The Spirit Alive in Our Midst: a sermon for Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday

You can listen to the sermon here

“In the night in which he was betrayed. Our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat this is my body, given for you.”

“In the night in which he was betrayed” these are the words of institution. I remember them well. I also remember the turmoil my pastor created in me when he had the audacity to change those words. It was 1979, I was 22 years old; young and full of ideas, hungry for knowledge and passionately faithful; excited about worship, in love with the church and determined to be the kind of Christian who had the courage not just to talk the talk, but walk the walk. The brand new Lutheran Book of Worship had only been in print for just over a year and as a dedicated member of our congregations Worship Committee I’d been to several workshops to learn all the new fangled changes that this ground-breaking new book introduced into the liturgy; new fangled changes based on a return to the traditions of the church’s glorious past. Three liturgical options, all based on the old Latin Mass of the 11th century. In all three settings of the liturgy these words were clear: “In the night in which he was betrayed. Our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat this is my body, given for you.”

So, why oh why, did our pastor get it so very wrong. Over and over again, no matter how hard we tried we could not get him to say the right words. Over and over again, he acted as if thousands of years of tradition meant nothing. Over and over again he insisted upon using different words. We tried to bring him back to the tradition. But it was as if he could not hear our well reasoned arguments. It was as if he didn’t care about the great crowd of witness who had gone before us. It was as if he thought he knew better than the Church; and not just the Lutheran Church but the ancient church; better than the writers of the gospels and St. Paul himself. Maybe even better than the Lord God himself, who after all had in my humble opinion, been responsible for inspiring the writing of these words. “In the night in which he was betrayed. Our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat this is my body, given for you.”

Jesus spoke these words, so why did our pastor believe that he had any business tinkering with these words. Sure he had a good reason for wanting to change the words. But if everyone felt free to change the words of the liturgy the next thing you know we’d have chaos; and where would the church be. I argued with him. I pleaded with him. Others argued with him and pleaded with him. Some, even threatened him. Say the words correctly or there’ll be trouble. We’ll report you to the bishop; we’ll leave the congregation. “In the night in which he was betrayed. Our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat this is my body, given for you.” And yet over and over again with his back turned to the congregation, because that’s how it was done in those days, when altars were up against the wall, and pastors held up the bread, up high as if God himself were up, there up high above our heads, looking down to ensure that everything was done just so. With the bread held high the pastor would insist upon saying, On the night before he died, Our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying: Take and eat this is my body, given for you.” I loved that man dearly. He was a sweet, kind, generous, hard working, part-time pastor who scraped out a living as a small time farmer when he wasn’t working in the barn he was there for us. I loved him, but he was just plain wrong. Even if his reasons for being wrong were well intentioned, you just don’t mess with the tradition like that. The words are there, they way they are for reasons beyond our understanding. They are after all divinely inspired. And this is the Eucharist after all; the meal that lies at the very heart of who we are. Continue reading