the largest New York churches, where crowds of both believers and nonbelievers came together in search of whatever it is people search for at such times—some word of reassurance, some glimmer of hope.

"At times like these," the speaker said, "God is useless."

When I first heard of it, it struck me as appalling, and then it struck me as very brave, and finally it struck me as true.

When horrors happen we can't use God to make them unhappen any more than we can use a flood of light to put out a fire or Psalm 23 to find our way home in the dark.

All we can do is to draw close to God and to each other as best we can, the way those stunned New Yorkers did, and to hope that, although God may well be useless when all hell breaks loose, there is nothing that happens, not even hell, where God is not present with us and for us.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Peter

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Third Sunday of Easter.  Here is this week’s reading from the gospel of John:

John 21:9-17

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught."  So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord.  Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.  When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."  A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep."  He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.

Here is Frederick Buechner’s excerpt on Peter, first published in Peculiar Treasures and reprinted in Beyond Words:

Everybody knows he started out as a fisherman. He lived with his wife in Capernaum, where they shared a house with his mother-in-law and his  brother Andrew. He and Andrew had their own boat and were in business with a couple of partners named James and John, Zebedee's sons.  The first time Jesus laid eyes on him, he took one good look and said, "So you're Simon, the son of John" (John 1:42), and then said that from then on he'd call him Cephas, which is Aramaic for Peter, which is Greek for rock.

A rock isn't the prettiest thing in creation or the fanciest or the smartest, and if it gets rolling in the wrong direction, watch out, but there's no nonsense about a rock, and once it settles down, it's pretty much there to stay. There's not a lot you can do to change a rock or crack it or get under its skin, and, barring earthquakes, you can depend on it about as much as you can depend on anything. So Jesus called him the Rock, and it stuck with him the rest of his life. Peter the Rock. He could stop fishing for fish, Jesus told him. He'd been promoted. From there on out people were to be his business. Now he could start fishing for them.

There was a lot of talk going around about who Jesus was and who he wasn't, and Jesus himself seemed just as glad to steer clear of the subject. Then one day he brought it up himself, and the disciples batted it around for a while. There were some people who said he was John the Baptist come back from the grave, they told him, or maybe Elijah, or Jeremiah, or some other prophet who thought he'd see what he could do a second time around. There were all kinds of half-baked theories, they said. Then Jesus put it to them straight: "Who do YOU say that I am?" Nobody wanted to stick his neck out, and the silence was deafening till Peter broke it or till it washed up against the rock that Peter was and broke itself. "You're the Christ," he said, "the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16: 15 -16).

It took a lot of guts to say, and Jesus knew it did. If it was true, it was enough to blow the lid off everything. If it wasn't true, you could get yourself stoned to death as a blasphemer for just thinking it. But Peter said it anyway, and Jesus made up for him the only beatitude he ever made up for a single individual and said, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona," which means Simon, son of John, and seems to have been what he always called him when he really meant business. Then he went back to Peter the Rock again and told him that he was the rock he wanted to build his church on and that as soon as he got to Heaven, he was to be the one to decide who else got in. "I will give you the keys of the kingdom," Jesus said (Matthew16:17-19). It was another promotion.

But if Peter was the only one Jesus ever gave a beatitude of his own to, he was also the only one he ever gave Hell to, at least in quite such a direct way. It happened not long afterwards. Jesus was saying that to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, wasn't going to be a bed of roses all the way, and the time wasn't far off when he'd suffer the tortures of the damned in Jerusalem and be killed. Peter couldn't take it. "God forbid, Lord. This shall never happen," he said, and that's when Jesus lit into him. "Get behind me, Satan," he said because the rock that Peter was at that point was blocking the grim road that Jesus knew he had to take whether he or Peter or anybody else wanted it that way or not because God wanted it that way, and that was that. "You're not on God's side but men's," he said. "You're a rock I've cracked my shins on (Matthew 16:21-23).

It wasn't the last time Peter said the wrong thing either, or asked the wrong question, or got the wrong point, or at least failed to do the thing that was right. The day he saw Jesus walking on the water and tried to walk out to him himself, for instance, he was just about to go under for the third time because rocks have never been much good at floating when Jesus came to the rescue (Matthew14:28-31). Once when Jesus was talking about forgiveness, Peter asked how many times you were supposed to forgive anyone person—seven times maybe?—and Jesus turned on him and said that after you'd forgiven him seventy time seven you were just starting to get warmed up (Matthew18:21-22). Another time Jesus was talking about Heaven, and Peter wanted to know what sort of special deal people like himself got, people who'd left home and given everything up the way he'd given everything up to follow Jesus; and Jesus took it easy on him that time because a rock can't help being a little thick sometimes and said he'd get plenty, and so would everybody else (Matthew 19:27-30).

