2021-04-01 Maundy Thursday
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
Passover. You’ve undoubtedly heard of it before. It is the night that is different from all other nights. Its origins are now ancient, dating back to a point in time where God did whatever it took to rescue and save His people. It was the night when God “Passed Over” the homes of His people and brought Divine Judgment against the faithless enemies of His people. Whatever it took, He did. But what good are these mighty actions if no one in future generations remembers them?! Increasingly, we are becoming a society of forgetful idiots who not only fail to remember history - and learn from it - but we actively work to cancel our history, deleting and wiping all memory of everything that doesn’t fit the “politically correct” way of thinking. We could call it a plague of woke amnesia! “The universe revolves around me and what I think alone, nothing else matters!” Self-obsession. This is part and parcel of our sinful nature and another reminder that we need to repent. God is fully aware of this condition and so He works against our natural grain. Often this is confusing and we don’t understand it. But this is precisely the point. God’s ways are not our ways!
Remembering. It has a higher purpose than simple human sentimentality. When we remember and consider the mighty things that God has done for His people, it truly involves us. We participate in them, even though they may have happened many years before we were born. This becomes the point of the Passover meal. The mighty works of salvation and deliverance were commemorated, remembered and experienced first hand by God’s people in a meal. What better way to fuse two things together than with memories and food?! We do this all the time. We talk about the good old days and fun times we had while we eat supper together as family and friends. And so, our God designs this special meal to do just that. Unique foods call to memory different aspects of the experience of the Hebrews in Egyptian slavery. A green vegetable like parsley dipped in salt water to remember the tears of the people, bitter herbs like horseradish to taste the bitterness of slavery, flat unleavened bread to show how quickly the people had to get out - not even having enough time to let the bread rise, the spotless lamb that was sacrificed for the people. There were also 4 cups of wine at this meal, each with a specific meaning and remembering. From the Kiddush the first cup of blessing to the final Hallel cup of praise. All of these things and more the people of God experienced year after year as they remembered and experienced the Passover.
Jesus and His disciples continued this same tradition. They were good and faithful Jews after all. So, they go and gather together to relive and re-experience it for themselves. However, this night was different from all other nights. Jesus did something very different indeed. During the supper, Jesus takes that unleavened bread of affliction, gives thanks, breaks it and gives it to His disciples. To receive bread from a friend means to be welcome. It says “You belong here!” Then, Jesus says words that have never been said at any other Passover: “Take; this is my body” (MK 14:22). This bread in a mysterious way is the same body of Christ that would soon be nailed to the cross. Also, He takes the wine after supper, the cup of blessing. He lifts it up, gives thanks and gives it to each of His disciples to drink. Again, He speaks never before heard words “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (14:24). Covenants are interesting things. They are agreements, but not contracts. They are born of relationship, not legality. And, they are always sealed with blood. This blood of the new covenant was the precious blood of Christ poured out for you, poured out for the life of the world.
Jesus changed forever the Passover meal. Or better stated, He fulfilled it. He upgraded it. Through the saving work of the Christ, we see that He is our Passover. He is the Lamb of God Who was slain and His blood now saves everyone who believes in Him from eternal death - just as the blood of the lamb saved the Hebrew people from death in the Passover. In this meal, Christ forever unites Himself to His people. “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in me, and I in him” (JN 6:56) Jesus said. This meal was a preparation for what they would do ever after, so that God would remember His sacrificial death and make its power present among them. By eating the bread and drinking the cup, they would eat His body and drink His blood and live forever. This supper, which would be shared forever among our Lord’s followers would be a unique sign of their fellowship together and mutual belonging. It would manifest and reveal our Lord’s sacrifice in the midst of His people, proclaiming His death on the cross forever, until He would come again in glory (1Cor 11:26).
So as our Lord says “Do this in remembrance of Me,” it’s not just sentiment. Rather in the eating and drinking of our Lords body and blood in the bread and wine, we actively participate in His work of salvation. The Gospel becomes part and parcel of who we are by faith. It’s fascinating really. When we go back to the Garden of Eden, we see that Eve and Adam get in to trouble, putting it mildly, by eating the forbidden fruit. In fact, they bring forth death by eating it. They destroy their relationship with God. They cut themselves off from Him and embark on a life of hiding from Him, a life of suffering and a world of hurt. How Jesus heals this plight of humanity is through… eating. Holy Communion becomes for all the baptized believers the medicine of immortality. This gift of grace undoes the curse of death by bringing forth life for the eater.
The Passover meal concluded with the final cup of wine, the Hallel. This is where we get our word “Alleluia” from. It means praise, specifically to God. The last cup gets this name because the participants chanted the Hallel Psalms 115-118 and then drank it. This was the joyful cup of praise, with highest praise for God and all that He had done. It was this cup that Jesus our Lord said that He would forgo partaking. “Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (MK 14:25). Our Lord would not join them in drinking the festive cup. Rather, our Lord had another cup waiting for Him. It would be a cup of sorrow and suffering, the likes of which the ancient Hebrews in slavery had never seen or experienced. The grim contents of that cup were already weighing heavily on our Lord’s heart. The time for joyful festivity had come to an end for Jesus.
Soon, in yet another garden - Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord Jesus would pray: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (MT 26:39). The bitter cup of suffering and shame and death, He drinks for us that we may have the sweetness of forgiveness, life and salvation. By forgoing the final Passover cup with the disciples, our Lord fortified Himself for the final mile of the grim journey of bright sadness.
Our Lord invites us, as He did His disciples on that night that was not like any other night, to partake and to remember. Receive the bread He prepared for you and eat it. It is His body, your manna from heaven to sustain you in your wilderness journey to the promised land of Heaven. Receive the cup He prepared for you and drink from it. It is His covenant blood, poured out for the many, poured out for you. What greater gift can Jesus give, than to give you the fruits of His sacrifice - His very Body and Blood? “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Amen.