“A Place at the Table for You”

Luke 22:1-23


            Caroline was a woman who had her place. If this was her church, it would there on the right-hand side, near the stained glass window with Luther’s Rose, and closest to the side aisle.  That was where she worshiped and to her, that was her place.  Caroline’s pastor learned this as he was bringing her communion one day.  You see, Caroline was no longer in church.  She wasn’t in church because she was unable to leave her home without difficulty, and so the pastor started bringing communion to her once a month.

            One day during one of their visits, she asked the question, “Pastor, has anyone begun to sit in my place?”  She brought it up so tenderly as if she was embarrassed to even ask the question and yet also afraid of what he might say.  What to him was simply a seat in the church, to Caroline was very important.  It was her place.  Her place of worship.  Her place of prayer.  Her place among God’s people.  And so, she was afraid, afraid of what he might say.  You see, other people had begun to sit in her place.  People who didn’t think she would be back and, in the future, people who wouldn’t know her at all.  For Caroline, sitting there in her home, knowing that she would not be coming back to church this year, it was very important that she still have a place.

            Perhaps you’ve felt Caroline’s fear … the fear of losing your place.  It happens to all of us. We are certain about our job, our role in someone’s life, and then suddenly things change and we find that someone else has come and filled our position, done our work, and we’ve lost our place.  You used to be the one who could work well with numbers at the office.  If there were a financial problem, people would come crawling to you.  And you kind of liked the power.  You’d say, “If nothing else, at least they noticed.”  But then, in comes the new kid with the newest technology and you find that others are seeking her advice about finances or, worse yet, they’re doing it themselves.  You’ve begun to lose your place, and you begin to wonder how long you’ll be needed.  You survey the workforce, do some mental downsizing and, suddenly, suddenly in the pit of your stomach, there’s a fear you haven’t felt sine you first went interviewing for a job.  You begin to wonder if you’ve lost your place.

            If you’ve ever felt that fear, even a little, then you have in inkling of what is going on in our gospel reading.  Luke tells us that “the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near” (22:1).  This was the Passover, and yet it was filled with an unholy fear.  Luke says, “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put {Jesus} to death, for they feared the people” (22:2).  Feared the people.  That’s an odd thing to hear about ones who confidently took their places among the people.  They loved the most important seats and all the greetings in the market.  They were the experts in the law as they were able to make a person break under its burden in a single word.  They wore long tassels, gave a tenth of their possessions, fasted twice a week.  They could stand in the center of the synagogue and thank God that they were not like other people.  They had wisdom and power and respect of the people … until Jesus came.

            Jesus’ ministry drew in crowds.  His words touched hearts.  His hands did miracles.  His words and hands were everywhere.  Jesus’ very presence brought about a life they had never known and a gratitude that they could only describe as divine.  And with Jesus’ words and his work among the people, the leaders had begun to lose their place.  And so they gathered on this day.  While everyone around them is preparing for the Passover, they are afraid, and in that fear, they are preparing for Jesus’ death.

            Do you notice the irony here?  With the Feast of Passover approaching, the only preparation for the feast which Luke reveals is fear and conspiracy, and intended murder.  Luke takes us into the lives of the religious leaders and reveals their sin.  When the leaders of God’s people spend their time plotting death before the Passover, one can only wonder what lies at the heart of their religion. 

            It shouldn’t surprise us then that Luke talks about the foe.  This is Satan’s realm … religion on the outside, corruption inside.  Where there is fear, there is likely to be the foe.  Satan enters Judas, and Judas discuss how he might betray Jesus.  Not only is there the foe, but there is also the use of force.  Luke tells us that when Judas visits the religious leaders, he finds with them “the chief priests and officers” (22:4).  If you can’t secure your position by your work among the people, you can at least protect your position by force.  But not only is there force, Luke also points to finances.  Upon hearing Judas’s offer of betrayal, “they were glad, and agreed to give him money” (22:5).  So we have fear, we have force, we have finances, and we have the foe.  A deadly combination.  It brings about death in the life of faith.  It did then, and it does now.

            You used to be the pride of your child.  After basketball practice, your child came out running to meet you at the car.  The ride home was filled with talk about the game, questions of your opinion, and security in your words.  That was only a year ago, but today … today it’s all changed.  Now, you’re lucky if you’re needed to pick her up.  She usually tries to get a ride home with friends.  When she does run to the car, it’s so that you can get out of there as quickly as possible so that no one sees her with you.  The ride home … well, that’s filled your apprehensive questions.  It’s hard to sound casual.  And there’s her one-word answers and your mutual silence as she looks out the window and you wonder what you did wrong.  You experience this and you realize … you’ve begun to lose your place.  Her friends and her desire to be free have taken your place as a parent.  When you begin to fear what is happening, you also realize how easy it is to turn to force.  You begin to demand that you pick her up from practice.  Where there’s force, finances are sure to follow.  Who pays for your shoes, your bag?  If you buy it, she better realize that you have a right to know what happened at the game.  Force and finance and deep down, further down than any of us can notice … lies the foe.  Stirring up anger.  Churning your fear.  Working in the lives of you and your child to bring about anger and separation and reasons to rebel.  Honor of one’s parent.  Love of one child.  These holy things are torn apart by the work of the foe.

