Luke 22:19,20 * April 5, 2012 * Maundy Thursday * Pastor Pagels
In the name of Christ Jesus, dear friends:
Even if you arenít sitting toward the front of the church, there is a pretty good chance that you will be able to recognize the small white disk in my hand.† Itís a communion wafer, and it makes sense for us to talk about communion on Maundy Thursday.† After all, this was the night when Jesus instituted the Lordís Supper.
If you are a communicant member of St. Johnís, you are familiar with these paper thin pieces of bread because every time you take communion one of these is placed into your hand or directly into your mouth.† But because everything happens so quickly, because you put the bread in your mouth and then immediately get ready to receive the wine, maybe you never had a chance to examine one of these wafers more closely.
There is a picture stamped on every wafer, but it is not a scene from Maundy Thursday.† It isnít a picture of Jesus breaking bread of lifting the cup.† It isnít a rendition of Da Vinciís famous ďLast SupperĒ like we have carved into our altar.† It doesnít show Jesus praying for his disciples or washing his disciplesí feet or anything else that happened in the Upper Room that night.
On each wafer there is an image of Jesus hanging on the cross.† Is that appropriate?† Arenít we getting a little ahead of ourselves?† Wouldnít it be better to save the images we associate with Good Friday for Good Friday?† Not if we listen carefully to Jesusí words.† Not if we understand that in the sacrament our Lord brings the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday together.† Not if we remember what the apostle Paul said in our verse of the day, that every time we eat the bread and drink from the cup we proclaim the Lordís death until he comes (I Corinthians 11:26).
On the night when Jesus anticipated his suffering and death on the cross, as the Lord prepared his disciples for his suffering and death on the cross, he also invites us to see the cross and receive its blessings...
RECEIVE THE BLESSINGS OF THE CROSS!
I.† Jesus attaches new meaning to that ancient meal
II.† Jesus gives us forgiveness when we partake of this meal
Passover was among the highest and holiest days on the Jewish calendar, and God-fearing Jews still celebrate the Passover today.† The purpose of this festival was to commemorate the Israelitesí deliverance from Egypt, and with every detail of the meal the Lord reminded his people how he rescued them from the land of slavery.
Every speck of yeast was swept out of Jewish homes before the festival because the Jews left Egypt in such a hurry that they didnít have time to wait for their bread to rise.† The people ate bitter herbs like horseradish as a reminder of the bitterness of their suffering under the Egyptians. †The meal was also celebrated with unleavened bread and wine, and so it makes sense that both were on the table in the Upper Room.
When Jesus and his disciples sat down to eat the Passover, they were following in the footsteps of their Jewish forefathers who had been eating the same meal the same way for fifteen hundred years.† The disciples had been observing these traditions for as long as they could remember. They were familiar with all the rituals.† They probably knew all the Passover prayers by heart, so when Jesus went off script, when Jesus did some different they immediately took notice.
The Lord took the bread and broke it into pieces and gave it to his disciples.† Then he picked up the cup and passed it around so that everyone could take a drink.† With these actions Jesus was establishing a new tradition, and he was giving the meal a new and greater significance.† For hundreds of years it had been about how God delivered his chosen people from slavery.† From now on it would be about how God delivered people from sin.
First Jesus said: ďThis is my body given for youĒ (19).† The disciples had no problem understanding that Jesus had a body.† He was a human being just like them.† He had a human mother just like them.† He ate and drank and walked and talked just like them.
But the second half of Jesusís statement, ďThis is my body given for you,Ē was more difficult for them to understand because they didnít know what Jesus knew.† They didnít know that in a few hours Jesus would voluntarily surrender to his enemies, that in less than twenty four hours he would be arrested and convicted and executed.† And when it was all over, when the disciples had time to reflect on everything that had happened, Jesus wanted them to look back and remember, and tonight he wants you to remember, that he willingly sacrificed his body, that he willingly gave up his lifeÖfor you.
The Lord had the same goal in mind when he took the wine and said: ďThis cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for youĒ (20).† Itís hard to picture any of the scenes from Jesusí passion without blood.† The bloody wounds that Roman whips opened on his back.† The blood that trickled down his cheeks where the crown of thorns pierced his skin. The blood that flowed when the soldiers nailed the spikes into his hands and feet.†
But before any of those tragic events took place, in order to prepare his disciples for the events of Good Friday, Jesus assured his disciples that every drop of blood he would shed would be shed for them. †And every time you drink from the cup the pastor repeats the Lordís words to assure you that Jesus poured out his blood for you.
