Maundy Thursday (Matthew 26:17-30)

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).

We pray:

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)

Maundy Thursday (John 13:1-15, 34-35)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Maundy Thursday + April 18, 2019

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35

When we think about the Lord’s Supper as Christians of the Lutheran confession, we talk a great deal about the nature of the Sacrament (what it is), and how it benefits us personally.  And it is necessary for us to know that, but as they say, there’s more to the story.  The setting for the institution of the Lord’s Supper is the discourse Jesus has with His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed.  Here’s how the story continues after the assigned pericope:[1]

16Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

21After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, 24so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

Love is essential to understanding what Jesus was doing for the disciples that night.  It’s also essential to what He expects them and us to continue to do in our continued life together.

Contrary to popular thought, the most insidious thing in God’s sight is not gross immorality; it’s people who call themselves Christians but have no need for a Savior. They may be able to recognize true from false doctrine; they may love conservative practices over clever innovations.  But if you truly desire to be a Christian, you must confess yourself a sinner.

Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, you shall never wash my feet!”  This is like saying, Thanks for the teaching Rabbi, thanks for giving me a religion to follow on my way to heaven.  But you can’t come already clean to Jesus. “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”  You must know that you are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, naked,” (Rev. 3:17) and dirty.

This empty-handed sinner’s confession is central to the Lord’s Supper.  As the Lord says in another place, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:32) One who has no need of this medicine and antidote to the poison of their sin has no place at the feet of Jesus.  And at His feet, Jesus washes us where we are the filthiest—in our innermost being, in our heart. 

But what about love? On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus says: “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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  This is a commandment that cannot be fulfilled merely by outward action.  It must begin in the heart.  An evil heart, a heart that has not been broken by the weight of sin and healed by the Lord cannot achieve this commandment.

What kind of love is this? It says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  The example that Jesus gave was that He, their Teacher and Lord, humbled Himself as a servant and washed His disciples feet.  But that also included loving the very one who would betray Him.  The kind of love which our Lord commands us to do is that you give of yourself, even if the only payback you get is betrayal.

But how can we be capable of such love?  That brings us back to the Sacrament of the Altar.  In Luke 7, Jesus enters the house of a Pharisee, where besides the invited guests, a sinful woman comes and dotes on Jesus in a really embarrassing way: “When she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”  What could have inspired this unabashed love?  Jesus says of the woman, “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little loves little.” (7:47).  It’s the forgiveness of sins.  When we recognize and appreciate what our Lord has saved us from, we love Him and others that much more.

This is what the Lord’s Body and Blood is capable of doing within us.  In it, Jesus releases us from our sins and raises us up with new hearts for loving service.  That’s why we often pray after receiving this gift: “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another.” (LSB 201)


[1] Periscope means “to cut around” and describes the complete thoughts into which the Bible readings are divided. Many Bibles use subheadings to indicate this.

Maundy Thursday (John 13:1-15, 34-35)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Maundy Thursday + March 29, 2018
Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35
 
The question of the Passover is, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
The Jewish answer is, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.” (cf. Exodus 12:26-27; 13:14-15)
 
But this is not the answer our Jewish Savior, the Messiah, Jesus gives.  That’s because on this night, He does not point to something in the past, but to something which is happening in the present.
 
The Evangelist John makes a point repeatedly to distinguish between “Passover” and “Passover of the Jews” (John 2:13, 6:4, 11:55).  The Passover of the Jews is the meal that has been commemorated since the day God led the sons of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.  Such was the Passover…until the Lamb of God came.
 
You see, God had promised salvation by a Lamb even before the Red Sea.  It was the promise made to Abraham, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18).  It was there in the near-sacrifice of Isaac, where God provided a lamb.  What this shows us is that there was something greater than the Passover of Exodus.
 
God was bringing about that which was greater than the Passover, fulfilling the blessing and promise that He had made to Abraham so many generations before.  He would provide the Lamb, not in the flesh of an animal, but Jesus was the true Lamb of God—God’s Son and our brother.
 
So, the Evangelist John makes this distinction, because the true Passover was about to take place.  With a strong hand—pierced by the nails—and an outstretched arm—upon the beams of the cross–the Lord God would deliver a people for Himself.  Not just from physical bondage, but from spiritual.  For, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)  And after this Lamb of God has died upon the cross, the whole burnt offering consumed by the wrath of God, John remarks that they did not break Jesus’ lets, “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water…these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’” (John 19:34, 36; Exodus 12:46)
 
The question for us Christians is, what makes this night different from the Passover?  And our answer is,
 
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”
 
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
 
So then, why is this night called Maundy Thursday?  Because of the Gospel reading appointed for this holy night from John 13.  Where the other three Gospels focus on the atoning work of Christ for us, John leads us to reflect on what it means that Jesus, our Teacher and Lord, does this for us:
 
1Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him…
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you…
34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:1-5, 12-15, 34–35)
 
The name “Maundy” comes from verse 34, “a new commandment I give to you, from the Latin mandatum.  So that means Maundy Thursday is about more than the night on which Jesus was betrayed.  It’s also the night where He exemplifies loving service by humbling Himself, even to the point of death, and giving freely to those who could never dream of paying Him back.
 
