Sunday, December 6, 2020

Welcome and Announcements


Thank you for your participation in this worship. Today we meditate on communion.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to Mitten Tree and YWCA Projects. Your effort has been wonderful. There will be many who will thoroughly enjoy what you have provided.

At the session meeting on Wednesday, December 2, it was decided that there will not be an in-person Christmas Eve worship service this year. We will move our worship service online. In the meantime, our plan is to hold Christmas Day worship at 10:30 am in person. Please prepare to celebrate accordingly. We pray for Niagara Region as everyone is worried about the projection that we are on schedule to enter the red zone after Christmas.

Please continue to look after one another. We are very thankful for you all as you have been calling each other and connecting with everyone.

Hymn of Preparation: His Name Is Called Emmanuel



Call to Worship:


A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
Come! Worship in preparation of the Lord’s coming!

Hymn: I Cannot Tell



Prayer:


Dearest Lord, we have come for the good news you have promised. Long ago through prophets you promised the messiah. More than ever, as the world darkens we wait and seek signs of the promise being fulfilled. So we have come. Be gracious and be present with us.

Grant your Holy Spirit that through it we may come to worship you. In worship open our eyes and ears to see your will being done. Then, fill us with courage to testify your good news to those around us near and far. May this worship glorify you.

In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Offering (Anthem: I come with joy



Offering Prayer


O Lord, how glad we are to be in your presence Sunday after Sunday. As the world reels in pain, we come bringing our hopes and faith in you. You have not left us alone: you are always with us. You have not gone away from us: your steadfast love endures forever.

In gratitude, we bring our offering as a token of faith in you. Be glad. Help us to continue as your people by serving and loving you always. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Psalm 28:6-9


Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them for ever.

Sermon: Joyful Celebration of God's deliverance in communion


Imagine tables full of wonderfully smelling, right out of the oven, fresh breads. People with their cups filled with the best wine, laughing and enjoying sitting around tables. These tables are set in the middle of town squares, village halls, bombed out cities, dirt filled ghettos, squalor filled slums, noisy markets, busy streets and in war zones. People of all backgrounds sitting together, billionaires with the homeless, suave high flyers with beggars. No fights or arguments. All there to share who they are. Tables getting endlessly expanded as new people join. More bread and wine for all to be filled with.

When we face severe difficulties as individuals and groups, we turn to the basics of life. It is not a surprise that when everyone was told to stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, flours and yeasts were sold out immediately. Suddenly people wanted to do the very basic human thing--bake bread. Baking bread is not simply a symbol of doing something, but an activity that shows that life continues. All the kneading, proofing, more kneading, proofing, then, baking make us feel that life has a purpose. Breaking bread is the very basic human activity that brings comfort and joy.

In the early church communion was known as agape meal or love feast. People came to communion to celebrate Christ and enjoy his presence. For them, communion was a glimpse of the heavenly feasts they were to enjoy when Christ returned. We lost the sense of this joy and excitement of being at the Lord’s Table. We lost them because what began as a simple act of experiencing God’s love--the early Church called it agape, love feast--has been turned into theologically heavy doctrinal moment of understanding God’s forgiveness and reconciliation through the death and resurrection of our Lord. It was not that the people of the early Church did not know this. It was simply that the institutional Church through theologians insisted that everyone had to know that the act of communion table had to be all about and each of us having the full understanding of the true meaning in somber and grateful manner. Love as a joyful and exciting experience was left out in favour of learned silence at the table.

Today we are celebrating the second Sunday of Advent. As the first Sunday of December, it is also our traditional communion Sunday. It is time to be fed and have our thirst quenched.

