What Do You See?

[special_heading title=”What Do You See?” subtitle=”by Louise Westfall” separator=”yes”]One month after the Rev. A. T. Rankin organized the First Presbyterian Church of Denver–September 2, 1860–he served the Lord’s Supper to a small group of worshipers gathered in a rented house on the corner of Lawrence and 15th Streets.  Some Methodists joined them, and it is believed to be the very first celebration of Communion in Colorado.  Somehow it seems as if our communion today might resemble that first time–both in its home setting (in his diary, Rev. Rankin mentions that someone (I’m betting a woman) had sewn new slip covers for the chairs and sofa) and in the elements.  No fancy chalices and artisanal, gluten-free bread.  Just the ordinary food and drink that would have been available—not so different from whatever you’ve brought.  And Rev. Rankin would have blessed and served the gathered folk…this is the body of Christ, the bread of life, broken for you…this is the blood of Christ, the cup of grace, poured out for you… Take, eat and drink…

And the people were nourished for the living of those days.  Just as we will be.

Since the pandemic arrived, there’s been much discussion about whether the Lord’s Supper should be part of services where the people are not gathered in one place.  How can we call it “communion” when we’re separated?  What is lost when the experience is “virtual,” and the only people who respond to the invitation to come from east and west and north and south are the same people you’ve been living with day in and day out?

The answer to that, I think, depends on what you see.

Our morning Scripture text suggests that Christ’s resurrection changes the way we see everything.  Reality looks different when death is not the final outcome.  But it takes more than talk to get that clarified sight.  A reading from the good news according to Luke in the 24th chapter at the 13th verse.  Listen for God’s Word to us who struggle to recognize the truth before our eyes.  [Luke 24:13-31a][callout_box title=”Christ IS risen, and becomes known among us when we share food with one another; when we look into the eyes of our children, our spouse, and our own reflection and recognize Jesus among us.” subtitle=””]It takes more than talk for truth to find a home in our hearts.  The disciples did not recognize their Teacher and Friend because of his brilliant exposition of Scriptures or the sermon he preached to them as they walked along that dusty road.  No, the truth of his testimony had to be ratified in a living relationship.  And so it was–as they welcomed him into their home and sat at table for an utterly ordinary/extraordinary evening meal.  He took the bread–as they must have seen him do countless times before–and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they saw him for who he was.  They couldn’t wait to tell the others, rushing back to Jerusalem that night with the good news: The Lord is risen indeed!

Friends, what do you see, there in your home, alone or in the familiar faces of family?  What do you see in the ordinary food and drink you have provided this morning?  When Tim re-enacts this meal in a few moments, and invites you to eat and drink, what is actually happening?

…nothing less than the risen Christ, slipping in and smiling as he offers you–each of you–the gift of life itself.

Can you see it?  Maybe Scripture and sermon serve as “corrective lenses” to sharpen the eyes of our heart (I’d like to think preaching has a role to play here!).  But not even the most eloquent sermon can take us all the way.  Our lives are too complicated; we harbor sorrow and regret.  You have only to scratch a tiny ways below the surface to reveal the fears we try to hide.  Our relationships are rocky at times.  The time of pandemic has turned our world upside down.  Nothing feels completely fine.  Even the best of our words cannot break through our cloudy vision.

But here at a table, and there in your home we meet the Word made flesh, and the shimmering mystery that is more real than reality.  In holy food (for it is holy–all the time–) we taste and see that God is good.  We experience communion with the living God.  A God who gave and served and died…to show us how to live.  Christ IS risen, and becomes known among us when we share food with one another; when we look into the eyes of our children, our spouse, and our own reflection and recognize Jesus among us.

When we do that, I have a feeling our sight will be broadened beyond the constraints of social distancing.  We’ll think of the disciples sitting down to share a meal with a stranger; we’ll picture our brave forebears celebrating communion for the first time in the wild West; we’ll begin to see Jesus in the eyes above the masked face of the grocery store clerk; in the weary bodies of New Genesis men and staff preparing food and cleaning up for three meals a day, 24/7.  And in a marvelous, miraculous way, I think we’ll take in the whole beloved community of God’s people who are hungry and bold and afraid and hurt and generous, who come from east and west and north and south and sit together at the Table where everyone is welcome.  Oh friends, we never eat alone, not really.  Christ is there.  Christ is here.  Come brothers and sisters.  Eat and drink…and see how your eyes will be opened.  Amen.Welcome

Friends, welcome to worship.  Sheltered in your home, whether alone or in the company of family, God is with you, and the Spirit of God unites us even while apart.  2020 marks Central’s 160th year of mission and ministry in downtown Denver.  I’ve been learning about our rich history from a book chronicling Central’s first 100 years.  Startlingly, there is no mention of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic in it; not a word.  Since our Heritage Center now serves as a quarantine area for New Genesis, I nosed around online in the Denver Post archives to discover that churches (and everything else) simply shut down during that terrible time.  What else could they do to limit infection and keep people safer?  I thank God for the technology that allows us to worship “together, separately.”  A big shout-out to Wil Smith, who besides being our Music Director Extraordinaire, is also the techie for these live-streamed services.  Please express your greetings, thanksgivings and concerns in the comment section, to be lifted in prayer later in the service.  Let us worship God!  Please join in singing a prayer that testifies to Christ’s presence all around us.

Prayer of Confession

I’m sometimes asked why we have a prayer of confession every single Sunday.  Please know that it’s not because God makes us beat ourselves up for all the wrong things we’ve done.  Instead it’s a way to acknowledge how things really are with us: our regrets and private sorrow, our impatience and fear.  It’s also a way to name the distance we put between ourselves and God, among ourselves and others, even between the image we project and our truest selves.  In a moment of silence, let us consider the spiritual distancing that confines, isolates, and imprisons. [PAUSE]  Gracious God, with unconditional love and amazing grace, you reach out to us and bridge every distance that separates and divides us.  Thank you.  May we rise from this service, closer to you, to one another, and to the Self you have created and blessed.  We pray in your name.  Amen.

Life Together

There’s a certain wistfulness in our recognition of graduating seniors this year.  We know that they have missed out on many of the celebratory activities and events that mark the end of one meaningful part of their lives and the beginning of the next.  Yet we’re also proud of their accomplishments and the people they are becoming. Today it’s a joy to celebrate Alfredo Cortez, birth son of Hilda,  adoptive son of Helen and Chris Gibson, and brother of Francisco.  Here are some affirmations from friends, his youth director, his confirmation mentor, and pastor.  Alfredo’s infectious smile immediately puts one at ease…He is a friend to all…my first memory of Alfredo was at his brother’s baptism…he has continued to act on God’s baptism promise by welcoming me and countless others into Central’s youth group life.  He is a hard worker as a student, caregiver for children and a dedicated volunteer—including Metro Caring’s Covid-19 Response.  Above all he is a fierce and loyal friend and older brother….Alfredo is “real” and keeps it 100—he asks honest questions, shows great empathy towards others, and has chosen to grow and learn from even the heartbreaking situations he has endured…He is a young man who will go far in life…

Alfredo is headed to Colorado Mesa University.  Alfredo, we are so proud of you and now offer God’s blessings upon you:  Gracious God, thank you for the love that has surrounded Alfredo from his birth and brought him to this happy milestone.  Bless him as he moves away from home to new learning, adventure, and growth.  And bless his family with the knowledge of your love and protection, and the great ties that hold us all together today and forever.  We pray in your name.  Amen.