mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is a portion of the Gospel lesson just
read, from St. Mark, chapter 14.
Contemplation. Repentance. It’s part and parcel of the entire Christian life,
of course, but it’s what the Lenten season is particularly focused upon. Never
more so than now, as we draw closer to observing the suffering and death of our
Lord and Savior. His torment begins in earnest on this night—the night in
which He was betrayed. We, like the disciples, have gathered here to be with
we gather not merely to share the Passover meal with Him, but also to reflect
upon His suffering, death, and resurrection; to contemplate our sinful
contributions to those things being necessary for our salvation; and to repent
of both our sins and our sinfulness. But it’s not entirely a “downer” for us.
We also get to reflect upon the marvelous gift He has given us in the wonderful
meal we call The Lord’s Supper, and for those of us properly prepared and
confessing it, to receive the gifts of His body and blood for the forgiveness
of our sins.
most people think of receiving gifts, their minds might turn to their
birthdays, or perhaps to Christmas. Even in the Church, we probably think of
gifts more at Christmas time than during the Lent and Easter season. After
all, it was at Christmas that the Lord sent the gift of His Son, God made man
for us, all wrapped up in the squawking package of the infant who was Himself
wrapped up in swaddling clothes.
Everything in the Christian Church, though, is about gifts—gracious
gifts to the undeserving. Jesus’ incarnation is just the first ribbon on that
greatest of all gifts we call salvation.
keeps giving and giving to us throughout history, and this night is no different.
Maundy Thursday is about gifts and giving just as much as Jesus’ birth. You
wouldn’t think that Jesus would be in much of a giving mood, knowing what was
coming, would you? After all, later this night He will be betrayed into the
hands of sinners. In just a few short hours He will agonize and pour forth
sweat like drops of blood over what is to come. He will pray in the Garden of Gethsemane that these torments and agonies might pass Him by. With all of this
going on, how could Jesus be thinking about gifts and giving?
knew what was to come: Judas would betray Him. After a fleeting moment of
bravado, each and every one of His disciples would abandon Him to the soldiers
and the angry mob sent to arrest Him. And Peter would deny Him three times.
Yes, Jesus knew His disciples well. He still knows them—you and me—all too
yes—He knows you and your thoughts and plans and inclinations far more than you
would like to think. At least your failings and sins—no matter how frequent or
atrocious they are—aren’t going to find their way onto the pages of Holy
Scripture. How would you like your betrayals recorded and publicly read, over
and over, year after year, so that much of humanity knows how you’d sell Jesus
out? How would you squirm, hearing your denials of Him not only predicted, but
signaled loudly by a crowing rooster? When you desert Christ because the
pressure of being associated with Him is too great for you to handle, to what secret
Upper Room do you flee?
and every day—with your words and with your actions—you betray; you deny; you
abandon this One who has always remained faithful to you, and to His Father.
we look at this gospel text from St. Mark’s account, our fickleness and
similarity to those 12 disciples becomes quite clear. Jesus tells the
disciples that one of them will betray Him. What do they all say? “Surely not
I, Lord?” Were they simply voicing these concerns to receive the assurance that
they weren’t the one Jesus was speaking of? Or, did each of them know that he,
like each of us, really had it within him to carry out such an evil,
rejection of the possibility that he would deny Jesus is similarly selfish. He
doesn’t pray, “Lord, forbid this in your mercy!” but rather Peter puffs
out his chest and points to his own strength. He would move himself to avoid
sin, instead of trusting in those words he knew, “Lead us not into
is often our own response to God’s Law, too. We don’t really want to
acknowledge our weaknesses, repent of our sins, and admit our guilt.
far more worldly and sophisticated to try to deny it, get around it somehow,
blame our parents or society or our boss or some other group or event. We see
people do it all around us, and many in the public eye have elevated it almost
to an art form. But, since the Fall, this is who we are as human beings:
Guilty, but constantly trying to weasel our way out of it. Cockroaches
scurrying for cover when the light of truth casts its bright, unblinking beam
brings us back to the gifts. Why does God give us gifts at all, especially the
incredible gift of His Son? Why would God send His Son into our world, into our
flesh, to be our Savior? Why would He care? It’s a simple answer. Since God
is pure and loving and generous, it is God’s very nature to give.
an early church father, put it this way: “God created man in order that He
might have someone upon whom to bestow His blessings,” (St. Irenaeus; Vers. Haer. IV.14.4).
must be infinitely painful, then, for our heavenly Father to see us, His
children, denying and refusing the gifts He has given, and wants to give us
still. What sort of pain must Jesus Himself have felt, knowing that a close
associate would sell His life for the price of a crummy piece of real estate?
it must have hurt Him, that the one who had seen so many miracles, been pulled
from drowning in the stormy sea, and had witnessed the glory and wonder of the
Transfiguration would deny even knowing Him? That all His dear friends would
desert Him and flee? His human nature, united as it was with the all-knowing
divine, was undoubtedly in terrible torment over all these thoughts.
