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Encouragement: Crackers and Juice

June 7, 2009
Sermon: June 7, 2009
Text: I Corinthians 11:23-27; Luke 22:15; John 14:2-3, 27

A number of years ago, Betsy was out of school several days with a stomach virus.  One of those days when I came home at lunchtime, she asked, “Daddy, will you have a tea party with me?”

 “Yes, I’ll have a tea party with you.”  I went into her playroom and saw that she had arranged her little tea set on a table my dad had built for her.  Around the table were six chairs that Clare’s grandfather had built.  These sturdy little chairs held dolls.  Raggedy Ann sat in a chair by herself.  Ken and Barbie shared a seat.  A Madame Alexander doll was seated in another chair by herself, and a bear with one eye and a doll with one arm sat together.  Betsy had taken another chair, and an empty chair waited for me. 

 Betsy said, “Daddy, we need juice and crackers.”

 I went to the kitchen and got a small bottle of apple juice and one of those packages of saltines that come with a take-out salad.  I poured two cups of apple juice since, as Betsy explained, “The dolls can just pretend.”  Then I struggled to open the cellophane wrapper containing the saltine crackers.  Have you ever had trouble opening one of those wrappers?  I have been told not to use my teeth to open those packages.  By the time I got the wrapper opened, I had broken the saltines into small pieces. 

 I thought Betsy was going to be upset, but she said, “That’s OK, Daddy.  We can just have the Lord’s Supper.”

 I should have known right then that God would somehow, in some way, call her into the ministry.  Our tea party turned into the Lord’s Supper with saltines and apple juice.  I said the words, and Betsy and I had communion together while the dolls observed.

 Why crackers and juice?  When you have a stomach virus, one of the first foods you eat after you get off liquids is saltine crackers and something like apple juice, comfort foods.  That comfort food became our communion. 

 The first act of communion, the Passover meal that we call the Last Supper, was very much the same way.  That meal, of course, consisted of more than just bread and wine.  Lamb and bitter herbs were probably served as well.  Jesus changed the meaning of this meal.  Now, we remember his body and his blood when we take these elements.  Comfort food now became communion.

 If we read the Gospel of Luke, we see that Jesus really looked forward to this Passover meal.  He said to the disciples, “I have eagerly longed to eat this meal with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).  When we come to John’s Gospel and read what Jesus had to say to his disciples at this meal, we see that he was very much concerned with their comfort:  “Let not your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God.  Also believe in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).  He goes on to promise the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the one we call the Comforter.  Jesus’ closing words in this chapter are, “My peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

 I am keeping my distance this morning.  You may be able to hear that my voice is a little raspy from a pretty bad cold, an infection.  I have had some really good medicine, a decongestant and an antibiotic.  What has seemed to help me most was soup that Clare made.  I do not know how many different kinds of beans went into that soup, at least five or six.  Clare added a ham bone from the freezer, a vidalia onion, and other magical ingredients to that soup, which she cooked most of the day in a crock pot.  Then she added just enough Tabasco sauce to give it some kick.  That soup was the best food in the world.  So often in the South, we identify comfort food as soul food.  Could anything be more appropriate than comfort food, soul food, for the Lord’s Supper? 

 A wonderful scene in J.D. Salinger’s novel Franny and Zooey involves a character who is having a really hard time.  Franny is just sideways with the world.  Zooey fixes a cup of chicken soup and presents it to Franny, but she is still pretty cranky.  Zooey says, “You don’t even have the eyes to see a consecrated cup of chicken soup.” 

 Do you ever think of comfort food, soul food, as consecrated food?

 For Walton Lee, comfort food was a soggy tomato sandwich.  When I conducted his funeral this past week, I talked about how much he loved a fresh slice of white bread covered with Duke’s mayonnaise and homegrown tomatoes.  Walton said, “A tomato sandwich is good for you, and it will help you, too.”  That is the way it is with comfort food and soul food.

 What is comfort food for you?  For some, it is dessert like strawberry shortcake or banana pudding.  For children who had a hard day at school, it might be nothing more than chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk.  For some, it might be bread and wine.  For others, comfort food may be crackers and juice.  When we come to this table, the truth is that it does not really matter what the food is.  These elements are not really important.  What matters is what this observance means to each of us as individuals.

