Maundy Thursday

Preached: April 1, 2010

Reflections on the Lord's Supper from Luther's Small Catechism
Selected Text

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

The Setting for the Supper

Come back with me to that upper room in Jersualem. Jesus and the twelve recline for the ancient Passover meal. For fifteen centuries the people of Israel had eaten the roasted lamb with bitter herbs, the unleavened bread and wine. They remembered the great deliverance. Their slavery in Egypt ended as the firstborn died in all the homes of the Egyptians unmarked by the blood on the doorposts. But the angel of death passed over the Israelite homes marked with the blood of the paschal lamb. They ate ready to leave, for tonight, they were set free.

Watch, dear friends, as the true passover Lamb takes the flat cake of bread made without yeast and breaks it to give a piece to each disciple. “Take and eat. This is my body, given for you,” he says. Later he takes the cup of wine and passes it. “This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

This is his last will and testament. For soon he would die, giving himself as the sacrifice for an even greater deliverance. For you see, dear friend, through him, the Lamb of God, you and I are set free, free from sin's power to damn us, free through the forgiveness of our sins! That's the inheritance his last will and testament leaves you and me. Forgiveness, that is, freedom from sin's guilt, so also freedom from Satan's slavery and death's tyranny. Forgiven through the body and blood of Christ. What an inheritance!

P: The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke and St. Paul write:

C: Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said: “Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way he also took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying: “Take, drink from it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Part One: What is the Sacrament of Holy Communion?

On this most momentous of nights, Jesus speaks with plain, simple words as he gives his last will and testament. “This is my body. This is my blood.” How could he be any more clear and succinct?

But how far beyond our understanding the truth those words convey! He holds bread, but he says, “This is my body.” The cup's filled with wine, but he says, “This is my blood.” It doesn't make sense! “Human reason, though it ponders, Cannot fathom these great wonders” (“Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 311:5).

Human reason will not find any physical evidence. Even the forensics of the best CSI unit won't discover a trace of blood in the wine or any flesh in the bread. Christ's body and blood are not there in any kind of way that our physical senses can detect. So human reason says, “It's can't really be there if I can't see, taste, or touch it. It must just be a way to remember Jesus by using the bread and wine as symbols to represent his body and blood.” That's what human reason says.

But what did Jesus say? “This is my body. This is my blood.” In this supper he gives you himself in way that we cannot fathom, but our limited ability doesn't make it any less real or true. His body and blood are present in a way that goes beyond our natural sense. It's supernatural, miraculous. His body and blood are really and truly there in a most special way. I know and believe this, not because my senses or science tells me (they say the opposite), but because Jesus, my dear Savior, says so.

As you, dear friend, eat the bread, you most certainly and surely are also eating his real, true body, the same body he sacrificed on the cross for your sins. He doesn't give you a piece of it or a part of it, but he gives you his whole body, because that's what paid for your sins. Yes, for your sins, since it's you who are eating. As you, dear friend, drink the wine, you most certainly and surely are also drinking his blood, the same blood that flowed from his head, his hands, his side. You drink not just a drop of it but the fullness of it each time you come. For he poured out his blood without measure for you. Yes, for you, since it's you who are drinking.

“This is my body. This is my blood.” Whether you believe it or not, that is the truth, that is what you eat and drink here, that is what the Lord's Supper is -- because Jesus says so.

Let us now profess this faith as we read responsively the words of Martin Luther from the Small Catechism as printed in the service folder.

P: What is the Sacrament of Holy Communion?

C: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ himself.

Part Two: What blessings do we receive through this eating and drinking?

“Lord, may your body and your blood Be for my soul the highest good!” (“I Come, O Savior, to Your Table” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 310). What is that highest good? Some people run after the 'good life.' That's not the highest good. Some seek thrills and excitement. That's not the highest good. Some pursue knowledge, beauty, happiness, etc. None of those is the highest good. Many run after their own idea of what god should be, thinking that whatever that image is that they imagine, it must be the highest good. All that is false deception.

“Lord, may your body and your blood Be for my soul the highest good!” (“I Come, O Savior, to Your Table” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 310). What is the highest good? Jesus tells in those words of his last will and testament: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness -- that's the highest good.

Why? Because sin cuts us off from all that is truly good and right. Sin, your sin and mine, separate you and me from God. It doesn't matter what sin it is. Our inherited guilt, our sinful actions, our spiteful words, our irreverent thoughts, our selfish attitudes, our self-righteous pride, our failure to do good. Any one of those, even if that was the only sin you ever were guilty off -- any one by itself cuts you off from God. It brings the verdict: “Guilty! Damned!” It earns the death penalty of endless torture. My sin drags me down into the deepest depths of hell.

