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Boston’s Last Supper

Julie Rogers
Sun, Apr 28

The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Text: John 13: 31-35

Many, if not all, of us have been standing at quite a powerful crossroads for a great deal of these past two weeks. It’s been a crossroad where Hope has met Sorrow, a crossroads where unthinkable Harm has met awe-inspiring Healing, a crossroads where a normal, bustling city has met, starkly and powerfully, a frozen-in-time crime scene. We see this crossroads in our newspapers - every day our papers are flooded with accounts of loss, violence, and grieving sitting side by side with stories of bravery, generosity, and solidarity.

I’ve been reflecting on this strange, strange time while sitting quite literally at a crossroads myself. Part of my work takes me each week to a sister UCC faith community, Church of the Covenant, which sits at the corner of Newbury Street and Berkeley Street, right on the periphery of what was taped-off as a crime scene following the Boston marathon bombings. The staff of this church and I have spent many of our working hours standing, quite literally, at this crossroads. Newbury Street and Berkeley Street. A crossroads where a sea of news cameras, makeshift memorials, military personnel, and empty streets, meets the usual bustling cafes, honking traffic, and duck boat tours of the Back Bay neighborhood. Sitting on the steps of this particular church where these two streets meet, a simple turn of the head reveals scenes of investigation of violence where a world stands still right alongside life appearing as normal in our city. The crossroads of the past couple weeks may have been as metaphorical as our range of emotions or quite literal as Newbury Street and Berkeley Street, but I think for all of us in this city, and even beyond, we have been standing there together, and seeing what emerges from this strange and bewildering crossroads-place.

In this week’s Gospel lesson, we are given a most familiar line, a most familiar message as Jesus calls us to “love one another” as his new commandment. The scene where this commandment takes place is a powerful one. It is the Last Supper and Jesus knows that his time has come to depart from this world, he knows that his death is imminent. Think with me about the incredible cast of characters who are all seated around this famous table. In the midst of this table of motley disciples, in this moment representing a stark range of human experience, we have Judas, a man who has come to represent Betrayal. He is about to turn Jesus in, handing him over to death on a cross. We have Simon Peter, another disciple who will quite soon deny that he even knows Jesus, denying this not once but three times. We have Jesus, a beacon of radical Love who knows death is upon him in mere days. This scene is stark. Violence is in the air while Betrayal, Denial, and Love sit side by side around a common table.

This scene, this place where such a range of human experience meet, sitting side by side, staring face to face, a bewildering meeting of such extremes, this makes me wonder, have we here, now in this crossroads time, been experiencing Boston’s Last Supper? Gathered together these past couple weeks with dizzying accounts of suspicion, fear, violence seated alongside the outpouring of strength and love that could only be described as God-given, all around one table, this is nothing short of the Last Supper.

This meeting place of human experience, this crossroads place of sorrow and love, it is here out of which the new commandment emerges. It is here that the call to love one another sounds loud and clear, unmistakably powerful. It is a call to love without conditions, it is a call to love without judgment, it is a call to love by setting aside one’s own preoccupations of the day and leaning in to the needs of another. It is the love that Jesus showed throughout his life. “Love one another” he tells this assembly, this crossroads meeting place, “love one another as I have loved you.”

I think it is in these crossroads moments, these Last Supper moments where the various dimensions of human experience, heightened by surreal events, join together so starkly that it’s easiest to hear this call to love, this commandment to love. These are the moments where familiar buildings flash across our TV screens, our home towns and neighborhoods are all of a sudden household-names, and suffering is evident in our communities, our neighbors, our families, our very selves. The call to love sounds loud and clear. The cast at this Last Supper is not full of distant figures of another time and place but neighbors, friends, those who shopped in our supermarkets, shared our workplace, went to our schools, sat next to us on the T. Seated together here at this meeting place, the commandment to love one another emerges so clearly: love one another, love one another. Fundraising efforts are abundant. People are using their talents, giving concerts, free admission to museums, healing services, endless surgeries in our hospitals.

But what happens as this Last Supper seemingly ends? What happens as Boylston Street re-opens again, as the Copley station is once again flooded with visitors and residents, as the air of gentleness and compassion, solidarity and healing, is replaced by our preoccupied worries of personal achievement, material success, and whether or not we’ll get to that meeting on time? As “normalcy” returns to Boston, will we still be able to hear this bold commandment to love? Will we still be able to read headlines and feel that our sisters and brothers are hurting and we cannot possibly stand idly by? Will we still be able sit face to face with suffering, listening, leaning in and not running away?

My God, I hope the fear, violence, tragedy that we’ve experienced recently is coming to end but truly, does the Last Supper ever really end? Is there ever a time when Love, Betrayal, Denial, Suffering, Injustice and are not sitting right next to one another, side by side around a common table? I don’t think there is. I don’t think there is a ever a moment, there is ever a place, where this range of human experience isn’t present.
Here is this place, here in your pew, here within your very body, the crossroads of suffering and joy, grieving and love still meet.

Here in this place, here in your pew, here within your very body, the Last Supper carries on.

Here in this place, here in your pew, here within your very body, the call to love one another still sounds... but it just may not be as easy to hear.

The sound of normalcy can be deafening, the sounds of “business as usual” and “back to the grind” can block our eyes and our ears from recognizing that the Last Supper carries on, in our world, in our communities and in ourselves.

The commandment to love one another is just as relevant today as it was 13 days ago. The commandment to love one another is just as urgent today as it was when our city froze. The commandment to love one another is just as important today, tomorrow, and months from now even and especially on the most mundane, most seemingly normal of days.

Normalcy may be returning to Boston, but the Last Supper never ends.

Amen.

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