From Luke’s Gospel:
When the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Luke 22:14-20 (NRSV) – December 14, 2012.)
In ten days we will begin our celebration of his birth, but the Daily Office lectionary today has us consider his last meal on the night before his death . . . .
When our son was born, my wife and I designed our own announcements. On the front we put a quotation from poet Carl Sandburg’s only novel: “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.” The birth of a baby is a marvelous event, a hopeful one, an occurrence that focuses on the future. During Advent the secular commercial world, buying into a certain sentimental spirituality, when it isn’t focused on the legend of Santa Claus, constantly reminds us that we are getting ready to celebrate the birth of a cherubic, rosy-cheeked baby. For some, it is difficult to move beyond that icon of hopefulness, that image of God’s opinion of continuation.
In the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the title character, played by Will Ferrell, is one of those. When the family gathers for a Thanksgiving meal, he offers a grace addressed to the Christmas cherub and a conversation ensues:
Ricky Bobby: Dear Lord baby Jesus, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Domino’s, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell. I just want to take time to say “Thank you” for my family – my two sons, Walker, and Texas Ranger, or TR as we call him. And of course my red-hot smokin’ wife Carley, who is a stone cold fox. Dear tiny infant Jesus…
Carley Bobby: Hey, um… you know, Sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him “baby”. It’s a bit odd and off-puttin’ to pray to a baby.
Ricky Bobby: Well look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m sayin’ grace. When you say grace, you can say it to grown-up Jesus, or teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus, or whatever you want.
Today’s gospel lesson reminds us, in the midst of our Christmas preparations, “You know, Sweetie, Jesus did grow up.” He lived the life of an itinerant preacher; he challenged the authorities; he was crucified; he died; he was buried; he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven. On the night before he died, he had this meal with his friends. In her book The Spirituality of Bread (Northstone:2007, p. 146), Donna Sinclair writes, “The re-enactment of Jesus’ last conversation with his friends says that those who share a meal with the compassionate one can become just and brave agents of healing. Such bread offers the hope of human change. That’s why, over and over, I form a circle with my friends and say the words, ‘The bread of new life . . .'”
Advent prepares us to witness once again that baby whose birth was God’s opinion that not only should life go on, it should be redeemed. Advent prepares us for the return of the One who grew up and gave himself that life might be changed.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.