Our Lord Jesus doesn’t just give His Body and Blood for our forgiveness, but also to transform us to be like Him.  “14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”  The Body and Blood of Christ works in believers to humble our pride, soften our bitter hearts, loose us from our sins, and also to grow in love for others—just as Jesus does.  The strength He gives in His Body and Blood is a strength for bearing the cross and serving, just as He did.  “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  This is where Christians receive the power for Christ-like service, because we are joined in flesh and blood, spiritual union with our Lord and Teacher.
 
In the prayer after Communion, we often ask the Father, that “of Your mercy, You would strengthen us through [this salutary gift], in faith toward you and in fervent love toward one another.”  This is what Jesus is talking about with this new commandment.  May He fulfill in us what we are unable to do on our own: to give us humble, loving hearts that do not shy away from lowly service, but count it all joy for the sake of the world’s salvation.  Amen.

Maundy Thursday (Matthew 26:17-30)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Maundy Thursday + April 13, 2017
Text: Matthew 26:17-30
 
The Sixth Petition
“Lead us not into temptation”
 
Tonight, we continue the theme of our Lenten midweek services, taking a closer look at each petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  Tonight, we come to the sixth petition, “Lead us not into temptation” on the night in which Jesus was betrayed.
 
In Scripture, there are two kinds of tempting.  One is from God, and the other is from the enemies of God—the world, the devil, and sinful hearts.  The tempting or testing that comes from God is good, as James exhorts us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials[1] of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”[2]  This is when the struggles, weaknesses, and failures of life result in a greater reliance on God.  It is confirmation of our faith, and the one who draws closer to God out of trial is even called perfect and complete!
 
But then there’s the other kind of temptation, which is addressed just a few verses later in the same chapter of James: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”[3]  Same word as in the Lord’s Prayer and what was called “trials” before.  In this case, however, the result is that someone loses trust for God, no longer fears Him, and even hates Him.
 
This is what happened for Judas, leading up to Jesus’ betrayal.
14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
Temptation came to Judas, as Satan entered his heart,[4] and he was lead willingly into this evil.  Jesus knew beforehand that this would happen—that this must happen—to Judas.  But the more tragic thing than Judas’ sin was that he ended up losing his trust in God, despairing of His mercy and “seeing to” his sin himself by hanging himself. [5]  He could have repented and been restored, but he gave up on his Lord.
 
 
 
But Judas wasn’t the only one tempted that night.  Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”[6]  Peter also sinned against the Lord by denying Him three times.  The difference was that afterward, Peter was restored.  He grew in the awareness of his weakness—that his resolution to suffer with Jesus was prideful and his ability to keep watch was only as strong as his flesh.
 
And it wasn’t just a one-time battle for Peter or for any of us.  Peter had other times he was tempted, like when he gave into the circumcision party and refused to eat with Gentiles.[7]  But through the temptations with faith, God’s work in us is to keep us firm in faith.
 
So in this petition, we pray that we may have the steadfast faith of Peter, and be saved from the unbelief of Judas.  Truly the devil is a strong enemy, far more powerful than us.  He is able to snatch the Word of God from our hearts and blind us to the Lord’s faithfulness and mercy.  Our most heartfelt resolve cannot stand in the hour of testing. Even more, the great company of unbelievers would sweep us away from our faith in God. All of these stand against us persevering in the faith.
 
But One stands for us, who is Jesus Christ.  He prays for us, He fights for us, and He is greater than all who seek our fall.  And we pray that this Almighty Helper would never leave us to fend for ourselves—even for a single hour.
 
Even while we are attacked by these things, our Lord gives you special comfort and strength in His Body broken and His blood shed for you.  He offered His very life to make satisfaction for all of your sins, and He now gives that crucified and risen Body and Blood for you to eat and to drink.  Do not be afraid in the hour of temptation, for your Lord is near.  He was tempted in every way as you are, yet He is without sin.  He is gracious to forgive and restore you, and almighty to deliver you!
 
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.[8]
 
Just as you eat and drink the fruits of His suffering, He is faithful to bring you to the fruits of His resurrection in glory. Amen!
 
[1] Same word in Greek as “temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer
[2] James 1:2-4
[3] James 1:13-14
[4] Luke 22:3
[5] Matthew 27:3-5
[6] Luke 22:31-32
[7] Galatians 2
[8] 1 Peter 4:12-13