A Veritable Feast - Sam Buehrer - Sylvania UCC - Sept92018
September 9, 2018
Sermon “A Veritable Feast” September 9, 2018
by Samuel Buehrer
2On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Sermon “A Veritable Feast” September 9, 2018
by Samuel Buehrer
On Friday evening, many from our church family gathered for what has become an annual wine tasting event. The text for today and the gathering on Friday evening reminded me of a celebration in which I was involved a number of years ago. That celebration also involved wine. On that particular evening, several Greek Orthodox monk friends of mine were hosting a celebration of their first vintage of wine from the grapes grown at their monastery. What none of us knew was that when the wine was bottled, it was bottled by a vintner that was not yet skilled in working with wine. On this occasion, he had bottled the wine while it was still fermenting, which meant he had bottled wine that was creating additional pressure in each bottle with each passing day. Essentially this wine was champagne just waiting to explode. On the feast day, as I was standing at the wine table talking with a first generation Greek American, a bottle of wine exploded in front of us, sending the cork about 20 feet into the air followed by a stream of wine that went at least 10 feet into the air. As I was jumping back from the exploding bottled as was my Greek friend across the table from me, he yelled Opa in celebration of the joy of wine being opened for a feast that had been prepared. When the bottled finished its explosion, there was all of about an inch and a 1/2 of wine left in the bottle. The joy expressed at the explosion of that bottle only grew throughout that evening as we enjoyed the feast that had been prepared for us.
It is that type of joy that I want to speak to today. Before us today is a table symbolizing a table at a wedding celebration. You will notice that the large cross has been removed from the sanctuary and in its place is a much smaller depiction of a cross. I prepared the sanctuary in this way so as to challenge us to consider what we think we know about the cross and the table. I suspect that if asked what is the most central symbol of the Christian faith, most if not all of us would say it is the cross. But if that question were asked of someone in the early church, the answer would not have been the cross, it would have been the table, or the food on the table as symbolized by the bread and the fish. For the first 900 to 1,000 years of Christianity, the primary symbol of our faith was associated with the feast that happened at the table. The cross did not become the prominent symbol of Christianity until almost 1,000 years after the death of Jesus. The reason for the cross taking precedence over the table is very much tied to the politics of the time, where the political powers needed a subservient populace who were willing to serve the king and those in power by dying to their own self, by carrying their cross for the sake of the greater good, ie. the nation state.
Prior to that time, during the first millennium, the primary symbol of the Christian faith was not the cross, but it was the bread and the fish which symbolized the great feast of our lord. For those first 8-10 centuries, as Christians gathered for worship the crucifix was not a part of their worship, but what was pictured in worship was the great feast where Christians present and saints from the past would all gather at the table and feast together. They understood that when they gathered at the feast table, present and past become one and when that happened heaven or paradise had become present. Rita Nakashima Brock, one of our recent Chidester lecturers has written that with the celebration of the feast as the symbol of God presence with the people, that “paradise had both a “here” and “not here” quality. Christians taught that paradise had always been here on earth. Sin had once closed its portals, but Jesus Christ had reopened them for the living. While Christians could taste, see, and feel the traces of it in ordinary life, they arrived most fully in paradise in community worship. With its art and buildings, the church created a space that united the living on earth with the heavenly beings and departed saints who surrounded and blessed the living. The risen Christ and clouds of witnesses embraced this life and lifted it to touch the heavens at every Eucharist. In that holy ritual, the community stood within the sacred cosmos, blessed by the fruits of the earth and the power of the saints.”1
Brock goes on to report that the earliest known surviving depiction in Christian art of the crucifixion of Jesus is the Gero Cross from around 965 A.D. Essentially prior to that time the central symbol of our faith was not the cross but it was the table. Those early Christians were not so much concerned about how to be saved from their sins as they were how to be a people that welcomed everyone to the table including the outcasts, foreigners, slaves, women and children and all without power. If they were able to welcome everyone to the table and be welcomed at the table, then Paradise was no longer something in the future but it had become present in that moment. They understood that the core teaching of Jesus was that everyone was a child of god and was to be treated as such. Paradise became present in each moment that one recognized themselves as a child of God.
Those early Christians came to the table knowing in that moment that they were in paradise, for paradise was where all people of God, regardless of wealth, regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of their sex or sexuality, would gather as one people. At that table, they knew that God’s purpose was to welcome all to the table so that everyone would come to know that they are special in God’s sight.
Therefore when the priest prayed for the descent of the Holy Spirit, this prayer of consecration called the Spirit down into the food on the table and into the entire community, asking that the fire of the Spirit sanctify everyone and everything with the blessing of the divine presence.
So it is today, my humble prayer is that the spirit comes down on not only this food on the table, but this entire community so that we know to the depth of our being that that we are holy, that we are sanctified with the blessing of the divine presence. It is my humble prayer that in a moment when we come to the table, that everyone of us in that moment captures a glimpse of heaven on earth as our eyes become opened to the realization that we are participants in something not only very sacred but something that transcends time.
To that end I pray, Come Holy Spirit, Come. Opa!