Maundy Thursday

This evening, it’s all about covenants. We hear in our Old Testament reading that the LORD “will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” That same passage is echoed in our reading from Hebrews. So, since we’re talking about covenants, what exactly is a covenant? The basic dictionary definition of covenant is “an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.” That definition could most likely work for us, but there is a biblical definition that we will focus on: “the conditional promises made to humanity by God, as revealed in Scripture.” While that definition narrows things down for us, there is one that captures God’s covenant even better: “the agreement between God and the ancient Israelites, in which God promised to protect them if they kept His law and were faithful to Him.”

That’s what we need to focus on – keeping God’s Law. But if you’ve read the Old Testament, you will find in very short order how we cannot keep God’s Law. It all started with a very basic command of God given to Adam and Eve: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” That sounds pretty basic and self-explanatory: eat from any tree except the one tree that God said not to eat from. Oh, and by the way, if you eat from it, you will die. That should have been all the warning Adam and Eve needed. We don’t need caution tape or signs that say “Don’t Eat!” to know not to eat of it. And yet, with a little gentle persuasion, Adam and Eve did just that, they ate from it and they died.

So there you have it. That bond, that covenant, between creation and God destroyed. So what is God to do? Creation has been kicked out, sin a permanent part of creation from here until eternity. God does what God does best – He enacts a new covenant between God and man: the promise of a Savior. But as time goes by, that Savior is nowhere to be found. God’s people come and go and make an even bigger mess of things and God creates a new covenant with the people. Jeremiah records it for the people, but here is the key to this new covenant: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Generations pass and Israel has failed to see the promised Savior. But just because there is no Savior to see doesn’t mean that there is no Savior. All things work according to God’s divine timetable. And so, on a Thursday evening after Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, gathered around the table for the Passover meal, Jesus creates a new covenant, THE covenant for the apostles and for the Church: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me…. This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

This heavenly food that Christ gives is indeed a new covenant. But what does this covenant mean? This harkens back to the covenant spoken of in Jeremiah. Turning to our Epistle reading from Hebrews, we hear these words: “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

That is what Christ has done for you. Christ has loved you and given Himself for you in His most holy Supper, and so we hear, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh….” Christ’s body and blood, broken and given, shed and poured out for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins. That is the Lord’s Supper.

For this He was born, and for this He died: to have the body and blood that would be offered on our behalf, to give us that body and that blood as food and drink, sweet and satisfying to sinners desperately in need of forgiving food. On that holy night in which He was betrayed, on the very eve of His crucifixion and sacrifice, while yet in His humility, He gave His body and His blood to us which He would give on the next day for us. For this He was born, and for this He died.

The woman has a Seed. That Seed has grown and is fruit. That fruit restores us to the garden’s fellowship and beyond. It undoes death and removes the curse. Here, in His Holy Supper, the Lord gives Himself to us, to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of sins. This is what it is to be a Christian, not simply to be spared death but to have fellowship with God and to be sundered forever from the devil.

The fruit of the tree is on the paten and in the chalice. The angel of death passes over. He has no claim upon us. We belong to God. We bear His watery name in our Baptism. We eat at His table. We are His people and more. We are not merely guests, sojourners in His house for but an hour a week, but we are members of the royal family. We are not Gentile dogs hoping for crumbs, worshiping what we do not know. We, by the grace of God, are the Lord’s own beloved and immaculate bride. We belong to God. We are baptized. We eat at His table. We are gathered under the protecting shadow of the cross that draws ever closer.

This new covenant that God grants to us comes at great price – the death of Christ. But you are worthy of such a price, for the alternative is a creation forever separated from God. God does what He needs to do to join He and creation together again. On this night, it is by Christ giving to us His body and blood to eat and drink. This isn’t some symbol or representation of what Christ did 2000 years ago. No, this is His very body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This is Christ feeding you with Himself, the greatest food, the most necessary food.

When a person receives the bread and wine in Holy Communion, that person receives Jesus. As He said, “This is My body.” The heart of faith grasps the Word, which puts in the benefit, and then takes out the benefit, namely, all that Christ is according to His Word. The fruits of Jesus’ sacrificial love are in His Holy Supper for you to eat and to drink. Behold the man who gave Himself in the perfect act of love. Behold the man who on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples as His own body. Behold the man who poured His blood into the loveless mouths of His disciples to forgive their sins. Behold the man, veiled in bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for life and salvation.

