“Your Spirit anointed him to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
and to announce that the time had come when you would save your people.
He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners."
From the "A Service of Word and Table I," The United Methodist Hymnal, Copyright 1989, The United Methodist Publishing House, p. 9. Used by permission.
Finally, we will look at the last three.
To set at liberty those who are oppressed.
This line, inserted from Isaiah 58, refers to persons who have been beaten down, shattered by society. People whose lives have been broken in such ways need more than an exit sign from the places of their brokenness. They need people who can help them remember or learn how to live free from the cycles of violence, trauma and pain they have experienced. Folks who work closely with victims of domestic violence indicate that the average number of stays in a shelter before finally leaving a violent home is seven. Folks who are aware of the prison system will tell you that recidivism -- a re-offense that lands people back in prison -- is more likely than not within the first year of release for people who have spent two years or more in prison. Persons returning from wars or any other extended, traumatic experience often have great difficulty learning how to live in "normal" life. What are we doing in our congregations, or as ministries of multiple congregations, to ensure that persons who are beaten down are not only free from their immediate situation of terror, but can learn to experience again what a life "in freedom" looks and feels like?
And to announce that the time had come when you would save your people.
This is a paraphrase of the biblical way of talking about the year of Jubilee -- the commandment that once every 50 years all land would revert to its former holders, all debts would be canceled, and all slaves would be set free. It was to be a "reboot" for the economic and social order. When Isaiah announced it as part of God's plan to restore the exiles to their homeland, this language made literal sense. In the day of Jesus, it may have been heard as another indication that God was about to overthrow the Roman overlordship and restore Judea to its own governance and economy.
But for the ministry of Jesus, as we find it in Luke's gospel, the "reboot" would involve a new people, his disciples, who would be trained in seeing, living, and helping others experience the signs of God's "reboot," God's kingdom, active and working in the world. Such disciples would be (and were!) convinced that in and through Jesus God was out to bring salvation in all sorts of ways to all sorts of persons in all people groups on the planet. The communal sharing or mutual aid of early Christians, practices which continued long beyond the time recorded in the book of Acts, were one important indicator of the "restart" at work. In the early churches, the economic order was no longer to be based on the individual economic or social status of each member, but was understood as a commonwealth that ensured that all persons in the community had what was needed.
Are you as a disciple committed to being part of God's "reboot?" Do you believe, and do you live on the basis that God in Jesus and through his body, the church, is out to bring salvation to all in countless ways? Is your congregation? What signs of "reboot" are alive in your congregation? in your community?
He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners.
Here is a brief statement of the practices of Jesus that revealed the kingdom of God at work most practically and most profoundly. Rather than staying away from or quarantining sick folks, Jesus drew near to them, attracted them, and extended them healing. Jesus himself made sure hungry folks were getting fed, even against the complaints of his own disciples that this simply could not be done. And most scandalous of all in his day, he ate with people that no self-respecting holy person would go near -- a sign of solidarity with folks that the "righteous" would usually shun. It is no accident that Christians invented the hospital and the profession of nursing, or that so many churches invest time and effort into food pantries and other efforts to feed the hungry. Perhaps the larger challenge of these three is whether and on what terms we will embody the kingdom by "eating with sinners."
Whew! What a set of challenges we commit ourselves to when we're careful what we pray at Holy Communion! Surely, for all kinds of reasons, we cannot do all that, can we?
If we're careful what we pray, we admit we can't do it all. But we also commit to do everything we can. And in what is God's and what is ours to do, we ask the Spirit to remake us through this sacrament into the body of Christ, one with him in ministry to the whole world. It is the goodness of our Lord Jesus that in feeding us at Table, he makes us one with him, and sends us into the world with everything we need, far more than we can ask or imagine, to embody him anew wherever we are.
From the Table, to the world . . . and back again. This is the rhythm of our life, and our prayer. It is why we need constant communion. But it is also why we can do no less than offer our praise and thanksgiving at Table with faith, and love, and grateful joy.