2022-04-14 Maundy Thursday
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
We have finally arrived, dear friends. After our long Lenten journey, we have arrived at the Triduum, the Paschal 3 Days leading up to the resurrection of Christ our Lord. And we begin the 3 Days with Maundy Thursday. I remember in Confirmation thinking, what the heck is Monday Thursday? That’s weird! But it’s actually Mawndee Thursday. It is named from the Latin word Mandatum or mandate - which we are all far too familiar with now! We know it better as commandment. It comes from Jesus’ new fangled teaching on the very first Maundy Thursday: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). We only find this teaching in John’s Gospel. And likewise, we only find our Lord’s teaching about washing the disciples’ feet in St. John’s writings as well. It all rolled together in the new law of God’s Kingdom - a law of love and service.
John’s Gospel is quite different from the other three synoptic Gospels in that the others “see together” that Thursday in Holy Week centers on the Lord’s Supper. They dwell on the “changing of the guard” so to speak from the Old Testament to the New. The Passover meal that was so central to God’s salvation story for the Jews is now fulfilled in Christ Whose true body and blood come to dwell and abide in bread and wine in a mysterious or sacramental way. The Lord’s Supper becomes such a big deal because it becomes the salvation story for all people, all nations, not just the Jews.
And, we all know, there’s just something about food, isn’t there? We good Lutherans know this very well! Church attendance went up 30% last Sunday on our patented potluck promise! It’s an integral part of what makes us who we are as God’s people. There has always been this communal eating togetherness as part of both Old and New Testaments. In the Passover, you have this big dinner with lamb and herbs and eggs and wine and each bite and each sip has special meaning. In Holy Communion, you have both bread and wine with the sacramental meaning that they are indeed Christ’s true Body and Blood given and shed for us. And, both of these meals were also linked with the act of remembrance. God’s people have always called to mind the awesome deeds God has done for His people to save them from sin, death and the devil and then in turn, pass it down to the next generation. But, it’s far more than simply remembering that an event happened. Like “Oh, I remember I need to return my Library book.” Rather, this word remember is a loaded baked potato! It means that we ourselves are literally participating in the event as we eat and drink. This isn’t simply nostalgia. It is an active partaking in our Lord’s Divine nature as St. Peter wrote in his first letter (2 Peter 1:4).
But behind the wholesome food imagery that we all know and love is something else: a very graphic blood bath! God instructs the people through Moses that each household must get a Lamb and slaughter it at twilight. Lamb after lamb, gallon after gallon, the blood flowed. Then the blood is painted on the lintels of the Israelite homes. This was the beam or header above the main door to the house. And when God saw the blood on the door He knew a family of faith lived there. He passed over those houses and death did not come to the family huddled safe inside.
The Old Testament that is ripe with sacrifices is such a foreign thing for far too many people today. There are piles of people that believe meat comes from styrofoam packages at the grocery store! Or even now, in one of the greatest frauds of human history: beyond meat, impossible burgers, fake chicken grown in a petrie dish! Yes friends, from fake news to fake meat, our entire lives are nearly 100% artificial! Even Tim Hortons is trying to sell us plant-based sausage! It’s an incredible travesty of our time to say the least! Not so for the ancient Israelites celebrating the Passover. There is no fakey-fakey in the Old Testament. Everything becomes more real when you personally experience slaughter for yourself. You see the reality of the blood and guts. Lots and lots of blood. You smell the smells. You hear the sounds of death. It’s not pleasant. It’s not even something you want to be involved with! But it must be done.
The bloody mess was necessary. The book of Hebrews (9:22) tells us “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” A covenant had been made, a binding agreement between God and His people, one so serious that blood was required for it to be sealed. Now we know why the lambs were slaughtered and sacrificed at passover. And we see the bigger picture connection: “19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (LK 22:19-20).
Blood is mentioned in the Bible 392 times. That’s a lot. “Hell” by contrast only comes up 17 times. But this is for good reason, our whole salvation, our redemption, our everything depends on blood. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7). And lest we forget whose blood St. Paul is talking about, St. John reminds us: “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1JN 1:7). As we read the scriptures, study them and hear their message, we see over and over again that God uses blood to point His people ahead to the Messiah whom He promised would come and redeem the world. This Messiah would once and for all unite God and humanity by the shedding of His most holy, innocent and precious blood.
And His blood was indeed shed for us on the cross and an epic victory for us is contained therein. Just as God once smashed Pharaoh to free His people from slavery, so again does Jesus smash Satan to free us from the slavery to death and sin. The blood of our spotless Lamb of God (JN 1:29) grants us full and free redemption, healing the relationship that once was lost, fulfilling the covenant forever. And the result is that fellowship between God and people is restored.
Have you ever noticed that We seldom ever eat with strangers? Like at a food court in the mall, do you ever go and just sit at a table with a bunch of people you don’t know?? They’d think you are some kind of weirdo probably. Or what about our enemies? Do we ever squat and gobble with them? I’d hazzard to guess never! No, we eat with family and friends. And so it is fitting that our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross would become the foundation and eternal connection for Holy Communion. It fulfills the Passover meal. A meal eaten with family and friends. In this supper of His true body and blood, the forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation are ours by faith. The richness of this meal is unparalleled. What better way is there than this for God to assure us that He and we are one again? He has bridged the gap. St. Paul tells us that He “was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting [our] sins against [us]” (2 Cor 5:19)?
A nine-year-old girl had badly misbehaved and needed to be punished. To underscore the seriousness of her wrongdoing, her father sent her off to bed early and without her supper, her bath or her bedtime stories. After some time had elapsed, her bedroom door slowly creeped opened. She came quietly down the stairs and into the family room, where her father was sitting. There, in a voice barely above a whisper, she asked, “Daddy, do you still love me?” That penitent little girl just had to have this question answered by her father before she could fall asleep. Her father lovingly gathered her up into his arms and, hugging her as tightly as he could, said to her, “Yes, Honey, I still love you. Always and forever!”
“Always and forever” is what Jesus is telling us in His Holy Supper tonight, on the eve of His passion. As He puts His arms around us in Holy Communion, He hugs us as tightly as He can and says, ‘You are the sons and daughters of my heavenly Father, redeemed, restored, and forgiven by my precious blood. You are mine. Yes, I love you, always and forever.’ It’s a promise made and sealed in blood. A promise given and shed for you. This becomes the covenant of the utmost care and love that God can show to His people – to you and to me.
St. John records for us that original Maundy Thursday night how this love of God manifests itself in service. Jesus arises from the meal, washes the disciples’ feet and dries them. The Lord of life and the King of the Universe stoops down and washes feet. He is the Saviour who shows love not only on the cross and not only in bread and wine but also in acts of lowly service. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (JN 13:34-35). Thanks be to God. Amen!