This is the Church of the New Testament. This is the Church of a new covenant. Christ Himself is her mediator. Like the Church of the Old Testament, it is a testament, a covenant, of blood. Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us. His body and blood have been rent asunder in death and joined again in the resurrection. This covenant has been fulfilled for you, fulfilled in the promise of a Savior, fulfilled in the broken and shed body and blood, fulfilled upon the cross and fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ our Lord. Amen.

Maundy Thursday – “Betrayal and Forgiveness” (Matthew 26:17-30)

A-45 Holy ThursdayGrace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

As we gather this evening, the stench of betrayal is wafting in the air. Just before our text, Matthew records for us Judas’ betrayal: “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.”

An act such as this can be expected from the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees, but to see it come from someone within Jesus’ circle of twelve is inconceivable. These were the men whom Jesus had hand-picked to be His disciples, to go with Him and spread His Gospel of what He was going to do in order to save creation. To be fair to the disciples, they had no theological training except that which they learned on the job for three years. However, they knew enough to know that you don’t betray your Master. Peter goes beyond calling Jesus Master and says that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That’s an even bolder confession of who Jesus is and yet tonight the stench of betrayal is overwhelming.

Tonight, we reflect on the Passover celebration that our Lord and His disciples engaged in, just as they had done in previous years. Everything about this meal was like any other Passover meal. The Passover was done yearly in remembrance of what God had done for His people Israel all those years ago when the angel of death passed over the house of Israel. In order to celebrate the Passover feast, Jesus needs a room to do so and the disciples ask Jesus, “Where will You have us prepare for You to eat the Passover?”

On this night, our Lord has come to accomplish something. He’s in complete control. He had already arranged for the Upper Room to be ready. As He said, it was His time. Plans were already set in motion for the Passover meal to be celebrated. He celebrates the Passover as in years past, except this time, it’s different. “When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”” As simple as that, the Passover meal has been turned to betrayal. The stench of betrayal is overwhelming. Immediately, they all start asking, “Is it I, Lord?”

Lest we forget, this is Jesus’ time. While Judas sets out to betray, our Lord sets out to redeem. Judas is reclining at table with Jesus and the other disciples. Jesus could have easily had Judas removed from the Passover guestlist, but instead He has His betrayer at table with Him, and for a reason: in order to redeem.

I can’t imagine that you or I would willingly permit our betrayer to dine with us as did Jesus. We would more than likely do what we could to repay evil with evil, do what we could to exact vengeance for such an act. But thanks be to God that Jesus is not like us sinners. He doesn’t choose to seek vengeance but rather extends mercy and forgiveness beyond our wildest measures.

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when had given he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.””

God doesn’t go after sinners like Judas or you or me. In a plot twist that man could have never thought up, God the Father goes after His own Son, the Messiah, God’s Anointed, the King. He goes after Him until He has the blood that makes payment for your sin. Jesus is not only a good guy, but the perfect guy. He was nothing like evil Pharaoh. His heart was never calloused against God’s Word. He loved the Father’s will and cherished it. But the Father’s will was to save sinners through the blood of His Son. That is what our Lord gave to His disciples that night He was betrayed. He didn’t enact vengeance but gave forgiveness. He gave what Judas didn’t deserve. He gave what none of the disciples deserved. And tonight, our Lord gives to you that which you do not deserve. You do not deserve to be forgiven of your sins for you smell of betrayal, as did Judas and as do I. It is man’s betrayal of God that caused all of this to be necessary. Had Adam and Eve kept a single, simple rule that God gave them, we would all be enjoying life in the Garden. But because of man’s betrayal, the great act of Judas’ betrayal occurs, and Jesus responds in a way that is shock to all who hear it.

For our betrayal, He grants forgiveness. For your sake, God the Father imputed your sin and the sin of the world to this King and plunged Him into a sea of wrath. For your sake, He went after the blood of His innocent Son that you might be spared and that the story of your life might have a happy ending. Take great comfort in this story. For that is what God’s King is all about. That is why He came into the world. That after instituting the royal feast of His Holy Supper, He might shed the blood that causes death to pass over you.

Our Lord leaves that final Passover to offer His body to be struck down, that you might receive His very body and in this Sacrament and be exalted. The words from His lips were never deceitful, never self-serving, but always in the best interest of sinners. Yet those lips are the ones that drink from the cup of God’s wrath, that your lips might sip the cup of blessing, the blood of the covenant, which gives you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

The power of death passes over you because it didn’t pass over Jesus. Death passes over you because the gift of Baptism has marked your bodies with His blood. Damnation passes over you because Jesus is your Crucified King, whose blood makes this meal a royal feast of feasts.

