Seders, Sacraments, and the Stuff of Life


Remember. Receive. Respond.
These are the three lessons I took home with me
from the interfaith Seder I attended at our local Jewish community center last Thursday…..
But before I continue, I just have to say:
As gifts from God, these lessons are by no means confined to ritual seders and sacraments;
they can—and do–show up in every constellation and any situation,
for they are the stuff of everyday life!…

“Remember,” the rabbi said;
“Remember the Exodus story:
the story of how God intervened to set God’s people free
from bondage in the land of Egypt….
Remember this story,
because you are also a part of it….”

As we sat around the table receiving the ancient wisdom of our ancestors
through the divine story and meal of the Passover, we wondered together:
“Who are the people and what are the things that hold us captive today?…
From whom or from what do we need to be set free?…
Moses received a mighty staff that provided protection and water for God’s people;
and so we wonder: What is the staff of life we need in order to find our way to freedom?…”

Our Seder Haggadah—that is, our order of sacred story and meal–
and our table conversations called us to consider
how we, the people being set free by God,
might respond to the plethora of plagues
we see around us in our world today:
plagues such as hunger, racial injustice, and human trafficking, to name just a few….

My friends, tonight we remember.
Tonight you and I remember the last earthly meal
Jesus shares with his friends before he is put to death on the cross….
Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that Jesus’ last meal is a Passover seder,
but according to John, the Last Supper takes place on the day prior to Passover:
As John tells the story, Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, is crucified at the very moment
the unblemished lambs are being sacrificed in preparation for the Passover….

Tonight we receive.
Like the apostle Paul, tonight you and I receive
what the Lord has handed on to his disciples of every time and every place:
the mysterious gift of Christ who comes to us
in Word and Sacrament to set us free for new life….
We receive the sweet comfort and solemn challenge of the gospel,
which is the stuff of life to sustain us in a world that thinks “might makes right….”

Tonight we respond.
Through the sharing of the gospel
and the breaking of the bread,
each of us is called to consider
how we, the followers of Christ who’ve been set free by God,
will respond to the needs of our neighbors
across the street and around the world.

Remember. Receive. Respond….
My friends, when you and I do these things,
it can make all the difference in our lives and in our world….
I know many of us are deeply troubled
by the disparity and division, the vindictiveness and violence
we see all around us these days.
Too often we feel helpless and hopeless, paralyzed by the pervasive fog of fear….

Faced with such fear, can we dare to remember who we are?
Can we trust enough to open our hearts and receive—as if for the first time!—
the Good News that sets us free for new life–
the Good News that we are God’s own beloved children
and that NOTHING in heaven or on earth can EVER separate us from God’s love?…
If our answer to both these questions is “yes,” can we then find the strength to respond
by imagining and living into God’s unfolding vision of healing and new life for the world?…

Sometimes, by the grace of God,
we do remember who we are–in spite of our fears and weaknesses!…
Sometimes, through the serendipity of God,
we receive an unexpected gift from an unlikely source.
In such moments when we’re caught off guard, God calls us out of our self-centered ways
and into God’s self-giving way for the sake of our neighbor in need.
Humbled and filled with compassion, we respond from a place of joy and gratitude….

Sisters and brothers, if you and I want to live in a kinder world,
it’s on us to get busy creating that world,
because, believe it or not, God chooses to work through ordinary people like you and me
to accomplish God’s extraordinary work of healing the world….
I want to share with you a short story by Arab-American author Naomi Shihab Nye,
because I think this story beautifully illustrates how one person’s response
can make all the difference by offering contagious hope to her little corner of the world….

The story is titled “Gate A-4.”

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
“If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately.”
Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,”
said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”
I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
“Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let’s call him.”
We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to
her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost….[1]

Dear friends in Christ, tonight we remember, receive, and respond,
for this is the threefold rhythm we find in seders, sacraments, and in the sweet communion
of shared stories, cookies, and juice–the sacred stuff of everyday life….
Through Word remembered and bread and wine received,
you and I are made members of the living Body of Christ….
Filled with the stuff of life, we respond by letting the light of Christ shine in the darkness,
trusting that divine love will triumph over the division and death of this world.

Thanks be to God for the gift of love poured out for us, in us, and through us! Amen.

[1] Naomi Shihab Nye, “Gate A-4” from Honeybee. Copyright © 2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

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