Sermon for Holy Thursday, Evening, preached on March 29, 2018.
The priestly service of Jesus to His people is not only what He did in offering Himself as priest and victim on the cross. Jesus’ priestly service continues in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. For this Supper is not yours nor is it mine. It is not even the Church’s Supper. It belongs to Christ. He remains host as well as food. It is offered not to those whom we deem to be worthy but for those whom Christ has invited – the baptized, who confess their faith in the creed, who have examined their lives and consciences, who believe the Word of Christ concerning this Supper, and who, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, desire to live the new lives given them in their baptism.
The priestly service of Christ was both backward looking and forward looking. Looking to the past, our Lord’s once for all sacrifice of Himself upon the cross gave power to the blood of bulls and goats to forgive sins. Our Lord’s once for all atonement by His blood delivered those in the past who were sprinkled by that blood on the day of atonement and in all the worship of the Temple. They were looking at sacrifices that prefigured that once for all sacrifice our Lord accomplished when He delivered Himself up to the altar of the cross and fulfilled the words of John the Forerunner: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
That priestly service of Christ also looks forward. It brings to people and generations far removed from Calvary the blessings that Christ won there by that obedient service and life giving death. What is it that we hear every Sunday? As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Our eating and drinking is not symbolic but the real participation in the body of Christ and a real participation in the blood of Christ. The once for all sacrifice is made present for us, that by eating and drinking as Christ has bidden us, we may enjoy the benefits and blessings of that sacrifice, especially the forgiveness of our sins.
The Temple in Jerusalem had as its center the altar where blood was shed. Read through Leviticus and hear what the Lord commanded. The heartbeat of Israel’s worship was the Temple and the center of that Temple were the sacrifices offered there. In the same way, the heartbeat of Christian worship is Holy Communion and the central focus of our life together is our communion on the body of Christ and the blood of Christ. This is why we have Holy Communion every week and every Thursday. Anything less and it begs the question of whether we worship God on our terms instead of His.
The covenant of Christ is a covenant of blood. It was blood that paid the price for sin and blood that cleanses from its guilt and shame and blood that bought us back to be God’s own. And it is in the blood of this communion that all the gifts and graces won for us and graciously bestowed upon us become ours, the heavenly food that bestows a new tomorrow.
As Melchizedek of old, Christ is the High Priest of the offering. Melchizedek brought bread and wine to Abraham and Jesus brings to us His flesh and blood in bread and wine. This is the most intimate communion, our Lord coming into our bodies and cleansing and claiming them that He might dwell in us in the richness of His mercy. This is the meal of love where the sinner is welcomed, the lowly is given prominent place, and the unworthy sits in the place of honor. This is the Table of the Lord set in the presence of our enemies not only to feed us but also to flaunt the fruits of His victory over His very enemies and ours.
Though we do not always realize what is happening or appreciate the significance of His coming to us in flesh and blood in this Holy Meal, God still comes and gives and feeds and nourishes us. How different it might be if we were truly aware of just what an awesome gift this Holy Communion was and is! We sing the hymns of old that speak of the Sacrament in this way but too often their words seem foreign to us.
Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face; her would I touch and handle things unseen. Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace and all my weariness upon Thee lean. He re would I feed upon the bread of God. Here drink with Thee the royal wine of heaven. Here would I lay aside each earthly load, here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven. Feast after feast thus comes and passes by, Yet, passing, points to that glad feast above, giving sweet foretaste of the festal joy, the Lamb’s great marriage feast of bliss and love.
For some strange reason we tend to think the spiritual things more profound than the physical, the pious communion of the spirit in prayerful devotion more profound than this eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ. But it is truly just the opposite. It is here that the most profound communion with Christ takes place and only because of this can we commune with Christ in the heart by faith. Again the hymns teach us what we too often miss:
Thee we adore, O hidden Savior, Thee, who in Thy Sacrament art pleased to be; both flesh and spirit in Thy presence fail, Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail. Or another: You gave me all I wanted; this food can death destroy. And You have freely granted the cup of endless joy, my Lord, I do not merit the favor You have shown, and all my soul and spirit bows here before Your throne.
That God dwells with men refers not only to the incarnation but to our Lord’s continued incarnation in flesh and blood, bread and wine. Our Lord does not wile away the time in heaven thinking kind thoughts about us. He comes to us where He has promised in the living voice that speaks absolution to our sins and in the living bread where we taste the goodness of the Lord in anticipation of the eternal banquet the Isaiah the prophet and St. John in the book of Revelation promises.
Where is God? Do not point to heaven but to His Word and to this Holy Sacrament. For here He is and here He gives Himself to you and here You receive the riches of His grace. That is the job of the priest. To bring God to us. To mediate the sacrifice. And that is what our Lord has done and continues to do. He brings God to us to be touched and tasted. He mediates His once for all sacrifice so that our sins are forgiven, His death proclaimed in witness before the world, and our very future anticipated in the foretaste of the feast to come.
Lutherans do not make too much of this Real Presence but too little. We shrug our shoulders at what God has moved time and eternity to give to us. Here is the covenant meal sealed in the blood of the Lamb. Here is where we commune with Christ and He with us. Here is where taste the goodness of the Lord as the Psalmist promises. Here is where we proclaim His death until He comes again. Here is where the weak are made strong, the hungry are fed, our thirst is quenched, and our eternity is glimpsed. This is not a casual meal but the most solemn moment of awe for a people into whose presence God comes to save and redeem and to nurture to everlasting life.
You cannot watch the clock for such an awesome and blessed moment. Instead you can only regret that “too soon we rise, the vessels disappear, the feast though not the love, is past and gone, the bread and wine remove but Thou art here, nearer than ever, still my shield and sun. Into such a moment, the Church can only pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” From this moment the Church can only confess, “Truly God was in this place.” Amen.