Betrayal was on the lips of Judas that Passover evening. Tonight, betrayal is no longer the only thing on your lips. Tonight, as you feast upon the very body and blood of our Lord, there is something new on your lips and that is the forgiveness that comes through the shed blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name amen.

Maundy Thursday–“Best Meal Ever” (Luke 22:7-20)

C-49 Holy Thursday (Lu 22.7-20)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

What is the best meal that you have ever had? I can think of several meals that were great, but I can’t remember what the best meal I’ve ever had was. What criteria goes into deciding what makes a meal “the best” you’ve ever had? Is it the food, the fellowship, the price? Whatever your best meal might have been, it pales in comparison to the Meal that is offered to you this night.

As we focus on the theme of the Lord’s Supper this evening, the evening begins as does any other meal with Jesus and His disciples. They are enjoying the Passover meal, something that has been done before. The Passover was the significant family meal in the covenant between God and His people. The Israelites were initially slaves in Egypt, living under the harsh treatment of the Pharaoh. Their cries went to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who sent Moses to deliver them. Pharaoh refused to let God’s people go free. Pharaoh depended on Egypt’s gods to lead the country. By sending plagues that overpowered Egypt’s so-called gods, the true God convinced Pharaoh to let God’s people go. The final plague brought judgment on Egypt’s god of life, as the almighty God sent the destroying angel throughout the land, killing the firstborn in each home. God directed His people to hold a special meal centered on a lamb, whose blood was smeared on the door frame. When the destroyer saw the blood, he passed over the house. The people were protected by the blood of the lamb as a substitute for their lives. As a result of this catastrophic judgment on Egypt, Pharaoh let God’s people go. The Israelites celebrated the Passover meal thereafter.

In our text Jesus gathers with His disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover meal. Jesus was ready for His exodus. During the meal, “He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.’” Matthew adds “for the forgiveness of sins.”

Jesus instituted a new Passover based on His self-sacrifice as the Passover Lamb. He ends the first covenant and establishes the new covenant promised for the new era. Just as the lamb’s blood served as a substitution for the death of the firstborn, so now Jesus’ blood substitutes for our death. We are set free from our bondage to sin, to malice, and to evil through the forgiveness He earned by taking judgment into His own body. Sin “lets us go,” that is, releases its stranglehold on us. We are free. We are rescued from death and given the certain hope of heaven.

What Jesus does tonight is amazing, in and of itself. But we have to remember when our Lord does this: on the night when He was betrayed. One of His very own disciples is going to betray Him and yet He still does this for them. In fact, He does this for the entire Christian Church. He gives to you His body and His blood for the forgiveness of sin. He does this knowing full well that we will betray Him by our thoughts, words, and deeds. He does this knowing full well that we are enemies of God and yet gives Himself to us freely.

In this new Passover meal God forgives and forgets our past, as far as the east is from the west. Your sins are forgiven in this Meal.

Sadly, and to their detriment, many Christians neglect this Meal. But for those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, this is a Meal of great benefit. Those who struggle with the old sinful nature, who need strength to handle broken relationships, and who seek the wisdom to make decisions are united with Christ through this Meal.

When a person receives the bread and wine in Holy Communion, that person receives Jesus. As He said, “This is My body.” The heart of faith grasps the Word, which puts in the benefit, and then takes out the benefit, namely, all that Christ is according to His Word. The mouth eats physically for the heart and the heart eats spiritually what the body eats physically, and thus both are saved and satisfied by one and the same food.

This Meal—a life-giving, life-renewing, life-changing Meal—is the best meal we will ever have because we are united with Christ Jesus in this Sacrament. God changes us through the power of the Word, but also in this Meal He gives us His compassion, joy, peace, patience, kindness, moral goodness, sense of responsibility, humility, and self-control—all of which are life-giving, life-renewing, and life-changing.

That is what this Supper is about. It is not some institution that God gives only so that we remember, and it is certainly not an ordinance by which He tests our obedience to Him. It is the Father calling His children to dinner so that they might be fed. It is the Passover fulfilled: it is Christ present with us, leading us through the wilderness and feeding us with the forgiveness that keeps us alive in Him.

Christ, your Passover Lamb, gives you the remission of sins in this Supper, for He is present with you in, with and under bread and wine. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. And so life and salvation are yours: because you are forgiven for all of your sins.

