Torture & Communion
| Isaiah 25:1-9
|Sun, November 5, 2000
Rev. Ed Searcy
|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!