21. April 2011
1 Corinthians 11:23-32; John 13:1-15, 34-35
On this holy evening, we annually remember our Lord’s final Passover meal with his disciples. We rejoice with the disciples at the institution of the most blessed of meals, our Lord’s Supper. Our paraments have changed to the white of celebration and the Gloria in Excelsis has returned. We sing songs of thanks to our Lord for the deliverance from our mortal foes of sin, death, and the devil, which he so graciously gives to us in his body and blood.
Body and blood. This same evening with remember our Lord’s betrayal into the hands of the sinners. These will abuse him, beat him, and deliver him over to death. Our Lord’s death is not secondary. There is no body and blood for you today without tomorrow. Tomorrow is Good Friday. God’s Friday, the day he gave his son for the salvation of the world.
With the terrible and awesome events on the horizon, its hard for us to rejoice. Its hard for us to sing with angels tonight when we know that tomorrow they will weep with us at the sight of dead Lord. Therefore our song is restrained. We are denied the Gloria Patri. The Halleluia is silent. There will be no more Invocations or even the Benedictions is withheld until Easter. This evening’s brief moment of joy will be muted by what must come next.
Then again, how is tonight any different that each Lord’s day? Christians take St. Paul’s words seriously when he says: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:1-2) Each Lord’s day, this night when he did some foot-washing and held an instituting supper club, and even Easter Sunday, we proclaim the Christ whose lifeless corpse hung on the tree of the cross.
But these days ought to be a joyous occasion, right? Many think they ought to be full of feasting, with fake Passover seders and the leftover joys of Sunday’s palm branches and triumphant entry. Some even say that every service should be an unbridled thrill from start to finish, high on production value, and pushing every positive emotional button in our soul. It should be a no holds barred, enthusiastic, unrestrained love fest.
I suppose then our holy week services are a bit morbid to some. They might be a bummer. Our surroundings don’t help. The crosses are remain veiled. Our banners remain the violet of the Passion. Our building itself is full of restraint. It is only a modest surrounding, unassuming facade, simple decor. Then again, even this fellowship is composed of normal folks, with normal jobs, and normal lives. There’s no spectacular wealth, superior energy, or dynamic entertainment. No celebrities, no fanfare, no spectacle.
Then your young and unassuming pastor stands in the pulpit and talks about trespasses, dying flesh, and eternal death. He lacks the eloquence and wisdom of many preachers. He is only determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Especially tonight, he withholds from your eyes the triumphant Lord, sitting at the right hand of the Father upon his sapphire throne. The Lord you taste and see this evening is the Lord who dies.
It isn’t pleasant. It may well be a bummer. It likely isn’t even what you want. Yet, it is precisely what you need. Your enemies are real. Your condition is fatal. There is only one great Physician and only one cure. Only through death of the Son of God do you inherit life. Only through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God do you receive the new testament in his blood.
Immediately after Pentecost, St. Luke records: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) The apostolic church only teaches as Jesus himself teaches in the Scriptures. Christians don’t worship in isolation. The faith is not received apart from the fellowship of the saints. That is why we gather together to hear this doctrine, to join together in prayer, and especially to join in the Holy Supper of our Lord.
Nothing confesses Jesus Christ and his crucifixion like the gift St. Paul gave to the church in Corinth. Just as was recorded by the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Paul wrote: “the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
Of course, these words are quite familiar to us. No doubt most of us could recite them by heart. Why? Because our churches continue in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayers. The Lord’s Supper is both from, of and is our Lord. It is his Word not merely spoken into our ear but placed in our mouths, to be consumed just as Isaiah consumed the sweet scroll of the testimony, so also we receive and each the promise fulfilled in Christ’s own body and blood.
St. Paul writes: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you.” So also, the holy Christian church on earth continues to deliver to you what it receives from the Lord, that is, Jesus Christ and him crucified. That’s why Christians hold the Lord’s Supper in such high esteem. That is why we receive our Lord’s body and blood in our mouths as often as our faith compels us. So the same for the church through the ages. The holy apostolic church trusts that this is how it should be. To proclaim Christ crucified is to eat this bread and drink this cup. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
Yet, there we go with death again. So much death for a church that ought to be about life, victory, and rejoicing, right?
Death ain’t all that bad, as long as it isn’t yours. And that’s the point. There is life in death. Victory in the cross. Rejoicing in the greatest sorrow of the son of God, dead.
We talk about forgiveness of sins until we’re blue in the face. We often forget that forgiveness isn’t just about the here and now. Forgiveness is about eternity. Forgiveness is about standing before the judgment seat without fear.
Really, its about being let off the hook for your sin. Our Lord wants to post your bail, to release you from the bondage to the devil. He wants to pay the penalty, suffering for you. He even takes your place and dies the death you deserve. Yes, that’s Good Friday but its also tonight, Maundy Thursday.
For tonight, we eat this bread and drink this cup just as Jesus says: This is my body which is for you. This cup is the new testament in my blood. Do this… in remembrance of me. The Supper is Good Friday’s meal. The sacrifice has been made. The body crucified is given as a testimony that God is pleased. The blood is poured out, forgiving debts forever. His Son has done what no blood of goats or bulls could do.
Jesus, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. His promised love remains. He will not leave us nor forsake us. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
Come and receive the body and blood is Jesus crucified… for you. Not just into ears or minds but into the mouth and into the heart. In this eating and drinking, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Rejoice! He will come again and he will take all the faithful living and death into paradise. Rejoice with restraint for the Lord is good. Good like Friday. Good like tomorrow. Amen.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church