In storytelling, if you want to make a thing matter to your audience, you have to repeat the same events over and over again. This is why in Homer’s Iliad, at the beginning and at the end, fathers beg for mercy and pity, for their children to be released to them: Have pity, they say. Please, I beg you for pity. And when in the beginning there is no pity, Apollo rages. In the end, though, when Achilles weeps with Priam and hands Hector over, Apollo is pleased. Pity, forgiveness—these are important to the gods, we learn.
And there are three houses and three pigs in the story of the “Three Little Pigs,” so that you really get the point about the two naughty, lazy little pigs, and how different they are from the responsible, good little pig.
And in that children’s book The Giving Tree, the Boy repeatedly comes back to the tree, to ask for more, for more, for more—and each time it breaks your heart more, and more, and more.
And in the gospels of the New Testament, the disciples make mistakes—so foolishly, so cowardly, again, again, again—because next comes the Acts of the Apostles. And remember: they receive the Holy Spirit—and they stop all that foolishness. What a great way to emphasize the life of the Spirit. Thank God, then, for Peter, for fools, for mistakes again and again—since his mistakes are my mistakes laid out before me, again, again, again.
In the same way, Yahweh builds repetition into the Way of the Hebrews. Every year for 1,500 years before Jesus was born, the people of Israel repeat Passover, this gift, this celebration, this movement, this story: they tell it again and again amongst themselves, reliving it, practicing it, giving thanks for it—becoming it every year, again, again, again.
Here are God’s people, in exile in Babylon, at Passover, practicing the hope of God’s faithfulness. Here again, in exile in Assyria, at Passover, they practice the hope of God’s faithfulness. And again, ruled by Persians, by Greeks, by Romans: each year they repeat the same hope—God is faithful, God is faithful—remembering the sacrifice of the lamb that spared them, so removing them from slavery to freedom. This is the horrifying, beautiful poem of their people.
Again and again—for 1,500 years—they tell the story. And then Jesus, the new Passover: Behold, John the Baptist declares, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
So Jesus reclines at the table, says for the first time in history—This is my body—This is my blood—This do in remembrance. He is giving new, big, horrifying, lovely meaning to this repetition, to this very old story. He is saying again, saying brand new, God is faithful, yes. He is saying, I am the hope of God’s faithfulness. Here the body, here the blood. Here he changes how we repeat the story, how we repeat it forever. Take body, take blood: his. Our Lord dies vulnerably, as bread and wine are torn about in your mouth. Chew slowly. Taste but do not savor: this is body, this is blood, this is life within you: it is food and it is not food—it is graphic but not disgusting. Give thanks for this repetition, for this remembrance, for this horrifying, beautiful picture of love.
For many years before Jesus grew its meaning for us, Yahweh asked his people, Shed blood and eat, shed blood and eat, shed blood and eat, year after year, in remembrance of hope, faith, love. In the same way you, our Lord, are killed, broken open, your blood for all people, slaughtered as a lamb. So we, too, shed blood and eat, shed blood and eat, shed blood and eat: in hope, in faith, in love. But, even so, while we practice this story, while we repeat this broken body, this spilling blood, even so: we hope most in what comes next: even in this horror as we repeat it—we abide, we endure, we give thanks, and we hope too in that Kingdom to come. Amen.