Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Strawberry Jello and Jesus

Maundy Thursday 2017
Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ, amen.

Family, friends, and food just seem to go together. Here at Family of God, we live this like it is Gospel itself!! Between Dine and Donate, my installation celebration, the 55+ Group, Soup and Sandwich, you just can’t turn around in this church without bumping into a “food and fellowship” related ministry.

Food is how we take care of one another, and also how we celebrate. While both of my grandparents were alive, they would host every holiday many birthdays at their large house, with folding chairs and tables scattered everywhere, surrounding one huge table with leaves to make it huge. Food filled the kitchen, and no family gathering would be complete without Grandma’s strawberry Jell-o with bananas in it. And so, no plate would be complete without a helping. Now, strawberry Jello and bananas aren’t my favorite flavor combination, but eating this special desert was like eating with her, especially since there eventually came a time when strawberry jello with bananas was no longer on the menu.

What are some of your favorite food memories? Perhaps it is the smell of Grandma baking homemade bread, or the taste of fresh marina sauce at your favorite restaurant as you celebrated a birthday or milestone, a Champaign toast at a wedding. And then there are the special food traditions that become staples in our lives for family get-togethers and holidays, like my Grandma’s strawberry and banana jello. Like turkey on Thanksgiving. Mom’s sugar cookies at Christmas. Honey ham and Aunt Marge’s cheesy potatoes at Easter. Ice cream birthday cake from Dairy Queen.

Food makes us remember. The Jewish people used the Passover meal to remember that God had led them from slavery in Egypt to freedom, that God had guided them through years of wandering in the dessert, and eventually gave them to a home to call their own. Each item in the Passover meal jogs their memories of God’s saving acts and faithful presence in the past, to remind them that God will continue to be faithful, no matter what the future year holds.

This is the reason why strawberry Jell-O is actually more than just strawberry Jell-O. And bread is more than just bread and wine is more than just wine Like common Jell-O, here is nothing inherently special about bread and wine. Just walk down the bread aisle at ACME or GIANT sometime. There may be more varieties NOW than were available to Jesus, but really, bread still is just bread and wine is still just wine, no matter where you are. Like a package of Jell-O, neither are hard to find. They are common, familiar, everyday things, nowhere near on par with extraordinary.

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 habit of taking what is ordinary in the eyes of the world and making it into something holy, special, set apart for a sacred reason.

Jesus embodied this during his lifetime, 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 at wells, children, foreigners, the blind, and the lame – all people who were on the outside of power and status. Jesus chose to be with them, just ordinary folks, rather than to hang out in the halls of power and influence. And in doing this, he showed that God was for THEM too.

But there were those in power in Jesus’ time who could not abide the thought that God 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 the established and excepted order. Therefore, naturally, 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, Judas, to betray him.

But that didn’t stop Jesus, not even 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 the people who are Jesus’ closest friends, the people he chose to spend his last meal with: common working men who didn’t always understand him, political zealots and hot-heads, those who would later desert him, one who would later deny him, and one would hand him over to death. And yet, there they all are, sitting around the table with Jesus, sharing a meal together.

And I ask you this night, to look around, to see who is gathered around this table. As Lutheran Pastor and writer Nadia Boltz-Weber (in her book Pastrix) often says about her own congregation: “I am unclear about what all these people have in common.” It just doesn’t seem to make any sense. 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 with them Jesus was making a memory – one that will be passed on, remembered throughout the ages, remembered again tonight.

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

Jesus makes a promise 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.

Jesus promised to be present with us in the sharing of bread and wine. And this he does boldly, while sin and betrayal and fear are sitting right there 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 flogging and splinters and nails.

We don’t have to understand it. In fact, most days we won’t be able to wrap our minds around it. But we remember it, believe it, trust it, and grasp it tightly and do not let go. We reach out our hands and receive 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.

Pastor Rozella Haydee White wrote in the Free Indeed Lent Devotional that the ELCA published for Lent year, “In a world that divides things into sacred and secular, Christianity offers an alternative, one that has the power to bring about restoration… by choosing to become human, God shows us that we are worth restoring.”

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. How amazing is that? And together this night we

break bread,


and remember

that Jesus is here with us. 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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