Normally, Maundy Thursday is a night I look forward to as a pastor—imagine that, a holiday in the Church year dedicated to the Lord’s Supper! I love the hymn, “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness.” It brings me to tears as we sing, “Jesus, bread of life, I pray You, Let me gladly here obey You. By Your love I am invited, Be Your love with love requited; By this Supper let me measure, Lord, how vast and deep love’s treasure. Through the gift of grace You give me As Your guest in heav’n receive me.” (LSB 636:8)
But this year, that joy is covered over by the health restrictions, and threats to all those who disregard the directives—both legal and to our health. This year, we will not be observing the Supper Jesus founded “On the night in which He was betrayed.” And that hurts—both as a Christian, and as your pastor.
Everything about the Gospel text reminds us that Jesus was with His disciples, and that they were taking part in an ancient tradition—the Passover—which had been celebrated year in and year out since when Moses led the sons of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
It’s that way for us too, because this Eucharist (the ancient name for this meal from Jesus giving thanks) has been revered as the Passover fulfilled by Jesus’ disciples for centuries! In house churches, catacombs, through times of war and peace, this meal has been a constant source of grace, strength, and hope. But always together. This is a strange year indeed.
But do our present circumstances overturn what we commemorate on this night?
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Our Lord explained what He was doing that night, with this meal: He breaks bread and says it is His Body. He takes a cup of wine, and says “This is my Blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” So we will look at these two things: the Body of Christ, and the New Covenant in His Blood.
What is the Body of Christ? “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (1 Cor. 12:12-13) The one Body of Christ is what we confess when we say, “I believe in…the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.” (Apostles’ Creed) It is the assembly of believers which spans space and time—from every century and from all tribes, nations, and languages. This is the mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
There is also the Body of Christ in, with, and under the bread of the Lord’s Supper. Through what we call for short the sacramental union, Jesus feeds the members of His Body, the Church. For some, it’s easier to conceive of the Body of Christ, the Church, more than the Body of Christ in the bread of the Eucharist.
But is either one affected by this new virus and restrictions? We learned from Jesus raising Lazarus that even death cannot separate a member from the mystical Body of Christ—“Whoever believes in me, though He die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26). Neither will circumstance change the bread which we break, which is the Body of Christ. Though we are made to fast from it for a time, Christ remains our life as He promises, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” (John 6:51)
Our Lord also says, “This is My Blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” He says this in connection with the sacrifices offered under the previous covenant with Moses, and in connection with the covenants He made before with Abraham. Covenants which God makes are sure.
With Abraham in Genesis 15, He made a covenant promise that Abraham would be the father of a multitude. In the custom of “cutting” covenants, Abraham cut the animals in two, and normally the two parties passed through together, solemnly promising that if either broke the covenant they would be rendered as the slain animal. In this case, God is the only one who passed through, in a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch (Gen. 15:17). God made a unilateral covenant, that not even death, famine, oppression, war, unfaithfulness, or any other upheaval could overturn. Over 2,500 years, God kept His covenant so that Abraham’s Offspring was born, was sacrificed instead of Isaac, and made a blessing for all the families of the earth.
So, when Jesus says that in this Supper is the blood of the covenant, poured out for many, this is God’s unilateral covenant—full of God’s faithfulness and rich with the forgiveness of sins. Whether the outbreak continues for a few weeks more or extends much further, this covenant in Jesus Blood will not be moved. We still have its benefits by virtue of the blood which Jesus shed upon the cross, the Word of the Cross which has been preached and received by us in faith, and our being crucified and risen with Him in Baptism.
This doesn’t change our longing for what Jesus has given for our good. We feel the weight of our sins as we are pressed hard with isolation, altered schedules, scarcity of certain needs, and close quarters. The threat of death is very present, and we do nobody any favors by disregarding the restriction guidelines.
But in our hungering for the Sacrament in these strange times is not an emergency of our faith. Jesus has eaten this anew with us, because He has brought us into the Kingdom of His Father, through His Body offered on the cross and the blood of the covenant he poured out. Confident in His promise and power to keep us, we will patiently wait to celebrate the feast, and we will humbly submit to the current conditions. Casting our cares on the Lord, He will sustain us through this point in time. COVID-19 will pass away. All of these measures and their impact will pass away and be recorded in history books. But the Body of Christ will go on as it does eternally—both the Church and the Bread we break. His Covenant will endure through every season until the earth remains no more (Gen. 8:22).
Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. Abide with us and with Your whole Church. Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world. Abide with us with Your grace and goodness, with Your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing. Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near. Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever.(LSB p. 257)