Maundy Thursday--38th Day of Lent
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night in which He was betrayed… We hear the Words of Institution so frequently in the liturgy that we probably know them from memory. And that’s a good thing! Yet, because of our frail sinful flesh and our spiritual laziness, both of which the devil tries to use to his advantage, we can also “fast forward” through the Words of Institution and not give them much thought or heed. But if we do that, we are doing ourselves great spiritual harm because the Words of Institution are full of great comfort to our souls and tremendous doctrine. That’s why it does us good on this Maundy Thursday, the day in which we remember Jesus’ gift to His Church of Holy Communion--Jesus’ gift of His physical/ bodily presence to His Church and bodily coming to us and uniting with us, Jesus’ gift of giving us in it the forgiveness of our sins--it does us good to ponder and meditate briefly on Jesus’ words of institution. We will take in hand St. Paul’s account from tonight’s epistle and meditate on it briefly and refresh ourselves once again on the great gift and blessing of the Holy Sacrament.
St. Paul begins: For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you. Although this is not part of the Words of Institution we hear each week, it sets the tone and gives us vital understanding. The people of Corinth had corrupted the Lord’s Supper and were not celebrating it rightly. So in contrast to the misunderstanding and abuses there, St. Paul, their father in faith had to come in and set down direction/ reteach them. What Paul passed down to them was not just some nice custom, not some nice extra; it wasn’t even something the apostles or the church came up with but the Lord’s Supper is from the Lord! The Blessed Sacrament is not even something that St. Paul had learned from the apostles who were at that Passover and maybe exaggerated it/ blew it out of proportion. Instead I received [it] from the Lord. St. Paul received it by direct and immediate communication from Jesus, like he writes elsewhere [Gl. 1.12]: For I neither received [the Gospel] from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. The sanctity of Holy Communion rests on the authority of Jesus, the God-man--it is His meal after all, He is the Giver, He is the Host. It is not ours to do with as we please.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you. Holy Communion is not something extraneous or incidental to the faith. It is part of the heart and core of our faith and our teaching--so much so that the Lord Himself saw fit to instruct St. Paul on it to teach to the Church. And so it is not something to be despised or regarded lightly. What Jesus entrusted to St. Paul, he taught/ passed down to the Church; what has been entrusted to us, we are to guard as the precious treasure it is. And we are to pass this teaching and gift on to the generation after us. It’s not ours; it is the Lord’s; we merely receive it and treasure it and faithfully pass it on--like we are to do with all our Lord’s teachings. They are all vital and a treasure.
Now we come to the words we are familiar with: The Lord Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed… While the betrayal was going on, Jesus was giving His Church for all time this most precious gift and blessing. Judas was there at the Passover meal. He had already sold out Jesus. Jesus’ enemies are engaged in preparing for His capture. And while that is going on, Jesus was preparing the most glorious banquet for His dear Christians--the banquet of His body and blood. And yet this all fits together: what Jesus is giving--His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins is based on His sacrifice the next day. The sacrament presupposes Jesus’ suffering and death; that a sacrifice/ death had taken place. After all, Jesus gives us His body and then His blood--separated. A death has taken place!
He...took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you.” So how does that grace come to us? How does the forgiveness of sins come to us? How do we receive into ourselves Jesus’ body? How do we receive the gifts and blessings of the sacrament? He...took bread. Here we come to the heart and core of what a sacrament is--it is something outward, something that we see--a sign [and here the bread and wine] and to that the Word and promise of God are added: He...took bread...He took the cup… That’s what we see. And now the promise: This is My Body...This is My blood... given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.
He...took bread and by His mighty word that bread, which Jesus separated and took in His hands, would become a saving instrument by which He would distribute His body and the forgiveness of sins to His disciples--that very body which would hang on the cross the next day and reconcile us sinners to the holy God.
He...took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you.” Jesus giving thanks was that special blessing over that bread which would now be the bearer of heavenly gifts as He would give each disciple a piece of the bread--bread that was no longer just bread. When the Words of Institution are spoken over the bread and wine, they are no longer just bread and wine but also Jesus’ very body and blood. Shortly before our text St. Paul had also written [10.16]: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? By virtue of Jesus on that first Maundy Thursday setting apart and giving thanks over that bread and wine, now whenever according to Jesus’ command the words of institution are spoken over bread and wine, they are no longer just bread and wine but also Jesus’ body and blood. Our Lutheran Confessions tell us [F.C. S.D. VII, 75]:
Jesus Christ’s true and almighty words, which He spoke at the first institution, were effective not only at the first Supper. They endure, are valid, operate, and are still effective. So in all places where the Supper is celebrated according to Christ’s institution and His words are used, Christ’s body and blood are truly present, distributed, and received, because of the power and effectiveness of the words that Christ spoke at the first Supper.
