Holy Thursday, 2019
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed... well, that night is here. From sundown on Thursday, it is full bore, full throttle for Jesus – on to the Passion and Good Friday. No sleep, no rest for Him tonight. And on that night, Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples, the great feast of deliverance of the Old Testament. It was the religious highlight of the year. The Ten Commandments in Scripture are introduced with “I am the Lord Your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” And that deliverance, that Exodus really kicked into high gear with the Passover – when the first born of Egypt died, but those of Israel were saved, covered by the blood of the paschal lamb.
And it is Maundy Thursday now. And Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with His disciples, but there is something bigger going on. The Exodus, the first Passover – that was just a temporary reprieve. All those who ate that first Passover and lived, well, they died. Death passed them over, but only for a time. That old Passover lamb and that old blood was good for just a bit – now, it was a great bit, and a wonderful thing, but it was still just temporary, just for that day.
And there, in the upper room, with those disciples that Jesus serves, the ones who so often didn't understand what He was doing, Jesus establishes a new meal, a new supper. Not a meal that only works once but then is just replayed out as part of a yearly party. No, Jesus does something new and much more profound with His meal. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, all the world, in all times and places and days and ages, and so He establishes a new meal that is effective and true and wondrous in all times and places, even this day and unto the end of all the ages. Christ Jesus gives us His Supper.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My Body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying: “Drink of it all of you: this cup is the new testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” In the Supper, Jesus gives you Himself. It is His true Body and His true Blood under bread and wine, given to us Christians to eat and drink. It is Jesus' Body, which is Crucified for you, so that you do not bear up the punishment of sin. He took that sin up from you. It is His blood which is shed to forgive you your sin, to remove it from you and cleanse you from it. Your sin is gone, and in its place you are given Christ Jesus Himself – you are given forgiveness and life and salvation.
For understand this, in this Supper Christ Jesus Himself is present. This is not just a symbolic thing, it is not just a thinking about the past sort of thing like the Passover meal was. No, Jesus does something different. The Passover was a memorial – a monument dedicated to something of the past. The Supper is “remembrance” – and this is where we get tripped up by the English language. We think first and foremost of “remembrance” as a looking back. That's not the point – this is a present and repeated giving of Christ here. The way I like to explain it is like this – when I was a kid my mom would say, “Eric, did you remember to take out the trash?” She wasn't asking if I could remember two months earlier about that one time when I had taken the trash out – no, Eric, right now, this moment, is the trash taken out? The same idea applies to the Supper. This do, in remembrance of Me – this do and Christ Jesus gives Himself to us and is bodily with us right now, as often as we eat this meal. That is what it is for – Jesus being with us.
And that is why we treat this meal with respect. That is why we follow His Word and Institution. No doritos and coca-cola, no cheese slices and grape juice. No, we receive what He gives to us as He wishes to give it – and we recognize that Jesus is here in a wondrous way, giving us a great gift. This is why St. Paul warns us “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the LORD in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the LORD.” And worthiness here is not a matter of how good you are or how hard you've prayed – fasting and other bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training – But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” That's the point, that we recognize that Jesus is here in this Supper to do something wondrous – to give us forgiveness. And we don't mess around with it. We don't undercut Jesus' Word. This is Jesus here to forgive us, and we are to believe this, for “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Now, Paul maybe talking about physical illness or death – but he's primarily speaking to faith. If you mess around with the Supper, if you treat it like a play thing and worthless, if you take your eyes off of Jesus, that damages your faith, and even can kill it. How else does faith die other than people ignoring and disdaining Christ and His Word?
But St. Paul says this not to scare you, not to keep you away from this altar – for Christ has said, “take, eat; take, drink” - this Supper is for you. It is a powerful gift – but because it is powerful we need to treat it with the respect it deserves. A car is a powerful gift – but if you mess around while driving it is a most dangerous gift. And you don't get in the car with a driver who is flippant and careless either. Modern medicine is a powerful gift – but if abused things become horrorific, so you don't abuse medicine nor do you go to a doctor who writes out prescriptions carelessly. Likewise, we pay attention to our Lord's Word, and we don't mess around with the Supper, and we don't join in when other places mess around with it, when they teach that it is just a symbol and does nothing, or when they teach that it's a sacrifice that their priests offer to God. No, the Supper is Christ's Body and Blood given by Christ for you for the forgiveness of sin– and so we only receive the Supper when and where that truth, where His Word, is clearly and faithfully proclaimed. That's why we don't just commune anywhere willy-nilly, nor do I let just anyone who claims to be a preacher preach here or celebrate the Supper. We treat the Supper with the respect and care that it is due, because we dare not abuse this gift. Doesn't mean that we are dour or mopey with it – that too misses the point. We don't make the supper the supper by our own preparations. It is the Lord's Supper – He does it.
So we listen to Christ and know what it is for. This is Jesus giving Himself not to the smug and self-righteous, not to the folks who know better than Him, but to sinners in need of His forgiveness. And that we are. We are sinful folk. We have many sins and trials and temptations. And when you see that, when you know your lack, then Christ Jesus calls you here to His altar. When you see your need for Christ and His strength, then you are ready to receive this promise for your good. And Christ Jesus is faithful, and whenever we celebrate His Supper, He is present for you, to forgive you, to strengthen you, to give you faith in Him and also to fill you with love, His love, for your neighbor.
And having established this meal on the night He was betrayed, having prepared the Church to receive His gifts until He comes again, Jesus seals the deal. He goes to the Garden and is arrested, and is accused, and suffers, and dies. And the Testament in His Blood, His Will and Testament, goes into effect. He dies, so that you have forgiveness, life, and salvation – and He comes to you again and again so that you receive this, rejoice in it, delight in it, even until we enter the never-ending feast of the life of the world to come. This is what Jesus does for you. In the Name Christ the Crucified +