Hail the Victorious Dead
The following comes from a communion service I facilitated at the 2018 National Ministry Confrence for Youth For Christ staff. I was asked by multiple people for a transcrict of my talk, so I decided to make it public. As I said at the time, much of what I was saying came from N.T. Wright so if there is something in this that you like, it is probably from him and if there is something that you dislike then it is definitely from him. 😉
We have come to the point in our day where will be breaking the bread of the covenant together. Depending on your tradition you may be most comfortable with different words that attempt to describe the mystery and importance of what is happening when we feast on the bread of Christ’s body and drinking the cup of his blood. Be it the Lord’s supper, communion, the Eucharist, or the mass, take comfort in the fact that with this meal, as in all of theology, you don’t have to have it all figured out in order to participate. I know that if I had to have everything figured out perfectly before connecting with Jesus - I wouldn’t be here. Remember that the original disciples, after sharing this significant meal, within hours of this experience that we attempt to replicate, betrayed, abandoned and denied him. What happens in these moments is not magic and has much more to do with him than us. Whatever your theory, thought or tradition let us take this moment to get caught up in the story.
For the Jews the lead up to Passover was similar to how we experience Christmas. Every year around Christmas there is excitement and anticipation from some, jadedness and cynicism from others and of course controversy over what words can be said and the type of cups Starbucks distributes. There are Christmas miracles and Christmas tragedies and everything in between. For Jesus and his disciples they had experienced all theses same types of dramatic situations and more. It would have been good to finally have space and time together to celebrate Passover together.
Passover is the celebration of the freedom from slavery and oppression from Egypt:
“a Passover meal focused on all the events of the original occasion; that the food eaten year after year linked the worshippers to that original event; and that, in particular, the bread that symbolized the hasty escape from Egypt and the lamb whose blood was daubed on the doorposts of the houses spoke of the complex, hurried, but symbol-laden actions through which the Israelites were to understand that their God was delivering them in person, rescuing them from slavery and sending them off on the journey to their promised inheritance. Eating the Passover said: it happened, once for all, and we are part of the people to whom it happened.” Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion (p. 185). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
In the course of a traditional Passover meal Exodus 6:6-8 serves as a template for declaring four different promises that the Lord declares will be the new reality for his people.
Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’ ”” (NIV)
Consider these promises of God that were celebrated at passover and how meaningful such words have even to this day:
"I will bring you out",
"I will free you",
"I will redeem you",
"I will take you as my own."
Words of relationship. Words of promise. Words worth celebrating. And that’s what they did. For each of these statements throughout the meal a cup of wine would be raised and consumed.
“In truth, there is also a fifth "expression of redemption" in G‑d's communication to Moses - the promise that "I will bring you into the land." Indeed, there is a corresponding fifth cup of wine - the "Cup of Elijah" - that is filled during the final stage of the Seder. But this cup of wine is not drunk; instead, it is placed at the center of the table where the children keep watch over the gently quivering liquid, hoping to detect a sign of its sampling by Elijah the Prophet, in whose honor it was poured.” (https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/1778/jewish/The-Fifth-Cup.htm)
It is this cup, the one representing a finality of freedom - of entering the promised land - the one that was suppose to be left poured but not taken, that we take up as a symbol of the new covenant. That in the blood of Jesus we can experience true freedom and enter into the kingdom of God.
Through this cup we declare Jesus’ authority over all.
Through this cup we declare true freedom from the places we allow ourselves to be enslaved over and over again.
Through this cup we declare publicly and identify with him in death (death to ourselves, death to the patterns of this world, death to things that so easily ensnare us)
Through this cup we declare victory
This reminds me of a scene from the Lord of The Rings, after a great battle the survivors celebrate the victory my toasting the dead - whose sacrifice allows the reality of freedom. They cry out loudly “Hail the victorious dead!” And lift their glass.
I encourage you as we take up the cup in a few moments to do so in groups and that you would hail the victorious dead - to hail Jesus and share stories of how he has shown up in the battles you face. To do so loudly. Hail!
And with the bread, although only a sampling of the true feast that you would be reminded of Jesus’ bold, difficult and awkward words. Words that cost him many followers. When he said:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35 NIV
There is a common phrase that says you are what you eat. In a real sense this is true. Over the course of your life your body will cycle through 300 billion cells. As old cells die, new ones are generated. The cells in our body being generated by nutrients fueled by the food we consume. With this in mind I want to realize what it is that Christ is asking of you when he is inviting you to take this bread. That you consume Christ, that you would feast on him, that you would absorb him into the depths of your being and that through this you will be renewed into his likeness. Of course he will not force you into this - it is your choice, but he is pretty clear in saying:
“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”” John 6:53-58 NIV
When you raise your glass and hail the king. Feast on the new reality you can experience with him through death.
You are brought out of oppression
You are free
You are redeemed
You are living in his kingdom
It was not an accident that Jesus did all of this at Passover
"Jesus chose Passover for his final kingdom moment, because Passover always was a kingdom moment, and this was to be the ultimate one, the real victory over the powers of evil." Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion (p. 188). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Make this more than just a ritual by allowing this moment to be one of renewal from whatever has drawn you away or distracted you from living in this new reality. This world can seem dark and feel like the enemy has won. Our call, however, is not to take up arms but to take up bread and wine. A stance of not of battle but a stance of celebration where the battle is already won. Take up the bread with one another for,
"breaking the bread and sharing the cup in Jesus’s name declares his victory to the principalities and powers. It states the new, authorized Fact about the world. It confronts the shadowy forces that usurp control over God’s good creation and over human lives with the news of their defeat." Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion (p. 380). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
In taking part of this meal remember:
Eating the Passover said: it happened, once for all, and we are part of the people to whom it happened.” Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion (p. 185). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
So Hail the victorious dead, live in the new reality, feast with celebration, share the battle stories, speak of Jesus to one another as you eat and drink together with him.
There are stations at each corner of the room. Take up the cup, take a piece of bread of broken bread, grab a fellow comrade or two and make a toast of celebration to Jesus, or share in which you need to live in his deliverance again.
Make this a noisy room of celebration!