Sermon for Maundy Thursday, 2021

Text: Exodus 12:1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

On the night that Jesus is betrayed, he institutes the Lord’s Supper as he and his disciples celebrate the Passover. We read of the institution of the Passover in our Old Testament reading. Each Israelite household was to kill a year old lamb without blemish. They were take some of the blood of the Passover lamb and paint it on their doorposts. When the Angel of Death would come, the homes with blood on the doorposts would be “passed over” and the lives of the firstborn males within that household would be spared. Meanwhile, the people were to eat the Passover lamb in haste, ready to leave Egypt. God would grant deliverance for his people Israel through the Passover. Through his gracious intervention, the nation of Israel was no longer in bondage. Each year, from then on, the people of God were to commemorate the Passover that they might remember what God had done for them.

It says in Exodus 12:14 that God’s people were to celebrate the Passover forever, as a feast. That might trouble some of us. Why don’t we keep the Passover anymore? Why aren’t we out buying lambs without blemish, killing them, painting some of the blood on the door jambs of our houses, and eating the lamb in haste?

The answer to that question is found in Jesus’ institution of the Sacrament of the Altar. Just as it is with the whole law of God, Jesus does not come to abolish the Passover, but to fulfill it. We don’t celebrate the Passover as Christians anymore because Jesus has fulfilled the Passover for us and given us a new covenant. Our Passover Lamb is Jesus. The deliverance of Israel from slavery to Egypt cost each household a perfect lamb. Our deliverance is bought and paid for not from our own goods, but by the merits of Christ Jesus who will, the day following his institution of the Sacrament of the Altar, be nailed to a cross not because of his own sin, for he had none, but for ours. Let us meditate this evening more fully on what Jesus gives us in the blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

As it was with Baptism and Confession, the two other sacraments, Luther begins his section on the Sacrament of the Altar with the simplest of questions: “What is the sacrament of the altar?” Over the years the answer to this question has somehow been muddied. As that statement implies, this really shouldn’t be that complicated. Jesus said to his disciples, “Take eat, this is my body… Take, eat, this is my blood…” So what is it that the disciples eat and drink at the Last Supper? The body and blood of Jesus. It’s crystal clear. But how can that be? It looks, smells, and tastes like bread and wine? There are few different ways of explaining that. The sacramentarians, those who deny that power of the sacraments, will say that Jesus is using picture language. Jesus didn’t mean that the bread and wine were actually his body and blood. He meant that they represent his body and blood. They are only symbols. On the other end of the spectrum is the Roman Catholic Church. They say that upon the consecration of the bread and wine, the bread and wine cease to be bread and wine and are only the body and blood of Jesus. The body and blood only “appear” to be bread and wine. The problem with both of these is that they simply don’t take the Word of God at face value. Jesus says “This is…” He doesn’t explain how the bread and wine are his body and blood, simply that they are. So we leave at it that. In the Sacrament, Jesus gives Christians his body and blood to eat and to drink.

For what purpose? Again, Jesus says it right there when he institutes the supper. It is for the forgiveness of sins. Some have tried to argue that eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus can’t possibly give the forgiveness of sins. They consider that to be salvation by works. Eating and drinking can’t save. Jesus saves. Well, here’s the thing. All we’re doing as Lutherans is looking for the places where Jesus promises to forgive sins. There are three places where he explicitly roots this promise: Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution: and the Lord’s Supper. In all three places, man is not the one working. God is the one at work. God is the one who makes one his child in baptism. God’s Word of forgiveness is spoken by the pastor in the Absolution. Jesus attaches his promise of sins forgiven and, in turn, life and salvation, to his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. The simple act of eating and drinking is not what brings the benefits of forgiveness, life, and salvation, though. Faith receives the gifts that Christ gives. Faith says “Amen” as Jesus gives his body to eat and his blood to drink. The “Amen” is saying that what Jesus says about his body and blood is true and the promises that he attaches to it are real. Faith receives the gift.

We would love for everyone to come and receive the body and blood of Jesus at our altar. We want all to come to receive the gifts of the cross. Sadly, though, we can’t just let it be a free-for-all. That was the problem that St. Paul was dealing with at the church in Corinth. There was division in the church at Corinth. Division among the body of Christ is bad. When we commune at an altar, we are making a declaration of unity with the those with whom we are communing. We are declaring that we are in agreement with all that is taught concerning the Word of God at this altar. If that isn’t the case, we are introducing division into the body of Christ where there should be unity. Paul doesn’t mince his words when it comes to the consequences of such unworthy reception of the body and blood of Jesus. He says that “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Because we certainly don’t want anyone to bring judgment upon themselves, the Church has practiced closed communion since the beginning. It always pains us to have to tell someone “no,” but it truly is the most loving thing that can be done at times. Think of the doctor writing a prescription. Will he knowingly prescribe a drug to you that will cause you harm or even death? Of course not. At least not a good doctor. So it is with the medicine of immortality. Drugs are good when used for their intended purpose. The Lord’s Supper is good when used for it’s intended purpose.

So let us examine ourselves and see that we need what the Lord comes to give us in his Holy Supper. For we can’t deny that we still have flesh and blood and live in this world where the devil rages and tries at every turn to destroy our faith. Our sinful flesh clings to us, but Christ, our Passover Lamb, the perfect, spotless Son of God, has destroyed death in his death on the cross and now gives us the fruits of the cross as he feeds us with his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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