Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sermon: Maundy Thursday

20 March 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35 (Ex 24:3-11, 1 Cor 11:23-32)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when His body was handed over to sinful men in order to shed His blood, our Lord Himself handed over His own body and blood to us sinful men in order to be saved by His blood.

On this night when He was betrayed, the night before His crucifixion, our Lord re-establishes the Lord’s Supper for several reasons: for remembrance, for proclamation, for self-examination, and most of all, for the forgiveness of sins.

He re-establishes the old Passover meal, not for the sake of a nice ritual, but as the living fulfillment of the old Holy Supper. For look at this Holy Communion in the Old Testament: the Word of God is read, and the people respond with their “Amen.” They gather around an altar. Moses officiates at the distribution of the Lord’s gift of the lamb’s blood, saying: “This is the blood of the covenant.” It is distributed to the people. The priests and the elders (which is the word used in the New Testament for “pastors”) stand in God’s presence. “So they saw God, and they ate and drank.”

This New and Greater Passover, this fulfillment of the old covenant into the New Testament, this meal in which our Lord is not only the Master of Ceremonies but also the food and drink itself, is a miracle. For we too see God as we eat and drink. This Holy Supper gives us not only a special fellowship with God (who shares the table and a meal with us), but also the forgiveness of sins, the holy presence of Him who has died and risen for us, placed directly into our mouths to become part of our very fiber of being.

In eating and drinking this miraculous meal, we indeed proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes, a proclamation that goes beyond talking about it, but right to our very being. In Holy Communion, we have “communion,” as the very incarnate body and blood of God creates a holy union with us poor miserable sinners.

We, who deserve to starve, are given a feast. We, who deserve to die, are given life.

And just as the blood of the old covenant cleansed the people of their sins, so too, the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, the New Testament, cleanses us. Before He miraculously fed His disciples with His body and blood, our Lord first cleansed them with water. He prepared the disciples to be fit for the Lord’s table by physically washing them with water to make them clean – an act very different than the hollow ritual pre-meal washing of the Pharisees. For this baptismal washing actually makes one clean, even on the hidden soles of the feet, even of our shameful, hidden sins. And our Lord administers this cleansing water not as a mighty Lord but as a lowly servant, a minister.

He then bids His disciples, the men He would ordain for preaching, to likewise minister to others, even as Aaron and his sons Nadab and Abihu ministered as priests of the old covenant along with Moses.

Not only are these New Testament preacher-priests to wash us with water, not only are they to read the Word of God to us, not only are they to preach and proclaim that Word, they are also to administer the Holy Supper as a proclamation of the Lord’s death, which like the sacramental blood of the old covenant sprinkled on the people, is given to the people for the forgiveness of sins.

And like the people of the Old Testament, this meal is a Passover, a passing over from death to life, a marker for God’s remembrance of His promise, a marker of separation between the passing world that is secure in its sins vs. the Lord’s own redeemed and priestly people who are repentant of their sins, whose sins are covered by the blood, those who have been given life without end.

Just as the angel of death was powerless to cross the thresholds marked by the blood, the devil is not permitted to seize those who have passed through the threshold of the cross by being washed in the ministerial water of Jesus, and through being transformationed by the Holy Supper of the Lord’s body and blood.

And while we must die in this flesh – for we still live in the flesh – we are given a New and Greater Flesh, a flesh untainted by sin, a flesh that is immortal, that is the very flesh of God, “the body of Christ, given for you.” This is the same flesh born of Mary, nailed to a cross, risen from the grave, and given for you to eat in the miraculous meal we call the Lord’s Supper, the Mass, the Holy Communion, the Mystical Meal.

And as sinners, we are accountable in blood – for we still sin daily and much – and yet we are given a New and Greater Blood, a blood that has power over sin, a blood that contains life, the very same blood that flowed from His five holy wounds, the same blood poured into a chalice and given to you as wine to drink, “the blood of Christ, shed for you.” This is indeed the same blood that flowed in the veins of God, the same blood that atoned for the children of Israel, now given to us to drink in the miraculous meal we call the Lord’s Supper, the Mass, the Holy Communion, the Mystical Meal.

Dear brothers and sisters, we are “poor, miserable sinners” whose blood deserves to be shed, whose lives deserve to be ended. We have no claim to worthiness to see God, let alone eat and drink with Him.

But thanks be to our Triune God that God has taken on human flesh, sheds His blood, gives up His body, shares Himself with us in a Holy Meal, and gives us His worthiness to stand before the sapphire throne. Thanks be to God that He does indeed use priestly ministers to wash us with water, to proclaim the good news of the Word of God, to preach the forgiveness of sins in a New Testament, and distribute the body and blood of Christ to us as this holy meal established on the night when He was handed over to sinful men.

Let us see God. Let us eat and drink. Let us proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Let us examine ourselves, let us repent, and let us be forgiven – even as we have been given a bread-and-wine feast and a body-and-blood life that will have no end. Amen.

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

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