Sermon for Maundy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-14 + 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 + Passion History (preparations for Passover through Gethsemane prayers)
Jesus’ hour had finally come. This was the hour, this was the day, this was the Passover feast that every other Passover feast had been pointing to for almost 1,500 years. This was the Passover feast to end all Passover feasts, because all the rest were fulfilled in this one, and at this one, Jesus would institute a new one, a better one, a permanent one. This First Day of the feast of Unleavened Bread when, as Mark and Luke specifically tell us, they killed the Passover Lamb—this Thursday evening was the beginning of Jesus’ Passover as the Lamb of God, marked for slaughter from before the world’s foundations were laid. His hour had finally come.
But before stepping out into “His hour,” before stepping out into the dark night with His disciples to face the agony and the loneliness of Gethsemane and the approach of the betrayer and all the torture and injustice of the next 18 hours, Jesus had a final gift to bestow on His disciples, and on us, through them. The New Testament Gift…on the same night in which He was betrayed.
We speak of Maundy Thursday every Sunday, and sometimes in between. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread…” Every celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar brings us back to Maundy Thursday and places us with Jesus and His disciples in that upper room, at that Passover celebration where Jesus took over for the lamb.
At the first Passover, it was the blood of lambs and goats that the Israelites used to paint the doorframes of their houses so that the destroying angel would see and pass over. And by means of that great deliverance, God effectively removed the chains on the enslaved children of Israel and broke open the prison doors that kept them from leaving Egypt. Since then, every Passover every year was a reminder of that deliverance. But it was more than that. It was also a participation in that deliverance, because every Passover celebration for the Israelites outside of Egypt was a celebration of the freedom from slavery that they were now enjoying, freedom that was purchased with the blood of the first Passover lambs.
But on the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus took over for the lamb. Because there is a slavery for mankind that is much worse than the slavery of Israel in Egypt. It’s a slavery we got ourselves into by our sins against God’s commandments. It’s a slavery we pass down to our children as they inherit the ugliness of our natural self-love and distrust of God. It’s a slavery in which most of mankind still lives, and there’s nothing any of us can do to work our way out of it. Our works can’t make things right with God. The blood of a lamb can’t make things right with God. Even our own death can’t make things right with God. Only the life-blood, only the death of the sinless Son of God could redeem us from this slavery.
But even before He would spill His blood, Jesus would give His blood to His disciples in order to mark the doors of their hearts, and even before His body would be tortured and killed, He would give it to His disciples to feed them with the Bread of Life, with the medicine of eternal life, as our Confessions call it.
What is the Sacrament of the Altar? My catechism students can tell you word for word: 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.
How can it be that Jesus gave His disciples His body and blood when He was sitting right there with them? How can He give it now to us? I don’t know. He is God. He does as He pleases. And more importantly, He does as He says. This is My Body; This is My blood. Surely He who brought out the sun, the moon and the stars with a word can perform this miracle with His Word, too.
On the same night in which He was betrayed, Jesus took this Passover meal and changed it into something “new,” into a lasting gift to His Church on earth by means of which He would hand out the forgiveness of sins He would finish earning on the cross. And from that first Maundy Thursday night until the end of time, Jesus’ disciples have been and will be taking bread and wine, blessing them with Jesus’ own words, and distributing them to Christians for the forgiveness of sins, for the building up of faith, and for strengthening Christians against fear, doubt and temptation. Now it’s the meal that celebrates the spilling of the blood of Christ to redeem sinners from sin, death and the devil. Now it’s the meal in which God allows us to commune with Christ, not in some spiritual or metaphorical sense, but to come together with the real body and blood of the real Jesus—the price of our redemption, to come together with Him so that all of our wretchedness becomes His and all of His righteousness becomes ours.
Jesus calls this gift His blood of the “new covenant,” or a better word in English, the new “testament.” The Old Testament, first made with Abraham, sealed with the blood of circumcision, then ratified at Sinai and filled with the blood of animals, had reached its divinely appointed end on Maundy Thursday. Jesus, the Son of Man, the Son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Son of David, was the heir of the Old Testament. But the heir was about to die! So He left for His believers a New Testament, in which He bequeaths to us everything He has, even His own righteousness as a blanket to cover our sins so that when God sees us, all He sees is His Son. All He sees when He looks at a believer in Christ is someone who has already suffered for all sins, because you have Christ wrapped around you, who suffered for all sins so you don’t have to suffer for any sin. All He sees when He looks at a believer in Christ is someone who is perfectly righteous and obedient even to death on a cross, because Jesus was obedient even to death on a cross, so you don’t need any righteousness of your own to stand before Him.
The cup that Jesus drank on the night in which He was betrayed was a bitter cup of agony, the bitter cup of God’s wrath and punishment against all sinners. But because Jesus willingly took that cup and drank it for us, the cup that He gives us in the Sacrament of the Altar has no bitterness left in it, only the sweet communion in the blood of Christ, and the pleasant promise of life after death.
Over these next three days we will continue to follow our Savior on His Passover journey, to the cross, to the grave, and to Easter victory. But tonight, and every Lord’s Day, Jesus invites us Christians, not just to watch, but to participate in His Passover journey to the cross, to the grave, and to Easter victory. Here in His body, here in the New Testament in His blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Amen.