Harrowing Of Hell
November 17, 2019

First Informed Communion; The Holy Meal

The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia

To listen to the sermon click here.

When Jeremy was a child, one of his best friends received a special call on his birthday. Growing up in Harrington Park, New Jersey, a green little suburban town, Jeremy and his friends had a rather idyllic childhood, far enough from the city that they could play in the woods and roam around freely and safely but close enough to the city that it was possible to know folks who were in the ‘know’, if you will. So, when Jeremy was eleven and attending Andrew Rosen’s  birthday party, a rather well-known and beloved creature called to wish Andrew “Happy Birthday.” Only being able to listen to one side of the conversation, Jeremy and his friends only heard the birthday boy’s reaction to the voice on the line, which was… “You are NOT Mr. Snuffleupagus—heck (well really something else) no —as he slammed the phone down.”

And then the pre-adolescent boys all swiveled their heads around to look at the adults in the room (namely Mr. and Mrs. Rosen). They watched Mr. Rosen, who worked in television, as his face turned a particularly unattractive shade of red.  He said in a quiet and measured voice, “Son, I just want you to know that you just cursed and slammed the phone down on the real Mr. Aloysius Snuffleupagus, who called you to wish you a happy birthday.”

And then it was Andrew’s turn to turn red. He was absolutely crestfallen and all his friends began to tease him about it because everyone loves Sesame Street’s Mr. Snuffleupagus right? He is kind and funny—he is Big Bird’s best friend for goodness sake. What child tells Snuffy off?

Today at the 8:45 service we are celebrating with ten of our young people their first informed communion. It is a special day and I want to say something that not only makes sense but also affirms how important this day is for these young Christians. I remember how excited I was when I made my own first communion many years ago and so, while sermons probably aren’t the favorite part of Sunday service for our younger members, I feel an obligation to not ruin the moment.  So, as I tried writing this sermon, I found myself not knowing what to say — how to explain the importance of the Eucharist in words that aren’t unnecessarily dense and indigestibly theological. Because here is the rub – when we try to talk about God our words often can’t hold the meaning . And so, I know all-too-well that there is a very real chance I could lose you all at “Good morning Christians, seekers and friends.”

So, friends I ask you to “hold the phone” for a second as I attempt to take us back to beginning of Jesus’ call to continue this holy meal in remembrance of him. Before we talked about the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood being the principal act of Christian worship—before we even talked about the Eucharist, a term from the Greek word for “thanksgiving” which didn’t even come into usage until the first or second century, holy communion started with Jesus sharing a meal with his disciples on his last night on earth. “Writing to the Corinthians in the sixth decade of the first century, Paul provides the first written account we have of Jesus’ last evening with his disciples. His description, like those of the Synoptic gospel accounts, shows how deeply the memory of this meal shaped the early church. Paul sketches the details [of that evening] with economy of language, conveying the essence of the meal in spare words.[1]” Paul says: “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

At its beginning, then, the Eucharist was a meal—a meal that was made holy by the presence of Christ who gives us a final summation of his ministry on earth – namely that he freely gives his life for us and, in so doing, not only makes us the children of God – fellow heirs of Kingdom of God — but unites us together in his body; what will come  to be known as his church. But while we recall and celebrate this meal and we say these words week after week, sometimes it is easy to lose of its importance both in terms of our individual lives as Christians and as the community that communion brings together. Because in the Eucharist the bread and the wine become something much more – something bigger and more life-changing within us and among us—because through it we come to know and recognize Christ is with us.  

When Jeremy first shared his story about Snuffy’s phone call to his friend’s birthday party, I couldn’t help but see it as a kind of coming-of-age story—a link between childhood and adolescence.  While since 1985 Mr. Snuffleupagus has been visible to both children and adults, until the early eighties only Big Bird and the neighborhood children could see him. Most adults discounted him as just Big Bird’s ‘imaginary friend’ even if they could see signs of his presence (such as his oversized teddy bear) left behind.  However, in Season 17, Big Bird, sick of the grownups’ unbelief, comes up with a plan. He will invite the adults into his nest by yelling “Food!” And with Elmo’s help, Snuffy who always seems to leave just as the adults come, will be there; finally, the adults will encounter Snuffy for the first time ever.

So, about the Eucharist friends…. It started with a meal. Food. But for those of us in the ‘know,’ our hearts know it is so much more. And while our words are insufficient to hold this truth, when we eat of the bread and drink the wine, we finally experience Jesus made real in us. Jesus made real in our community.  So don’t hang up children of God –as we share the Eucharist together—we are  being called together by the real Jesus Christ.

[1] Bryan J. Whitfield, Working Preacher, April 18, 2019