Friday, March 29, 2024

Not an object lesson. . .

Sermon for the Divine Service on Maundy (Holy) Thursday, with the Stripping of the Altar, preached on Thursday, March 28, 2024.

Some Christians like the foot-washing scene better than just about any other in the life of Jesus.  They like the humility of it all and presume the problem with religion lies mostly with its pride and arrogance.  Some even presume that no one can really know what to believe and the best we can do is to serve.  They are not so much enamored with the Sacrament of the Altar.  They think it should be left to each person to decide what it means and what they receive in Holy Communion.

The problem is this.  Jesus washes feet as an object lesson.  He makes it clear that He has shown an example to them.  They are not given words to say or even a specific action they were to do.  This is clear not simply in what Jesus says but also in what He does not say.  He asks them if they understand what He has done.  He never commands them to do exactly what He has done often and in remembrance of Him.  Foot-washing is an object lesson that illustrates a principle.  Holy Communion is a gift that bestows what it signs.

Jesus never calls the Sacrament of His body and blood an example.  He does not ask the disciples if they understand what He has done.  The Lord’s Supper is not a ceremony even though ceremonies accompany the Lord’s Supper.  The Sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood is not an object lesson.  It is gift and blessing, the heavenly food we cannot provide for ourselves, the medicine of immortality, and our participation in the body and blood of Christ.  But it is also one thing more.  It is proclamation.

As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.  This is not said of foot washing.  This is said only of that blessed Sacrament which He instituted on the night of His betrayal as He was about to enter into the obedient suffering that would win salvation for you, me, and the whole world.  The Sacrament of the Altar is the beating heart of the Christian Church and the manifest proclamation of the cross.  It is the Sacrament by which we as individuals are fed, nourished, live, and grow but it is also the heart of our proclamation of Christ.  It is not simply what we say.  It is what we do.

This is why even in a pandemic we could not shut the doors or close the rail.  The Sacrament of the Altar is not an option or extra but the center of our very lives in Christ and the center of the Church’s witness to the world.  To shutter the doors of the Church not merely deprives you of what Christ offers in His flesh and blood.  To cease the Sacrament is to silence our witness to the world and to admit that there is a life more important than the life of Christ we receive here and a body more important than the bodies nourished here.  This fellowship of eating and drinking cannot be replaced by online Sacraments or by people gathered privately in their homes.  Yes, if you are alone on a desert island your faith must survive without benefit of this Sacrament.  But none of us are alone on a desert island.  Exceptions make terrible rules.

Yes, foot washing means something.  Acts of love always mean something.  But to the loved, the act must be explained or no one can will understand what it means.  The Sacrament of the Altar does not mean anything.  Do you have to explain the food you put in your mouths?  The Sacrament of the Altar does not mean anything different than it is, than the words and promises of Christ declare: This is My body; This is My blood.  We do not explain the Sacrament.  Christ does not explain the Sacrament.  The Sacrament is not for explaining.  It is for the baptized to eat and drink in faith for the forgiveness of their sins, for the foretaste of the eternal, and for their faith to be strengthened.  The Sacrament of the Altar is not symbolic of anything.  It simply is what Christ said it is.

It is by this Holy Sacrament that the Church lives, that you and I live in Christ.  It is by this Holy Sacrament that the proclamation of the cross continues until He comes at the end of the days to bring it to completion.  It is not Larry Peters who says this but Christ and His Word.  You are not given this Sacrament to agree with or to render an opinion over or to understand.  This Sacrament is given to you and to the whole Church so that we might eat the body of Christ and drink His blood and thereby receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation AND by our kneeling at this rail and receiving this body and blood of Christ, His death is proclaimed to the whole world.  For this reason, this Sacrament is not optional but the beating heart and center of our life together and our witness to the world.

Foot washing has a point.  Serve your neighbor.  Not by washing his feet but by doing what the Lord commends in Matthew 25: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the stranger.  Do this to your neighbor whom you know or the stranger you do not and you are doing it to Christ.  The Sacrament of the Altar does not have a point.  It is what it is.  We eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood in bread and wine and by this eating and drinking we are forgiven and strengthened and the cross proclaimed.  Period.

My friends, Christians should not have to be encouraged to be here to receive the Holy Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.  This is what we need in our war against the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  We cannot be sustained in the battle for the faith with object lessons or ceremonies.  We need the food that is what it promises – Christ’s flesh for the life of the world and His blood that cleanses us from all our sin.  So come.  Come now.  Come every Lord’s Day.  Come on Thursdays.  Come and eat and live.  Come and eat and proclaim the death that gives us life and the food of heaven that satisfies every hunger and thirst.

God gets into us by means of our ears as we hear His Word and by means of our mouths as we receive His body and blood.  We are united from all that would divide us because the same Word is spoken into every ear and the same food is set before every mouth.  We win this war not because our soldiers are stronger but because they are directed by God’s Word and fed and nourished by His body and blood.  This is our only advantage.  Let us not forsake hearing the Word or eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood.  To do so is already to surrender.  Amen

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