His divine love would not leave them in despair. He had to do something to strengthen
them in their time of need. And He also gives to us as we struggle with sin and
death every day of our lives. We are not left alone to struggle and fail.
live, of course, in a culture that seems to think almost anything can be solved
with self-help techniques, if only we earnestly and consistently apply them. We’re
told by numerous books and self-proclaimed experts that you can diet and
exercise and read and work and invest your way to becoming whatever you want,
even knocking off cancer along the way.
a complicated tax return? Just punch in a few numbers into our software, and
it’s done. Want to build your own house or even an airplane? Use our
simple-to-follow diagrams. Check yourself out at the store, pump your own gas,
do your own banking. Given enough time and the right information, it seems we
can deal with almost anything.
where can you turn when you confront a challenge you can’t
handle yourself? Especially one in which you have no control, no influence, no
hope to work your way out of? A predicament in which the stakes are not just
your health or wealth or wisdom, but you’re concerned about your very life—and
for all eternity?! That’s what you face in sin and death.
you look at it that way, you may begin to understand just how wondrous a
gift it is that Jesus has given to us in his Holy Supper and the other means of
see, the Church can’t comfort a hurting, despairing sinner with doctrine. We
can’t use the Bible as a happy pill. You don’t just throw some catchy verses
at someone, and tell them all of their problems—present and eternal—will magically
disappear. We use the Scriptures as our source of truth, strength, and life,
certainly. But it’s not simply a self-help manual for pleasant, pious, plentiful
what makes the difference? The difference is Jesus Himself. Jesus does not
try to comfort or console or strengthen His disciples that night with pithy
sayings and quick answers. He gave them the only things that could heal their
pain, and take away their sin: He gave them His Word, and He gave them Himself.
those two things are really one thing, completely and perfectly aligned: The
Word made flesh is still the Word, the perfect will and truth of God, shown to
us and given to the world.
are the words we spoke? “Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down
from heaven…” The Christian faith isn’t about a document or a doctrine; it
is about a Person: Jesus of Nazareth, the eternally-begotten, spirit-conceived,
virgin-born Son of God. A flesh and blood God, sent to you to save your life.
That is what the Lord’s Supper is all about.
is also why Lutherans consider the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament so
important. Our faith is not based on simply remembering and believing certain
events happened long ago. Faith is a reality, given and created in us in the
here-and-now. Given and created through the Word alone, by Jesus Himself,
given to us in Word and Sacrament by the Holy Spirit.
the clearest place in all of Scripture where we see that is in the words of
institution. There, we learn that Jesus’ body and blood are given for you,
for the forgiveness of sins.
of these words for a moment. Jesus gives you Himself. He gives you Himself
for the forgiveness of your sins. As you kneel at the rail and receive Him
under the bread and wine, think of all of the blessings that He gives to you in
that act: Communion with Christ. Forgiveness of all your sins. Life.
Salvation. Communion with the whole Christian Church, both in heaven and
the Lord’s Supper heaven and earth are joined together, and the barrier of the temple
curtain between God and man is torn wide open. You become one with God and
with all of the saints who have gone before. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the
prophets, the apostles and martyrs, and the whole heavenly host. Those are not
just words on a page or in your mouth. That is your new reality, here in time,
and there in eternity.
can anyone stay away from such a blessed gift? Many feel that they must become
pure before they can receive communion. Martin Luther addresses this notion in
the Large Catechism:
stand the gracious and lovely words, “This is my body, given for you,” “This is
my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, I have
said, are not preached to wood or stone but to you and me; otherwise Christ
might just as well have kept quiet and not instituted a sacrament. Ponder,
then, and include yourself personally in the “you,” so that [Jesus] may not
speak to you in vain.
this sacrament he offers us all the treasure he brought from heaven for us, to
which he most graciously invites us in other places, as when he says in Matthew
11: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will refresh you.”
it is a sin and a shame that, when he tenderly and faithfully summons and
exhorts us to our highest and greatest good, we act so distantly toward it,
neglecting it so long that we grow quite cold and callous and lose all desire
and love for it. We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from
which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids
and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body
has benefited also.”
Testament lesson told of how after the sacrifice the priest was to turn to the
people and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice over them to seal the covenant.
It talked about Moses and the leaders of Israel eating and drinking with God.
Take comfort that the final sacrifice has already been made once and for all
for you on Calvary, and Christ now offers you His body and blood to seal you in
that forgiveness of sins.
great joy, too, that you not only eat and drink in the presence of God like
Moses and those elders of Israel, but also that His presence dwells in you
through that eating and drinking. Here at this altar, we become one with God.
Joined to Him in the Supper, you now also journey with Christ to Calvary, so that you may likewise journey with Him to heaven at the end of your time here
you who believe and confess what Jesus taught: Feast on the body and blood of
our Lord for your forgiveness and salvation. His table is set, and His banquet
is ready. Amen.