28 March 2013 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.
The true story of a daring rescue in space was told in the 1995 movie Apollo 13. In the face of life-threatening mechanical problems, the flight director on earth rallied his team by saying: “Failure is not an option!”
When something is not open to choice one way or another, we say it is a “mandate” or we might say that something is “mandatory.” It is not an option.
Today is Maundy Thursday, and the title of this holy day is based on the Latin word translated as “mandatory.” And it is a curious name for something as gracious as the Lord’s Supper. But it comes from our Lord’s remarks after He demonstrated in a shocking way what it means to love. In this poignant act, the Lord Jesus, the Almighty God, the King of the Universe, the One who is the Word Made Flesh whose breath called all things into being, stripped off His clothing, knelt on the floor and washed the filthy feet of his disciples, wiping them up with a towel.
Peter was shocked, scandalized even, by this humble act of mercy, and it took words of wisdom from the Word who is Wisdom Himself to get Peter to humbly receive this grace and this surprising act of love.
And here is where the word “mandatory” comes into being. Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.”
A commandment is not a choice, not a preference, not something we do if we feel like it. A commandment is not an option. “Love one another.”
The Lord Jesus performed this act of love after He “rose from supper.” And this was not just any supper, it was the Lord’s Supper, the final Passover in which the True Lamb appeared in space and time, in the flesh, the reality foreshadowed by thousands if not millions of sacrificial beasts whose blood was shed, pointing to this one final and all-availing sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross as the full atonement for our sins. For what the apostles “received from the Lord,” they have delivered to us, “that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body which is for you.” And after giving them, and us, this most infinite and miraculous gift, He made this mandatory for us by commanding us: ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’ “In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood.’” And again, the Lord mandates: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
This command to “take eat” and “take drink” is part and parcel of the command to love one another. For that phrase “one another” is an expression of unity, of community, of communion. It is fellowship, an act of participation. It is the community meal of brothers and sisters who love one another. And this meal is a miraculous meal, for it is, not that is symbolizes or represents, but is the participation in the Lord’s body and blood according to His universe-creating Word. And when it comes to the Word of God, failure is not an option.
The Lord also mandates that we who join in this Holy Communion “examine” ourselves. We are to honestly consider our sins. For when it comes to our spiritual condition on this fallen planet, failure is our only option. We are damaged goods living in a damaged world. And like the crew of the Apollo 13, we are hurling through space on this once good, but now broken, vessel traveling at thousands of miles an hour, reeling out of control for a sure destruction unless we are saved by someone from the outside. And what’s even better, dear brothers and sisters, our Savior comes to us to rescue us. He takes flesh and blood in space and time. He offers His flesh and sheds His blood in space and time. And He continues to come to us in His flesh and blood in space and time – under the forms of the Paschal bread and wine, the meal of the Passover, brought to fullness and completion “for us men and for our salvation!”
And when it comes to this rescue mission, failure is not an option, because our Lord is both almighty and all merciful. He has come to save us. He has come to offer His body and blood. He has come to wash us in baptismal water. He has come to serve, not to be served. And indeed, He has set an example of the conduct that proclaims Him in this fallen world. For in keeping this mandate to love one another, our Lord says emphatically: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This familial love among brothers and sisters in Christ is a witness before the world of the love of Christ Himself. It is an invitation to be washed clean by Jesus, to participate in His saving action on the cross, to come to His table to commune with Him and with one another in this one eternal “memorial day” – for we have been mandated to “keep it as a feast to the Lord” throughout our generations, “as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”
It is not an option. It is a mandate.
But, dear friends, this is no work of drudgery. This is not a command like paying taxes or cleaning our rooms. This is a loving command, an invitation to receive the love of Christ, and then to share that love of Christ, by Christ, through Christ, and to the glory of Christ and of His Father. For like a cup that is filled to the top, it begs to be poured out again, even as Christ was poured out for us as a final and eternal sacrifice, even as His cup is poured into the mouths of His rescued people day after day, week after week, year after year, and century after century, proclaiming the Lord’s death “until He comes.” Indeed “Forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”
Failure is not an option!
The Lord has come into our world to save us, redeem us, love us, recreate us, give us life, and set us at liberty – just as the children of Israel made their exodus from slavery in Egypt, and just as the crew of the Apollo 13 were given the gift of life anew as they were safely brought home and rescued from the jaws of certain death that lurked over every inch of that space-and-time odyssey back to earth.
And this holy blood signifies to the angel of death to pass over. “And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you.”
This promise of rescue, of salvation, of life is given to us, dear friends, for the Passover celebrated to the children of Israel is the foreshadowing of our own saving paschal feast of the Lamb, as His blood marks the doors of our hearts so that death itself is not an option.
And though we fail in our obligations, dear friends, let us take comfort that our Lord never fails. His love never fails. His mercy never fails, for it endures forever! The body and blood of our Lord never fail. Baptism never fails. Absolution never fails. Forgiveness, life, and salvation never fail! And this is all true because for our Lord, our merciful rescuer, the One who calls all things into being, “failure is not an option.” Glory and honor, thanks and praise be to our Paschal Lamb, the One who loves us in His infinite mercy, forever and ever. Amen.
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