For you tonight, the best meal has been served: a meal that feeds your soul, strengthens your faith, and forgives you all of your sins. The Table has been prepared and our Lord Jesus invites us to be His guests, to give to us the best meal ever. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Maundy Thursday–”Betrayed” (Mark 14:12-26)

B-48 Holy ThursdayGrace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

The Passover is now upon Jesus and the disciples and the time to celebrate with the Passover meal has now come. For one reason or another, they have not selected a place to celebrate the evening meal. Jesus sends two of the disciples into the city to procure a large room for the thirteen of them.

As they were sitting there eating their meal in remembrance of the Passover, it seemed to be like any other meal. The food they ate was the same food they had eaten before when celebrating the Passover. Jesus and the disciples had eaten numerous meals before and this meal was no different. Suddenly, the mood at the table changes. St. Mark records, And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?””

All of a sudden, the atmosphere of the room changed, and it was not for the better. Jesus had dropped a bomb on the laps of the disciples that riveted them to the core: He would be betrayed, but what was worse was that He would be betrayed by one of His own disciples. There could be no more a devastating statement made than that just made by Jesus. It is unfathomable that one of Jesus’ own disciples would betray Him. When Jesus says “betray” here, He doesn’t mean that someone will go against Jesus or wrong Him in a way like we would think. What Jesus means is that one of the disciples will turn Jesus over to be killed, the ultimate act of betrayal that could ever be committed. How is it that one of Jesus’ own disciples could do this? They were the ones who had the most intimate contact with Jesus, being with Him constantly for three years. Now, one of them would betray not only Jesus but also all of the disciples as well, for they were the ones who looked to Jesus to be their Savior.

The traitor was not an attendant, not a servant eavesdropping on the conversation, not one of the larger group who followed Jesus, but one of their own. This was a meal that was meant to call together as one Jews from all over and focus Israel together on what God had done for them, but is now spoiled by the presence of a traitor! Not one who would deny Christ out of weakness. Not one who would be so panicked by the threat of death that he would wriggle free from his clothes and run off naked. But a premeditative traitor. And one whose fate will be so horrible for this betrayal that Christ says it would have been better for this man not to have been born. With those words, Jesus interjected into this joyous celebration a touch of darkness. The band of brothers is not so solid after all.

Following this startling news, something that would think to bring great division among the disciples, Jesus does something that no one expected: “And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.””

A deeper sadness intrudes as Jesus announces His own impending death once more. It seems that His death is coming ever so quickly, that it could happen any time now. Instead of worrying about what will happen to Him, He gives Himself for the disciples and for all people. By what follows during the next few days, it’s clear that the disciples do not pick up on the phrases “of the covenant” or “for many.” The significance of His death, that His blood will be the means by which God and His people will be joined in a new covenant of forgiveness, this they don’t yet understand. That His death will be redemptive, signified by the phrase “for many,” they cannot yet see, for their minds have not yet been opened. All they hear are words that interject a note of death into what was meant to be a celebration of life and thanksgiving to God.

Tonight, as we come together celebrating this meal which Christ feeds us with His very body and blood, know one thing: Jesus is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. That’s what tonight is all about – Jesus giving Himself for you. Taking the bread and the wine of the Passover, Jesus now instituted the New Testament sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This wonderful gift of His body and blood was meant not only for the disciples. Note what Jesus says: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” You and I can be very grateful that our Lord did not restrict the Sacrament to just the disciples. We share one thing in common with the disciples: we are not able to save ourselves. The Sacrament, however, reassures us of this truth: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” You and I need that assurance repeatedly until Jesus comes again to take us to the marriage supper of the Lamb. That assurance He brings us through Word and Sacrament. Even as we were born into the kingdom by the rebirth of Baptism, so we are assured of forgiveness and strengthened to live in the kingdom through this Blessed Sacrament of His body and blood.

Also hear Him when He says His broken body and shed blood were for the many. Jesus, our mediator, is present in this meal tonight. The truth is what we sing: “Not all the blood of beasts On Jewish altars slain Could give the guilty conscience peace Or wash away the stain.” But this body and blood can. This body and blood were offered up as payment for sin, as an atoning sacrifice to wash away sin – yours and mine. This body and blood were accepted by the Father as an atoning sacrifice for the many. Jesus taught, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That includes you and me.

Finally, hear our Lord’s promise that He will drink the fruit of the vine with you in the kingdom of God. In this meal, Christ promises a future for you that extends beyond your boldest hopes. He holds before your eyes the promise of sitting with Him at the banquet table with all the faithful who have been gathered from east and west. He holds before you the riches that He will share with the faithful in eternity. All of this is yours and He bids you to come and receive what He has to offer you: Himself. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.