Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday Sermon -- Mark 14:12-26 (LSB Maundy Thursday B)

April 9, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“And as they were eating, [Jesus] took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them.”

The readings for this evening present two incidents of eating with the Lord God. It is a unique thing to eat with the Lord God. It doesn’t seem to be possible, and yet it occurs quite frequently. In the Old Testament Scriptures, it appears that the Lord God eats with people on occasion. But in the New Testament Scriptures, the Lord Jesus seems to be eating with people constantly. In fact, it is one of the aspects of Christ’s life which is criticized, as the Pharisees called Him “a glutton and a drunkard.”

But the Lord God continues to have His people eat with Him. He wants their participation. He desires to have fellowship with them. And this is especially so when the Lord God does something great for His people. In the moments of redemption, the Lord God provides a meal for His people. Great actions are cause for great celebration, especially when forgiveness, life, and salvation have been provided.

So it was on the Exodus. The Lord God had delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. He had given them a unique identity and had made them a nation. He had pledged Himself to them with a covenant, a covenant that His people would possess to bring them salvation. You heard how that covenant was brought to the Lord God’s people: “[Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold, the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’”

The Lord God’s people are presented with the covenant that He had made with them. Blood of atonement was placed on them for the forgiveness of sins. The Lord God’s words were sealed in holy oath. And then comes the interesting event—the meal: “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And He did not lay His hand on the chief men of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”

It is a sublime, surreal thing that takes place in Sinai’s wilderness. The leaders of the Lord God’s people are in His unveiled presence. They eat and drink before Him, and none are harmed. None are struck down despite their sin, despite their unholiness. The Lord God bids them welcome, as He has made a covenant with them, as they have participated in the blood of sacrifice. This meal in Sinai brings the elders of Israel into communion with the Lord God.

Move forward nearly a millennium and a half, and another eating event takes place. This time, the setting is quite different. There is no great mountain to ascend. There is no large assembly of the Lord God’s people. There is no altar, no herd of bulls to be sacrificed. But despite the different setting, the principals are much the same: the Lord God is present, as well as the leaders of the people He has called out to follow His lead. And in that setting, a covenant is made by the Lord God for His people. A meal is also shared.

On that Thursday of Passover Week, Jesus—the Lord God Incarnate—reclines with His followers. The total number is unknown, but all the Twelve were there along with others. And in their midst, Jesus speaks about fulfilling the covenant that He had made with their ancestors. And Jesus does something else: “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 sacrifice is made, but this time it is not the blood of bulls poured out. Rather, it is the blood of God Himself shed for the people. This is done, so that His people may have forgiveness. There is no altar, but the body of God Himself is offered unto death. This is done, so that His people may have life. Again, it is a sublime thing that transpires, nearly unreal. But it takes place, so that the Lord God’s people may have communion with Him and live.

That is the significance of this night which took place nearly two millennia ago. A covenant is made with you, words sealed with the sacrifice of God Himself. You are given a promise: participate in this covenant, and you shall live. And so, many of you have, believing the Lord God’s word of promise. Through your baptisms, you have been crucified and have risen with Christ. You have participated in His sacrifice, so that you may live. But He also gives you another way to continue to participate in His covenant: eat and drink with the Lord, eat and drink of the Lord, and you shall live.

The meal that the Lord God leaves for you causes you to remember this covenant. You recall His sacrifice. You recall the night when He was betrayed and beaten. You recall His crucifixion which atoned for you. But there is more than remembering. The meal presents to you those very things which were offered for your benefit: Christ’s own body and Christ’s own blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. That is the covenant that the Lord God Incarnate has made with you in accordance with His words: “This is My body; this is My blood of the covenant.”

And so you believe what Jesus says, even if it is surreal. You believe that His body and blood offered in sacrifice for you are present here. And at Christ’s invitation, you who have been baptized into His death and resurrection, who have been instructed in the Lord God’s Law taught in the Ten Commandments, who have been instructed in the Lord God’s acts of redemption taught in the Creed, who have been instructed how to pray as the Lord God has taught—you eat and drink with Him and of Him and He lays not a hand upon you.

So the Lord Jesus Christ desires—not only for those in the Upper Room, but for all His followers. As St. Paul asks the assembly of believers in Corinth: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Yes, they are, for they are so in accordance with the covenant made by Christ’s own words, instituting His will for His disciples.

Those same words of Christ invite you to eat and to drink with Him and of Him on this night. Remember His sacrifice for you and partake of what He offered for your redemption. Recall the covenant and believe in its promises for you. Receive the blessings that come from Christ’s own hands to you in this Holy Meal: forgiveness, life, and salvation.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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