Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 3, 2020
4th Sunday of Easter
Since our reading from the Acts of the Apostles places us at the end of chapter 2, let us pause to consider what has happened thus far. Prior to his ascension, Jesus promises the gift of the Spirit and ascends into heaven. Then, when the day of Pentecost comes, his followers are all together in one place, and suddenly from heaven, there comes a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and they are all filled with the Holy Spirit. 3000 people are converted to the faith, which brings us to our reading for today: “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” What follows is a picture of the results of such devotion—awe, miracles, generosity, more breaking of bread, glad and generous hearts, praising God, and increasing numbers of believers added day by day.
No doubt, there are books of sermons that could be written, that have been written, from these first two chapters of Acts. But what I want us to focus on this morning is one verse: “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” But first, let us narrow our focus to one word, “devoted,” which comes from the Greek word, “proskartero.” To be devoted is be committed, to be earnest, to persevere, to be constantly diligent, to be steadfastly attentive to. Devoted—what a beautiful word to portray the beautiful faithfulness of the first disciples and converts.
On this 4th Sunday of Easter, in addition to the reading from Acts, the Lectionary suggests Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Here too, is a picture of proskartero—devoted, committed, earnest, diligent, steadfast. But the one who demonstrates these qualities is not the believer, the sheep; it is God, the Shepherd. God makes me lie down in green pastures, God leads me beside still waters, God restores my soul. God leads me in right paths for his name sake. God is with me in the darkest of days—rod and staff in hand. God prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies. God anoints my head with oil and makes my cup overflow. God is devoted—devoted to me—devoted to you.
Oh, the great mystery of our faith—that the God who put the planets in orbit, who created all that is and ever will be—is devoted to us. Down through the ages, humanity has failed to respond in kind. Instead, we have gone our own way. We have sought our own selfish gain rather than looking out for one another. We have worshiped the almighty dollar instead of Almighty God. We have failed. And yet—and yet—God will not give up on us. Instead, God comes to us as our Redeemer, Christ the Lord. God stays with us as our Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
The first converts devote themselves to godly teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. Likely, these are our intentions, too. Even while we are physically distanced from one another because of a pandemic, as much as possible, we continue our devotion to our ever-faithful God. We pray—day in and day out. We study Scripture on our own or with others through social media. But we miss being together. We miss the fellowship and encouragement that we enjoy in community, and we miss gathering at the Lord’s Table to be spiritually fed.
We do not know when we will be able to safely gather in person in our beautiful sanctuary. Hopefully, it will be soon. But until that time, we gather here in this sacred space, and this morning, we break bread at tables in our homes. We trust Christ to be our host, just as he was for the disciples at Emmaus. You will recall that they invited him into their home, unaware of his identity. But when he was at their table, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and when he gave it to them, their eyes were open, and they recognized him. Even now, Christ is with us in our homes and at our tables—no matter where they are. Christ makes the table holy. Christ makes the meal holy. And the Spirit unites us as one body of believers.
Distance will not disrupt our faith journey because we are devoted, committed, earnest, diligent, steadfast. With the Holy Spirit as our guide, we continue our devotion and we trust in God for the results—awe, miracles, generosity, more breaking of bread, glad and generous hearts, praising God, and increasing numbers of believers added day by day. Hallelujah! Amen!
THE SACRAMENT OF COMMUNION
[Invitation to the Lord’s Table]
We are experiencing Holy Communion in a new way. Though physically separated from one another, we are still bound together as family through our baptism. For this sacramental meal, let us now offer Christ our table, and our bread and cup.
[Prayer of Thanksgiving]
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is truly right and our greatest joy.
Let us pray: Gentle Redeemer, we give you all thanks and praise for with you, there is no lockdown on blessing and no quarantine on grace. Let the heavens be joyful, and the earth be glad. We bless you for creating the whole world, for your promises to your people Israel, and for Jesus Christ in whom your fullness dwells. Born of Mary, he shares our life. Eating with sinners, he welcomes us. Guiding his children, he leads us. Visiting the sick, he heals us. Dying on the cross, he saves us. Risen from the dead, he gives new life. Living with you, he prays for us. Gracious God, send your Spirit of life and love, power and blessing upon every table where your children shelter in place, that the Bread may be broken and gathered in love and the Cup poured out to give hope to all. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.
[The Bread and the Cup]
The Lord Jesus, on the night of his arrest, took bread, and after giving thanks to God, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat. This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
In the same way, he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.”
Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we remember Christ’s death, proclaim his resurrection, and await his glorious return. These are the gifts of God for the people of God.
Let us, in our many places, receive the gift of God, the Bread of Heaven.
Let us, in our many places, receive the gift of God, the Cup of Blessing.
[Prayer of Commitment]
Spirit of Christ, you have blessed our tables and our lives. May the eating of the Bread give us courage to speak faith and enact love, not only in church sanctuaries, but in your precious world. May the drinking of the Cup renew our hope even in the midst of these trying times. Amen.