Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sermon -- Maundy Thursday (April 13, 2017)

1 CORINTHIANS 11:23-28

...And Receive A Special 
Assurance Of Your Forgiveness

In the name + of Jesus.

          For centuries, Israelite families celebrated the Passover festival.  It was an annual reminder of the Lord's deliverance from their bondage in Egypt.  Though the Lord commanded Pharaoh to let the Israelite nation depart from his land, Pharaoh did not fear or honor the Lord.
          Therefore, the Lord sent numerous plagues to demonstrate to Pharaoh just how powerless he was.  Still, Pharaoh stubbornly refused to hear the word of the Lord.  Finally, the last plague was the plague on the firstborn.  Every firstborn in Egypt would be put to death, whether man or animal.  The Lord, however, provided deliverance for Israel.  Each household was to take a lamb and slaughter it.  The blood of the lamb would be smeared on their door posts.  And when the angel of death saw the blood, he would pass over those Israelite homes.
     At midnight, the angel went throughout Egypt, putting to death each firstborn.  While the Egyptian homes were filled with death and grief, the Israelite homes were filled with feasting and joy.  The Israelite families feasted on the lamb which was slain for their deliverance.  The blood of the lamb marked their homes and saved them.  The Lord delivered Israel from death and from bondage.
     That ceremony was to be repeated annually to remind Israel of the Lord's deliverance.  It was, however, just a reminder.  The angel did not annually come to put anyone to death.  Lazy or negligent Israelites were not in danger of an untimely grave if they did not celebrate the Passover.  Still, to forsake the Passover was to despise God's salvation.  Those who did not participate did not care that the Lord had delivered them.  And those who despised God's deliverance in the past would also not look forward to the Lamb of God whose bloody sacrifice would once and for all deliver man from death and slavery.
     Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, celebrated the Passover with his disciples.  On that night, Jesus did not merely celebrate the Lord's deliverance of the past.  Jesus re-purposed this feast to be a celebration of the Lord's everlasting deliverance from sin and death.  Unlike the Old Testament Passover celebrations which recalled God's deliverance, this New Testament in Jesus' blood would actually bestow God's deliverance to all who partake in the feast.
     Therefore, this new testament in Jesus' blood has always been a central feature in Christian worship.  When St. Paul established a new congregation in Corinth, he wasted no time in telling these new Christians how the Lord bestows forgiveness upon the penitent.  Paul wrote, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, 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.  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)  The Lord's Supper is not merely to remember Jesus' meal with his disciples.  It is a proclamation of his sacrificial death.  And it is more.  This feast gives the benefits of Jesus' sufferings and death.  The body and blood which were given into death for sinners is given to sinners for the forgiveness of their sins.
     At the first Passover, the Israelites were feasting while death was going on all around them.  It was the blood of the slain lamb which had delivered them from death.  Death also surrounds us.  People go about their lives—eating and drinking, working and playing, talking about weather, politics, and sports.  Some are morally decent; some are crooked and crude.  But if the blood of the Lamb does not mark them, death will seize them and it will not let them go.  If one is not marked by the blood of the Lamb, he is marked by sin and, therefore, marked for damnation.  If a man does not crave this salvation, it is because his sins don't grieve him.  If he does not hunger for this feast, it is because he is satisfied to feed on worldly goods.  And if he does not yearn for Jesus' gifts, he will perish without them.
     That is why St. Paul urges us not to take this sacrament lightly.  He writes, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28)  You do not need to worry if people in the world don't crave this sacrament.  You can only answer for yourself.  Therefore we are right to examine ourselves; for, we have not attained perfection either.  We are still drawn to selfish pleasures.  We dedicate our efforts to gaining more money and we dedicate that money to ourselves.  In order to be accepted by worldly people, we learn to accept worldly attitudes and opinions.  We still crave the wrong things.  There is no salvation in these.  Examine yourselves, and recognize that sin still dwells in you.  When you recognize your guilt, repent.  Forsake your sins; for you cannot feast both on God's holy things and on wickedness.  And when you grieve over your sin, repent and turn to Jesus for a special assurance of your forgiveness.  Flee to this altar where those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied.  That is how you worthily receive it.
     Repent and turn to Jesus for a special assurance of your forgiveness.  The Lord Jesus does not present his forgiveness to you by your imagination.  Just as Jesus submitted his flesh and blood into a real death for your sins, so Jesus gives you his true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  He does not summon you to this altar for the sake of reenactment.  This is not a Passion Play.  The words of institution proclaim what Jesus gives you: “This is my body, which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25)  Here is the body and blood of Jesus.  It was given into death to pay for your sins.  It is given to you for the forgiveness of sins.  The body which bore your guilt now alleviates you of all guilt.  The blood which was shed for your iniquity now marks you so that death and judgment pass over you.  These blessings are not merely remembered; they are given.  Just as your sins are real, so Jesus here gives you real forgiveness.  Just as death is real, so Jesus here gives you real deliverance from a cursed death to life everlasting.  Repent and turn to Jesus for a special assurance of your forgiveness.
     The Israelites joined together with a feast to remember that the Lord had delivered his people from death and bondage.  The Church meets regularly to feast in order to continue to receive the Lord's mercy and salvation.  While the world around us is dying, God's people gather together for the food that gives eternal life.  We do this in remembrance of Jesus.  We remember that our Lord was crucified and risen and that he gives us his crucified and risen body and blood for our forgiveness.  And we rejoice that our Lord remembers us.  He gives us real forgiveness through real elements so that we can be assured that God's mercy, love, and grace are really ours.

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

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