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Holy Thursday sermon

by Christopher Esget ~ April 9th, 2009


The words of the great Swedish bishop Bo Giertz damn us all: “There are no worthy guests at the Lord’s table. None has deserved to come.” Those words damn us all – yet they are also filled with grace. For tonight we are invited guests to the Lord’s table, despite our unworthiness. This is not my table or your table, my meal or your meal, but it belongs to our Lord, and we are unfit to come.

“There are no worthy guests at the Lord’s table. None has deserved to come.” When Jesus comes to Peter to wash his feet, Peter recognizes his unworthiness, and so seeks to refuse. “You shall never wash my feet!” This is not the first time Peter has sought to dissuade Jesus from taking the form of a servant. When Jesus announced that He would be crucified and on the third day rise again, Peter took Jesus aside “and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to you!’” 

Peter cannot fathom a Christ who is killed, just as he cannot fathom a Lord who acts like a slave. But Jesus has laid down His garments and vested Himself as a slave, just as He will lay down His life and die like a slave. Approaching Peter as a slave, to wash his feet, Jesus insists to unworthy Peter that this service is necessary. 

The same thing is true for us tonight: We are unworthy to receive, and that is the point and the essence of Jesus’ love. He gives it not to those who think themselves worthy and deserving, but to the unworthy and undeserving. Faith, then, is seeing your own unworthiness and rejoicing that the LORD gives you His gifts anyway, by grace.

And what a strange gift it is our Lord Jesus institutes tonight. The outrageousness of Jesus’ words, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood,” cannot be underestimated. They are so outrageous that some who wish to be Christians nevertheless refuse to believe these words of Jesus. Even for those of us who take His Words seriously and love the sacrament, it is a hard teaching, difficult to swallow. A cup of blood? Do you really want to drink that?

But as challenging as it may be for us to believe, and as uncomfortable as it may be to think about, all our difficulties are small compared to the disciples of Jesus at that Passover meal. When Jesus said, “Take, drink, this is my blood,” He said something forbidden to the Israelites up to this time. Blood equals life, and drinking human or animal blood was off-limits.

By doing this new and unique thing for His disciples, Jesus recalls, and redoes in a greater way, the first covenant of blood we heard about in the first reading, from Ex. 24:

[Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

And then the elders went with Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons, and they saw God, and they ate and drank. Blood splashed on the people, a meal with God, and a promise of obedience.

But they were not obedient. Neither have you been obedient. That is why Jesus came. He institutes a New Covenant, a New Testament, a new promise dependent not upon the obedience of men, but on the obedience of One Man, JESUS, in our place.

The bread is the body of Jesus, and the cup is the blood of Jesus, but there is more: it is the body given for you; it is the blood shed for you. In eating and drinking, you are joined to the sacrificial death of Jesus. You receive the obedience of Jesus, you receive the atonement of Jesus.

And because you get all of that, you mortal ones get His immortality, you dying ones get His life, your bodies destined for the grave will partake of His resurrection, so that you too will rise and die no more, but live in His kingdom.

The Old Testament prohibited drinking blood in view of this night, Holy Thursday, when the LORD would overturn that prohibition and authorize the drinking of the one blood that would be beneficial to us. As man was once forbidden from drinking blood in general, upon punishment of death, now man is commanded to drink blood—Christ’s blood—and so is bestowed life.

The Passover was about death and life; and the Lord’s Supper is our Passover. We don’t participate in Seder meals because we are not under the Old Covenant. God saved His ancient people the Jews at the first Passover when they ate unleavened bread and put the blood of the lamb on their doors. But now in this New Covenant the unleavened bread joins us to the body of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, and the Cup of the New Testament infuses in us the blood of the crucified, risen, and glorified Jesus. His blood marks our door, faith points to it and death passes over, and Satan cannot harm us.

All that is what is meant when the Gospel says, “Having loved His own who were in the world, [Jesus] loved them to the end.” So has He loved you, to the fullest extent. Now you abide in Him, and He in you, and by the power of this Sacrament we will now love one another as He has loved us – to the end. 

There are no worthy guests at this table. But come, you unworthy, and receive “the sweetness man was meant to find.” +INJ+

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