January 17, 2016 – The Rev. James Richardson

Many years ago, my wife Lori and I accompanied our teenage youth group on a mission trip to the Shoshone-Paiute Indian reservation in Central Nevada.

We were as far from the comfortable suburbs where our kids lived as you can get.

We fixed houses by day, and then in the evening we would gather around the campfire, share a meal, tell stories, and talk about our experience.

One evening, a tribal elder came to tell us stories.

These weren’t just any stories, but stories from thousands, and tens of thousands, of year ago, about how the Great Creator brought the Shoshone-Paiute people to this place to live, and about how the Great Creator saved them from many trials, calamites and mortal dangers.

He began each story this way – and I want you to hold onto this phrase this morning. Here is how he started each story:

“I don’t know if it happened exactly this way, but this is a true story.”

Let me repeat this:

“I don’t know if it happened exactly this way, but this is a true story.”

This morning we hear the story of Jesus going to a wedding and turning water into wine.

I don’t know if it happened exactly this way, but this is a true story.

In the story, Jesus is at a wedding feast, and the guests have consumed all the wine.

His mother, Mary, asks him to save the party by spinning one of his miracles. So Jesus converts six large stone jars of water into wine.

I don’t know if it happened exactly this way, but this is a true story.

It is a true about hospitality – expansive abundant hospitality – about how God’s overflowing grace extends beyond the limits of our imagination. Hospitality for everyone.

And there is more: This story is an allusion to how Jesus turns the waters of our baptism into the wine of our Holy Eucharist.

By so doing, he invites us to his table that is overflowing with the food that will never run out.

The word “Eucharist” is Greek for “Thanksgiving.” It is also known as “Communion” or Holy Communion. By whatever we call it, this is the meal we share to remember the Last Supper.

When come together to do this, we remember in a particular way.

To understand this even a little, we need to reach far, far back to a time before Jesus, to a time before Moses, to a time before the Bible, to a time before the written word.

Long, long ago, thousands, and tens of thousands of years ago, people would gather around the campfire, and share a meal, and they would tell stories.

They especially would tell the old stories of their ancestors long before them, and how the Great Creator had saved them from many trials, calamities, and mortal dangers.

They didn’t know if it happened exactly this way, but these were true stories.

In the telling, the ancient stories came alive for them, and these stories became their own stories. The people remembered the stories because the stories were not just about their ancestors, but about how the Great Creator saved them, too.

Consider what we are doing in church: We are sitting around the campfire – the candles – and we are hearing the ancient stories – the Bible – and we are making these stories come alive as our own story.

We read the Bible to hear again how God’s grace saved our ancestors, and how God’s grace continues to save us. We read these stories because these are our stories.

We don’t read the Bible in church to worship the bible. The Bible is not God. We read the Bible to hear how God’s saving grace is our story too. That is the point of a sermon, by the way – to bring light upon the old stories as our own.

When we do this here, we are remembering in the same way the ancients were remembering the stories of the salvation of their ancestors.

This way of remembering, in fact, is a gift we get from the ancient Hebrews. The Jewish way of remembering is not just a mere recitation of dry facts to be filed away or studied academically.

Rather, this kind of remembering, this Jewish way of remembering, has everything to do with our Eucharist.

For Christians, the ultimate story is the story of Jesus going to the Cross, dying, and then coming back to life among his disciples – the Resurrection – Easter.

We tell this story every week in our Holy Eucharist. This is the meal of Easter – and we celebrate Easter every Sunday.

Today, as we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, listen closely to the words of Jesus quoted in the Eucharistic prayer.

Jesus uses the word remember and he means it in this very Jewish way that I’ve been using the word.

When we remember at this table, the story of Easter becomes our story. This is why the Eucharist is the culmination of our worship on Sunday. Every Sunday becomes a celebration of Easter, and we become Easter people again through the celebration of our Eucharist with bread and wine.

Think of the Eucharist as a window opening, if only for a few moments, a way to see and touch these ancient events and make them our own.

Think of this as a way of seeing and touching Jesus himself as he tells us he will dwell completely in us through this bread and wine.

In the Eucharist we are remembering with our whole being – with all of our senses: by hearing the words of the ancient story, by seeing the symbols surround us, and through the sight and smell and taste of the bread and wine of our Communion.

This is why we use real bread and real wine – so that we can bring all of our senses to this as fully as we can.

When we do, we are remembering in an incarnational way. God incarnate comes alive for us in our worship.

And we are not just doing this as individuals, we are also sharing in this with each other – this is why we call it “Communion.”

We share this sacred meal with everyone around us; and we share this with everyone in every church on this particular day.

There is something more to this Communion: We are sharing in this meal with everyone who has come before us, and everyone who will come after us. We taste this bread as they tasted it, and sipped the wine as they sipped it.

We are surrounded by this great “cloud of witnesses,” as St. Paul puts it, including those who we love but see no longer, who are just beyond our horizon and yet are still here with us at this meal.

And just like at the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus gives the guests the good wine, and the guests include us.

The guests at Cana expect the cheap wine, but at this party, they get the finest.

So do we.

God is not cheap or stingy. God opens the best bottle, not the worst. God gives us the first fruits of the vine. We get a feast.

We are called to share the best of who are, and the finest of all that we have, to bring God’s Kingdom alive in this world.

And so let us once again give thanks, find sustenance for our body and souls, and share our hospitality extravagantly as God shares extravagantly with us.

This is a true story we write with our lives every single day, and it happens exactly this way.