Pastor Joel Leyrer - Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019

Text: Luke22:7-20

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Dear Friends in Christ, if you’re looking for an icebreaker at a social gathering or find that you’ve come to a lull in the conversation, the topic of food is always a good option. Questions like – If you knew a meteor was going to destroy the earth and you could have whatever you wanted for your last meal, what would it be?  Or: What is the strangest or most exotic food you ever ate? Or: What’s your favorite ethnic food? – usually can generate some dialog, maybe even provide fodder for some good-natured disagreements. Because food and eating meals is something we all have opinions about and all have in common. Many things happened on that first Maundy Thursday evening, but perhaps that for which we remember it most is the institution of the Lord’s Supper. That’s the centerpiece of our Gospel lesson. Not surprisingly, that’s also what we’ll be focusing our thoughts on tonight. While we all have different and personal preferences about the food we eat either daily or on special occasions, one thing we can all agree on is this:  What Jesus prepares for us tonight is

A MEAL UNLIKE ANY OTHER

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”  “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. 10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters,11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.”  13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

The “Feast of Unleavened Bread” was an eight-day period during which time believing Jews ate only unleavened bread.  This “Feast” (which was really anything but) was a reminder of the haste with which God’s people fled the slavery of Egypt under the leadership of Moses.  Incorporated into the first day of this feast was the Passover. Passover was one of the high holy days on the Jewish calendar. Every Jewish believer observed it as a sacred ritual.  There was also a communal aspect to its celebration. It was a family affair.  Therefore, the immediate need for the events of that first Maundy Thursday was a place large enough for Jesus and his disciples to celebrate the Passover together.

Just like he did on Palm Sunday, Jesus sends a couple of his disciples to make the necessary provisions.  And just like Palm Sunday, he gives them explicit instructions.  And just like Palm Sunday, the disciples “found things just as Jesus had told them.”  Let us not overlook the great lesson and comfort found in the reliability of Jesus’ words here, namely:  he who is reliable when he speaks of little things like finding a room is equally reliable when he speaks of  big things, like the promise of forgiveness and salvation for all who look to him as Savior and Lord, and the promise that he is with us always to the very end of the age, regardless of the circumstances he may allow to come into our lives.

“So they prepared the Passover.”  Passover – established by God some 1500 years earlier – is the larger, historical stage upon which the events of that night are played out.  Remember what Passover was?  Let’s review.

After the King of Egypt refused to let the People of Israel go as God through Moses had commanded him, the Lord brought plagues upon the land.  Ten to be specific.  The last of the ten plagues visited upon Egypt was the death of their firstborn. Before this plague took place, God gave his people some clear instructions.  Among other things, they were to sacrifice a perfect lamb and then paint the doorframes of their houses with its blood so the Angel of Death would “pass over” them.  The people of Israel were therefore saved from death through the blood of a perfect lamb. The parallel is striking.  It is also intentional.  Soon the Passover and all it symbolized would find its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  It’s not a neat coincidence that Jesus instituted Lord’s Supper on this particular night.  And it’s no wonder that the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians (5:7) refers to Jesus as “our Passover Lamb.”  We, too, are saved from death – eternal death – through the sacrificial blood of a Perfect Lamb. 

So, the stage is set.  Immediately by securing a room.  Historically by doing this on Passover.  This leads us to the Lord’s Supper itself – a meal unlike any other.

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

There are two keys to understanding the magnitude of the Lord’s Supper.  The first is found in the little word, “is.”  Jesus uses this word twice; first when he distributed the bread, then when he passed them the cup of wine.

What is the Lord’s Supper?  It is the very body and blood of Christ which, in the words of the Reformation fathers, is “in, with and under” the bread and wine.  In other words, Jesus Christ, in a supernatural yet very real way, is present in the Lord’s Supper. This Bible truth (which we call the doctrine of “the Real Presence”) is a mystery of faith.  Nevertheless, it is the clear statement of Jesus. Therefore, although we may not understand or comprehend it, we believe it. A highly respected 16th Century Lutheran theologian by the name of Martin Chemnitz wrote a classic work on the Lord’s Supper.  A point he makes repeatedly is that the Lord’s Supper was the last will and testament of Jesus, so he would naturally choose his words carefully so as not to be misunderstood.  And what he conveyed with his words is that his body and blood is really present with the bread and wine, because “is” means “is.”

The second key to fully understanding the Lord’s Supper is found in Jesus’ reference to “the new covenant in my blood.”   What did he mean by that?  Let’s define some terms. As used in the Bible, a covenant is a solemn agreement, especially one in which God promises to bless and save.  We find the term used in connection with God’s plan of salvation.  We can explain it this way: In the eyes of a just and holy God, sin is serious business.  It can’t be overlooked.  It can’t be swept under the rug.   It calls for payment, which the Bible refers to as “atonement.” "The wages of sin is death,” says God in the Scriptures.   And the agreement, or covenant, that God had made with the world was that he would provide forgiveness.   But it would come at a price.  The plan and the theme God constantly impressed upon his people was this:  there can be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood.

In the Old Testament, when the Savior from sin had been promised but was not yet present, God operated under the “old covenant” with his people.  The blood of animal sacrifices looked forward to and pointed to the ultimate sacrifice that was yet to come.

Now the Savior was here.  He was about to carry out that ultimate sacrifice.  The altar would be a cross.  And the blood he shed was the new covenant – the covenant not of promise, but of fulfillment.  John the Baptist had it right when he looked at Jesus and said: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  The Apostle Paul put it this way in Ephesians 1:7: “In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Those combined thoughts are what makes this a meal unlike any other.  The very body and blood once given and shed for our redemption now is given to us as the personal assurance of our forgiveness and salvation.  Every time we take Lord’s Supper Jesus comes to us as individuals and, in essence, says “I loved you enough to die for you… and here is the proof.  Touch and taste and feel…” But there is even more.  Jesus tells us every time we take Lord’s Supper we receive a foretaste of the “kingdom of God” where he and “the marriage supper of the Lamb” await us.

That cannot help but have an impact on us.  In many ways… 

First, it strengthens our faith.  How can we not leave the Lord’s Table spiritually stronger as we hear what Christ has done for us?  How can we not be positively, inwardly, spiritually and emotionally affected by the words, “Given and shed for you” – read me – “for the forgiveness of sins?” 

The Lord’s Supper also nourishes our personal relationship with Jesus.  How can we not love him more and more who poured out his lifeblood for us?  How can we not be motivated to ever increasingly live our lives to the glory and honor of him who died for our sins?

Finally, the Lord’s Supper empowers us who have been so fully and freely forgiven by Christ to be forgiving toward others.  How can we hold grudges and animosities toward others when we consider the width and length and depth of the forgiveness that has been bestowed upon us?  How can we, whose “sins were like scarlet” but now stand “white as snow” in the eyes of God possibly consider consciously choosing to not forgive others who have slighted us far lesser than we have slighted Christ?

Yes, it’s quite a gift we have been given in the Lord’s Supper.  Truly it is a meal unlike any other.  And it’s one which, in a matter of minutes, and with all its meaning and magnitude and benefits and blessings, we will once again be offered…

Glory be to Jesus.  Amen.