Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sermon -- Maundy Thursday (March 24, 2016)



In the name + of Jesus.

     The greatest event in Israel's history was marked by a feast.  The Lord had promised the deliverance of his people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land.  But before the Lord's deliverance, he had afflicted the nation of Egypt with ten distinct plagues, each plague mocking Egypt's gods and proving their impotence.  The tenth and final plague was the plague on the firstborn.  Every firstborn male in Egypt—whether man or animal—would be slain by the Lord in one night.  The Lord, however, gave Israel deliverance from death.  He commanded them to slaughter a flawless lamb.  Its blood was to be put on their doorposts.  When the angel of the Lord saw the blood of the lamb, he would pass over their homes, and no death would come upon them.
     That night, the angel went throughout Egypt.  Every home which was not marked by the blood of the lamb was filled with death, with shrieks of grief, and with mourning.  At that very moment, the people of Israel were all gathered together in familial harmony, and they were feasting.  They were not ignorant of what was going on in the Egyptian homes.  Nevertheless, their homes were filled with peace, with comfort, and with festal joy.
     The Israelites commemorated that deliverance annually.  They continued to slaughter lambs.  They continued to gather in familial harmony.  They continued to proclaim the Lord's deliverance with a feast.
     Prior to the Lord's deliverance, God had spoken to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD.  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.” (Exodus 6:2-3)  That's not to say that Abraham did not know who the Lord was.  It means that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not witness the Lord's salvation.  At the Passover, the Lord revealed himself to Israel as the God who saves.  At every successive Passover, the Israelites continued to proclaim the LORD as the Savior-God.  The greatest event in Israel's history was marked with a feast.
     Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover together on the night he was betrayed, which began the series of events leading to his crucifixion.  Once again, the Lord was about to reveal himself as the God who saves.  However, the enemy to be destroyed was not a powerful army of men and horses and chariots.  The enemies to be destroyed were sin, death, and the devil.  Like a Passover lamb, Jesus would be slain and pour out his blood.  That blood, which pays for our sins, also marks us and delivers us from death.  Jesus would crush the devil so that he could no longer taunt us over sins we have done or torment us over the judgment we deserve.  The Lord Jesus Christ was about to go forth and put an end to these enemies once and for all.  Just as it was with Israel, so it is with us: We celebrate a victory we did nothing to win.
     And as it was with Israel, so it is with us: The greatest event in the history of the Church is celebrated with a feast.  St. Paul reminds us, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)  It is in this feast that Jesus reveals himself as the Lord, the Savior-God.  The Lord's Supper, upon which our Lord summons us to feast, is no re-enactment.  This is not a Passion play or a Christmas pageant.  We are not pretending or memorializing anything.  What Jesus gave into death to pay for our sins he gives to us in the feast for the forgiveness of our sins.  Thus, we proclaim the Lord's death.  Jesus himself says so.
     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.  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.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)  
     Jesus does not give us counterfeit comfort.  He does not supply his forgiveness in theory.  That would reduce God's promises to slogans and buzzwords.  In the face of death, such words are ultimately useless.  We suffer from true and real guilt.  There is nothing pretend about our sins.  We may paste on a happy face, but we often are hiding real shame and painful regret.  Especially at the grave, there is no play-acting.  Even the best eulogies do not reverse death or remove guilt and shame.  Therefore, the Lord took a true, real body because we bear in our bodies true, real sins.  Jesus took our sins into his body in order to suffer a true and real death for them.  The Lord took on flesh so that it could be nailed to a cross and laid in a tomb.  By his death, Jesus removed our sins from us and left them for dead in his grave.  By his resurrection, Jesus destroyed death.  We have a living Savior who proclaims a true real forgiveness of our sins and a real and everlasting life to all who believe.  Thus, we proclaim and celebrate his death, for that is where the payment for sins has been made.
     Just as Jesus assumed a real body to bring us the forgiveness of our sins, so he gives us his true body and blood in the Lord's Supper for the forgiveness of our sins.  He is the Lord—the Savior-God who comes to us in a real, tangible way to personally deliver the benefits of his sufferings and death to us.  That is why, when the Church gathers, we do not put on Passion plays or show movies.  They may tell a story.  They may tug on emotions.  But Jesus has given us something better and something real.  He summons us to the feast where Jesus personally gives us the body and blood which take away sin, which overcome Satan, and with bring victory over the grave.  In the feast of the Lamb, we don't ponder Jesus' love and salvation; we ingest it.
     That is why “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)  This supper delivers everything that Jesus won for you—forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The body which bore our sins is given to you to eat.  The blood, which was shed as the atoning sacrifice, is given to you to drink.  When we eat and drink, we participate in the body and blood of Christ and receive his salvation.  When we eat and drink, we consume our Lord who is pleased to dwell in us and conform our lives to his.  This, then, is also the death of our sin and the newness of life in Christ.  For here, we are united to Jesus.  We proclaim his death, and we partake of its benefits.
     As it was with Israel at the Passover, so it is with us: We are not ignorant of what is going on the world around us.  We know there is death.  We see the brokenness of this world—revealed in violent storms and viruses.  We notice the wickedness of men—whether in petty squabbles or in mass destruction.  But in the midst of all of it, we have a Savior-God who delivers us from evil and preserves us in his kingdom.  Our Lord tells us not to fear.  Instead, he prepares a feast.  He has us gather in familial harmony as the family of God.  He summons us to eat and to drink.  We partake of the cup and feast on the Lamb.  We are delivered from sin, death, and the devil.  In the midst of death and pain and sorrow, we celebrate with joy.  We feast with our Savior-God.  We proclaim his death, and we receive his mercy.

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

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