Friday, April 6, 2012

Maundy Thursday (Mark 14:12-26)

“Truly I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Maundy Thursday comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, tonight we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Christians have known this sacrament by many names- Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the breaking of the bread, the Sacrament of the Altar- and each of these names teaches us something about this gift that Christ has given. When we call it the Lord’s Supper, we are confessing something about the very identity of this meal. It is the Lord’s Supper, not ours. It doesn’t belong to us, we aren’t in control of it, we didn’t invent it; it belongs to Jesus, who instituted it.

Nothing that happens to Jesus, especially in His final hours, is out of His control. He carefully watches over every detail, and He goes willingly to His destiny, freely giving Himself up into death. It begins even with the choice of the upper room where He celebrates the Lord’s Supper. He commands two of His disciples: “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The teacher says, “Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” Then He will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.’” Jesus calls it ‘my guest room;’ He takes ownership of the place, it is His, for He has chosen it for His own purposes. It may belong to the master of that house, but Christ has made it His own, as the location where He will give His gifts. This church building belongs to you in the eyes of the world; you helped pay for it, you still pay to maintain it, and some of you even helped to construct it. But this place is owned by Christ; Jesus has chosen it for His own purposes, as the place where He will give His people every good thing. It is the Lord’s house, not yours.

In the same way, those two disciples are the ones who prepare the meal; they purchase the lamb, they have it sacrificed, they cook it and prepare the other dishes, so that everything is ready when Jesus and the other ten arrive. But it is Jesus who is in control. He has chosen the place and He will soon give the meal. Those who prepared the feast, who distribute it, have a great privilege and honor, but they don’t make the meal what it is. That task belongs to Jesus alone. It is the Lord’s Supper, not ours.

He is in control; He knows those who come to His table, He even knows their hearts. “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.’” No one can deceive the Lord. You can mislead your pastor and your fellow Christians, but you cannot deceive the Lord. Jesus knows the hearts of those who come to receive His gifts. He knows those who come to His altar as broken, repentant sinners, desperate for the forgiveness that He gives. And He knows those who come to His altar as defiant, unrepentant sinners, those who live in open sin or who have a different confession of faith than what is professed at this altar. He even knows those who, like Judas, hear the warning for unbelief and betrayal, and yet fail to heed: “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

He knows the hearts of men; He knows your heart. There is no sense in trying to hide from Him. No one can deceive the Lord. This knowledge is terrifying when we think of God’s holy Law and how we have transgressed it. But this knowledge of what is in the hearts of men- of what is in your heart- doesn’t move Jesus to wrath; it moves Him to compassion. As He said to the disciples, “The Son of man goes as it is written of Him.” It was written of Jesus that He would suffer and die for the sin that dwells in the hearts of man, and so that is where He goes. Jesus is in control; no one takes His life from Him, but He gives it up freely, on His own accord.

He goes to the cross to pay for your sin, the sin that dwells in your heart that no one else knows about, and the sin that is committed out in the open, for all to see. Tomorrow night we will watch as He drinks that cup, the cup full to the brim of God’s wrath, down to the dregs in bitterness and agony. We will hear Him cry, “It is finished!” declaring that our salvation has been accomplished, for the price has been paid. At the cross death is defeated and Satan destroyed. At the cross your forgiveness is won, for His blood has been poured out for your sin, He has been sacrificed in your place. But Jesus doesn’t send you to the cross to find that forgiveness. You could travel to Israel, but the cross isn’t there anymore. You could time-travel two thousand years into the past to stand there amongst the soldiers and the women, but even those soldiers and those women didn’t receive forgiveness simply from being at the cross. You could meditate on the cross in your mind and heart, and while this is certainly a wonderful practice, it will not bring you forgiveness, because that is not how Jesus wants to give it. He is in charge, and while He certainly won salvation on Calvary’s hill, He doesn’t give it to you there.

To give you the forgiveness He won, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. “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.’” Jesus does things His own way; He is in control, He decides how to give His gifts. He doesn’t send you to the cross, physically or in your mind, but to that place where He gives the very gifts He won on the cross.

He sends you to the Lord’s Supper, His Supper, the place where He actually bestows forgiveness, life, and salvation. He is in control; He is the same God who delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, and so He replaces the Passover with a new meal of salvation. But the Lord’s Supper isn’t simply a new Passover. The Passover commemorated and celebrated salvation; the Lord’s Supper actually gives salvation. This is no memorial meal, no mere remembrance of God’s great acts; this is Christ’s own Body and Blood, the price for our redemption, given to us to eat and to drink. This is the medicine of immortality; those fed by this food will live even though they die. This is the Christian’s steady diet, food for the journey, rations for the soldier. Our journey is long, and our warfare intense, but through this gift, Christ sustains us, He feeds us with salvation. 

Martin Luther once declared that the only way the Church survived during the centuries of error and the suppression of the Gospel was the regular administration of the Lord’s Supper. It is the beating heart of the Church. Any attempt to revitalize or reinvigorate the Church apart from the Lord’s Supper is hamstrung; it is like trying to rebuild and drive a car without putting gas in the tank. Nothing else can truly sustain us, nothing else can preserve the Church through the trials that face her in this world. Christ is in control, and He has established this Sacrament as His means to preserve and strengthen His Church and His people.
It is the Lord’s Supper, not yours, but He gives it to you. It is His gift to broken sinners; it is His gift to you this very night. Jesus said, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Tonight the kingdom of God comes to you, and Jesus dines with you in the feast of salvation. He has set the table, He is both host and meal, and He invites you to come forward and partake of salvation. This is His Supper, the Lord’s Supper: His very Body and His true Blood, given and shed for you on Calvary’s cross, given and distributed to you here in the Supper. This is His grace given to eat and to drink by those who hunger and thirst for His righteousness. Come, taste and see that the Lord is good! In the Name of the host who is also the meal, our Passover Lamb who was sacrificed, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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