Christ Centered Resources

Torture & Communion

Rev. Ed Searcy

Revelation 21:1-6, Isaiah 25:1-9
University Hill United Church : Sun, November 5, 2000
Today things seem straightforward enough. We gather at the Table, thanking God for all the saints. We make room in our memory for courageous witnesses to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. We remember that for many faithful testimony has led to martyrdom. It is the season of remembrance not only within but also without the church. The red poppies spring up on lapels even as the ground in the cemeteries hardens beneath the frost. Tragic deaths of young patriots on foreign soil are recalled once more ... ‘lest we forget’. The week is full of painful remembering. November 11th follows November 9th with its awful memory of Kristallnacht (‘Crystal Night’) ... a night when Jews, Christians and Muslims will keep vigil for twenty-four hours here on campus, saying aloud names of those who were incinerated in the Holocaust. And still a pall hangs over the community as it remembers in anguish young Heather Thomas, the innocent sufferer of senseless violence. Our remembering seems always linked to death and loss. Gathered with the disciples at the Table of the Lord we hear the ominous words of one who knows that he is about to face death: “Do this in remembrance of me”. It is the season of remembrance, of recollection, of recalling the disappeared. But then we hear these odd texts ... these texts which do not speak of remembering the past but of recalling the future. Did you hear? There are no past tenses in today’s texts. Everything is set in the future in this inverted season of remembrance: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines ... Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God ... This is the LORD for whom we have waited. It is no wonder that Jesus inaugurates the arrival of the Kingdom of God by eating with all manner of people. This is what God has in store for the creation. The future is a banquet to which all peoples will be invited. And not just any banquet. This is to be a festal gathering to celebrate the destruction of the powers of destruction. The subduing of chaos, which began at the creation of the good earth out of the forces of death, will finally be complete. Then the sea - locus of danger and death - will be no more. Then the death shroud that is cast over all peoples will be taken away and the tragic corpse of history will come to life. Then the pall of gloom that is spread over the nations of the earth will no longer be needed. Then the disgrace of God’s people will vanish, they will not need to be ashamed in the eyes of God or the nations anymore. Then the forces of death will be swallowed up by our death- devouring God. Then Yahweh will wipe away the tears from all faces, saying ‘lechaim’ - to life! Then. Then is what we remember here when we eat at this Table. We remember forward to the fulfilment of the promises of God. We wait. We hope. We celebrate the swallowing of death even as it still hunts us down. Though, of course, the text is not quite as satisfying we had hoped. It never is. Our celebration of what lies ahead is also sobering. Listen up to words about God that we did not read aloud this morning: “You have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin” The cause of the celebrations is the end of a way of life. Three times the text announces God’s triumph over the ‘ruthless’, over the city that does not give refuge to the poor and the needy. The Table at which we gather ... this Table at which we remember the future that lies ahead ... is a Table that replaces our city’s tables of privilege. The Lord’s Table puts an end to tables overflowing with food for a select few. The Lord’s Table is the place where all peoples are invited to eat together. The Lord’s Table is the place where all nations will have reason to put an end to their selfish ways and to glorify God. The Lord’s Table is the place where the forces that hurt and destroy are no longer welcome. Surely we need to speak more about these things. We need time to work out the implications of all of this for theology and for politics and for economics. How can the sermon end now? (I know, I know ... that is the preacher’s question ... it may not be yours!). But, no. The sermon must end soon so that we can get to the Table. This is where we need to be. We need to be here, eating this bread and drinking this wine because here we remember the future into our bodies. Here we rehearse the future and memorize the story of God’s reconciling power. Here we stand hand in hand with all manner of people who have known more than their share of death and disgrace. Why, if you were privy to the collected stories of even this small congregation you would know that y’all should have been given up for dead long ago. But the God of yesterday and of tomorrow, the God revealed on a stark Good Friday and on an impossible Easter Sunday, is already setting the table ... and, incredibly, y’all have received personal invitations. Now before your enthusiasm causes you to rush headlong to the Table you would do well to take note of the peculiar title of this sermon: ‘Torture & Communion’. I borrowed this peculiar title from a book (‘Torture & Eucharist’ by William Cavanaugh, Blackwell, 1999) which tells the story of the Catholic Church in Augusto Pinochet’s Chile. To be frank, it is not a pretty story or an easy book. You will not be surprised to learn that the title itself has a way of turning heads (just try reading it in a Starbucks or a MacDonalds!). Yet at its heart is a powerful tale. For the church in Chile found the courage and the means to stand against the regime of torture here ... at this Table. Silenced by ruthless systematic torture the Catholic church rediscovered a faithfully lived practice of the Lord’s Supper. Here the saints died to themselves before the torturers came for them. Here they were raised to life in the Kingdom of God now. At this Table the church was transformed into a community that could dare to tell the truth about the ruthless and about God because it was no longer afraid of the future. Of course, Isaiah is not surprised. Nor is Jesus. They both know the yeasty power of a people who have a different memory of what the future holds. Such a people recalls that the torturers and the ruthless are soon to be toppled and that their worldly way of death is about to be swallowed up forever. This is a people whose eyes see the saints marching in to the banquet hall of God as we speak. This is a people who see included in that number the tortured, the murdered and the martyred. And this is a people who proclaim that all people are welcomed to join the company of saints ... for that motley band is made up of any and all who turn away from the forces of death and who turn towards the God who brings life. This is Christ’s open invitation: “Come. Eat and drink with the saints - the communion of ‘death- resisters’ and ‘life-receivers’ - at the Table of the Lord. Do this in remembrance of me ... and of my future.” Amen!