It would be impossible to separate the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and our Lord doesnít want us to try.† When Jesus instituted the Lordís Supper he chose specific words to tie these days together.† And he also gave his disciples the specific command to ďdo this in remembrance of meĒ (19).† To remember what exactly?† To remember how Jesus surrendered his body, to remember how Jesus shed his blood, to remember the terrible and yet wonderful sacrifice Jesus made for us.
Every time we celebrate the Lordís Supper we canít help but remember the cross, but unlike the Passover Feast for the Jews the Lordís Supper is more than a memorial meal.† Every time we come forward we receive the blessings of the cross.† Every time we eat and drink, Jesus gives us forgiveness.
If you didnít know anything about the Lordís Supper and you observed what people receive when they come forward, you probably wouldnít be very impressed. A bite of bread.† A sip of wine.† Not much nutritional value, and certainly not enough food to satisfy a hungry appetite.†
But if you look beneath the surface, if you listen carefully to the Lordís words there is more, much more.† When we receive communion we receive the Lordís body and blood. †The language isnít figurative.† The bread and wine donít merely represent his body and blood.† We receive Jesusí true body and blood, the same body that was nailed to the cross, the same blood that was shed on the cross.† Even though we canít explain it, even though our small minds canít comprehend it, we take Jesus at his word because we know what Jesusí word can do.†
He used his word to stop a storm in its tracks.† He used his word to bring a dead Lazarus back to life.† These miracles demonstrate the power behind Jesusí words, and he exercises the same power through the same word every time we ďdo this,Ē every time we receive Christís body and blood in communion.
But those are not the only things we receive.† The other miracle, the greater miracle is what the Lord gives when he gives us his body and blood.† Jesus said: ďThis is my bodyÖThis is my bloodÖpoured out for many for the forgiveness of sinsĒ (Matthew 26:26,28).† †
In this special meal Jesus gives us the special assurance that we are forgiven.† And isnít that what we need?† Isnít forgiveness what we need more than anything else in the world? †Think of a time when you wronged someone, when you hurt someone you love.† You couldnít forget about it.† You couldnít get it out of your mind.† You couldnít eat.† You couldnít sleep.† You felt terrible, and the only thing that made you feel worse was the thought of seeing that person again.
But when the day you were dreading finally arrived, when you crossed paths with that person, when your friend looked you in the eye and said those three little words, ďI forgive you,Ē how did that make you feel?† Didnít you feel better?† Didnít your outlook on life all of the sudden become a whole lot rosier?† Didnít it feel like a huge weight had been lifted from your shoulders?
That is exactly what happens every time Christians come to communion.† We walk to the front carrying with us all of our baggage, all of our burdens, all of our doubts and fears and failures. And we know that we donít belong up here because when we sin we donít just hurt other people.† We hurt our Savior.† Maybe thatís the reason we look so serious.† Maybe thatís the reason we try to keep our heads down.
But at the steps of the altar something changes.† When the bread and wine are distributed something miraculous happens.† As men pass by in white robes they say some words, but Jesus is the one who is really speaking.† And when it is your turn your Savior looks you in the eye and says: ďTake and eat; this is my body given for you.† Take and drink; this is my blood poured out for you.† I know what you have done.† I know what you deserve, but I forgive you.† And every time you Ďdo thisí I want you to remember how much I love you.Ē
And then we can do what the pastor encourages us to do when we go back to our pews.† Because our sins are forgiven we can ďdepart in peace.Ē† Because of Jesus we can lift up our heads and our hearts.† Because our Savior has given us the gift of forgiveness those serious, somber faces might even give way to smiles.
Our Lenten theme for this year has been ďSee His Cross,Ē but that might not be the easiest thing to do this evening, at least not when you come to communion.† You might not be able to see the cross imprinted on the wafer, but even if you donít itís there.† The words the Lord shared with his disciples on this evening remind us that the cross is always in view.
Two thousand years ago Jesus attached new meaning to an ancient meal.† Tonight he offers you the forgiveness of sins through that same meal. †And now he invites you to come.† Come to the Lordís table.† Come and eat and drink.† Come and receive Christís body and blood. Come and receive the blessings of the cross. Amen.