Bread as the symbol of food that we require needs no explanation. Perhaps this was why Jesus took bread and used it to symbolize himself and his love. We see this best in Gospel John. He calls himself “bread” multitude times. He liked to let his disciples know that he was sustaining and nourishing those who believed in him like bread. At his last supper in the other Gospels, he used the phrase as he broke the bread, “this is my body.” Through this symbolic action, Christians from the very beginning gathered to celebrate Jesus in memory. On the first day of the week, they gathered together and shared the meal. In those early days, they actually ate together. All Christians from all backgrounds came together and shared a meal. This was a revolutionary event in Roman Empire where slaves and servants were not allowed to share at the table with their masters. However, at the table of the Lord, everyone gathered together and shared equally. Imagine the joy of people being in each other’s company simply for the joy of sharing a meal together. No one was excluded. Everyone was welcome because Christ through his death and resurrection brought everyone into this circle as part of God’s new creation without hierarchy and rules.

Breaking bread is now a very common expression. Many use it to signify our places at the table. In communion, this expression lets us experience what life is when the table is open to everyone without condition. Bread on the communion table also represents the over abundance of God’s providence. All may come and have their fill. Everyone’s hunger is satisfied and no one is left wanting. However, in the way we have turned communion into a theological statement, it is difficult to experience this overwhelming grace of God’s providence at the table. As we take a small portion, the hungry do not get to experience that grace which fills not only their stomachs, but also their hearts.

Today, we do not actually share meals at communion. We have become too mired in theological concepts and dogmas tied to communion. Communion has become a somber gathering where we reflect on sin, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Peace and laughters are far from present in any communion in all churches. Also because churches were made up of people, there were misuses and abuses at communion from very early on. As Paul noted to the Christians in Corinth, there were ample abuses where some were eating their own food without sharing. Currently almost all breads being eaten are from factories. Many of us have lost the joy of receiving the full meaning of love through the pieces of bread we baked so lovingly and bring to the table to break and eat. That close connection between the loving hands and hungry mouths is lost as we theologize while eating a small tiny pieces cut from industrial machines.

Wine is a bit more tricky topic in our day and age. Due to alcohol addiction, drinking wine has been discouraged in our world. Many of us do not accept the lifestyle of Europeans who drink wine at all meals. We have many issues as many Protestant churches in North America have refused to use wine for medical reasons. We will come back to this point later.

From the very early history of Israel, we find wine to be spoken of as signs of God’s blessing. Of course, wine was available before the people of Israel became God’s people. Chinese, Egyptians, and many others found ways to ferment and drink wine. From the very early time good wine was drunk by the powerful and rich symbolizing prosperity. Vineyards were cultivated and good wine was sold. This was probably why the promised land had already well established vineyards. Many of us learned in our Sunday school lessons that spies sent out by Moses brought back a giant cluster of grapes from Canaan, the promised land. The cluster was so large that two men had to carry it. This was the way they showed to the people of Israel what the land that flowed with milk and honey was like. Throughout the Old Testament, we see vineyards mentioned and used by God to explain to Israel what God was doing. Of course, wine was the necessary ingredient at the Passover meal signifying God’s blessing. As slaves they could not afford to drink wine in Egypt. In the promised land, they could enjoy wine.

In this Passover context, we understand Jesus’ Last Supper. Jesus used wine to represent his blood. By linking wine to life in Christ this way Jesus made God’s blessing the essential force for life under God’s reign. Gratitude/Thanksgiving, blessing/consecration and healing/reconciliation are part of this new life in the Holy Spirit. After all, good and plentiful wine was more than a sign of God’s blessing, but also the sign of health in a sense that wine was often used for medicinal purposes in Israel. In the Book of Proverbs, wine was recommended for lifting heavy hearts as well as binding wounds. Of course, the ancients knew the danger of alcoholism as well. They warned against drinking too much and advised moderation.

