Maundy Thursday - a

Preached: April 21, 2011

Our Lord's Last Will and Testament
1 Corinthians 11:23-28

Sorry, there's no audio. The sound recording had interference making parts hard to listen to.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word of God, given to the Apostle Paul, recorded for us in 1 Corinthians.

For I received from the Lord, what I also passed on to you: That the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body which is for you. Keep doing this to remember me."

After eating, he did the same with the cup as well, saying, "This cup is the new last will and testament in my blood. Keep doing this, as often as you drink, to remember me."

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord. Let each person examine themself, and in this way let them eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (1 Corinthians 11:23-28)

This is the word of our Lord.

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

"On the night he was betrayed." How often haven't you heard those words as the Lord's Supper was consecrated? We can pass over them so quickly. Yet they set the whole scene for us, dear friends.

The night he was betrayed, betrayed into death -- and Jesus knows what's coming. Do you remember how at that Passover supper he identified Judas Iscariot as his betrayer? And after Judas again ignores Jesus' loving warning, Jesus tells him, "What you are about to do, do quickly" (John 13:27 NIV1984). Yes, don't wait until after the days of the Passover, as the chief priests had thought best, when the crowds would disperse. Do it now, quickly. For Jesus was to die on the Passover as the true Passover Lamb whose blood alone makes eternal death pass over us.

Jesus was about to give himself into death. And what do people do when death draws near? They get their affairs in order. They make their last will and testament. They designate what their heirs will receive. And that's what Jesus does here on the night we was betrayed. That's what the Lord's Supper is: Our Savior's last will and testament to us.

In fact, when Jesus refers to "the new covenant" in his blood (1 Corinthians 11:27 NIV1984), the word translated "covenant" (διαθήκη, diathēkē) is the word the Greeks used for someone's last will and testament. Maybe you remember when the communion liturgy said, "the New Testament in My blood" (The Lutheran Hymnal, Concordia Publishing House, 1941, p. 27). The problem with that translation is that when I hear "New Testament" I think of the books of the Bible from Matthew to Revelation that come after the Old Testament. I don't think of someone's last will and testament. But that is what the word means here. The context makes that clear, since it's the night he was betrayed, the night before he dies. He leaves us his last will and testament, the Lord's Supper.

Now a person wants to make sure his last will and testament is in clear, plain words. He doesn't want people to wonder what he really meant, because he won't be around to explain himself. And even though in our day a last will and testament may have some legalese that's developed over the centuries, even then, the purpose is to remove any doubt inside or outside of a courtroom as to what the last will and testament truly says.

Now if that's the care taken when the inheritance is only earthly stuff, how much more when the inheritance is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation! How clear our Savior is as he chose his words! He doesn't speak in parables or riddles or symbols here. For he knows that he won't be with his disciples the next day to explain it. This is the night he was betrayed.

How simple and clear his words are! "This is my body which is for you" (1 Corinthians 11:24 NIV1984). He doesn't say "represents" or "symbolizes" but "is." The words could not be any clearer. It's only our reasoning that makes it seem difficult if we question how this could be. But remember who's speaking. Jesus, the Son of God, can do whatever he says he'll do. So faith hears our Lord's last will and testament and responds, "I cannot understand how my Lord gives me his body. But he says that's what it is. So as I chew the bread, which I can taste and feel, I also chew his body which is present in a way I cannot comprehend that's beyond my senses, but yet is truly, really present. For he says so."

Dear Christian, come to his table and receive your Lord's last will and testament with that kind of believing heart. For this is his body, which is for you. Yes, he sacrificed his body for you on the cross in your place. And now he gives you his same body to eat with your mouth, so that you know all the more that what he did on the cross is for you. Yes, this inheritance in his last will and testament is for you, dear Christian, for you.

What an inheritance this is! For Jesus says, this is the NEW covenant, the NEW last will and testament in his blood. It's new because it surpasses the old. And what good news that is! For we have broken the old covenant. We fall under its condemnation of death and hell. Think of the terror of Mt. Sinai, the thick cloud and fire, the voice of God speaking his commandments. And you, O creature, have broken those commandments.

But here we have the new. It's not sealed by the blood of animals and countless sacrifices that were repeated day after day because we daily sin much. It's sealed by the blood of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Here is how the prophet Jeremiah described it: "'The time is coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant ... For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more'" (Jeremiah 31:31, 34 NIV1984).

What an inheritance Jesus leaves for you, dear Christian! The forgiveness of sins! And where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. What an inheritance!

And just as an earthly inheritance passes to the heirs only after the testator, the one who made the last will, dies, so also Jesus puts his last will and testament into effect by his death. As we come to his table, dear Christians, we proclaim his death. We remember him, our Lord, whose blood seals the new covenant of full and free forgiveness. We remember him, our Lord, whose death brings us the inheritance of eternal life. We remember him, our Lord, who gave himself to die in order to rise from the dead with salvation in his train.

So, dear Christian, as you come to his table tonight, come with a heart and mind that cherishes your Savior's last will and testament. We don't treat a human will lightly or casually dismiss a loved ones deathbed wishes. How much more so when it is the last will and testament of our God and Lord!

Cherishes it for what it is: his true body and blood for you to eat and to drink, truly and really present but in a way beyond our explanation. Cherish it for the inheritance it brings: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Cherish it confessing how much you need it. For when we examine our hearts, how dark and sinful we are! How deep the stain of guilt! How futile my efforts to clean myself! But here in your Lord's last will and testament, here is his body, his body that was given for you, the all-atoning sacrifice from the cross. Here is his blood, his blood shed for you. It alone washes you and me clean. What an inheritance Jesus' last will and testament leaves for you and me on the night he was betrayed! Cherish it, dear friend, cherish it. 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