Sermon Text: It Was a Real Picnic!
Here's an interview I'd enjoy.
A young man is being interviewed by the Bishop's Commission on Ministry. He would like to be ordained a priest. This candidate is asked a question: "Mr. Fudd, would you please tell us how you would start the Great Thanksgiving?"
And Mr. Fudd says, "The Ward be with you...Wift up your hearts."
I'm just making this up, of course. Elmer Fudd can't be a priest. He would fail the General Ordination Exam.
But I think Bugs Bunny would ace it.
Those are great words, those words that begin the Great Thanksgiving. "The Lord be with you....Lift up your hearts!"
Whatever else this liturgy is, it is a celebration. We even call it "celebrating the Eucharist." Holy Communion is a party, and it's supposed to be festive.
Of course it has a somber and serious side. There is the echo of the Last Supper of Jesus with his friends on the night before he died. That poignance is part of this commemoration.
But the Last Supper is not the only story from the Gospels which is connected to our Eucharist. There is also the story we have today from Mark, the story of the feeding of the 5000. This was an important story to the early Jesus community, since it is the only miracle story told in all four gospels.
And it's a Eucharistic story. The vocabulary of this story is the same as the vocabulary of the Eucharist.
Jesus "took" the loaves, he "blessed and broke" the loaves, and he "gave" them to the people. Just like the Eucharist, when he "took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them." At the feeding of the 5000, at the Last Supper, and at every Eucharist, bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given. That's the shape of the liturgy.
When Mark writes down this story, he is writing for a community which already celebrates Eucharist. Before Mark wrote, the Jesus community was taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, and sharing it. So he knows they will see the connection between the feeding of the 5000 and holy communion.
What we have in today's gospel reading is a giant picnic. The grass is green, the crowd well-organized, there was a lot of food, even if it was simple food, and they ate to their heart's content. They had everything but a softball game.
So, Mark says, when we come together, it's a celebration. Of course we will remember the cross...the cross is central for Mark. In the cross we find courage to face our own sorrows.
But, with Mark, we also celebrate the joy and the fun. This Jesus is the one who said, "I came that my joy might be in you, and that your joy may be complete." So we can lift up our hearts!
How about an old joke? A cowboy goes to church for the very first time in his life. He thinks it's really great! So later, he's telling a friend about it. "I rode up on my horse and tied him to a tree in the corral." His friend says, "You don't mean corral...you mean parking lot." The cowboy says, "Okay, I don't know. Maybe that's what they call it. Then I went in through the main gate." The friend says, "You mean the front door of the church."
The cowboy says, "Yeah, well, anyway, a couple of guys took me down this long chute." The friend says, "You mean the aisle." "Yeah, yeah...and then they put me in one of those little box stalls." The friend says, "You mean pew." The cowboy says, "Yeah, now I remember! That's just what the lady said when I sat down next to her!"
The Sunday gathering of the community of Jesus is supposed to be a celebration. And it's a celebration where everyone is welcome, from smelly cowboys, to Elmer Fudd, to you and me.
We gather to share our bread.
We gather to share our strength.
We gather to share our love.
And so it makes perfect sense when we hear the words:
"The Lord be with you....Lift up your hearts!"