Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Sermon for Maundy Thursday

(Transcribed by machine 04/07/2024)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
I’m not entirely sure how long this has been going on, but in recent years it seems like
there’s been this fascination among certain groups of Christians with the observance of
a Passover meal.
And maybe you’ve got friends who do this, and maybe you’ve heard specifically about
having this Seder meal.
Well, the Seder is the traditional meal that begins at the seven-day observance of Passover,
and there’s a very specific way about how it is to be done.
It includes certain things to eat, prepared a certain way, eaten in a certain order, certain
things to be spoken, and most certainly that it would contain this retelling of the story
of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, how Yahweh delivered his people
and then instituted this Passover remembrance. And God’s command was that
the Passover observance would be kept as a statute forever, and that fathers would
be sure to tell their sons that they keep the Passover because of what the
Lord did for them when they came out of Egypt. Now unless you have some kind of
Jewish ancestor, you probably have no experience with how to do a Seder. If
you’re curious, there are plenty of videos on the internet. It also means
that you don’t have really probably any ancestral ties to the Exodus, and the
main reason now really for these Passover meals is to commemorate that
deliverance. And the true Passover meal which God gave to the people of Israel
had some pretty hard and fast rules. If you’re really curious about that, you can
go look at Exodus 12, let’s just say that there were some especially stringent
requirements for the men. And I doubt that any Christian who is observing a
Passover meal today is really too concerned with paying too much attention
to all those rules. And honestly, the purpose of a Christian celebrating this
meal isn’t really all that clear. Now we maybe suppose some do it for some kind
of nostalgic reason that in doing so they are connecting with, perhaps even in
their mind communing with the people of Israel. Perhaps it’s more about some kind
of desire to have a ceremony that means something. A rite or observance that
pleases them, maybe even pleases God. Maybe to feel like somehow they are now
a part of this old covenant. Well, for Moses tonight, we hear about this
covenant. The covenant that God made with the people of Israel after he did lead
him out of Egypt. Yahweh had given them the Ten Commandments, he had given him
all the other laws, the ceremonial laws, the civil laws. He told them how he was
gonna run their enemies out of the land of Canaan and prepare it
for them, and just every which way that he would bless them. And then all the
people answered with one voice and said, all the words that the Lord has spoken
we will do. And this covenant was then sealed in blood, as we heard Moses took
this basin, he threw half of it against the altar, he threw half of it against
the people. So again they said, all the Lord has spoken we will do and we will
be obedient. Except they didn’t, and they weren’t. And within a period of probably
about 40 to 50 days, they were already fashioning themselves a golden calf to
be the God of their own choosing. And their disobedience would go on and on and
on. They would break the covenant and reject this covenant given them by the
one true God time and time again. But the Lord would bring a new covenant, in fact,
a New Testament, one in which he had prepared before the foundation of the
world. And it would be a cure for sin, and it would be the death of death itself. As
with other covenants, it would be sealed in blood, for without the shedding
of blood there can be no real forgiveness. In the Garden of Eden, the
Lord shed blood the first time when he killed the animals, skinned them, and then
took it and covered Adam and Eve in their nakedness and their shame and
their sin. He established the blood covenant of circumcision with Abram, and
of course, he saved the firstborn of Israel by the blood of the Passover lamb.
And so now, almost 1,500 years after that Passover in Egypt, our Lord Jesus Christ
well, he was eager to eat this Passover meal with his disciples, for he knows his
hour is coming, his hour of betrayal is near. And so Jesus is outside Jerusalem
down in Bethany with his disciples, and he sends two, Peter and John, he
sends them into the city to make sure everything is ready. He gives them some
very specific instructions because he has special plans for this Passover, and he
knows, Judas knows, this is probably a familiar place that they’ve been. Judas
knows, and Jesus doesn’t want this betrayal to be premature. So Peter and
John, they carry out Jesus’ instructions. They then go to the temple to have the
Passover lamb sacrificed. They join with Jesus and the others, and they go to the
upper room that has been prepared for them. And so the Passover meal begins. The
first cup, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, the Passover roasted lamb. Everything
is in order, but something is different tonight. And suddenly, Jesus announces
this coming betrayal. It will be one who is eating with me, someone who is sharing
this most intimate of meals with him. Yeah, the disciples were obviously stunned,
and in this moment each questioned himself, could it be me? For surely in
their simple hearts they knew every one of them, each one of them, was capable of
deceit. But Jesus doesn’t divulge the traitor. Not yet. Instead, Jesus continues
with the meal, but once it starts to reach its conclusion, he does something
completely new. He takes the bread, he speaks a blessing over it, he breaks it,
he gives it to them saying take this is my body he takes the cup most likely the
third and final cup of the Passover he blesses it also he passes it to them and
he says this is my blood of the Testament which is poured out for many
and then signaling that this Passover meal is the last that he will share with
them Jesus says I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day
when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Jesus here is proclaiming his own
death in the institution of this supper. We don’t know the exact words of
blessing that he spoke, and to be sure, Mark’s account omits many of the words
that we hear in the Gospels of Matthew and in Luke, but we can be sure that the
disciples understood what was happening, what was happening in the supper. It is
the Last Supper. It is the last Passover to be observed. For Jesus establishes this
New Testament in His very blood. In this Testament, this isn’t merely a contract,
something to be entered into or gone out of as the situation or as feelings
dictate. This is a testament that would be enacted upon the death of Christ. It
is immutable. It is written in blood. And it is Jesus’ will that they and we
receive the benefits of his death. And all he asks of us is that we believe
what he says. But that often proves hard to do, for at times we doubt what his
words mean. Our sinful human hearts lead our brains to think too much. Jesus tells
us, this is my body and this is my blood. But we ask what the meaning of is, is.