And then there were the things he did or failed to do, those final, miserable days just before the end. At their last supper, when Jesus started to wash the disciples' feet, it was Peter who protested—"You wash my feet!"—and when Jesus explained that it showed how they were all part of each other and servants together, Peter said, "Lord, not my feet only but my hands and my head!" and would probably have stripped down to the altogether if Jesus hadn't stopped him in time (John13:5-11). At that same sad meal, Jesus said he would have to be going soon, and because Peter didn't get what he meant or couldn't face it, he asked about it, and Jesus explained what he meant was that he was going where nobody on earth could follow him. Peter finally got the point then and asked why he couldn't follow. "I'll lay down my life for you," he said, and then Jesus said to him the hardest thing Peter had ever heard him say. "Listen, listen," he said, "the cock won't crow till you've betrayed me three times" (John13:36-38), and that's the way it was, of course—Peter sitting out there in the high priest's courtyard keeping warm by the fire while, inside, the ghastly interrogation was in process, and then the girl coming up to ask him three times if he wasn't one of them and his replying each time that he didn't know what in God's name she was talking about. And then the old cock's wattles trembling scarlet as up over the horizon it squawked the rising sun, and the tears running down Peter's face like rain down a rock (Matthew26:69-75).

According to Paul, the first person Jesus came back to see after Easter morning was Peter. What he said and what Peter said nobody will ever know, and maybe that's just as well. Their last conversation on this earth, however, is reported in the Gospel of John.

lt was on the beach, at daybreak. Some of the other disciples were there (see NATHANIEL), and Jesus cooked them breakfast. When it was over, he said to Peter (only again he called him Simon, son of John, because if ever he meant business, this was it), "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" and Peter said he did. Then Jesus asked the same question a second time and then once again, and each time Peter said he loved him—three times in all, to make up for the other three times.

Then Jesus said, "Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep," and you get the feeling that this time Peter didn't miss the point (John21:9-19). From fisher of fish to fisher of people to keeper of the keys to shepherd. It was the Rock's final promotion, and from that day forward he never let the head office down again.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: The Seeing Heart

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter. Here is this week’s reading from the gospel of John:

John 20:19-29

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe. Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Here is Frederick Buechner’s sermon called "The Seeing Heart" from Secrets in the Dark:

There was a great teacher of the Old Testament at the seminary where I studied for the ministry years ago, and one thing he told us that I have always remembered is that we really can't hear what the stories of the Bible are saying until we hear them as stories about ourselves. We have to imagine our way into them, he said. We have to imagine ourselves the prodigal son coming home terrified that the door will be slammed in his face when he gets there, only to have the breath all but knocked out of him by the great bear hug his father greets him with before he can choke out so much as the first word of the speech he has prepared about how sorry he is and how he will never do it again, not unlike the way Sunday after Sunday you and I say in our prayers how sorry we are and how we will never do it again. We have to put ourselves in the place of the good thief spread-eagled in the merciless sun saying to the one who is dying beside him, "Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power," the way at the heart of every prayer we have ever prayed or will ever pray, you and I are also saying it in one form or another: Remember me. Remember me. Jesus, remember.

Special Sermon Illustration: Good Friday

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

On April 19, 2019 we will celebrate Good Friday. Here is this week's reading from the gospel of John:

John 19:28-30

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The article below was originally published in Beyond Words:

According to John, the last words Jesus spoke from the cross were, "It is finished." Whether he meant "finished" as brought to an end, in the sense of finality, or "finished" as brought to completion, in the sense of fulfillment, nobody knows. Maybe he meant both.

What was brought to an end was of course nothing less than his life. The Gospels make no bones about that. He died as dead as any man. All the days of his life led him to this day, and beyond this day there would be no other days, and he knew it. It was finished now, he said. He was finished. He had come to the last of all his moments, and because he was conscious still—alive to his death—maybe, as they say the dying do, he caught one final glimpse of the life he had all but finished living.

