We have all heard the jokes, as inspired by Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be in the midst of them.” Likewise:
Where two or more Baptists are gathered, a chicken must die and be fried.
Where two or more Methodists are gathered, there will be a covered-dish supper.
Where two or more Presbyterians are gathered, a vote will be taken.
Where two or more Episcopalians are gathered, there will always be a fifth.
Have we noticed that church often revolves around food? We come by this honestly as Jesus himself was always dining with friends (Mary and Martha) or with the outcasts, tax collectors and even in the homes of Pharisees!
He performed miracles at great banquets (wedding in Cana of Galilee) and for thousands on hillsides (loaves and fishes). And he dined with his disciples on the last night of his earthly life (The Last Supper).
For Jesus, the sharing of a meal was more than just eating. He used meals to exhibit friendship, community, hospitality and grace.
Ritual dining was and is important in the Jewish faith, and as we know, Jesus was a Jew. The old law about ritual dining, as outlined out in Leviticus, is how people dined during Jesus’ time. Indeed, one of the most significant observances for modern Jews today is the feast of the Passover.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Jesus used the meal as a teaching tool for the foretaste of the heavenly banquet. “This do in remembrance of me” was the instruction for the meal that we reenact in the Eucharist.
Even after his resurrection, as depicted in our Gospel lesson this Sunday (Easter III, April 15), Jesus appeared to the disciples and said, “Peace be with you,” followed immediately by, “Have you anything here to eat?”
At first the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, but Jesus told them to look at his hands and feet and to touch his body to feel his flesh and bones. Then they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
Note to selves: Ghosts do not eat real food.
“Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest,” is the Parish Choir’s anthem this Sunday. With music composed by American Episcopalian cathedral musician Leo Sowerby (1895-1968) and a text written in 1931 by the Reverend Canon George Wallace Briggs (1875-1959) of Worcester Cathedral, the text of this setting is a gem from one of the finest hymn writers and hymnologists of the 20th century.
This text celebrates the presence of the risen Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Stanzas 1 and 4 refer to the Emmaus story from Luke 24:28-35, the passage that immediately precedes this Sunday’s Gospel from Luke 24:36-48.
The heavenly banquet and meal images, along with hospitality and welcome, are obvious through key words like guest, feast, bread of life, cup from thine hand. We also have Jesus standing at the table, blessing the meal.
The table is referred to as “thine own board,” a reference to our altar of today. This reference is even found in the 1549 First Book of Common Prayer, Goddes boarde. (I love Old English.)
Lest anyone in history doubt the genuineness of Easter Day, Jesus appears numerous times and in numerous situations in the scriptural accounts following the crucifixion and resurrection, none more poignant and real than this Sunday’s Gospel account. And Canon Briggs’ text, “Come, risen Lord,” bears witness to these glorious sitings.
This anthem actually appears as Hymn 305 in The Hymnal 1982, both Sowerby’s tune and Briggs’ text:
Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest;
nay, let us be thy guests; the feast is thine;
thyself at thine own board make manifest,
in thine own sacrament of bread and wine.
We meet, as in that upper room they met;
thou at the table, blessing, yet dost stand:
"This is my body": so thou givest yet:
faith still receives the cup as from thy hand.
One body we, one body who partake,
one church united in communion blest;
one name we bear, one bread of life we break,
with all thy saints on earth and saints at rest.
One with each other, Lord, for one in thee,
who art one Saviour and one living Head;
then open thou our eyes, that we may see;
be known to us in breaking of the bread.
(Photo credit: Cindy McMillion, Church of the Holy Communion, Easter Day 2018)