First Congregational Church
June 7, 2020
Trinity Sunday and Communion
2 Corinthians 13:11-13 , Matthew 28:16-20
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There is so much in this world that is good for expanding our minds and understandings. This week I learned that there is a family of herbs, shrubs and trees called polygonaceae (pəˌligəˈnāsēˌē) - flowering plants also known as the knotweed, smartweed or buckwheat family. The old-fashioned rhubarb plant falls into this family - and as such, it is a vegetable. That’s right - rhubarb is a vegetable - like tomatoes are a fruit. And yes, you heard it right here, this morning, folks.
The other thing I learned this week is that one shouldn’t use a big word when a singularly unloquacious and diminutive linguistic expression will satisfactorily accomplish the contemporary necessity.
When I looked at the lectionary passages for this morning, deciding on the two that will be read shortly, it wasn’t too long before I realized that the passages had a big - unwritten - thing in common. The passage from 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 contains the last words of that letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and the passage from Matthew 28, 16-20 are not only the last words from the book of Matthew, but Jesus’ last words in that book.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.
Matthew 28:16-20 The Great Commission
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
I don’t know how many others caught that bit about greeting one another with a holy kiss. I had to think about that one for a while, being covid-conscious these days, but I finally realized that it didn’t give any specifics on kissing one another. So - at least in my mind - we can do as he requested with the gesture of a softly blown kiss.
But the richness of Paul’s other words is huge. Rejoice! It may seem that these days are rather lacking in reasons to rejoice. In fact, it might seem like it could be disrespectful to rejoice with all that is going on in the world. Except that babies are still being born, irises have begun to bloom around here, the sun gave us another sunrise and there is the promise of a sunset this evening. And anyone who was looking at the sky Friday night, that Strawberry Full Moon was just brilliant.
“Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.” Interesting exhortation, considering that at that time, the Greek city, overthrown by Romans, was reconstructed - literally reorienting the foundation - and repopulated by slaves - people deprived of liberty regardless of skin color - into an international commercial center supported by traditional gods and goddesses from Greek and Roman religions, local deities and heroes and even Egyptian deities. Oh, and Jewish people, too. Paul’s last words to them included ““Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.” Then either as a statement of fact or a causal encouragement, he ended his “And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
Matthew’s version of Jesus’ resurrection is the shortest, and aside from giving us the chief priests cover-up with the guards, it goes from Sunday morning to Jesus’ last words about the Great Commission - to make disciples and baptize in the name of the Trinity. There is no place in the Bible that uses the word trinity, but Jesus’ words here are like the cherry on the top of one of Christianity’s big theological premises.
On any other given Sunday, any number of subjects or pieces might rise out of these passages. But the idea of the last words of two great men - to two staggeringly larger audiences - whose numbers continue to grow - is not a bad topic to think on.
One of the pieces that I’m missing - and maybe others - is our printed bulletin and the Meditative Sentence(s) at the top. Not much reference is given them in worship services, but today, they would have been interesting. It is said that clergyman and hymn composer - most notably of Amazing Grace - John Newton’s last words were “I am still in the land of the dying; I shall be in the land of the living soon.” According to Steve Jobs’ sister, Mona, his last words were “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”
Charles Gussman was a writer and TV announcer, who wrote the pilot episode of Days of Our Lives, among other shows. As he became ill, he said he wanted his last words to be memorable. When he daughter reminded him of this, he gently removed his oxygen mask and whispered: “And now for a final word from our sponsor—.”
Richard B. Mellon was a multimillionaire. He was the President of Alcoa, and he and his brother Andrew had a little game of Tag going. The weird thing was, this game of Tag lasted for like seven decades. When Richard was on his deathbed, he called his brother over and whispered, “Last tag.” Poor Andrew remained “It” for four years, until he died.
Not all that many people get to have someone hear - much less record their last words. Some people get their “last words” on their tombstones. But most of us, as it has been for so long - and ever shall be - have last words that are expressed more in the memories of others - not necessarily in actual words, but in what we do - and how we do it.
But if each of us were given the opportunity now - to chose our last words - for then - what would yours be? I’m thinking that what I’d like my last words to be would come out of what I’d like my life to represent - and that that would be true for most all of us.
If a person would like their last words to be “I’ve lived a good life,” I’d wager a couple cups of coffee that that person actually lived a good life. If someone said, “I hope I’ve made the world a better place,” it is quite probably that that individual did make the world a better place. The people that chose to have certain words on their tombstones tell us something about their lives - like those who have written “I told you I didn’t feel well.”
We don’t know all Jesus’ last thoughts, yet we know a lot of his actions. So when he was with his disciples on that last night - he not only told them - he showed them the bread of life and the cup of love - and that those things were given for them - for us.
Whether partaking of our Lord’s Supper is our last act or not - and please - no one take that as a challenge - taking the bread and the cup add a piece to the overall message that we leave behind - a message that includes trust in Christ’s words and actions, a faith that we will one day eat and drink in peace and utter safety, and a note about our aspirations to follow God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Not all churches will be celebrating our Lord’s Supper this day, but a whole lot of churches will be filled with words of hope and faith and endeavor to do what is right and good. As we begin to prepare for this shared time, go ahead and exhale as much air as you can, then breath in as deeply and fully as you can - realizing that in that breath is God’s Holy Spirit - traveling down into the very smallest parts of you - as you replenish, fortify and nourish yourself for this next leg of our journeys.
The Lord’s Supper
Let us pray. Holy God - Three in One and One in Three - we thank you for giving us aspirations and desires that make us so human. We readily admit that sometimes we don’t make the best of our opportunities nor our actions - be they in thought, word or deed. Forgive us, God of Mercy and Grace, for those times when we stray, times we turn our backs, times when we fail to be the best we can be as your people. In the coming days and weeks, God, help us to think about how we act and react, to evaluate how we are here on this side of eternity and how we can make this place better, that our legacies will leave lasting words of inspiration and affirmation. Most especially God, when the way seems drear or hard, give us extra measures to help others that may need the benefit of what we want our lives to represent. For all the blessings you bestow on us, that we may bless in return, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.