Friday, April 7, 2023

We will do. . .

Sermon for Holy Thursday (A), preached on Thursday, April 6, 2023 (PM).

What would Jesus do?  Recall those bracelets and the fad WWJD?  It was not a mere curiosity of what Jesus might do but a question of what we should do.  To know what Jesus would do is to know what Jesus would have YOU do.  On Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday, we rush to the mandate of loving one another and to the object lesson of that love in the washing of the disciples’ feet.  Our Lord does not command us to wash feet.  He calls this an example but does not solemnly intone that this is His testament of death to be done often.

Holy Communion is not an object lesson.  It is not a symbol.  It is not an example. Jesus does not say, “As I have fed you, you must feed the hungry.”  Jesus does not say, “As we are united in this meal now, be united in faith down the road.”  Jesus does not tell us that this is a sign to point us to something else.  Instead, Jesus says “Do this often in remembrance of Me.”  He says, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim My death until I come again.”  He says “Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood you have no life in you but whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise Him up on the Last Day.”  He says, “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”  It is a solemn testament of His life, death, and resurrection.  The eating and drinking of our Lord’s crucified and risen body and blood is not a ceremony but a Sacrament, not a ritual but a promise, not a symbol but a meal.  

When Luther instructs us in the Catechism to ask, “What does this mean?” he is not asking what the Sacrament means.  Jesus does not explain the mystery and Luther is not suggesting that we should either.  Luther is pointing us to the words of Christ recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and with utmost seriousness passed on by St. Paul as the Sacrament was given to him.  What do these words mean?  They mean that in this Sacrament you and I are given the very body and blood of Christ in bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins?  The meaning is not hidden, it is plain.

Foot washing has a hidden meaning – or does Jesus mean that we should all be regularly kneeling down to scrub up the dirty toes of those around us?  Of course He does not mean that.  Foot washing has to be explained.  He has given us an example to follow – not to be served but to serve, to take up the lowest task without offense for those in want or need and not because they deserve it.

No, the Sacrament is plain.  Do this in remembrance of Me.  We do not need to figure what this means, we just need to do it.  The Church lives by the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.  It is not an occasional add on to the Word but our Lord intended us to live by the Word and Meal.  In this meal is the gift of forgiveness for our sins and by this meal we receive a foretaste of the eternal and through this meal we give witness to the world of His death and resurrection.

Christian service is good and salutary.  Jesus gives an example of service that was then and is now somewhat distasteful.  Does any of us want to wash someone’s dirty feet?  But Jesus is not telling us to do this.  He is telling us to serve our neighbor in love.  The point was never dirty feet but the neighbor in need and the character of Christian love and service.  How we show such love and what kind of service we give will change from neighbor to neighbor and from time to time and from what we have to give and what we don’t.  But this Sacrament remains the same and is the mark of the eternal in a Church that lives here in the present.

What we receive in this Sacrament does not change from age to age nor does it change from person to person receiving it.  It is not the Body and Blood of Christ because we deem it to be but because Christ says it is.  Those who do not believe it is not literally Christ’s flesh in bread and His blood in wine are not simply out of fellowship with us, they are out of fellowship with Jesus.  This is not symbolic food but real food though the real food that is there is more than what our senses taste and are what Christ says.

It is through this Sacrament that Christ abides in us and we in Him.  Our life of faith is not what we imagine it to be but what Christ says it is.  It is not subjective to each of us but objective for all of us.  That is why the mark of the Church is the weekly celebration of this Sacrament – something our confessional documents affirm not because we are Lutherans but because this is what Christ has said and because we are people of faith this is what we do.  This is not a pastoral preference or the preference of the people in the pews.  It is the Word of Christ and this is how the Church has lived through the centuries and will live until He comes again.

Christ has not given His Church mere object lessons with which to fight the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.  We do not have symbolic food to feed our weary bodies and souls but real food.  Christ lives not in our imagination but in His Word and Sacrament.  This is what it is and what Christ means for us to know as we eat.

The world is overcome with a preoccupation for what might be instead of what is. Think of where we were three years ago today and what we were willing to do to alter our lives and relationships and church because of what we did not know.  By these words our Lord is calling us to alter our lives and relationships and church because of what He has said clearly and plainly.  He is not illustrating anything but giving to us His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, for the strengthening of our faith, for life of our fellowship, for the equipping of the saints for the work He has given us to do, and for the glimpse of the eternal future which He has prepared for us.  Do this in remembrance of Me.

In the Old Testament reading, the people were also gathered for a solemn moment.  The words of the Lord had been read and the blood had been spattered on the altar.  The people promised.  “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do and we will be obedient.”  At that moment, the blood was spattered on them and the covenant sealed.  Today and every Holy Thursday and every Lord’s Day and every other time there are people wishing to receive the Sacrament, this is what we do.  We read the Word of the Lord and the blood on the altar is eaten and drunk and we are sealed anew in the testament and covenant of His blood to behold the Lord and dwell in His presence forevermore.  Thanks be to God!  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

1 comment:

gamarquart said...

Thank you for a wonderful sermon.
Sometimes, when I hear or read a great sermon, suddenly there is a jarring note, which always fills me with immense sadness. This happened to me, when I read, “Do this often in remembrance of Me.”
This is a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 11:25. In the more than 20 English versions that I checked, it reads something similar to “as often as you drink it.” The Greek word used here, also means “as often as.”
In agreement with this reading, my Messianic Jewish friends celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar once a year, on Maundy Thursday. The meal that is eaten on this day is mandated in Exodus 12:14, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall observe it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall celebrate it as a perpetual ordinance.”
Is it wrong to celebrate Holy Communion more than once a year? I firmly believe that the freedom of the Gospel allows that. Is it wrong to celebrate it only once a year? I see no command in the New Testament not to do so. Inasmuch as the Passover Meal has been mandated by God to be eaten once a year, and it is the Third Cup of that meal, which our Lord used to institute His Supper, there is a good argument for that practice.
What is wrong is to make more of Holy Communion than our Lord intended, particularly by putting words in His mouth He never spoke. I have often thought that in the Lutheran Church, the Gospel suffers because lay people, and maybe clergy, believe the Lord’s Supper has qualities, which it actually does not have.
The ultimate principle of our faith, is that “the just shall live by faith,” not by things we can touch and see. It is still the Gospel, which you cannot see, but which God writes into our hearts, that remains “the power of God for salvation.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart