The week-end is different now.

Our week-ends are different now…

And they’re all at it…

Dine in for £10-00

Waitrose, Tesco, M&S

Two courses and wine for two people for £10-00.

Pressure off…

Relax and enjoy.

This is no ordinary week-end.

 

 

Have you ever noticed how

sharing a meal together changes things…??

Offers us a chance to get close to each other…

To ratchet up the intimacy…??

How it can be an opportunity really to get to know someone

In a new way…

=

You know how the connection is progressed…

when you move beyond

meeting someone for a cup of coffee, and you take it to the next level…….to  having them round for dinner or for their tea……leading possibly to a new friendship…

.

Jesus certainly liked to eat with people…

So much so, he was accused by some of his critics of being a “glutton and a drunkard…”

But he clearly knew that something different happened in the shared dynamic of a meal together…

=*

In different contexts, there were different experiences…

But always new connections,

New discoveries made…

 

It was his habitual eating with disreputable people that gained him his bad press…

This man eats with sinners, his critics complained..

It didn’t seem to bother him too much,

Because he kept doing it!

Though he wasn’t exclusive…he would eat with anyone…

Pharisees and prigs included…

He was prepared to ignore barriers, at whatever end of the scale he encountered them…

In order to take the opportunities on offer

From whomsoever they came…

To get up close and personal…

To let people see beyond the myth, to the man himself…

-

For the context of a meal together offered that special chance to brush aside the caricatures and meet the real Jesus…hear what he really had to say…to you: to get beyond the stereotyping and the self- imposed prejudices about him…and meet the man as he was…with openness and honest engagement.

Relaxed around the table was the time to meet, to discuss, to engage…to reveal…

So to share a meal with the man Jesus was a crucial and often pivotal moment…risky, surprising…when friendship might be found…truth disclosed…discoveries made:

whether that was five thousand at an unexpected picnic on the sloping meadowland beside the Sea of Tiberias…

Or a little group of rather nervous disciples by a crackling fire on the seashore…when the risen Christ gives them fish and bread and hope…

==

But in these encounters something is going on…a new place is reached and their relationship with him is taken …beyond polite recognition…to intimacy…a feeling of belonging.

 

Out of the abstract - and into their experience:

the difference between hearing about someone…and listening to them yourself…

the difference between knowing a bit about someone…and knowing that someone for yourself.

This is a critical shift in the dynamic…a whole new ball-game.

 

And there was that famous meal…the Passover supper…the last Supper…with its sinister undertones mingling with such special feelings…

betrayal and sharing…

giving and treachery…

sombre anticipation…telling symbolism…

togetherness

death, blood and brokenness…

The sense of something ending…and yet something mysterious and wonderful beginning…

Promise of new things…solidarity of friendship and the certainty of abandonment…the whisper of tasks soon to be completed, missions soon to be accomplished…

So many tremors of intent, so many moods and moments…gathered in that candlelit room with his closest friends and his terrifying future.  Jesus sat at supper with his disciples…and he took bread…

And in that closeness and intimacy

Love is poured out…

And they knew this was special. This would last.

And like his Church ever since…

They knew this was where they belonged.

 

It’s this specialness, this intimacy of spirit, that is echoed in the story of the disciples, after Easter, encountering the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus – and how they discover the new reality of the living presence of their risen Lord…as they settle down to share a meal of bread and wine…and they are transfixed and inspired by a close encounter with Christ’s characteristic action and deepest gift.

 

They understand now, that life and love and his living promise are with them…and this is the new truth that transforms their tomorrows.

Gloom is turned to glorious hope.

Their hunched and drooping shoulders are stiffened with resolve…and they know that their lives and the life of the world are changed forever.

Because of him.

Because he is with them…and will be.

I am his and he is mine…

 

 

 

Sharing a meal is the context where

Such things can happen.

Because it offers a special place, a safe place

in which there can be an increased

closeness, enfolding, affirming.

 

And this is what it’s all about

This is what meals shared

do -

They bring us closer

They open us up to each other

The connection can never be the same as distant and aloof as it was before…

Because we have shared a meal…given something of ourselves to each other…

 

New intensity

New insights

New tolerance

New respect.

 

This is why so many romantic relationships

Appropriate and inappropriate

Begin with

Or soon involve a candlelit dinner…

++

Over the relaxed experience of a shared meal

Defences are lowered

Closeness is encouraged

The softening up process happens

Intimacy beckons…if it feels right…if feels that this is where you belong. You want to feel that feeling more.

 

 

But, sometimes it’s hard to feel you belong…

intimacy has a hard time

In a world of walls and barriers

Prejudices and caricatures

Fragile egos protected by cold formality

 

We fear exposure -

in every sense.