“This is My body, which is for you.” If, as they are, Jesus’ words are true then let us receive the Holy Sacrament often; it has to be the central act of worship [Acts 20.7] not just for the apostles but also for us. St Luke records in Acts: Now on the first day of the week [that’s Sunday] when the disciples came together to break bread [that’s Holy Communion]… Notice, that’s why they came together: for the sacrament, the breaking of bread! What is so great about the sacrament? --Here the benefits of Jesus’ Good Friday sacrifice are given to us. It becomes very clear in the simple word: “for”--“This is My body, which is for you.” Earlier in this letter, St. Paul uses this same word “for” to point to Jesus’ work, His death on behalf of us sinners [15.3]: For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins--on our behalf, He took our sins upon Himself, their curse and guilt. That’s the body that He gives us in the Sacrament--His very Body that suffered for our sin and guilt and reconciled us to God. “This is My body, which is for you.”
After going from one disciple to another with the bread and giving them His body, Jesus now goes again to each with the chalice filled with wine: In the same way, after the supper, he also took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new testament in my blood.” This new testament is the forgiveness of sins, a covenant of mercy. This new testament/ covenant was established by the pouring out of blood--Jesus’ blood on the cross. By the blood of Jesus our sins are washed away; by His blood we are reconciled to God. How can we be sure our sins are forgiven us; how can we be sure this new covenant of grace is valid and in effect? The blood of Jesus that we drink from the communion cup! That wine is the blood of Jesus. When we drink it, there is our assurance that we are living under this new covenant of forgiveness and mercy because it has been sealed, ratified, confirmed with the blood of Jesus, the blood of the very God Himself and that’s exactly what we are drinking from the chalice. God enters a new covenant of mercy with those who partake of the Sacrament--“This cup is the new testament in my blood.”
The Blessed Sacrament is a visible and tangible form of the Gospel. We don’t just hear that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and reconciled us sinners to the holy God; we don’t just hear about the forgiveness of sins--but in the Sacrament we actually receive that forgiveness as we receive in our mouths Who/ What brought them about: Jesus, true God who is also true man with true body and blood. We need always to hear the Gospel and in the Sacrament to touch and receive the Gospel because we are sinners always in need of that forgiveness and the assurance of that forgiveness. What a gracious God! He comes and gives it to us here!
After both giving the bread and wine/ His very body and blood, Jesus then says after each: Do this in remembrance of Me. But we must not think it is some vague remembrance thinking pleasantly back, sentimentally, on some long absent Jesus who we remember fondly in our hearts. It is much more. The Holy Supper is not some simple memorial of what Jesus did. It brings us Jesus. It unites us with Jesus, as the crucified and living Jesus truly comes to us and presents Himself to us in the bread and wine. To do this in remembrance of Me properly requires God-given wisdom, faith, and fear of the Lord. Only with that divine wisdom and the eyes of faith do we really see what is going on in the sacrament. To all outward appearance it looks like all there is is bread and wine; human reason says it is bread and wine; our senses tell us it is bread and wine. But as we do this in remembrance of Me, divine wisdom overrides that and tells us: this is Jesus; He’s truly here--He’s not locked off in some distant heaven; He’s giving me His body and blood; He’s uniting with me; He’s coming to me with all His heavenly treasures and gifts. That’s divine wisdom; and faith says “Yea and amen!” to it! In the fear of the Lord, we humble ourselves before the Lord as He comes before us and to us and recognize we are in the presence of God Himself.
The Holy Supper is not a symbol; it is and gives what it says. It is a re-presentation of our salvation that was accomplished many centuries ago outside Jerusalem. Before us is the sacrifice of Jesus, His death, His body and blood separated--and we are sharing in it. As we Do this in remembrance of Me, we have before us a memorial of our redemption. With Jesus before us, giving us His body and His blood--This is My body...This cup is the new testament in My blood--we are ever mindful of Him and in love strive to follow Him, His word and ways, more closely! The Blessed Sacrament is not simply a memorial of what Jesus did but it brings us the benefits of His work into the present, into our lives right now, and transforms them so that we can never be the same afterward but are filled with joy, peace, and love. Because why? We are truly physically united with Jesus.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. By gathering in church, hearing the words of institution, eating and drinking we proclaim Christ crucified and proclaim that in this Sacrament are the forgiveness of sins--otherwise, why bother with it? As we receive the sacrament here in church we announce Christ’s gifts; we praise, thank and extol God in true faith and we awaken others to the knowledge of and to desire them as well. These gifts in the Sacrament comfort the afflicted and anxious consciences, strengthen the weak and confirm the believers. So rich in comfort and doctrine is the Blessed Sacrament that we cannot ponder it enough and give our Lord praise for it! INJ