Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sermon: Maundy Thursday

9 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35 (Ex 12:1-14, 1 Cor 11:23-32)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord, throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”

Thus says the Lord to our spiritual ancestors who were freed from their slavery, who were protected from the angel of death, who were delivered by a perfect sacrificial lamb and his blood, and who entered freedom by way of a feast.

Mankind became slaves to sin by a feast of sorts, a forbidden fruit in the Garden that looked good to the eye, but was poison to us in body and soul. And because of our rebellion against our Creator, we enslaved ourselves to sin, death, and the devil. The food that once literally fell from the trees now had to be coaxed by blood, sweat, and tears. The carefree innocent nakedness of our ancestors was replaced by burdensome clothing made from animals who now tasted death because of our folly. And the great and joyful gift of food has become the source of gluttony, of disease, and of self-indulgence.

Of course, left to ourselves, we would do nothing but fall deeper into our bondage, like a debtor who can no longer even pay the interest on his loan.

But we are indeed God’s people, the apple of His eye, the creatures made in His very image. Our Lord is also our Savior. Our Master is also our Redeemer. And the great plan for our emancipation is revealed in the historical episode of the children of Israel being led from Egypt, from slavery into freedom.

For God raised one of their own to lead them, to speak His Word to them, to work miracles, and to confound the evil Pharaoh. Moses would be a shepherd to the flock, and a prophetic voice for freedom. And there was also to be a lamb, a sacrifice that would pay their debts and liberate them from slavery. The lamb was without blemish and male, and his blood would signify to every creature, angel and demon alike, that those who consumed the flesh of this lamb were freed from bondage and from death. By the flesh and blood of this lamb, God’s children would set off to the Promised Land, while the angel of death would simply “pass over” them in his work of carrying out God’s wrath.

But this Passover meal was itself a glimpse into a yet-brighter future.

For how many lambs must be sacrificed to pay for the sins of the world? How much blood must be shed? How much flesh must be consumed? How many priests much minister night and day to slaughter enough victims?

These questions would be answered on a very special Passover. On this day, the one and only Lamb is also the one and only Priest. On this day, the all-availing sacrifice is also the almighty God who commands it. The Host of the feast is also the Meal, not to mention the lowliest servant in the house. Instead of being clothed with the skins of animals, our Lord Jesus Christ is wrapped in a towel as he washes those held in bondage to sin in order to free them and cleanse them, making them worthy for the feast.

And on that night in which He was betrayed, the Lord took the Passover Meal and performed a miracle. He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and by the power of the very same Word of God through which the universe came into being, He said: “This is my body.” Thus the Passover bread becomes the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” It is indeed His flesh, given “for the life of the world.” And in eating this flesh, the children of God once more are delivered from the bondage of sin.

After supper, He took the cup, saying “This cup is the new testament in my blood.” Thus the Passover wine becomes the blood shed for “you for the forgiveness of sins.” Our Lord promises “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” And in drinking this blood, the children of God are once more “passed over” by the angel of death and are delivered from the snares of the death and the devil.

This day, this evening, dear brothers and sisters of the Lamb, is indeed a memorial day and a feast to the Lord. In it, we not only call to mind the historical deliverance of God’s people from bondage in the desert to freedom in the land of milk and honey, but we have a Greater Remembrance – a memorial meal in which we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” For His death is not merely a death, it is the sacrifice of the Lamb, the Holy Lamb, the Lamb of God, the Lamb which is God. His death is paradoxically our life.

St. Paul exhorts us to eat this unique feast in a worthy manner. And what makes us worthy, dear friends, is “discerning the body.” In other words, we are worthy when we believe. For what do we believe? We simply believe the Word of God: “This is my body… This is my blood… shed for the forgiveness of sins.” We believe that this miraculous meal is for us, and that in eating His flesh and drinking His blood we have eternal life, that the angel of death has no power over us, that we are clothed not merely by the skins of dead animals, but rather our shame is completely covered and our debt fully paid by the flesh and blood of the sacrifice that has become our feast.

And this feast never ends! Unlike the Old Covenant, in which the elements of the meal pointed to a greater reality, these elements, this bread and this wine, met by God’s Word by God’s command, mandate, and authority – are no mere symbols. They are exactly what our Lord says they are. And though Maundy Thursday comes once a year, just as Good Friday and Easter are annual days of fast and feast to us Christians, the body and the blood of the Lord are given to us “often.”

Following the precedent of the Christians in the Book of Acts, this Holy Meal is central to us as Christians who gather around the Word of God week in and week out, throughout the entire year. We celebrate this New and Greater Passover “often,” as it is offered here at least twice a week.

For this feast is no mere exercise in gluttony or self-indulgence. It is a true indulgence, a forgiveness of sins, a holy meal of holy flesh and holy blood, by which we enjoy the holy gift of a holy life – one that never ends.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us keep the feast by holding fast to our Blessed Lord. He comes to us in Word and in deed – in Word by Holy Scripture – which we study and upon which we meditate and make part of our daily life in this world, but also in deed, in the celebration of this Holy Feast, this meal of meals, this foretaste of the eternal banquet in which the Passover Lamb is none other than the Human and Divine Agnus Dei, the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.”

We have departed Egypt. The blood protects us. The flesh fortifies us for the journey. Now let us follow our New and Greater Moses, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb who is also the Shepherd, who speaks prophetically and guides His flock to an eternal land of Promise, of freedom, of life, and to a feast that has no end. Amen.

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

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