So the highest good is what removes what lifts sin off of me and takes it away. That's forgiveness, God's forgiveness to a wretched, miserable sinner, like me and like you. That's what Jesus gives you freely, unconditionally in his Supper. That's what he leaves you in his last will and testament. Forgiveness. For you see, his body carried your sins away, nailing them to the cross. His holy, precious blood paid the full penalty for all sins. So God declares you, “Not guilty, for Jesus' sake!” That's the verdict of forgiveness in his courtroom. That's what he says to you as you eat and drink his body and blood. “You, dear sinner, are forgiven.

Where there is forgiveness, there is life instead of death. Where there is forgiveness, there is salvation instead of damnation. Where there is forgiveness, there is heaven instead of hell. For where there is forgiveness, sin no longer can condemn us. It has lost its power. What blessings the Supper brings us!

Let us now profess this faith as we read responsively the words of Martin Luther from the Small Catechism as printed in the service folder.

P: What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?

C: That is shown us in these words: “Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins,” namely, that in the Sacrament, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given through these words. For where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

Part Three: How can eating and drinking do such great things?

The Lord's Supper brings forgiveness as Jesus' last will and testament. So go out and live however you want. Don't worry about sinning. Just come to the Lord's Supper and get forgiveness by this eating and drinking. Right? What a twisted abuse of the Sacrament!

It's not the outward act of eating and drinking that bring forgiveness. But rather Jesus' words, “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Note those words of promise. Cherish them. He makes that promise to you. “Given and poured out for you.” His words of promise fill this Supper with forgiveness.

Only faith can hold on to a promise. Faith hears those words, “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins,” and faith exclaims: “Yes, this is for me, even for me. He makes his promise to me. He forgives my sins. He gave his body on the cross for me. He poured out his blood for me.” That's what faith remembers and celebrates in this holy Supper. Faith proclaims Christ's death for me, in my place, as my substitute, to pay for my sins. That is what Jesus promised: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

So those outward actions of coming forward and opening your mouth, eating the bread, drinking the wine -- those outward action don't gain or merit or earn forgiveness in anyway at all. Rather Jesus' words in the Supper freely, unconditionally bring forgiveness as an undeserved, unearned, unmerited gift. Faith welcomes that gift. Without faith no matter how often you eat and drink the Lord's Supper, there is no forgiveness for you -- only death, hell, and damnation. Faith alone receives that gift. Those outward actions are simply your faith confessing: “Yes, I believe Jesus' words. Therefore, I come and eat his body and drink his blood. For he gave his body for me and poured out his blood for me for the forgiveness of my sins.”

Now such faith doesn't stop after we swallow. Rather this faith drives you and me to say No to sin, glorifying God in all that we say and do. Such faith lives for Jesus always remembering the price he paid for our forgiveness.

Let us now profess this faith as we read responsively the words of Martin Luther from the Small Catechism as printed in the service folder.

P: How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?

C: It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words which stand here, namely: “Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins.” These word, besides the boidly eating an drinking, are the chief thing in the Sacrament. And whoever believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.

Part Four: Who, then, is properly prepared to receive this sacrament?

Are you ready for the Lord's Supper? Are you prepared? Some hear that question and think: “Am I good enough? Am I worthy enough?” I can answer those questions for you. You are not good enough. You are not worthy enough. No one is. Not you. Not me No one. Here God himself meets with us. Here he gives us his body and blood. How dare we even wonder whether we could be worthy enough!

But that wasn't the question, was it? Rather are you ready for the Lord's Supper, are you prepared? So what does prepare us to make us ready? Not any ritual or ceremony, not any prayer or sign-up sheet, but rather faith. This goes back to what we said in the last part. Faith alone welcomes and receives the forgiveness Jesus' words promise in the Lord's Supper.

This faith knows that Jesus truly gives us his real body and blood in the Lord's Supper. This faith clings to his words: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” This faith confesses our unworthiness, our sinfulness, our worthlessness. This faith rejoices in God's forgiveness in Christ Jesus that brings us infinite worth because of the price he paid for you. This faith cherishes the special way that Jesus speaks forgiveness to you in his Supper, as you eat bread and his body and as you drink wine and his blood.

Our faith is never perfect in this life. We struggle with doubts and weakness. But even a weak faith struggling with doubts finds comfort and strength in Jesus' words: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Yes, for you. Now, certainly if doubt has overcome your faith and controls your heart, don't come. The Lord's Supper is not for you. For without faith there is no forgiveness.

But you who are weary and burdened longing for the rest that only Jesus can bring to your soul, you who cling to his words, “This is my body given for you. This is my blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins” -- you, dear Christian, come and be strengthened and comforted in this holy supper. You are prepared.

Let us now profess this faith as we read responsively the words of Martin Luther from the Small Catechism as printed in the service folder.

P: Who, then, is prepared for this Sacrament?

C: Fasting and bodily preparation is, indeed, a fine outward training; but he is truly prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” But whoever does not believe these words or doubts them is unfit, for the words “for you” require believing hearts.

Dear Christians, to strength the faith that makes us prepared for the Lord's Supper, let us read responsive the questions and answers personal preparation for Holy Communion on p. 156.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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

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