Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sermon: Maundy Thursday – 2011

21 April 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you.”

Our Lord has given us a new commandment, a new mandate – which is why this day is known as Maundy Thursday. Love is mandatory. It isn’t an option. It isn’t an add-on. It isn’t a warm fuzzy feeling. It isn’t only for our family, friends, and those who love us. We are to love our enemies, love our neighbors as ourselves, and love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We are to love to the point of laying down our lives. We are to love as Jesus loved, taking on the role of a lowly foot-washing slave.

In our sinful nature, we don’t even know what love is. We throw the term around in vain. We love TV shows, we love the local team, we love ice cream. We sometimes substitute “lust” for love and confuse hormones, impulses, and temptations for this new commandment of Jesus.

And so, our Lord and Savior also acts as our teacher. We need to be taught not only how to love, but what love is itself: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it to His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.”

There is love, dear friends. God Himself, the Creator, the King of the universe, having taken the form of a man, acting as a lowly slave, sloshing the filth off of the feet of the men who will be abandoning Him to His cross in just a few hours. There is Love. And He says: “I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you.”

Love is a giving of the self, an emptying of the self, a sacrifice of the self – all for the sake of the beloved. And it is done without thought of reward. There is Love.

Our Lord did some other extraordinary things on the night in which He taught us what love means. He took bread. He gave thanks. He said: “This is My body, given for you.” He took a cup after supper. He said: “This cup is the new testament in My blood.” He said this was for the forgiveness of sins. He said: “This do in remembrance of Me.” He gave His body and blood to His beloved, and to all of us. He also allowed Himself to be betrayed, arrested, accused, tortured, condemned, and crucified.

There is Love.

And as the Good Teacher, He teaches not merely with words but with deeds. For His Word is God’s Word, and God’s Word has the power to create reality. When our Lord says: “This is My body… This is My blood… for the forgiveness of sins… This do…”, He makes that miracle happen.

For, dear friends, it was on Maundy Thursday that the Lord gave us His Holy Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar. It is a sacrament because it is a mystery. It is given at the altar because our Lord’s flesh and blood is the one all availing sacrifice for the sins of the world, offered as a pure oblation to the Father out of love for both us and the Father. Our Lord’s death on the cross is a sin offering, and what’s more, it is a love offering. For no man has greater love than this, that He would lay down His life for His friends. And our Lord even offers Himself to His enemies, His betrayer, His denier, His cowardly disciples, His attackers, His executioners, and His countrymen who acted as the lynch mob. In fact, our Lord is the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.

There is love.

That kind of love is indeed a mystery, a sacrament. No-one can explain it, make it make sense, or appeal to reason for an explanation. No-one can rationalize love or put it in intellectual terms. Our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross was indeed irrational and unexplainable – even as it is the greatest act of love in the history of the universe.

Dear brothers and sisters, love is not something we can choose to do or choose not to do. It is indeed a mandate. It is why we have been created. And we lost the very presence of God that empowered us to love when we chose the love of the lie over the love of our Creator back in the Garden of Eden. That Garden brought us death and alienation from God. But in another Garden, on the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord prepared to receive our death and our alienation from God. Our Lord loves us enough to take the blows we have earned, to absorb them in our place, to suffer in our place, to die in our place.

There is love.

Dear friends, our Lord commands us to do something we cannot do in our sinful state. But He gives us forgiveness, an example to follow, a second chance. He gives us life and salvation and hope. He gives us the bread of His body and the wine of His blood, miraculously present in the mystery of love known as Holy Communion. He washes us body and soul with baptismal water, taking the humble estate of a servant.

Our Lord does not just give us the mandate. Indeed, He only asks of us what He has given us first: love. There is love: on His cross, upon His altar, at His font, in His Word, implanted in His people: “just as I have loved you.” There is love. Amen.

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

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