The Bible throughout teaches of a God who longs to be with us. God is with us always and already, of course, in virtue of being present everywhere, but God wants to be with us in a more powerful and intimate way. God wants to know us and be known by us, to have a conscious mutual relationship with each and everyone of us.
How does the Holy One make the divine presence known? In many ways, of course: Through the beauty and power of creation. From the movements of our own hearts: moments of grace, gratitude and peace. Through miracles in our lives, great and small. Through the prophets and seers of all religions.
The Christian belief is that the Holy One came to be with us in a particularly powerful way in the life, death and ressurection of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the peak moment of Jesus' presence with his disciples, the moment when the desire of the Holy One to be with us shone through most clearly, was the moment we are commemorating tonight, the Lord's last supper with his disciples.
This is expressed in the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Luke: "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." [Luke 22:15-16 NRSV]
Tonight this is the Passover that Jesus wishes to eat with each of you!
The Gospel of John records a moment at the table when Philip says to Jesus: "Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied." Jesus answers, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and still you do not know me?" [John 14:8-9 NRSV]
Haunting and poignant words. I recall that when I first moved into my present appartment several years ago, there was a young couple living in one of the apartments above mine. I only knew them to say "Hi" to, until they were getting ready to move out. In was only in the course of accepting packages for them and receiving gifts of the plants and laundry detergent they were leaving behind that I had the conversations in which I discovered what wonderful and interesting people they were to know. I was left with a pang of regret: for a long time they had been with me and still I had not known them.
But you know, even those closest to us remain at once known and unknown. We will never know anyone completely, not ourselves, not anyone else, for all of us hold infinite depths. And it would be the death of any relationship to foolishly believe that there is nothing left to learn. Known and unknown, that was certainly the relationship the disciples had with Jesus. "Show us the Father," they asked him. What did they expect to see? The skies open up? A king sitting on a throne? The people they considered their enemies miraculously defeated and destroyed?
Jesus says to them, "Whoever has seen me has seen my Father also." It is as if he said to them, "What more do you need to see? Did you not see me fast and pray? Did you not hear me teach? Did you not hear my call to self-giving love? Did you not hear my call to set aside all customs and rigidities that get in the way of one person truly serving another? Didn't you see me heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, the demon-possessed? Didn't you see me feed the 4,000 and the 5,000? You have already seen the Holy One in action. Wake up and know what you have seen!"
I would make bold to say that "known and yet unknown" is the relationship of Christianity to Jesus even today. "For 2,000 years I have been with you," he says to us, "and still you do not know me!" We still struggle to see the Holy One at work in the Gospels and in the world around us.
It is surely significant that the meal that Jesus wants to eat with us is the Passover. For that is a moment of change. The first passover was the moment when Israel left a known and familiar life for the unknown. It was the moment of putting captivity behind and striking out for freedom. The renewed covenant that Jesus instituted at the Last Supper also comes at a moment of change: just before his death and resurrection, it signals the moment when love set itself free from all the faces of unlove.
Every time we celebrate communion it is an opportunity for change, an opportunity to wake up and know that we have already seen the Holy One. There is a mystery at the heart of Luke 22:16, "for I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.." There is the passover that Jesus ate before his suffering and the passover Jesus eats in the kingdom of God. Two meals or one meal that spans the divide? Let us ponder his words carefully.
The communion we are about to share is one of many meals we will share with the Lord until we arrive at the Passover meal we will eat together in the Kingdom of God. In instituting communion at the Last Supper, Jesus offered us a way to recall his presence. Breaking the bread, pouring the wine—the simplest and most human of acts. We all need to eat, we all need to drink, we all need each other. But I think the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine are also meant as examples. Jesus is present in every concrete act of self-giving love. He is present every time we join together in the humbleness and vulnerability of our shared humanity. We have already seen the Holy One. When will we wake up and know what we have seen?