Maundy Thursday

Preached: April 17, 2014

Marvel at the Bridegroom’s Love
Matthew 9:15

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God before us today through which Jesus speaks to us is Matthew 9:15

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15 NIV).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

In 1727 J. S. Bach composed a masterpiece of sacred music. Using the account of Jesus’ suffering and death recorded in Matthew 26 and 27 as well as incorporating hymns and uniting it all with recitatives and arias, he composed St. Matthew’s Passion. In the opening song one, choir asks whom we see and the other responds: “The Bridegroom.”

At first that might not strike us as a Lenten thought. Wouldn’t calling Jesus “Redeemer,” “Savior,” or “the Lamb” fit better than “Bridegroom?” Yet that title for Jesus brings thoughts very fitting for this Maundy Thursday, as we marvel at the Bridegroom’s love.

The imagery of the Lord God as the husband of his people is rooted deep in the Old Testament. John the Baptist also referred to Jesus as the Bridegroom (John 3:29). And in Matthew 9 Jesus used that title for himself. He had just called Matthew to follow him. As they dined at Matthew’s house that evening, some of John’s disciples asked why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast like them. Jesus explained in the words of the text. “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15 NIV).

For three years the disciples enjoyed following Jesus. They listened to his preaching and marveled at his words. They saw his love in action as he healed the sick. They were safe with him, and their hearts grew ever more confident that he was the One. He was the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, the Christ. He was the consummation of their hope and the source of their joy. It was like a wedding celebration.

Tonight that would all end. Like sheep they were scattered as the Shepherd was struck down. The Bridegroom was taken from them. Soon his limp lifeless, cold body lay in tomb. Their hope died with him. Their joy shattered into mourning. No one had to tell them to fast. They had no appetite. Their hearts were too heavy and their souls too burdened.

Before the darkness overtook them this night, the Bridegroom’s love shown out to them and to us as they ate the last Passover in the upper room. John 13 tells us, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1 NIV84). His love served them washing their feet. His love comforted them as he told them he was preparing a place for them in his Father’s house. His love promised not to leave them as orphans. He would come to them and send the Spirit of truth to teach them and remind them of all he had said. Even as world’s hatred grew, his love assured them, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV84). Marvel at the Bridegroom’s love.

His love came not only in words that night. He gave his disciples and us the ongoing testimony of his love. “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26 NIV84), he said. “Drink from it all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27 NIV84-footnote). Here in the Lord’s Supper is the actually body and blood of Jesus for you to eat and to drink. What a testimony of the Bridegroom’s love!

How his Supper holds before us and brings deep into our hearts his greatest act of love! Ephesians 5 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25 NIV). Marvel at your Bridegroom’s love. Jesus gave himself up for you. On the cross he sacrificed his body and poured out his blood once and for all for you. In this Supper you proclaim his death. Do it often in remembrance of him.

Such love for the loveless that we might lovely be! And yet how our love falls short! We fall short just as the disciples did. This very night they argued over which of them was the greatest. Jesus told them that unbelievers lord it over others. Unbelievers seek to exercise authority and to be proclaimed as Benefactors. But not so for you. Love humbly serves. Look at how Jesus humbly served that night by washing his disciples’ feet. Love is humble. Love serves.

How we fall short! We might serve others or help them, but a part of us does it to look good and be thanked. That’s not love. We might serve in certain ways but draw a line at some things that are just too far beneath us. That’s not love. We might be happy to show love toward certain people but not others. How unlike Christ’s love, who died for us while we were still his enemies! How we fall short!

We could try to excuse ourselves: “I’m not perfect. How can you expect me to love like Jesus did? I’m not God.” Or, dear friends, we could mourn and grieve over our sin. I have fallen short. You have fallen you short. We have no excuse. And as we see our Bridegroom arrested and abandoned, condemned and crucified, we too grieve and mourn. Why? Because your lovelessness and mine, our sin and guilt, earned all this for him. “My burden in your passion, Lord, you have borne for me, For it was my transgression, My shame, on Calvary” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 105:4 “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”).

Our grief over our sins turns to joy. Why? Because of our Bridegroom’s love—such wondrous love that bore the dreadful curse for my soul, for your soul. His body bore your sin in your place and reconciled you to God. As we sink down mourning over our sin, his love lifts us up. For his blood was shed for you. You are forgiven. Marvel at your Bridegroom’s love.

His love brings you the joy of forgiveness and the hope of salvation. So also his love enables you to love with that same love that humbly serves. As your Bridegroom’s love surrounds you and fills you, you are eternally safe and secure. The burden of the law is gone. The curse of sin can no longer condemn you. The heavenly wedding banquet awaits you. Until then you’ve been freed to love with the same love with which Christ has loved you. And that’s exactly what he wants us to do. For on this night the Bridegroom says, “Love one another. Even as I have loved you, so you also, love one another” (John 13:34).

Marvel at your Bridegroom’s love. Such love beyond degree! Such wondrous love! Marvel at your his love as you rejoice in his forgiveness and as you serve one another in love. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313