Sermon for Maundy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-14 + 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 + John 13:1-15
For 1500 years, from the days of Moses until Maundy Thursday, God’s people Israel were commanded to celebrate the Passover in commemoration of that night when God’s destroying angel passed over the houses of the Israelites who had painted the blood of the Passover lamb on their doors. Jesus was eager to celebrate the Passover meal with His disciples, because it would be the last Jewish Passover ever celebrated. Now, even though Jews have continued to observe the Passover for the 2000 years since that Maundy Thursday—in fact, tomorrow is the beginning of the Jewish celebration—the truth is, the Passover that Jesus celebrated with His disciples on Maundy Thursday was the very last legitimate Jewish Passover in history, even as it was the beginning of the Christian Passover that has no ending date, but keeps going on and on and on until the end of the world.
Let’s compare the Jewish Passover with the Christian Passover. And as we do, we’ll see just how far superior the Christian Passover is.
Both Passovers were instituted by God. The Jewish Passover was about deliverance from slavery in Egypt. That slavery was horrible. It was oppressive and painful and sometimes lethal. But it was still only temporal and only a superficial slavery—a slavery of the body, but not of the soul. The Christian Passover is about deliverance from a slavery that is far worse, a slavery of both body and soul, a slavery to sin and to death and to the power of the devil, all of which are far worse taskmasters than the Egyptian Pharaoh was. And worst of all, the slavery to sin cuts a person off from God and continues even after death, continues for all eternity.
The Jewish Passover involved a spotless young lamb. Actually, it involved thousands of spotless young lambs, one for each Israelite household in Egypt. Such spotless lambs were not at all uncommon or hard to find, and sheep were slaughtered all the time anyway. Their blood was not all that precious. But the Christian Passover involves a single Lamb, the Lamb of God, the only-begotten Son of God and Son of Man, one perfect, sinless life whose blood is infinitely precious. To slaughter a thousand lambs is nothing. But to slaughter the Lamb of God? That means…everything.
At the Jewish Passover, only the firstborn in the family was at risk, so only the firstborn was actually saved by the lamb’s blood painted on the doorframes of the house. But the blood of the Lamb of God is applied to the heart through faith, and it saves from death everyone to whom it is applied. It doesn’t just save the firstborn. It saves the whole family of believers by means of the death of the Firstborn—the Firstborn Son of God.
The Jewish Passover meal consisted (chiefly) of roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. The lamb had to be roasted in the fire. The bread had to be unleavened, both because of the haste with which it had to be made, and as a symbol of the sinlessness that was required to approach God. The herbs had to be bitter to remind them of their bitter slavery in Egypt. There are no bitter herbs in the Christian Passover meal, instituted by Christ on Maundy Thursday. All the bitterness of sin and death was tasted by Christ for us. The Christian Passover meal consists of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, and the wine of joy and celebration.
It also consists of lamb. And you say, what? There is no lamb on our altar, no lamb included in our Christian Passover meal! Ah, but there is. Not the meat of an animal, but the very body and blood of the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for us on the cross—His body and blood that are truly present in, with, and under the bread and wine, so that the bread is His true body, and the wine is His true blood—the body and blood of the Lamb, a true communion with our Savior Jesus Christ in which He visits us here, in space and time, gives us Himself and unites us to His death and resurrection.
The Jewish Passover happened only once at the time of Moses. All the Jewish Passovers after that first Passover were mere commemorations. There was no more destroying angel, there was no more blood on the doorframes of Jewish houses; just a remembrance of God’s great deliverance of their Israelite forefathers. But the Christian Passover is more than just a remembrance of something that happened in the past. It’s an ongoing thing, an ongoing remembrance of Christ who not only died as the Passover Lamb but rose from the dead and now lives to save His people. The Lamb was sacrificed once for all, but His blood is constantly being applied to sinners through the Means of Grace, our deliverance from sin and death is constantly being carried out by Him, and His body and blood are offered to His people “as often as you drink it,” as often as we celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar. He continues to forgive us our sins by these Means, and by them He continues to preserve us in the faith and guard and protect us from sin, death, and Satan until He brings us safely into His heavenly kingdom.
The Jewish Passover was part of the Old Covenant that was always destined to pass away and be replaced by the New Covenant, the New Testament in the blood of Jesus the Christ. So we will never celebrate a Jewish Passover Seder at our church. It’s over. It’s obsolete. It has been replaced by something far, far better. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has given us His Holy Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, which both replaces and surpasses all that came before. This is the Christian Passover—the Passover that we call “Easter” and the Passover meal that we call the Lord’s Supper. And we will continue to celebrate it, not only on Maundy Thursday, but every Sunday and sometimes in between for the rest of our earthly lives, proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes. Amen.