Maundy Thursday Sermon: Remembering… for you

First Lords Supper (610x351)Our God is a God of ritual.  He commanded His Old-Covenant people to take part in a yearly ritual: The Passover meal.  In the first Passover, God freed His people from their slavery in Egypt.  Every year after their liberation, God told the Israelites to remember the first Passover by eating a meal, which God gave them to eat.

They remembered.  But this involved much more than someone recalling an event of long ago.  For if God only called the individual to remember, why did He command His people to eat a communal meal?  In the Passover meal, God collectively brought the Israelites again, as a community, as a communion, into what He did to rescue them.  In that meal of memory, God remembered His people.  The recalling went both ways.

So, Passover night comes again—the night before the day when the Israelites walked through blood-stained doorways into freedom and life as God’s people.  Whether they were eating the first Passover meal or another matters little, for each Passover was a reliving of God saving His people.  Every Passover meal brought the people of Israel to remember God, as He remembered His forgiven, blood-washed people, once more.

In God’s Old-Covenant remembrance meal, the people eat hard, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and a roasted lamb.  The lamb’s blood stains the doorposts in the shape of a cross.  Death’s dread angel flies to and fro, seeking whom he may pass over, missing no one covered by the blood of the lamb.

“This day is to be a memorial for you.  You are to celebrate the day as a feast to the Lord, even as a permanent statute for generations to come” (Exodus 12:14).  In this meal, you recall the Lord and His saving work—and the Lord remembers you, His Israel.  You eat as a single community, as a communion, both past and present.

Through the ritual of the meal, you remember who you are and who God is.  Through God’s commanded ceremony, He confirms your identity anew, carved in the body of the lamb as you eat and drink in unity with your fellow Israelites.  Passover was a communion of God’s holy community.

So also with Jesus.  He gathers His disciples, His Twelve, His Israel.  The Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord of the Israelites, now celebrates the last Passover meal for His people.  At the table, Jesus gives to His disciples.  First, He washes their feet, a slave’s job.  The Lord of all bends down to do the work of society’s lowest.  The Master becomes the slave, and why not?  He didn’t come so others would serve Him.  No, He came to serve and lay down His life as a ransom for the many.

Poor Peter, so hard-headed and stubborn.  He refuses.  “You will never wash my feet” (John 13:8).  Peter’s pride gets in the way of the Master serving His disciple.

Pride also gets in the way of our Lord serving us.  Too arrogant is the old Adam in us.  We don’t like losing control.  Oh, we do want God, but only on our terms; yet, ignoring what we yearn for, Jesus still comes to give to us in His way.  For only in His way do we receive what He wishes to give.

We are reluctant receivers, but Jesus is ever patient and humble.  He’s a gentleman, but still He persists in His giving: “Unless I wash you, you don’t belong to me” (John 13:8).  Peter must learn the way of receiving, the way of faith, the way of baptism.  Before you can give yourself to others, you must receive what the Lord wants to give to you; He must wash you before you can wash others.

In washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus gives them a pattern for service.  He tells them: “you also should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).  In Jesus, we learn what it means to live with Him in His kingdom and to serve.

King Jesus bows before His subjects and washes their feet.  So also with you and your fellow servants.  “A servant isn’t superior to his master, and a messenger isn’t greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16).  What would Jesus do?  The answer?  He takes the lowliest task to serve others.

After washing their feet, our Lord still gives them more.  Jesus gives in another way—not by being an example, but being a sacrifice.  He takes the bread of the Passover meal—the hard, unleavened bread of affliction, which the Israelites ate on their fateful night of freedom.  He gives thanks, and breaks the loaf into pieces, and hands a piece to each of His disciples.  The morsel grants them admittance, acceptance.

Now Jesus changes Passover to what the meal will become.  The Old Covenant gives way to the New.  “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19).  His words tell us what we could never discover through science, reason, or our senses.  This bread is Jesus’ body, which in less than a day, He will sacrifice in His death on the cross.