Maybe Jesus really meant this bread, it represents my body and this fruit of
the vine, it represents my blood. Or we doubt because we just don’t understand
how this is physically possible, how Jesus can be simultaneously with the
Father in heaven and yet right there on that altar. Or maybe we hear Jesus say
this do in remembrance of me.” We think that’s all we have to do, just remember
the supper. You don’t actually have to partake of it, but these words don’t
relegate this supper to a mere memorial meal, or they don’t even make it optional.
For in remembering him, we remember his suffering and death on the cross. Luther
wrote, his chief desire is that we shall not forget him, that we have the memory
of his passion and not forget how he died for us upon the cross and rose
again from the dead. The supper wasn’t instituted as a mere observance so that
Christ might be honored, for he doesn’t need our praise. It is because we need
his forgiveness. We need this supper so we should cherish it for its benefits. Or
somehow we don’t believe his words shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. I
How can there be forgiveness in these physical elements of bread and wine?
And yes, if we separate the two from one another, the words and the elements, they certainly
are not efficacious, but taken together, they are the means of grace in this supper.
And it is not a symbolic act, but it gives us a true remission of sin.
So we shouldn’t doubt Jesus’ words, but Satan, Satan’s always there, he’s always on our shoulder
waiting and ready to sow the seeds of doubt, much like he did with Eve, he’s
there to say to us, did God actually say? Yes, he actually said it. But Christ’s lips
say and speak, so it is. Perhaps, maybe for me most distressing, is we don’t think
we’re worthy of the body and blood of Christ. We think our sin is too great,
or we are just too weak to receive him. Well, here’s a newsflash. It is just that
these times that we truly need to be fed and nourished by him. Worthiness depends
on faith in the words, not our feelings. From the small catechism we hear, that
person is truly worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words, given and
shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. So thanks be to God that the grace he
gives us in his Holy Supper is not contingent on us, it’s not dependent on
our worthiness, for none of us are truly worthy based on our own merits. Or maybe
last, some see the practice of examination, maybe even pastoral counsel,
before the supper as exclusion rather than inclusion. But we have to remember
that joining together in this supper, we are uniting with one another in a
confession. Christ surely didn’t institute the supper as a means of
disagreement or conflict. Again, Luther wrote, he gave it to us to bring about
unity of faith, of doctrine, and of life. And tonight we hear the words of Apostle
Paul who said that all who do partake of the bread, they are one body, and they are
all participants in the body of Christ. So we are made one by the bread. And this
isn’t symbolic, for Paul didn’t say it that way. We become one body with Christ
him with one another by partaking of this supper. So dear Christians, doubt
not. Take Jesus at his word, believe his words. He suffered for you. His body and
blood is there given and shed for you. The forgiveness of sins is for you. The
free gift of life is for you. We can do nothing other than believe his words, for
we have nothing to give him. The cup that we take, it’s not one of offering, it is
one of salvation. Luther said about this, all we can render is salutary. Christ
gives us everything. Although we confess that he ascended into heaven and sits at
the right hand of the Father, we don’t question how it is that he’s present
here with us also. We simply trust what Jesus says and that he means what he
says. And there’s a hymn that reminds us of this. Search not how this takes place,
this wondrous mystery. God can accomplish vastly more than what we think can be.
For these words aren’t the words of a mortal man. They are the words of God. In
a few minutes, you will hear me speak the words of institution, the verba that was
given to us. They’re not my words. Pastor Wolf Miller, Pastor LeBlanc and I, we’re
not reading something or just repeating something printed in a book. They are
Jesus’ own words, and we pastors have we’ve given our word and we’ve given a
vow that we will deliver these words to you. For those words in and of themselves
deliver the promise of forgiveness and life. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we
tonight have been brought to this holy mountain that we might partake in the
fellowship of this feast that he has prepared before us. We don’t need a
Passover meal of our own. We shouldn’t even desire one, for we have been given
something much, much better. The Passover of the Old Covenant was fulfilled by the
true Passover Lamb of the New Testament, Jesus Christ. But like our forebearers, we
do have an obligation to teach. We must teach about the Lord’s Supper in the
same way our forefathers in faith taught about the salvation which the Lord gave
them in the Passover, how he delivered them from slavery, how he now delivers
us from the slavery of death and of sin. And this must be our confession about the
supper, that it is the true body and blood of Christ given for the
forgiveness of sins to everlasting life. No, we don’t. We don’t understand how
plain bread and wine and the supper is the true body and blood of Christ. No
more than we understand how plain water with the word gives us new life, or how
the word comes into our ears and works faith in our hearts. No, science and men
will never be able to explain these things, for they are the things of the
kingdom of God. But he has given us his word, and his word is what we place our
trust and our hope in. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given faith to
believe in him, in faith, and to receive the gifts which Christ freely gives. Amen.
Now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your
minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.