            Luke points out though … in the face of all this, in the face of fear, force, finances, and the power of the foe … there is one more factor … God.  God, who prepares a place for His people at Passover.  God is still at work in this story, and His work is really so simple that you can easily miss it.  “Jesus sent Peter and John saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.’ … They went and found it just as {Jesus} had told them, and they prepared the Passover” (22:8, 13).  Jesus speaks and a place is prepared.  He offers a strange description of a man carrying a water jar, a journey through the city, a furnished Upper Room.  The disciples go and find it exactly as Jesus says.  In the middle of all this … God is at work.  What’s God doing?  He’s preparing a place for His people.  That is what the Passover is.  The place where God comes and rescues His people.  The place where God declares that He and He alone is at work to set His people free.

            God’s people have gone far away from him, but the Passover still draws near.  Love has turned into fear.  Fear has turned into action.  Service has turned into force and offerings into bribes.  And still, the Passover draws near.  Regardless of what God’s people are doing, God continues to do His work.  It’s His work which sets people free.  Free from the fear of slavery in Egypt, free from the force of Pharaoh, free from sin, free from suffering.  God alone, again and again, sets His people free.  Through God’s action, His people are brought out of their sin and into salvation.  And year after year, decade after decade, God’s people gather to celebrate God’s simple yet wonderful work.

            Tonight marks the beginning of another Lenten season.  And again, the Passover draws near.  And this year, among us here, there are those who have lost their place.  Relationships have changed, children have grown, jobs have been lost or become less secure, and those who were close once now seem far away.  And in the midst of all this change … we might get that sinking feeling, that fear in the pit of our stomach, wondering, wondering how will we survive, how will we manage.  For those of you … these weeks of Lent come to point out to you that one thing does not change.  Passover draws near and God once again does His work of freeing and forgiving love.  God once again prepares a place for you.

            This Lent, we will gather for a season to reflect on the places of the Passions.  We will read through the entire Passion account as told by Luke.  A small portion each week and you won’t be surprised at the story.

            It’s a simply story.  You’ve been to these places before.  The Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, the halls of Pontius Pilate, the hill of Golgotha.  These are the places we remember when we hear the passion narrative.  Yet when Jesus enters a place … he never leaves it as he finds it.  The most troubling places in our lives become the most amazing places of God’s grace when Jesus visits them.

            Peter will still be Peter, denying Jesus in the courtyard.  Pilate will still be Pilate, struggling in his judgment hall. And the crowds will still be the crowds calling for Jesus’ death outside the palace.  But don’t be put off by these places of the Passion, for in the midst of this story, there is a wonderful, powerful love.  We will see tonight and every time we gather that no matter where we are in our lives, God is still coming and claiming us as His children.  God is still coming, preparing a place for us in his kingdom.

            In a way, God is very much like a parent who realizes that his children have left him, strayed far from home, though they live there every day.  While he can’t control the fact that his son gets a ride home from friends after practice, while he can’t control the fact that his daughter puts on her headphones and listens to music or TikTok or YouTube rather than the voice of her father, while he can’t control the fact that his children shut themselves up in their rooms rather than sit with the family … he can control how many places he sets at the table.  And as long as he is the father and as long as this is his household, there will always be a place for his children … always, there at his table … a place for you.

            So tonight, we begin our observance of Lent with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  Tonight, God comes and brings with Him a feast that always has a place for you.  His suffering, his death, his resurrection, they had a purpose.  There is no reason to fear, for your sins have been forgiven, your life is no longer your own, and tonight, tonight there is a place set at God’s table for you.  A simple meal, a simple story, and a simple remembrance … but what a wonderful work God has done and is doing for His people this year.

            You know … if Caroline was still alive, that pastor could answer her question.  No, she no longer has a place in the pew along the right-hand side of the church, but the stained glass window with Luther’s rose.  That place now has other people sitting there.  But she does have a place at God’s table.  Jesus has prepared a place for her.  So when Caroline couldn’t come to church anymore and felt like she was losing her place, Jesus decided to bring His church to her.  There they sat … Caroline, her pastor, her Lord … at the table.  At the table, our Lord assured her that nothing in this world could take his place away from her.  No need for fear, not on this day.  When Jesus is the Lord of the table … there is always a place for you! Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.


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