Note: I preached a version of this sermon at the celebration of First Holy Communion for the fifth grade members of Messiah Lutheran Church in Wauconda, Illinois on May 4, 2019 (the third Sunday of Easter, Year C)
Jesus loved to eat with his friends. In the Gospels we see Jesus praying, Jesus fasting, Jesus hiding out alone or staying up late to commune with God the Father. But more than that we see Jesus at the table.
He loved to share meals with his friends. He showed God’s mercy toward the poor and hungry over a meal with his friends, by feeding the great multitude. He taught over meals, he forgive sins over meals. He gave his friends the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, to be shared and celebrate until he returns, over a meal.
And today he appears to them over a meal: fish roasting and bread baking over a charcoal fire at the edge of the sea. He is sharing one more moment of affection and kindness with them before he ascends to the Father.
It is right and appropriate that Jesus should love meals with his friends. Jesus is the Son of Man, the Son of Humanity, the Human One. And meals make us human. Everything eats. Wheat plants draw nutrients from the ground, water, sunlight, and oxygen, and they grow. Yeast cells eat sugar and create carbon dioxide.
But it takes human beings to cultivate and harvest the wheat, grind it into flour, mix it with yeast, let that carbon dioxide bubble up, and bake the whole thing into bread.
Everything eats, but only humans make meals. We work together over meals. We mark big life events over meals. We celebrate and rejoice together over meals. We help each other by making meals. We comfort each other by sharing meals. If you think back to the most memorable meals of your life, you may very well be thinking not of the quality of the food itself as much as where you were, who you were with, and what the meal meant.
Meals make us human. They bond us to each other. They remind us that we are not alone. In a little tiny way, for a few minutes or hours, a meal puts the world back together again.
So Jesus prepares a meal for his friends, all together for the last time in this life.
And after they’ve eaten, Jesus turns to simon, called Peter, the Rock, and says “Simon son of John, do you love me more than the others?” And Peter answers “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus tells him, “Feed my lambs.”
Jesus asks again: Simon son of John, do you love me? Again Peter answers, “You know I love you.” Jesus tells him, “Tend my sheep.”
A third time Jesus asks him: do you love me? Now Simon Peter, the Rock, is hurt. When Jesus was arrested Peter denied knowing him, three times, and now he has to answer this question three times. And in his hurt he says “You know everything, you know I love you.” Jesus tells him “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus appears to his friends. Jesus feeds his friends. And then Jesus tells Simon Peter the Rock to continue his work by feeding Jesus’ flock.
Meals make us human. But this meal, that you are celebrating for the first time today, is the most important of all. Every meal shared around a table connects us to each other. This meal connects us to Jesus. Every meal creates community. This meal creates us anew in Jesus. Every meal gives us part of the world. This meal gives us heaven. Meals make us human, but this meal makes us one with God.
Over the last couple of months you’ve had the opportunity to learn all sorts of information about this Sacrament. You’ve learned where it is mentioned in the Bible, you’ve learned about the history of the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt, you’ve learned about Christ’s command and the gift of grace. But if you forget everything else about all of that, I want you to remember this: the Sacrament that you receive today gives you Jesus. Not as a memory, not as a sound in your ear, not as a nice idea, but really and truly Jesus, present here for you in your hand and in your mouth and in your body. Becoming part of you. Becoming one with you. Because Jesus came to earth from heaven–God the Son was born in human flesh in the manger, he walked the roads and taught the crowds and suffered betrayal, arrest, abandonment, he suffered death and was raised again–to seek you and find you and give himself for you and to you. And he would have done that–all of it–for each of you. If you, and only you, had been the only person who ever needed his grace, he would still have given himself completely for you.
My prayer for you today is that you will want to receive Jesus. That you will love receiving Jesus. Because we become what we receive. We are given the Body of Christ so that we can become the Body of Christ. It is so important that Jesus commanded Peter to feed his lambs. That’s you, and that’s me. He commanded Peter to give them everything in Jesus’ name. Everywhere you go, all over the world there are places where you can be fed with the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. It doesn’t matter if you can’t understand the language, or if you have to (God forbid) tune out the sermon or lip-synch the hymns. It is all there, all of it, all of us, just to feed you.
My Grandma Dueholm liked to bake and cook. I used to make bread with her when I was a little kid. I can still remember the way it felt when she was kneading it, and the way it smelled when it was rising in the pan. She made perfect Angel Food cake, too. I can hardly bear to eat it any more because nothing is as good as hers. Shortly before she died I brought her the Sacrament for what would end up being the last of many times in her long and faithful life. It was difficult. The day after she died I went to church downtown. I was grieving. I knew I would miss her. And as I knelt at the altar rail in a little chapel, I had a realization: she was with me, around the altar, just on the other side of the wall. Jesus was there, in the bread and wine, feeding me. And Jesus was feeding her in the feast that would never end. Her, me, and Jesus were all together in that moment–not in space, not in time, but in the action of Jesus feeding us. Because it was Jesus’ great joy and eternal glory to feed the ones he loves.
In all the days and months and years ahead, in all the ups and downs and times of doubt and disappointment and confusion and joy and celebration, Jesus will always be here entirely for you. He will be waiting to meet you every time you come.