Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sermon: Maundy Thursday – 2017

13 April 2017

Text: 1 Cor 11:23-32

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There wasn’t much reason to expect anything extraordinary.  Everyone knew how the meal was going to work.  It was a traditional ritual that the disciples had done every year of their lives.  It was scripted.  The leader of the meal said prayers, and the attendees replied with responses and “amens.” 

There was bread and wine.  There was a roasted lamb.  There were bitter herbs.

These things took place to recall the ancient history of Israel’s exodus from slavery under Pharaoh to freedom in the Promised Land.  The holy meal commemorated the time when the blood of the lamb delivered the children of Israel from death, as the angel passed them over. 

Although this meal was a holiday tradition, it was repeated so often that much of its meaning was probably lost amid thoughts about the other people gathered around the table, as well as mundane thoughts, like, “Did we buy enough wine?”, “Was the lamb overcooked?” and “Will someone drink too much and make  fool of himself this year?”

And everyone looked forward to this feast.  It was a time for family, fun, and friends.  And it was so regular that everyone was comfortable with his part in the drama.

And then came this particular Passover meal.

Unbeknownst to the disciples, every Passover they had ever attended, and every Passover their ancestors had taken part in, every Passover ever celebrated on the planet for some fifteen centuries was leading up to this one.

For the fullness of time had come.  The “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world” has taken His place at the table to be eaten, the bread that is His body, the wine that is His blood, He, the priest and the offering, He, the host and the guest, He the Master and the servant, He, the new and greater Moses, the true Promised Land, and the One who delivers the world from its slavery to sin and leads all who join Him and this table – all who are washed, all who believe – to everlasting life, to pure and perfect righteousness, to eternal communion with God.

What seemed so ordinary and common has become extraordinary and holy: bread that becomes His body, wine that becomes His blood, Words spoken by a man that bear within them the very power of God Himself.

For the God who created the universe in six days by means of His Word has delivered us to a new day, a new week of creation even, by means of the word of the Word Made Flesh, words of institution that the apostles themselves would speak as called and ordained servants of the Word over bread and wine, and the miracle of the Lord’s presence continues – through them, through us, through those who will come after us, and even unto the Lord’s return.

And indeed, as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

The Lord Jesus also did something shocking and unexpected that had never been done in the ordinary ritual before: He stripped down and wrapped Himself with a towel.  He washed the feet of each one present as if He were a lowly slave.  He explained that this cleansing with water was necessary in order to have a share with Him.  And having washed them unto their regeneration, our Lord quizzed them: “Do you understand what I have done for you?”  Yes indeed.  He washed us – we did not cleanse ourselves.  He made us worthy – we did not make ourselves fit to be in His presence.  He used water and His Word to act upon us physically to prepare us to receive the holy feast that He had planned for us upon the table of the altar.

He did this out of love, and He bade us to love one another.  It is not an option, but a command, a mandate, something that is as much a part of Christianity as the cross itself.  “By this,” says our Lord, “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The time of instruction for the disciples was coming to a close.  Our Lord was preparing them to become apostles, to be sent out among all the people of the world, to wash them with water, to repeat His Word, to announce His coming, and to share this ongoing meal with all who have been washed in His name.

For this meal, this last Passover, this first Eucharist, was the Lord’s last will and testament: the testament of His blood, the blood shed upon the cross, the blood of the Lamb without blemish.  Jesus was giving to them the benefits of His sacrificial death, and commanding them, “This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” – bringing Himself closer to them than they ever thought possible, even sharing in a mysterious bodily communion that continues in the church – we who are called “the body of Christ” to this present day.

For in this ritualized meal that seems so ordinary and scripted, with its prayers and its “amens,” with its bread and wine, with our wandering minds and the ordinariness of it all, is something truly extraordinary: the Lamb who was roasted, the burnt offering of the Son upon the cross, whose offering was a sweet aroma in the nostrils of the Lord, a sacrifice willingly offered out of love and a desire to save and redeem, that Lamb is with us, dear friends.  Not as a carcass of meat, but as a resurrected body given to you to eat and to drink unto salvation and everlasting life.

Our Lord’s Supper is at the same time ordinary and extraordinary.  For it is bread and wine and the same prayers and ritual we do every week, and nevertheless, our Lord is with us each and every time, the Shepherd feeding the Sheep, the Lamb whose blood sets us free, giving us His body and blood, leading us to eternal life.  Take eat!  Take drink!  Amen.

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

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