Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Maundy Thursday Sermon: Or "Cake Boss" and Grandma's Strawberry Jello

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts by acceptable in your sight, O Christ our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

A wise theologian once said, “The point of the cross is not to be a giant guilt trip.”  And so in that vein, and also by invoking our beloved Martin Luther’s mandate to “sin boldly, but all the more boldly believe and rejoice in Jesus Christ,” I’m going to begin this Holy Thursday sermon by talking about the show Cake Boss.

During first communion class, do you remember watching the video called Grandma’s Bread? Cake Boss is like Grandmas’ Bread on steroids. It’s is a show on TLC about a Hoboken family who are in the business of making amazingly beautiful cakes. You want a fire truck cake? No problem! You want a cake that looks like a roulette wheel? They can make it. But this show is about much more than their incredible feats of sugary goodness. There is often trouble in this paradise of dessert. Between the opinionated and demanding “cake boss” himself, his often overbearing sister, his bumbling delivery driver, and his mother, the widow of the man who started the business, it’s a wonder they get any cakes one at all! But over and over again, at least in the few episodes I’ve seen, they somehow come together to create something utterly breathtaking. Those who received the cakes always oooh and aaaah, and I’m sure that this special memory with their family and friends is one they won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

But what are some of your favorite food memories? The smell of Grandma baking homemade bread? The taste of fresh marina sauce at your favorite restaurant as you celebrated a birthday or milestone? When we ask our first communion class every year about special food served at special meals, they always know exactly what we’re talking about. Turkey on Thanksgiving. Mom’s sugar cookies at Christmas. Grandma’s cheesy potatoes at Easter. Cake at birthday parties.

Family, friends, and food just seem to go together. It’s why I always ate my grandma’s strawberry Jello with bananas at every family gathering while she was alive. I didn’t particularly love strawberry Jello or bananas or the combination thereof; but eating this special desert was like eating with her. And unfortunately there did come a time when strawberry Jello with bananas was no longer on the menu.

So when is strawberry Jello more than just strawberry Jello? And when is bread more than just bread and when is wine more than just wine? Like strawberry Jello, here is nothing inherently special about bread and wine. Just walk down the bread aisle at ShopRite sometime, or take a stroll through Bottle King or a Joe Canal’s. There may be more varieties than were available to Jesus, but really, bread still is just bread and wine is still just wine, no matter where you are. Neither are hard to find, like a package of strawberry Jello. They are common, familiar, everyday things, nowhere near on par with extraordinary Cake Boss creations.

And yet, God chooses the ordinary over the extraordinary, the common over the rare, the everyday and familiar over the exceptional - every time. God has a funny habit of taking what is ordinary in the eyes of the world and making it into something special, holy, set apart.

Jesus embodied this during his lifetime, even to excess. And that’s what got him into trouble. Jesus was always hanging out and eating with all the wrong kinds of people: lepers, Roman centurions, the demon-possessed, women, children, foreigners, the blind, and the lame – all people who were on the outside of power and status, looking in. Jesus chose to be with them, just ordinary folks. As Rob Bell writes, “In his insistence that God is for everybody, Jesus challenged the conventional wisdom of his day that God is only for some.”

But there were those in power in Jesus’ time who could not abide the thought that God would stoop to welcoming everybody, that God would use ordinary people and ordinary things for God’s holy and sacred purposes. Jesus’ message of God’s extraordinary love for ordinary people threatened to upset the established and excepted order, so much so that Jesus and all that he stood for must be destroyed. And they would do so by any means necessary, even if it meant using one from his own inner circle to betray him.

But that didn’t stop Jesus, not for a second. Jesus came to show the world that God’s extreme love does extend to everyone, that God’s extreme welcome brings everyone to the table. Just look around at who are Jesus’ closest friends, the people he chose to spend his last meal with: common working men who didn’t understand him, political zealots and hot-heads, those who would later desert him, and one would hand him over to death. And yet, there they all are, sitting around the table with Jesus, sharing bread and wine.

And I ask you this night, to look around, to see who is gathered around this table. As Pastor Nadia Boltz-Weber often says as she witnesses the diversity in her own congregation: “I am unclear about what all these people have in common.” It just doesn’t seem to make any sense. Why would all these people be coming together? Except, of course, that we know that it is Jesus who has brought us all here to this table of welcome: young and old, rich and poor, children and parents, liars and deniers and betrayers, imperfect people all. All brought to this meal because of Jesus. All are welcome at God’s table.

That night that Jesus shared his last meal with his closest friends, as they sat down to break bread as they had always done, they were expecting this night to be like all the others. They did not know that Jesus was making a memory with them that they would not soon forget – a memory that will be passed on, remembered throughout the ages.

That night, Jesus took ordinary bread and ordinary wine and gave it to ordinary people, and something extraordinary happened.

Jesus promised to be present with us in the sharing of bread and wine. And this he does brazenly, while sin and betrayal and fear are sitting with him at the table. Jesus breaks a loaf of bread and shares it with his friends, just hours before his body is to be broken on the cross. Jesus then shares a cup of wine, just hours before his blood pours forth from his wounds, caused by fists and reeds and flogging and splinters and nails.

Jesus makes a new covenant with us with eating and drinking, an activity that unites all of humanity to meet a most human need – our need for sustenance, our need for life. We may eat to live and keep our bodies alive and healthy, but through Jesus’ broken body and blood poured we are given life in God’s Kingdom, where Jesus is giving us a place.

We don’t have to understand it. In fact, most days we won’t be able to wrap our minds around it. But we believe it, trust it, and grasp it tightly and do not let go. We reach out our hands and accept it – the body of Christ, broken for you; the blood of Christ, shed for you. You and me, who are sometimes Peter and sometimes Judas, and sometimes the rest of the disciples, asleep on the job or running the other direction in fear. But still, always welcome.

In our world of violence and fear, of division and indifference, of tight schedules and frazzled nerves, our God comes to us in a way that we can see and touch and taste. And together this night we break bread, eat, and remember that Jesus is here with us, in the breaking of the bread. Today we remember the goodness of the Lord, as we look ahead to tomorrow, that Friday that we call good. Amen.

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