Thursday, March 24, 2016
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.
The fruit of the Tree of Life, the Passover Lamb, the Manna in the wilderness, the sacrifices in the tabernacle and the temple, the welcoming widow’s unspent jar of flour and jug of oil – what do all these, and others, share in common? They were gifts of the LORD’s providence to sustain, to preserve, and to atone for His people who had broken their relationship with Him by their sin and rebellion. Moreover, these gifts had the special quality of always being sufficient. They were enough, for the individual, for the family, and even for the neighbor who had less than nothing. One could gather neither too much nor too little, for it was the LORD’s providence, not man’s, and with the LORD there is always enough, and then some to share. The work of man’s hands sometimes produces abundance, and other times dearth, but it never satisfies. Those who have much, and those who have little, always desire more. Desire produces greed and selfishness, brutishness, resentment, hate, violence, and murder. Not so the gifts of the LORD. All receive. None can take credit. The LORD provides for all His rebellious and sinful people, even those who reject Him, all that they need to support their bodies and lives both now and forever.
Those gifts were sacraments, of a sort, doing what sacraments are meant to do: pointing you outside of yourself and your feelings and your emotions and your works to that which the LORD has said, and promised, and done. The sacraments are signs for you and for your sake that you may believe and be confident in your faith – the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. And so, on the night in which He was betrayed, your Lord Jesus celebrated one final Passover meal with His disciples and instructed them to continue celebrating that meal together, often, in remembrance of Him and what He was about to do for them and for the entire world. But it wasn’t merely a remembrance meal or a memorial as some Christians are want to say, but, like the Passover itself, it really and truly bestowed what the LORD had promised in and through His Word attached to it. Like the Tree of Life, the Manna in the wilderness, the Passover Lamb, and the tabernacle and temple sacrifices, this meal delivers what it says because the LORD has attached His performative and creative Word to it for you.
To the Israelites, the LORD said that the blood of the lamb was a sign for them. When they obeyed His Word, when they trusted in His Word of Promise and marked the lintels of their doors with the lamb’s blood, then the LORD knew that they trusted in Him, and His wrath passed over them and He spared their firstborn. However, the blood was a sign for them, not for the LORD. The blood was a gift to them, a sacrament, that they might believe and be confident in their faith. Such was the case also with the fruit of the Tree of Life and the Manna in the wilderness. The fruit and the manna were sacramental signs for them, for the people, that they might believe and be confident in their faith. The LORD attached His Word of Promise to the tree and to the manna, and so they delivered precisely what that Word promised – forgiveness, life, and salvation. And, the blood is still a sign for you that you might believe and be confident that your sins are forgiven, that your faith might be strengthened, and that you might be comforted and have hope to persevere, knowing that you are united with Jesus in His life, His obedience, His death, and His resurrection. That is why Luther says in the Small Catechism, “that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’.”
The Passover was to be the beginning of a new year of the LORD’s grace for the children of Israel. Each year they were to celebrate and to remember His mighty deliverance of them from slavery and bondage to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. And so, this day, and each day we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, is a memorial for you, a day of remembrance of the Lord’s mighty deliverance of you from the bondage of sin and death. Once again, the Lord’s Supper is not merely a remembrance, but it actually bestows what the Lord’s Words say – the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Thus, we confess with St. Paul, “As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Each time we celebrate the Lord's Supper we take within ourselves the fruit of the cross, which has become for us our Tree of Life.
But, why do we remember? Why do we need to remember? Because we are Passover people, continually in need of faith, trust, and confidence in the Word of the LORD, the Word of the Gospel that passes over our sins. We are still on a pilgrimage, not from Egypt to the Promised Land, but from hell to heaven, from death to life, and our only hope is in the Word of the LORD and in the sign, the Sacrament, He has given – the crucified and risen body and blood of His Son Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God that takes away our sins and the sins of the world. Even before our fall into sin, our lives were drawn from the Word of the LORD and His gifts – the LORD’s fruit, the LORD’s bread, the LORD’s sacrificial system, the LORD’s sacrifice. Then, now, and always, salvation comes to those who believe and trust in the Word of the LORD. There is no other way.
The blood of all those lambs, calves, and bulls had pointed only to this, to Jesus, to the Lamb of God’s sacrificial self-offering. And, now Jesus was leaving, by means of the cross and the empty tomb, ascending back to His Father as our brother, our Redeemer, our Great High Priest, and our Bridegroom. Therefore Jesus left us this meal of remembrance as a sign, like the blood of the Passover Lamb, that we might trust in His Word of Promise and be confident until He returns. He did this because of His love for you. Likewise, He did set forth an example in His own selfless service and love to His brothers by washing their feet, not that you should wash anyone’s feet, but that you should serve your brother and sister in Christ, and your neighbor, even the stranger and your enemy, in humility, in love, and in selfless, sacrificial service. This is His New Commandment for you, that you love one another as Christ has loved you. And yet, this commandment is not new at all, but it has been the fulfillment of all the commandments of God from the beginning, even before the fall. Jesus’ New Commandment, which we also commemorate this evening, is the first and only commandment of the new creation – the same and only commandment of the old – which we are now free to obey and to do without fear or coercion, but out of love for God and for our neighbor.
You are free. Yes, that is what we remember tonight. You are free from the condemnation of the Law. You are free to obey the Law of the LORD because you want to, not because you have to, because you get to, not because you will be punished if you don’t. You are free to keep it and to do it and to love it because it is good and true and just. Jesus, our Passover Lamb, has offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus’ blood now marks us and death passes over. Gone are the fear and the guilt and the shame and all the fruits of sin. You are freed from these tyrants forever in Christ. As St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Tonight we remember and celebrate and receive anew our freedom in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb, the Word of God made flesh laid down for us unto death in selfless sacrifice, in love for us and for all the world. We eat it in haste, with shoes upon our feet, for it is our strength and our hope, even our forgiveness and life, as we make our pilgrimage from earth to heaven and from death to life. His blood is a sign for you that God’s wrath still passes over you. May His blood be on us and on our children now and always.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.