One interesting note about how the North American Protestant churches ended up with a strong stance on prohibition requires a bit of explanation. When Europeans arrived on the East Coast of the USA, the arrival of the British and Germans meant the production of high quantities of strong drinks like whiskey because farming barley and wheat brought excellent yields. They found that most of their grapes did not grow well. As the British began dominating the East Coast and westward expansion, hard liqueurs followed. Addiction and drinking became a huge social problem. Prohibition movement was to deal with this social problem ravaged by cheap strong drinks. In the meantime, the West Coast of the USA was settled first by Spanish Catholics who began planting vineyards. They were very successful but were pushed out once Americans annexed and threw them out. Vineyards were replaced with other crops. At the height of the prohibition movement, a methodist minister, Thomas Bramwell Welch, was able to bottle grape juice without spoiling and began advocating his juice for use in communion. The main problem until then was that unfermented grape juice could not be kept for long. This movement took hold. Now most Protestant denominations in North America use unfermented grape juice for their communion in place of wine.

Looking at the way we have gotten away from the joyous and celebratory feast of our Lord, it is time to rethink our experience in communion. Certainly we remember Christ and his sacrifice. More importantly, we are thinking about God’s love shown in Christ and how Christ’s ministry and lordship are experienced through this simple act of communion. Bread as his body and wine as his blood are powerful symbols of new life under God.

Today we remember what Jesus did, continues to do and will do. Bread and wine represent the very present Christ in all times. As surely as all human lives require physical sustenance symbolized in bread and spiritual nutrients symbolized in wine, humanity’s body and spirit depend on Christ’s presence among them. Without this embodiment of Christ and his spirit, humanity drifts into the world of its desire and wants unable to detach itself from its total focus on the self, its own survival and pleasure at the cost of all other living creatures in creation. In receiving bread and wine, therefore, being changed by these very basic elements, we are made new. Christ’s body and blood as God’s gift transform humanity into the new creation fit to become fruitful under God’s reign. As a gift, through these two elements the new life is given. They are not what our minds and hands produce. They are not what we expect to receive. They are given in God’s grace. So we joyfull come to take and eat, then, take and drink at the Lord’s Table.

How powerful this experience of communion is when it takes place in slums where most people eat less than one meal a day! There in the world filled with hunger, a table full of bread and wine for all to be satisfied and joy filled.

How incredible this experience of communion is when in the middle of battles, a table of the Lord is set at the center of the war calling everyone to share in full joy and peace!

How unbelievable this experience of communion is when in the middle of a busy market square, a table of the Lord inviting everyone to stop, sit and enjoy bread and wine without condition until everyone is satisfied!

How remarkable this experience of communion is when the world stops to enjoy being together at the table with laughter and happiness as one humanity without worry and fear!

The Lord’s table is where healing and reconciliation, peace and love, joy and celebration are. We come to it singing Psalm 28:6-9.

Prayer

O Lord, we humbly ask you to hear our prayer. We bring the concerns and worries of this world. In this season of anticipation, preparation and waiting, we pray for the revelation of your glory and your grace under which all peoples shall see it together.

Our world has seen more than 1.5 million deaths by COVID-19. People are suffering everywhere because of this disease. There are others who have been put in difficulty because of what we are doing to fight this illness. Be with all those who are suffering terribly. Guard and protect the vulnerable ones who have the added burden of dealing with this terrible situation.

We pray for everyone in our congregation. Each of us faces a unique challenge as we serve you and others. We bring our individual concerns to you. Be kind and hear us. Assure us that our prayers are heard by you and that you continue to bestow your love for us.

We pray for the future of this congregation. You have called us into being and have blessed us. We do our best to continue your ministry. Each time we falter, we ask for your forgiveness. Now in this pandemic, we pray for our future. Each passing day exposes us to one more weakness we have difficulty dealing with. As our members age and are becoming more frail, we pray that you will help us to see your will for this congregation. May we have courage and will to receive your revelation for us.

As we anticipate your coming, may we be filled with joy to welcome you. As we prepare for the day of your coming, may we be filled with praise and thanksgiving. As we wait for your arrival, may we gather ourselves and be ready to welcome you among us.

All these we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.

Hymn: How Great our Joy



Benediction