Sermon for Maundy Thursday
1 Corinthians 11:23-32
As you know, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper often. Every Sunday. And in all three of these services between today and Sunday. And in practically every sermon, I urge you Christians, in the name of Christ, toward His Holy Supper, to that Holy Communion of the body and blood of Jesus. But today of all days, on this anniversary of Christ’s institution of the Sacrament of the Altar, we do well to consider what the Holy Supper is and what its benefits are.
What is the Sacrament of the Altar? We have a Catechism answer to that, and we’ll get to it in a moment. First, consider one of those other names we have for the Sacrament. It’s also known as the “Eucharist,” that is, the “Thanksgiving.” And, indeed, that’s exactly what it is: a Eucharist of remembrance.
What does Jesus do when He institutes this Supper? As He takes the bread and again as He takes the cup, He gives thanks. The Sacrament is Christ—and the people of Christ—giving thanks to God the Father for the gifts of bread and wine.
But more than that, since it comes out of the Old Testament Passover meal, it’s a thanksgiving for God’s deliverance of Israel by means of the Passover Lamb, whose blood kept them safe from death and ushered them out of slavery into freedom.
But more than that, it’s a New Covenant or New Testament in the blood of Christ. It’s a thanksgiving to God for providing a new and improved Passover (which we also call Easter)—a new Passover that leaves the first one way behind in the dust. Because we have a better Lamb—Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. In the Sacrament, Jesus gives thanks to His Father—and so do we—for sending Him to be the Lamb of God, for sending Him to suffer, for sending Him to lay down His life, for sending Him to give His body and shed His blood so that there can be blood to be painted on the doors of all hearts, to keep sinners safe from the condemnation they deserve.
But more than that, the Sacrament of the Altar is a thanksgiving for the fact that God is providing in this very meal a connection—a communion—between those who eat and drink, and the body and blood of Christ. What is the Sacrament of the Altar? 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. The once-for-all sacrifice of Christ is brought to us here, so that we might benefit from it, so that the forgiveness of sins that Christ earned for all might be applied to us here and now as we are made partakers of it, as we, with our sins, are brought into contact with the One who bore our sins on the cross. His death is applied to us; it becomes our death—the one we deserve. And His life is applied to us, too, so that we feed on the life of Christ. What do we call the Sacrament in our Confessions? The “medicine” against sin.
Truly this Sacrament is a Eucharist, a thanksgiving—Jesus giving thanks to His Father for giving Him a Church, a beloved Bride, for giving Him communicants who believe in Him and who benefit from His sacrifice; and we giving thanks to the Father for mercifully bringing us together with Christ, and forgiving our sins, and giving us life and salvation as a gift.
The Sacrament of the Altar is at the same time a remembrance. Not just a remembrance, as the Evangelicals, the Reformed, the Baptists imagine. For them, if they celebrate the Supper at all, they view it as a way of remembering that Jesus died on the cross some 2,000 years ago. That’s it. For them, His body and His blood are absent from the Sacrament, from the bread and the wine. They deny His very words, and that’s a very serious thing.
No, when Jesus calls it a “remembrance,” and when we use that word, we don’t mean that we’re calling the absent Jesus to mind. The fact is, the Sacrament of the Altar is the way in which Jesus specifically instructed His Christians to remember Him who is really present with us in the Sacrament.
We are to remember Him by taking bread, giving thanks, recognizing that this is the body of Christ that was once given for us on the cross and is now being given to us in the Sacrament. We are to remember Him by taking a cup of wine, giving thanks, and recognizing that this is the blood of the New Testament, once shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins and now being administered to us for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you come to the Sacrament, remember the body and blood of Jesus, true God and true Man, crucified, beaten and bloodied and dead. Sacrificed. Making atonement. Earning forgiveness.
Remember that the body and blood of Christ were given and shed willingly, for you.
Remember Jesus, no longer dead, but risen and reigning.
Remember Jesus, who instituted this meal so that His people should be continually kept in communion with Him who died for us, should continually receive the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
Whenever you come to the Sacrament, you remember Jesus before the world, proclaiming His death till He comes.
But see, the remembrance He gives you to perform is not like the remembrance of a funeral, with somber sadness; not the remembrance of weeping or mourning, or of anger toward a world that hates Jesus and would crucify Him all over again, if they had the chance. The remembrance He gives us is a meal of bread and wine, body and blood; a meal of joy and gladness, a meal of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Finally, it’s a meal of thanksgiving—a Eucharist—for one another, fellow believers in Christ who confess Him together as one; and most of all, a meal of thanksgiving to God our Father, and to our crucified and risen Lord Jesus. This is how we remember Him rightly and praise and worship Him for all eternity, as the Lamb who was slain for our redemption, as the Lamb who makes us partakers of His redemption, by making us partakers of Him in this Eucharist of remembrance, as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup. Amen.