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Maundy Thursday – John 13:1-15

by pastorjuhl ~ April 2nd, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Blessed Martin Luther’s catechetical hymn on the Lord’s Supper says No greater love than this to Thee could bind us; May this feast thereof remind us! The Lord’s Supper is more than a reminder of our Lord’s Passion and death. The Lord’s Supper is the means for a Christian to receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The love Jesus shows His disciples when He washes their feet and when He dies on the cross is put in their mouths under bread and wine.

The “Maundy” of Maundy Thursday is our Lord’s mandate to love one another as He first loved us. Jesus shows His love for mankind through preaching and miracles. Soon He will die, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven. How will Christ’s love continue in the Church once He returns to His Father in heaven? His love continues in preaching and miracles, though the miracles in the Church today are different from the miracles Jesus performed 2,000 years ago.

The miracles of the Church today are the signs of forgiveness, life, and salvation. We know them as “sacraments” or “means of grace”. Grace is God’s undeserved love toward sinners. An easy way to remember this definition is to take the five letters of grace as an acronym for “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. We’ve spent six weeks learning about God’s grace in Confession and Absolution through the Penitential Psalms. Let’s take a few moments tonight to learn about God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense in the Lord’s Supper through Christ’s Words of Institution and through Jesus’ Words about love in John chapter thirteen.

Saint John’s Gospel is the only Gospel book not to record our Lord’s Words of Institution. However, it is the only Gospel account that features Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. What lacks in John is found in First Corinthians 11, where Saint Paul takes Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s witness of the first celebration of the Lord’s Supper and gives us those familiar Words of Institution sung at every Divine Service of Word and Sacrament.

When Blessed Martin Luther took up the task of gently revising the Roman Mass in the sixteenth century, he took the Words of Institution out of the long silent prayer called the Canon of the Mass and let the Words of Jesus stand alone from any prayer. He also set Jesus’ words to the same chant tone that the Holy Gospel was sung. Liturgical scholars could make the point that Luther was an innovator. Scholars could also make the point that Luther was a liturgical genius by drawing an invisible line between the singing of the Holy Gospel and the singing of the Words of Institution.

These Words of Jesus: This is My Body which is given for you; This cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins are pure and powerful Gospel. They deserve to be spoken or sung distinctly and clearly in the Divine Service. However, it is not the performance of speaking these Words of Institution that make the Sacrament. What makes the Sacrament is the Word of God and faith that these Words of Jesus say what they mean and mean what they say.

Taking Christ at His Word is hard for sinful folks like you and me. We hear so many words every day. It seems that most words people say cannot be trusted. People exaggerate words to make their point. People speak false words on purpose to take advantage of others. It’s sad that some Christian congregations do not take our Lord’s Words at face value. Instead of believing what Jesus says, they put reason before faith and say Jesus’ True Body and True Blood are not present under bread and wine. What’s more, they won’t use wine at the Lord’s Supper. They take the clear Greek vocable for “wine” in Holy Scripture and manipulate it to make it seem like Jesus was too pious to use wine.

We sometimes don’t take Jesus’ Words at face value. The concentrated Gospel in the Lord’s Supper can sound like concentrated Law. We might think ourselves not worthy to receive Communion some weeks. Perhaps we haven’t been good enough to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. Then there’s the excuse that some Christians use about receiving the Lord’s Supper too frequently, as if we might make His Supper “fast food”.

These are all good concerns and should be taken seriously. But when we put our thoughts, opinions, and feelings before Christ’s Words of comfort and love, we cast doubt on God’s grace. Doubt is the one thing that our Lord does not want with the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. That is why Jesus’ Words of Institution appear four times in the New Testament. There is no doubt that Jesus spoke these Words. There is no doubt that Jesus’ Words deliver forgiveness, life, and salvation. There is no doubt that Jesus knows we are spiritually hungry and in need of what this Supper offers.

There’s a key word: offer. Jesus never puts a gun to our head and demands us to receive His Body and Blood. He offers His Sacrament week after week. Why every week? Because we are sinners in need of His grace. We don’t receive Christ’s Body and Blood because we had a good week and didn’t sin too much. We receive Christ’s Body and Blood because we sin much and are in need of Divine Medicine. We wouldn’t think of visiting the doctor and refusing his or her remedy to our illness because we think we know better than the doctor does! So it is with Holy Communion. We are sick. Jesus has the Medicine. We receive the Medicine to cure the illness.

The full and holy cure happens in the life of the world to come, when Jesus will change mortality into immortality. In the meantime, we eat and drink the Medicine of Immortality offered from this Holy Altar. Christ’s Body and Blood are the benefits of His love and mercy upon the cross. The horrible display of Jesus hanging naked on a tree is delivered to our mouths under bread and wine. The Holy Spirit shows bread and wine to be for us His Body and His Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. He or she who believes those Words is worthy and well prepared to receive the Lord’s Supper. Fasting or bodily preparation are fine ways to prepare, but they are not necessary. What is necessary is faith in Jesus’ Words and a contrite, repentant heart.

The Sacrament of the Altar has vertical and horizontal aspects. We have heard much about the vertical aspect tonight: God’s love toward us in Jesus Christ. What about the horizontal aspect: love for others as Christ first loved us? Word and Sacrament in the Divine Service nourishes us to leave God’s House and wash other people’s feet as Jesus has washed our feet here. We often don’t realize when or how we wash people’s feet. We go about our daily tasks not wondering if we are washing feet. Nevertheless, when we do what is given us to do in our station in life; we wash other people’s feet. We are “little Christs” as it were, showing our Lord’s compassion for mankind.

No greater love than this to Thee could bind us; May this feast thereof remind us! The Lord’s Supper is the feast of victory of our God. That’s what we’ll sing in Eastertide when we sing the canticle “This is the Feast”. His love for us never ends, not even in His suffering and death. Where our love fails Christ’s love endures forever, even under bread and wine in Holy Communion. Jesus says in John chapter six: My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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