“And [Jesus] said to them, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled 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 twenty-second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, what is the Lord’s Supper? What is this meal all about? Why did Christ give it, and what does He give us there? We are called upon to ponder such questions as we prepare ourselves to receive this Supper on the night when Christ first gave it, and for my money, Martin Luther gives us a pretty good answer: “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.” What is the Lord’s Supper? Body and Blood, bread and wine. More specifically, the Body and Blood of Christ Himself. This meal of Body and Blood, bread and wine is instituted by Jesus, established on the night on which He was betrayed, and it is given not to look at, not to simply adore, but for Christians to eat and to drink. What is the Lord’s Supper? Body and Blood, bread and wine, eating and drinking; a feast given to Christians from Christ.
What is the Lord’s Supper? It certainly isn’t our meal. It belongs to the Lord, not us. He controls the action, He establishes the meal, He is Lord and Master over this feast. He sends His disciples into Jerusalem to prepare the Passover, but it is actually Christ who makes the arrangements. “Tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’” He chooses the place, He sets the guest list, He runs the show: “And they went and found it just as He had told them, and they prepared the Passover.” Some set the table and serve the meal, the rest eat, but Christ is the Lord of this Supper. We simply participate, giving and receiving, each in His vocation, each in reverence to our Lord who gave it.
Christ is in control; He has authority over even the most ancient of institutions. He takes the Passover, the feast of deliverance, the feast of salvation, and makes it His own. God gave the Passover; now, hundreds of years later, God transforms it. “And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” Israel had celebrated the Passover for almost fifteen hundred years, from the first night when the Angel of Death passed over blood splattered doors, but no celebration had ever been like this. Jesus makes the Passover His own meal, for this Passover is the last Passover; what it had pointed to for a millennium and a half had now come. This Passover is Christ’s Passover, and the lamb that was to be sacrificed is God in the flesh, as John the Baptist had so boldly declared with a powerful voice and a quivering finger: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
What is the Lord’s Supper? It is the meal of the sacrifice, the new Passover, the fulfillment of what God did for His people of old in the bondage of Egypt. On that night of nights, the eve of Egypt’s final plague, lambs were sacrificed, slaughtered, and their blood would save. For lamb’s blood would mark the doorposts and lintels of Hebrew homes in Goshen, and the Angel of Death would pass over, bringing death to Egypt but sparing God’s chosen people, as they gathered together to feast upon the lamb who had been sacrificed for their salvation. Jesus gathers with His disciples on the day of slaughter; Luke tells us, “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.” On the day when the Passover lamb is given into slaughter, Christ, the Lamb of God, is betrayed into the hands of sinful men. He will be slaughtered, sacrificed upon the altar of the cross, and His blood will save. It will mark His people, the doorposts and lintels of their hearts will be painted with that blood, and death will pass over them. And then, as with God’s people of old, the sacrifice will be eaten by those who have been saved by it; the feast of salvation, once a lamb, now Body and Blood, bread and wine. Death passes over; it has no power over those marked with blood, who have eaten of that sacrifice, for they have a new relationship with their God.
What is the Lord’s Supper? It is the feast which establishes a covenant unlike any other, as God Himself says through Jeremiah: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.” The Passover was the meal of God’s covenant with His people, His declaration that He had acted in salvation to deliver them, and He called on them in response to be obedient to His commands. God was faithful to His covenant; man wasn’t. Despite all the gifts that He gave to them, despite all the gifts that He daily gives to us, we are unfaithful, we are rebellious, we are sinful. We live for ourselves, separate from our loving creator; we abuse those gifts or refuse to give Him thanks. God doesn’t leave us, we break away from Him. And departure from the God of life means only death.
What is the Lord’s Supper? It is the feast of a new covenant, a new relationship between God and man. The time of the old covenant is over; it has been fulfilled, with all of its institutions. The sacrifices are no more; they have been fulfilled by Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, as we hear in the Epistle: “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” The Passover is no more; it has been fulfilled by Christ’s Passover; the new feast of the covenant is the feast of His Body and His Blood. “This is my body, which is given for you.” The Body that is joined with the bread is the Body that hung upon the cross to reconcile God with man. The Body of Christ is given unto death “for you,” for your salvation, for your deliverance; His death in your place. “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” The Blood that is joined with the wine is the Blood that was poured out upon the cross as the price of your redemption. The Blood of Christ is shed “for you,” to establish a new covenant with you and your God, to mark your door so that the Angel of Death will pass over it forever.
What is the Lord’s Supper? It is a continual remembrance of Christ’s passion and death for you, for your salvation. As Christ Himself tells us, “Do this in remembrance of me.” But this remembrance is like no other in our world. In the Supper we aren’t playacting, we aren’t simply calling to mind Christ’s passion; Christ’s passion is coming to us, even touching our very lips. The same Body that hung upon the cross, the same Blood that was shed there are given to eat and to drink under the bread and the wine. And the Body and Blood of Christ cannot come without the benefits they won; forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, the fruits of our redemption, given to those who eat and drink. When we remember Christ’s death in the Supper the very fruits of that death, the very flesh and blood of the Lamb of God, are given to us. If we truly understood the great gift of the Lord’s Supper, we would demand that our pastors give it to us each and every Sunday; as an early church father said, “I always sin, so I always need the medicine.”
What is the Lord’s Supper? The medicine of immortality. Those who feast here in faith will live forever, for here is given the flesh and blood of the One who won eternal life. Here the Passion of our Lord, which we will observe tomorrow, comes near to us. Here the Resurrection of our Lord, the light that dawns on Sunday morning, becomes our victory. Jesus said that He would not eat of this feast until the Kingdom of God comes. It has come, through the cross and empty tomb, and in that Kingdom He will dine with you now and forevermore. What is the Lord’s Supper? The feasting of the Kingdom of God, that will last forever, world without end. In the name of Jesus, who gives us His Body and His Blood to eat and to drink for our salvation, Amen.