Here, bread finds its highest and holiest use, delivering Jesus’ body to our bodies.  Now everything makes sense: He is the life-bestowing bread, the living bread come down from heaven as manna to feed His people!

Jesus also takes wine.  He lifts the cup, thanks the Father, and gives the fermented fruit of the vine to His disciples to drink.  Jesus now becomes even clearer: This is “the New Covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).  Jesus gives us to drink the blood of the New Covenant, His blood, in ordinary wine.

Here wine finds its divine purpose, delivering Jesus’ blood to His disciples’ lips, binding those who drink of His cup in a blood covenant with Him.  Blood is life, as God told His people of old: “The life of the flesh is in its blood” (Leviticus 17:11).

Our Lord’s blood is the blood of the New Covenant, which He poured out for you, in your place, for the forgiveness of your sins.  Where the blood of the Lamb flows, death passes over.  His blood is the drink of immortality.  Eating and drinking, we live forever.

Our Lord’s Supper is also a food of remembrance: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).  Such a wooden translation, following the exact word order of the original Greek text.  Where we find that same grammar and word order elsewhere in the New Testament, we find a different translation.  In English, you don’t tell someone else, “I ate the dinner of me.”  “I ate my dinner,” is how normal English sounds.  So, “Do this in remembrance of Me” is more natural as “Do this in my remembrance.”

Now, we may find this confusing.  For what does Jesus mean by “Do this in my remembrance”?  Is it, “Do this so you will remember me?” or “Do this so I will remember you?”  Yes; both meanings entwine in the text, as also it was for God’s Old-Covenant people.

But how do we know Jesus is remembering us?  He tells us: “This is my body, which is given FOR YOU.”  Those words are at the heart of the Supper.  Jesus also gives us the cup, “poured out FOR YOU.”  Jesus’ body and blood cannot be FOR YOU unless He remembers to give it to you.

“Do this in my remembrance.”  Whose remembrance?  Our Lord’s, for He remembers and gives you His body.  He remembers and gives you His blood.  And when our Lord is remembering us, how can we not remember Him?  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26).

The Lord’s Supper then, as a God-commanded ritual, becomes our remembrance of Him remembering us, as it also was in the Old Covenant.  Jesus tells us to remember Him in this way, by receiving the fruits of His Cross as our food and drink.

In Christ, we are one body and one blood, and He will not deny His body and blood.  This food of memory marks us, as baptism also marks us.  Christ, the crucified, has redeemed us—and as His people, we celebrate His ritual for us.  For in that ritual, He promises to remember us: this is my body for you; this is my blood for you.

Jesus gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink, something only He can do.  In His meal, He unites us with Him in His life, death, and resurrection.  He is the Vine; we are the branches.  His body and blood, His death and life, flow into us, for apart from Him, we can do nothing.

He gives all that He is, to you, to save you, every part of you.  No part of you now stands outside His forgiveness.  Nothing can separate you from this self-giving, self-sacrificing love.  No greater love exists than the love of this Servant, who lays down His life for another.  In His Supper, at His table, He sets before you the gifts of His cross: “These are here for you.  Do this in my remembrance of you.”

From this food and drink, you arise, refreshed, renewed, restored—in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another.  Faith receives Jesus’ service, receiving His forgiveness for you.  Faith remembers His love and service for you.  Faith then lives itself in love, as did our Lord, seeking to serve our Lord in the least, the lost, and the lowly of this world.

With Jesus, the past and future come together in the present.  Jesus is with us in His forgiving power and love, embodied in bread and “blooded” in wine, for you.  The other events of this day may fade and wither.  Not so with this bread and cup, for what Jesus gives you will not fail.  Anchored in His death, guaranteed by His rising, Jesus remembers you and gives Himself, for you.

In His Supper, we remember Jesus remembering us.  So, come now to receive Him.  Amen.