Thursday, April 9, 2020

Sermon -- Maundy Thursday (April 9, 2002)



In the name + of Jesus.

      Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, celebrated the Passover with his disciples.  The Passover is the festival of the Lord's great act of salvation in the Old Testament.  God's covenant people were set free from slavery and oppression.  He granted them a great victory over their foes—a victory in which Israel did nothing.  The Lord fought for them.  Israel simply feasted and rejoiced as the recipients of God's gracious work.
     The Passover, in particular, celebrated God's sparing the people of Israel from the death which was to come upon all of Egypt.  The Lord had told them, “I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.  The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are.  And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:12-13)  By their annual celebration of the Lord's deliverance, they learned that deliverance from death came by the blood of the lamb.  Without a body and blood sacrifice, death was certain.  With it, there was life.
     God's deliverance has always been linked to a body and blood sacrifice.  The first came when the Lord put animals to death so that Adam and Eve could have their shameful nakedness covered by the skins of these animals.  The first recorded act of public worship was Abel's body and blood sacrifice from the flock.  Then there was Noah's thank offering after he left the ark, Abraham's offering of a ram substituted for Isaac, and all the offerings made according to the Law of Moses.  Gallons of blood were spilled over the years as lambs and bulls were turned to smoke on altars.  Upon every offering presented, the worshiper placed his hands to indicate: “This one bears my guilt.”  Over every unblemished animal, the worshiper confessed: “This one dies for me.”  Without a body and blood sacrifice, there is no life.
     Without a doubt, the Bible is a very bloody book.  It might even appear that our Lord is savage in his demand of deadly slaughter and bloody sacrifice.  But the problem is not that the Lord is vicious and inexplicably bloodthirsty.  The problem is that we are evil and incurable.  The problem is that our hearts continue to be defiant. 
     The Lord is a loving and generous God.  His gifts are given to all—the righteous and the unrighteous.  His blessings are given in abundance and variety.  God is good.  His word is good.  And he calls us to serve him according to his good word.  But we do not.  We consider ourselves to be good, even though we say horrible things about our neighbor and to our neighbor.  We seek what we can get from others rather than what we can give to them.  We still call ourselves good.  We even credit ourselves being better than God.  We boast about how we would stop wars, eliminate debt, and cure cancer.  We make great boasts with our mouths about how we would fix problems, but our schedules and our checkbooks show us that our words are empty.  We've invested nothing toward our neighbor but our own self-praise.  Boasts are easy to make when we are not accountable for them.  But we are accountable.  The Lord holds us accountable for all our boasting and pride.  You regard it as unbearable when you have to endure a braggart.  What response should a holy God have toward you when your glory-seeking comes at his expense?  Repent.  A merciless slaughter is deserved.
     And a merciless slaughter has been carried out.  Behold!  The Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world.  The Lord has laid upon Jesus the iniquity, the boasting, and the glory-seeking of us all.  “This one bears my guilt.  This one dies for me.”  Without a body and blood sacrifice, there is no life. 
     Every body and blood sacrifice in the Old Testament points to Jesus.  To save us, God took on a body in order to bear our sins.  All of our guilt is transferred to Jesus, for “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)  Jesus is presented as our substitute under God's wrath, for “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:5)  Jesus is the perfect, unblemished Lamb who was slain for us.  John the Baptist declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)  John the Apostle declared that the pure and precious blood of that Lamb purifies us: “The blood of Jesus … cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)  Without a body and blood sacrifice, there is no life.  The body of Jesus bore our sins on the cross.  The blood of Jesus now marks us so that death and damnation pass over us.  By the holy, precious blood of Jesus and by his innocent sufferings and death, we are forgiven of all sin, saved from death and hell, and delivered from the oppression of fear and shame and guilt. 
     Now, if the body and blood of Jesus supply our life and purify us from all sin, wouldn't it be wonderful if he could supply them to us so that we are assured of life?
     Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, took bread and took the cup.  “Take and eat,” he declared.  “Take and drink,” he summoned.  “This is my body, given for you.  This is my blood, shed for you.”  Under the bread, Jesus delivers to you the body which has borne your sin.  Under the wine, Jesus supplies the blood which was shed to cleanse you of all sin.  He does not leave you to imagine his sacrifice; he makes you partakers of it.  He does not ask you to re-enact, to pretend, or to put on a play.  Instead, he provides to you what actually bestows forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.  This is why St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)  
     Christian worship has always had two main focal points—the preaching of the word and the administration of the Lord's Supper.  The word of God does much more than deliver information to us.  God does not tell us about body and blood sacrifices just so we can know what life was like in the days of Noah, Moses, and David.  In his word, God communicates with us.  He professes his love and grace in many ways.  By words and actions, he revealed to his people of old that without a body and blood sacrifice, there was no life.  And his word shows us that this is fulfilled in Jesus.
     The other focal point of Christian worship is the sacrament of Holy Communion.  [Sadly, the COVID-19 quarantine is forcing us to fast for a while.]  “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)  The death of Jesus Christ was a body and blood sacrifice.  It did not merely picture forgiveness, it purchased forgiveness of sins.  Likewise Holy Communion does not merely picture the death of Jesus, it delivers Jesus' body and blood.  Whenever we celebrate the sacrament, we are proclaiming the Lord's death.  We are confessing: Jesus' body and blood were given into death to atone for our sin, and Jesus' body and blood are now given here to us to forgive our sin.  By delivering the body offered on the cross and the innocent blood shed there, Holy Communion gives here what Jesus won.  It is a communion—a uniting with Jesus so that everything he won he gives to us.  The body and blood of Jesus Christ were not only given into death for us, they also conquered death for us.  Therefore, we feast on life itself.  We take into our bodies that which lives and reigns forevermore, so that we will live and reign forevermore.
     “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)  We do not slaughter lambs, burn up bulls, or mark our doors with blood.  We do not even bother with seder meals.  There are no promises connected to these.  Instead, we proclaim the Lord's death by word and sacrament.  This is where we find the promise which sets us free from the slavery to sin and the oppression of guilt.  But even more, it delivers us from death.  For, the blood of Jesus marks us righteous, and the body of Jesus sustains us as we journey toward our heavenly home.  In this way, Jesus makes us partakers of a victory that we did nothing to win.  Instead, we feast and we rejoice that we are the recipients of God's gracious work.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Due to recurring spam, all comments will now be moderated. Please be patient.