Who knows what he glimpsed as that life passed before him. Maybe here and there a fragment preserved for no good reason like old snapshots in a desk drawer: the play of sunlight on a wall, a half-remembered face, something somebody said. A growing sense perhaps of destiny: the holy man in the river, a gift for prayer, a gift for moving simple hearts. One hopes he remembered good times, although the Gospels record few—how he once fell asleep in a boat as a storm was coming up, and how he went to a wedding where water was the least of what was turned into wine. Then the failures of the last days, when only a handful gathered to watch him enter the city on the foal of an ass—and those very likely for the wrong reasons. The terror that he himself had known for a few moments in the garden, and that finally drove even the handful away. Shalom then, the God in him moving his swollen lips to forgive them all, to forgive maybe even God. Finished.

What was brought to completion by such a life and such a death only he can know now, wherever he is, if he is anywhere. The Christ of it is beyond our imagining. All we can know is the flesh and blood of it, the Jesus of it. In that sense, what was completed was at the very least a hope to live by, a mystery to hide our faces before, a shame to haunt us, a dream of holiness to help make bearable our night.

Special Sermon Illustration: The Lord's Supper

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

On April 18, 2019 we will celebrate Maundy Thursday. Here is this week's reading from the book of 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

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.

The article below was originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words:

The Lord's Supper is make-believe. You make believe that the one who breaks the bread and blesses the wine is not the plump parson who smells of Williams' Aqua Velva but Jesus of Nazareth. You make believe that the tasteless wafer and cheap port are his flesh and blood. You make believe that by swallowing them you are swallowing his life into your life and that there is nothing in earth or heaven more important for you to do than this.

It is a game you play because he said to play it.  "Do this in remembrance of me." Do this.

Play that it makes a difference. Play that it makes sense. If it seems a childish thing to do, do it in remembrance that you are a child.

Remember Max Beerbohm's Happy Hypocrite, in which a wicked man wore the mask of a saint to woo and win the saintly girl he loved. Years later, when a castoff girlfriend discovered the ruse, she challenged him to take off the mask in front of his beloved and show his face for the sorry thing it was. He did what he was told, only to discover that underneath the saint's mask, his face had become the face of a saint.

This same reenactment of the Last Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist, from a Greek word meaning "thanksgiving," that is, at the Last Supper itself Christ gave thanks, and on their part Christians have nothing for which to be more thankful.

It is also called the Mass, from missa, the word of dismissal used at the end of the Latin service. It is the end. It is over. All those long prayers and aching knees. Now back into the fresh air. Back home. Sunday dinner. Now life can begin again. Exactly.

It is also called Holy Communion because, when feeding at this implausible table, Christians believe that they are communing with the Holy One himself, his spirit enlivening their spirits, heating the blood, and gladdening the heart just the way wine, as spirits, can.

They are also, of course, communing with each other. To eat any meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic need. It is hard to preserve your dignity with butter on your chin, or to keep your distance when asking for the tomato ketchup.

To eat this particular meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic humanness, which involves our need not just for food but for each other. I need you to help fill my emptiness just as you need me to help fill yours. As for the emptiness that's still left over, well, we're in it together, or it in us. Maybe it's most of what makes us human and makes us brothers and sisters.

The next time you walk down the street, take a good look at every face you pass and in your mind say, "Christ died for thee." That girl. That slob. That phony. That crook. That saint. That damned fool. Christ died for thee. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Recognizing

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate Easter. Here is this week’s reading from the gospel of Luke:

Luke 24:13-31

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

Here is an excerpt from Buechner’s Easter Sunday sermon entitled “The Secret in the Dark” first published in The Longing for Home and again in Secrets in the Dark:

I believe that although the two disciples did not recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Jesus recognized them, that he saw them as if they were the only two people in the world. And I believe that the reason why the resurrection is more than just an extraordinary event that took place some two thousand years ago and then was over and done with is that, even as I speak these words and you listen to them, he also sees each of us like that. In this dark world where you and I see so little because of our unrecognizing eyes, he, whose eye is on the sparrow, sees each one of us as the child in red. And I believe that because he sees us, not even in the darkness of death are we lost to him or lost to each other. I believe that whether we recognize him or not, or believe in him or not, or even know his name, again and again he comes and walks a little way with us along whatever road we're following. And I believe that through something that happens to us, or something we see, or somebody we know—who can ever guess how or when or where?—he offers us, the way he did at Emmaus, the bread of life, offers us a new hope, a new vision of light that not even the dark world can overcome.

That is the word that on Easter Sunday is sounded forth on silver trumpets. And when Easter is past and the silver trumpets have faded away to hardly more than a distant echo, that is the word that is whispered to us like a secret in the dark, the saving and holy word that flickers among us like a red dress in a gray world.