We fear being known in our vulnerabilities

We hold back from sharing

because sharing leaves us naked and raw

We are known as we are

Without illusion or the ability

To hide, to pretend.

+

Over a meal together

Barriers crumble

Walls collapse

Doors open

We dare to let each other in.

We give something of ourselves away

And we trust the people we give it to

To respect that gift…

 

If it’s the sense of belonging

That we want

Then the experience of being the church together,

In worship and fellowship and shared service - suggest

the church is a place where that intimacy might be encountered

And encouraged

Indeed, where it can hardly be avoided.

Here all are welcome – that’s what we say anyway,

That’s what we sing…

We are learning how to make that high sounding idealism

A real experience

For everyone

For any one…

+++

However, if the last thing we want is intimacy

And, for some, that is the last thing they want (!)

Then, please, watch us as we bring formality to the front of the queue

Make sure any attempt to winkle open

Each other’s feelings

Is avoided

Keep it in the head

Well away from the heart.

 

Keep the distance

Keep the silences

 

Or, alternatively, carefully structure everything

In such a way that

Order, procedure,

Rule the day

And sharing –risk – spontaneity

Are well and truly smothered

By the rigorous demands to

“Do things in the right way”

 

There may be cultural and geographical

Factors in all of this.

If we are dour Scots - locked into a model

Of religion that is more about

Good order than good feelings-

And if the way the church we worship in is set up

Conspires to aggravate that “distance between”

Rather than bridge it –

Then it is no wonder

We take a long time to

Break through legalistic language

And the things that “have to be said

In the way they have always had to be said.”

 

There is a kind of escapism or denial at work here.

Keeping the lid on things

Thereby preventing the Spirit

From daring some disruption

Some living moment

That stirs, touches, disturbs

Warms – challenges

Dares us to reach out over the barriers

To touch and hold and listen and enfold.

 

And sometimes, truth be told

The last person we want intimacy with

Is God!

We’ll talk about Jesus

                                           Till the cows come home

But talk with Jesus…?

Talking to God

Being with God in the stillness

Takes us beyond the safety zone

Into close connecting

Into that moment when

Spirit addresses spirit

And there is nowhere to hide -

No legal language to shelter behind

Only the two

God and us

Scary – unpredictable – precious

Holy and awesome

Tender and fine.

But definitely different

From “religion at one remove”

God at arm’s length.

 

When we have chosen to move out of the ordinary

Into the possibility of the extraordinary.

And religion is no longer words

                                      Even fine and lovely words

It is feelings, and spiritual awakenings

And who knows what:

Because now there are just the two of us

The protective barriers of formalism gone

And we stand, we kneel

We listen - and we wait on God.

 

And nowhere is that level of intimacy, that sense of belonging

More available to us

Than in the sacrament of Holy Communion

The shared meal of the church

Echoing the intimacy of the Upper Room,

where Jesus, in the crisis of imminent suffering,

enjoys a special moment with his friends

And over the meal

He is succoured and sustained

Encouraged and embraced – part of who they are

As they are part of who he is…

And he offers them his love

And his life - to nourish and sustain them

For the battle ahead

The mission they are called to.

 

There, in the gloom and fragile warmth

Of the upper room

The table spread

The bread and wine in their hand

They are as close as they will ever be

With each other

And with their Lord.

++

When we allow the Spirit of God to re-create something of those feelings

something of that connection

something that is really communion

then the Sacrament is a powerful moment

a deep thing of the soul.

We share together in deep expressions

Of spiritual love

And this is so much more than an occasional

                                                                               Obligation

But becomes a sacred event

Full of tenderness and commonality:

For we all feel the love

We all share the wet –eyed wonder

That he died for us

Because he loved us so much…

 

We look around at our brothers and sisters

In the church family

And love binds us together

A sense of privilege

And mystery drives us to our knees.

 

There is nothing here about

“Making sure we do it right”

Adhering to the book of rules

It  is not an official banquet for foreign dignitaries

Where the pressure of protocol

Puts everyone on edge and on their best behaviour

 

This is a meal a friend shares with his friends…

And when we block its creative power

With the walls of man-made division

Man-made tradition

Man-made fear of doing something out of order

Then we wreck its true purpose

And rob ourselves of its possibility

It’s capacity to reach us

In deep places of our soul.

 

Who are we this thing called the Church?

A disparate group who share a hobby

An enthusiasm for a particular philosophy of life?

Or brothers and sisters in Christ

Drawn together by his Spirit of love

Caring and carrying

Willing to walk together into the fiery furnace

That is the presence and the love of God

Daring the lion’s den of intimacy

With each other

With God?

Glad that we belong to one another

Because we belong to him!

 

AMEN.