Thursday, April 2, 2015
Homily for Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday)
John 13:1-15, 34-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; Exodus 12:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Can you even imagine the sound of that night, the sound of the slaughter of all those unblemished, one-year-old male lambs, bleating and neighing and screaming at twilight as darkness descended upon Egypt? Of course, shortly after that, the lambs were no longer screaming, but they fell silent. Then it was the mothers and the fathers, the sisters and the brothers of the firstborn sons of Egypt that were screaming and wailing in horror, and grief, and mourning over the slaughtered victims of the LORD’s wrath against sin and unbelief. Then, it was not lambs, but the Egyptian firstborn that died, but it was the children of Israel who heard the screaming as they prepared to leave Egypt, the land of their slavery and hardship, their hell.
The children of Israel heard the screaming of the Egyptians as they ate their slaughtered lambs together with their firstborn sons and their families, safe from the horror descending upon the land. They ate their lambs, roasted in fire, in haste, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs, with belts fastened around their waists, with sandals on their feet, and with staffs in their hands. For, because of the blood of those innocent slaughtered lambs that marked the doorposts and the lintels of their homes, the LORD passed over their homes and spared their firstborn sons His wrath against their sin, even as the LORD visited the homes of the Egyptians and all whose doorposts were not marked with lamb’s blood, pouring out the fullness of His wrath upon them and killing their firstborn. This was the LORD’s Passover, in which the LORD spared His people His wrath upon their sins because of the blood of the lambs that marked them, even as He poured out His wrath upon those who did not heed His Word and trust in Him.
Indeed, in the Passover, the LORD made a key distinction between His people and all others. His people listened to His Word and trusted in Him. They marked their doorposts with lamb’s blood as He had commanded them. Therefore, the LORD passed over them and spared their firstborn sons. The LORD did not spare them because they were sinless or holy or righteous or anything else, but the LORD spared them because of His Word and His promise in which they trusted, just as, long ago, their father Abraham believed the LORD, and the LORD credited him with righteousness. In contrast, the Egyptians, and, quite likely, a few Jews, did not believe the LORD and His Word and, therefore, refused to mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood. Therefore, the LORD poured out His wrath upon them and took their firstborn sons. The distinction between the two peoples and how they received and experienced the LORD’s visitation depended solely upon their faith and trust in the LORD and His Word. The righteous shall live by faith, then, now, and always.
Moreover, we see in the Passover that the totality of the LORD’s wrath against sin was expended for those who trusted in Him. The unblemished, one year old, male lambs were to be roasted whole, head, body, legs, and entrails, and the entire lamb was to be eaten; any remains left over were to be burnt so that there was absolutely nothing left. The lamb, whose innocent blood was shed to mark the doorposts of the faithful’s homes, was completely destroyed, having absorbed, the totality and the fullness of the LORD’s wrath against sin. Those who trusted in the LORD and His Word and sacrificed their lambs in the manner He commanded were spared the death of their firstborn, not because of their work in making the sacrifice, but because of the LORD’s Word and promise which He connected to those lambs, the benefit of which the people received through faith and trust in the LORD, His Word, and His promise.
Neither the Jews nor the Egyptians deserved to be passed over. Likewise, the lambs did not deserve to be slaughtered. However, the Passover is not about the LORD giving us what we deserve, death, but the Passover is about the LORD giving us what we don’t deserve, forgiveness and life. For, just as in Noah’s flood, when the waters of the LORD’s wrath destroyed the wicked, unbelieving, and unrepentant world, even as they raised up faithful Noah and his family and delivered them safely in a new world and life; and just as in the crossing of the Red Sea, in which the waters of the LORD’s wrath destroyed the wicked, unbelieving, and unrepentant Egyptians in the Sea, even as the faithful children of Israel passed safely through on dry ground; and just as in Holy Baptism, where the waters of the LORD’s wrath against your sin drowned and destroyed your old sinful nature, while a new holy and righteous nature was raised up to new life that never ends, so the fate of all people is dependent upon whether or not you are marked with the blood of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ.
