A key characteristic of Jazz music is improvisation. Usually, a theme is introduced, it’s played by the band as a group, then one by one, each instrumentalist takes the theme and does his or her own riff on it.
Often, the musician takes the melody into places where it no longer sounds like the same song. The riff takes on a life of its own; it reflects the life of the soloist…all the while, though, the drums, piano, and bass, are keeping the harmonic pattern of the song going, and maybe some kind of rhythmic motif (like the one in “A Love Supreme”). Eventually, of course, the soloist winds the improv back around to the original theme. The piece closes when the band regroups and plays the theme together one last time.
We don’t have to stretch our imaginations too far to see Jesus’ last supper as an improvisation. He and his disciples had gathered for the traditional seder meal. Jesus took the theme of imbuing a meal with sacred meaning and riffed on it.
The unleavened bread is no longer simply a reminder of the haste with which the Israelites leftEgypt…now, in Jesus’ improvisation, it has become his body.
And the wine isn’t simply the traditional seder libation…now, in Jesus’ improvisation, the wine has become his blood.
Now, bread and wine aren’t only aids to remembering the past. Now, in Jesus’ riff, they are markers pointing forward to the time when we all will eat and drink anew with Jesus in God’s kindom.
Let us pray. God of Jesus and of jazz, fill us with the gifts of bread and juice today. Help us to riff on these elements for all we’re worth. Amen.