On late evenings at the campsite as the fire is at a comfortable level that doesn’t require us to feed it all the time, one of us will say to the other, “Wanna loose a game of crib?” In both of our households cribbage was a game played after supper when visitors came, or with family at the cottage or at Christmas gatherings and so, it is a game both of us are equally proficient at. If we were to play Scrabble it is inevitable that Mike would win, if we were to play dutch blitz it is inevitable that I would win but in a game of crib it is anybody’s game. Did you know that in England it is the only card game that is allowed to be played in bars or pubs without a special license. Sir John Suckling invented the game in the 17th century. It is said that he frequently spent entire mornings in bed with a pack of cards studying their subtleties and what makes cribbage a special kind of card game is that it has relatively few rules but yields endless subtleties during play. Once you know the rules of the game it is easy to figure out strategy and move your peg along the board.
Rules are always important in establishing how to play a game- but they are also important in how we function as a society, how we elect officials, how we interact with one another and today we heard the most famous list of rules ever recorded. We also celebrate communion today- and embedded in our liturgy are “rules”, words and expressions, prayers and statements that are not only part of the pattern of communion but speak to our theology and understanding of what this sacrament is and therefore are important pieces to this action. It should be noted that the church has had divisions over the “rules” of this and other sacraments. Yet, today we are uniting with brothers and sisters in faith around the world to celebrate communion- because that’s part of the rules too.
But first, let’s look briefly at the Ten Commandments because in truth these are not simply a list of rules- that’s not really what the commandments are about. The most striking and important thing about the Exodus version of the commandments is the introduction. In Exodus 20:2 God identifies God’s self and refers to what God has done for the people of Israel. This means that the giving of the commandments provided the people with an identity and purpose and note that this is an identity and purpose that is completely different from their identity as slaves in Egypt or as a wandering community in the wilderness.
Hebrew scholar Amy Erickson looks to the Ten Commandments as a way in which the people found liberty and freedom. These “rules” provide more than a list of how to behave. “With the order of the commandments, God makes it possible for the people to view their new lives, even in the wilderness, not as chaotic or terrifying, but as meaningful and potentially fruitful. The commandments, as a whole, present an alternative vision to life in Egypt, a place where there was little interest in regeneration and rest and no freedom.” We often think that rules are things that restrict us- and we hear a bit of that in the Ten Commandments- they are seemingly filled with thou shalts or thou shalt nots. But what if we were to look at them in the positive we would see how liberating they truly are.
For example, the commandment “You shall have no other gods but me” means, “In all things put God first, put love, put grace, put compassion first. This is the first of the commandments because it is the first thing God does with us; puts us first”. Or how about the commandment “Do not take God’s name in vain,” this means “Respect the one who loves you. Speak lovingly of God so that the whole world knows that gift.” Or “Remember the Sabbath” becomes “Take time to pause and reflect on what is important in life, connect with that which is always calling out to you. Find space to celebrate the one who offers you life.” Or how about “do not covet another person’s property” means “celebrate what you have already. Great lives are not born by accumulation of things but are birthed in the giving away of love. This is why God is so great.” I thank the Church of Scotland resource for this Sunday for those insights and paraphrases.
Notice also that the first four commandments have to do with our relationship with God, while the remaining six speak to our relationship with one another. It is as if to say, that in order for our relationships to be right with other humans we have to have a relationship with God first. Certainly that is not part of our current societal rules. But the commandments create a space where humanity can live meaningful lives before God and one another. The freedom in the commandments is this, how one thinks about God affects how one thinks about their neighbour. This is also the same rationale behind communion- it is an outward symbol of our inward commitment to live in community with Christ and Christians.
Did you know that World Communion Sunday first took place in a Presbyterian church in Pittsburg in 1933. The Rev. Dr. Kerr first conceived of the idea while he was serving as Moderator for the PCUSA in 1930. He hoped that it would bring churches together in a service of Christian unity- “in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.” It started off small at first but today it is celebrated around the world. This year it is being celebrated in some pretty creative ways…mostly online. It was in 2012 that our General Assembly created the rule that we could provide virtual communion- this was initially in response to the needs of remote congregations who were experiencing long vacancies. Little did we know how important that rule would become, for all churches, eight years later.
The purpose of the commandments and the purpose of celebrating communion on this particular Sunday is part of who we are- it’s in our rules. But like in a game of cribbage- these rules aren’t complicated rather the subtleties in how we worship God, how we serve one another, how we celebrate communion and live in community are endless this is not how we normally celebrate communion but it is simply the act that brings us together. There is no doubt that it will feel different but whether you are a part of our regular worshipping community or have just found us on YouTube, whether you have your elements prepared or not, whether this is your first foray into communion or old hat- you are welcome and you are invited to participate in this sacrament as you feel comfortable, not because I’m telling you its part of the rules for this Sunday but because it is an expression of how we find creativity in Christ and freedom in the commandments. Amen