Yes, the holy and innocent shed blood of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ must mark the doorways of your body and your soul so that the LORD’s wrath against your sin will pass over you. And, just as in the first Passover in Egypt, this is the LORD’s work and doing, and it is accomplished, complete, and fulfilled in the self-sacrifice of the Lamb of God, God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who selflessly laid down His life for you, and for the whole world, in love for the LORD, and in love for you, whom the LORD loves with a boundless love. You receive the benefit of the Lamb’s self-offering just the same as Abraham, the children of Israel, and all people of all times and all places – by believing and trusting in the LORD and in His Word and promise, and by believing and trusting in the LORD’s Word and promise made flesh and fulfilled for you in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who has borne the fullness of the world’s sin, and the fullness of the LORD’s wrath against sin, so that there is nothing left, for, it is finished.
“I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” wrote St. Paul. St. Paul did not proclaim something new to the Corinthians when he instructed them about the Lord’s Supper, but he directed them to the Apostolic tradition and practice that he had taught them, which he himself received from the Apostles, which, in turn, they received from Jesus Himself when He celebrated his final Passover meal with His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed and was delivered over to the Jews and the Romans to be sacrificed as the Passover Lamb of God for the sins of the entire world. That night, while recounting and celebrating the mighty deliverance the LORD visited upon His people in the Passover, Jesus reinterpreted that event in reference to Himself. There was no Passover lamb at this meal, for Jesus was the Passover Lamb of God. And, as He shared with His disciples the unleavened bread, He told them plainly that it was His body. Likewise, as He blessed the cup of wine and shared it with them, He told them plainly that it was His blood of the New Covenant, shed for them for the forgiveness of their sins.
After dinner, at twilight, Jesus and His disciples went to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to pray. It was now the Day of Preparation, the day on which the lambs were to be slaughtered for the Passover. There in the garden, Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested, and taken to Caiaphas, the High Priest, and tried for the crime of blasphemy, for claiming to be the Son of God and the Messianic King of the Jews. Throughout the nighttime hours of Good Friday, Jesus was tried by Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, by King Herod, and finally by Pilate once again, who, then, delivered Him over to be crucified. In the later morning hours, Jesus was scourged and mocked and humiliated, after which He was crucified around noontime, the same hour that the sacrificial lambs were being slaughtered in the temple for the Passover.
I hand over to you what I myself have received, writes St. Paul. And, so do all faithful pastors hand over to you what they themselves have received: “This is my body which is given for you.” “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” And, as you eat and drink, again and again, the holy, innocent, shed blood of the Lamb of God marks the doorposts and lintels of your body and you soul – the Lamb of God who has borne the fullness of the LORD’s wrath against your sin for you so that it is finished and there is no more. His wrath passes over you, because it has fallen upon Jesus, whose blood has cleansed you and covered you from all sin.
Jesus’ selfless sacrifice was for you. You receive the benefit of His work by faith and trust in Him and His Word. Even more, you are clothed with the benefit of His sacrifice for you in Holy Baptism: His righteousness is your righteousness. His life is your life. His Sonship with the Father is your adoption as His son. Just as in Noah’s flood, just as in the Red Sea crossing, so in Holy Baptism, you have died in Christ, and you have been raised in Him to new and everlasting life. The LORD’s wrath has been poured out for you upon His Son, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus has borne it all for you. Now there is only love and life and blessing through Jesus Christ.
Therefore, there is a New Commandment, the mandate, the mandatum, of Maundy Thursday: “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” This is not a commandment of the Law, but it is a promise and a blessing proclaimed by Jesus just before He fulfilled the Law completely in your place. For, it is with His perfect, holy, self-sacrificial love that you are to love others. You are to deliver to others only what you have received from the Lord: grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. By this, all people will know that you are Jesus’ disciples when you have love for one another.In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.