 A story came out of World War II about allied prisoners in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.  A number of the men were Christians, and they wanted to have communion together.  A chaplain among them agreed to offer communion, but they had no bread and wine, no crackers and juice.  The chaplain gathered the men, nonetheless.  I suppose it was somewhat like having a tea party with dolls.  They just pretended.  The chaplain broke a loaf of pretend bread and offered pretend pieces to each one of the prisoners.  The men caressed that piece of pretend bread in their hands and ate it together.  Then the chaplain poured pretend wine into a pretend challis.  He passed the challis, one prisoner to the next, each pretending to drink the wine as the blood of Christ.  There was not really anything there, but there was so much there.  It does not really matter what the elements are.  What matters is what the elements mean. 

 We gather at this table today somewhat like a tea party of dolls.  Some who come are as contemporary as Ken and Barbie.  Some are as elegant as a Madame Alexander doll.  Some resemble Raggedy Ann or Raggedy Andy.  Some have missing parts, like a bear with one eye or a doll with one arm.  It does not matter who we are.  We come to this table with nothing much more than crackers and juice.  Here we find comfort food.  Here we find soul food.  What matters when we come to the Lord’s table is not what is on this table.  What matters is that we know Christ Jesus, that we profess him as Lord and Savior.  We come to the table together and receive this gift of comfort food and soul food because they are offered to us as gifts of love.  If you profess faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are invited to take this meal with us.

 On the night Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread.  He broke it and said, “This is my body, given for you.”  Let us have the prayer for the bread.

 Dear heavenly Father, as we take this bread, which signifies Your body that hung on that old rugged cross on Calvary, it is hard for us to realize the sacrifice made for each of us.  We are all sinners in search of a Savior, but all we deserve is death and hell.  How we thank You for Your love, Your grace, and Your faithfulness.  How we thank You, Lord, for all that You do for us.  Right here and now, Lord, we re-dedicate our lives to You.  Take us and use us for Your will, not our will.  We give You all the praise, all the honor, and all the glory.  It is in the precious name of Jesus Christ, our risen Savior, that we pray.  Amen.

 Jesus said to those in the room that night, “This is my body, given for you.”  Do this in remembrance of him. 

 Let us have the prayer for the cup.

 Dear Lord, as we take up the cup as you instructed us, signifying your blood spilled for us, keep us mindful what a wondrous gift this is, a gift we do not deserve but receive through your Father’s grace, your life in exchange for ours.  Help us understand just how wonderful a gift that is.  Also, we ask you to help us dedicate ourselves to your service in this life.  May we always seek your will.  We ask these things in your name.  Amen.

 In the year 2000, a group from a church in our community traveled to Brazil to build a chapel.  One of the men planning to build furniture for the chapel, especially the communion table, was very excited about taking a router with him.  For the first time in several years, he was able to cut on the Lord’s table the words “This is in remembrance of me.”  Be encouraged.  Christ did this for you and for me.  Drink this in remembrance of him.

 The service of the Lord’s Supper is one of my favorite times of worship with this congregation.  I love singing “The Lord’s Prayer” as a part of the service when we gather around this table.  We can take the Lord’s Supper in several ways.  One way is to have people come forward, which we have done a few times here.  The congregation takes the initiative in coming to the table.  We generally observe the Lord’s Supper family style, which is appropriate for a congregation that affirms the priesthood of all believers.  We serve each other because we are part of God’s family.  It is very meaningful to me to receive these elements.  I know it is meaningful to you, too. 

 I honestly do not know how I could ever come to a service observing the Lord’s Supper without making a decision of some sort, a decision regarding my relationship to God and Christ.  I find that I quietly make a rededication of my life during these times because I realize in the simple elements what the Lord Jesus did for me.  I am so often reminded of that line in Isaac Watts’ hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”:  “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

 I hope you have made a decision here today.  You can make the promise right where you are to accept Christ as your Savior if you have not already done so.  Please respond as God leads.

Kirk H. Neely

© June 2009

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