Sermon for Maundy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-14 + 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 + John 3:1-15
It’s no coincidence that the suffering and death of the Christ took place during the Jewish celebration of the Passover. God Himself connects the redemption from slavery in Egypt, under the leadership of Moses, with the redemption from sin, death and the devil, under the leadership of Christ. God Himself connects the Passover Lamb with Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. It’s why not one of Jesus’ bones could be broken on the cross, as St. John tells us, because that requirement of the original Passover Lamb was pointing ahead to Jesus. And as we’ll hear St. Paul tell the Corinthians in the Easter Sunday Epistle, Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.
In the same way, just as God, under the Old Testament, instituted an annual meal in commemoration of the first Passover, so Christ also, under the New Testament, instituted a special meal in commemoration of the greater Passover of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. And the new meal is as far superior to the old as Christ Himself is superior to a lamb.
We often discuss the Lord’s Supper from two starting points: what it is, and what benefit it gives. Let’s compare the old meal with the new on that basis.
When we discuss the old Jewish Passover meal, we really have to talk about two different meals: the original Passover meal that took place in Egypt, and all the subsequent meals that were celebrated afterwards.
The original Passover meal—what was it? Well, the star of it was the roasted body of the very lamb that was killed that day by each Israelite household and whose blood was literally painted on the doorframe of the house where the meal was eaten.
Every year after that, whenever the Passover was celebrated, the meal consisted of the roasted body of a different lamb, not the lamb whose blood was painted on their doors, not the lamb whose death had spared them from death. It was roasted lamb, nothing more.
What was the benefit of the original Passover meal? Eating that meal, inside the house, preserved each family from death. The blood of that lamb cried out to the destroying angel not to enter this house. This house is protected by the blood of the lamb whose flesh was consumed there, in connection with the promise of God. Not that the lamb itself had any choice in the matter, or any power to save. But because God attached His promise to that lamb and its blood, faith led the Israelites to use it, and they were protected.
What was the benefit of every subsequent Passover meal? There was no real benefit. No promised attached. There was a purpose: for the Israelites to remember God’s great deliverance of their ancestors from bondage in Egypt, so that they could give thanks to God for it. But did it save them from anything? Did it deliver them from anything? Did it give them anything? No.
Of course, we now understand—after the fact, at least—that all those Passover commemorations were also designed to point forward to the greater Passover, the greater deliverance, the greater redemption that would be accomplished by Christ, the Lamb of God, who, on the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
What is the Christian Passover meal? It is bread and wine. But it is also the true body and blood of the Passover Lamb, together with the bread and the wine. There is essentially no difference between the original Lord’s Supper and all the celebrations of it since. It is still the very body and blood of the very Lamb who was slain on Good Friday. You and I and everyone who receives the Sacrament of the Altar receive the very same thing that the twelve apostles received on the night in which Jesus was betrayed.
And what is the benefit of the Christian Passover meal? That is shown us by these words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through such words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. Again, there is no difference between the benefit Jesus’ disciples received and the benefit we receive today. Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed once. Forgiveness was earned for us then, once for all. His blood is now applied to the doorframes of our hearts in Holy Baptism, delivering us from the slavery of sin and the power of the devil. And that same forgiveness is applied to us every time we eat the body of the Lamb and drink His blood. Every celebration of the Lord’s Supper makes those who receive it participants in the true Christian Passover, partakers of the Lord’s death and of His resurrection.
Does the devil accuse you? Does your conscience accuse you? Do you struggle with sin and temptation? Here is the body of the Son of God that was hung on the cross to atone for your sin. Here is the blood that was poured out on the cross and already shed in punishment for your sin. Christ offers it to you for free, to use against the devil, to use against death. What stronger remedy could the Lord Christ offer? What stronger medicine against sin, death, and the devil could you possibly need?
And so we gather today and tomorrow and again on the first day of the week, not only to proclaim to the world our faith in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead; not only to be reminded of Christ and the redemption He accomplished on the cross, but especially to participate in it again, and to receive the benefits of it, as we hear the Gospel, and as we eat and drink the Christian Passover meal, which is a communion of the body and blood of our dear Passover Lamb. Amen.