“Yahweh Remembers: He Removes Uncleanness”
The Word of God for our consideration this Holy Thursday comes from the prophet Zechariah: [Zechariah 13:1-9]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The fountain has been opened. It flows unceasingly for the people of God, for you. Yahweh says, My people have been fouled by the filth of their sin for too long. And so, in anticipation of His death, our Lord wrote His last will and testament into the minds of His Apostles. “Take, eat; this is my body”; “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28, ESV). As Jesus hung on the cross, He gave His last breath. And then, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34, ESV). “Rock of Ages, cleft for me,/Let me hide myself in Thee;/Let the water and the blood,/From Thy riven side which flowed,/Be of sin the double cure:/Cleanse me from its guilt and pow’r” (LSB 761, st. 1). But the fountain of cleansing was opened even before that moment. With every stroke of the whip, new wells were dug. With every hole made by a thorn, new springs of purity were opened. And with the nails in hands and feet, the life of the Living God flowed forth and watered that blessed ground. This fountain of living water, this fountain of cleansing from sin and uncleanness, is the one from which we will drink tonight. Perfect, divine Body, broken for us! Holy, purifying Blood, shed for us! The mystery is beyond telling.
Why, then, would we refuse this miraculous gift of God, for whatever reason? Why do we not hunger and thirst for His righteousness as often as we can get it? No, thank you, Jesus. I’ve had enough forgiveness today. But in the very thought or utterance of those words, we show that our condition is worse than we first thought. Which man is sicker, the one who recognizes that he is sick, or the one who denies that the cancer has spread throughout his whole body? Will you pretend that your flesh has no hold on you, that you are untouched by the world and its temptations, that the devil does not prowl around you every waking moment, whispering the seeds of sin into your ears until they are implanted and full-grown in your mind and heart? Take heed of the danger at every turn; sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you. Take and eat; take and drink, that you may be strengthened against every temptation.
But perhaps someone will object that receiving Communion more often will make it less special, less meaningful. If the Lord’s Supper is something we do, then of course it will be less special the more we do it. We can perhaps numb ourselves by sheer repetition. But if it is God who gives us His Son’s Body and Blood, and if we are only the recipients of that gift, what could we possibly do to make that more or less special? Can you make Christ’s work on the cross less important by thinking about it too often? Can you make His forgiveness mean more if you are forgiven only once in a while? No; we underestimate the power of sin. Your sin and mine are far too great to ever need less forgiveness. We need as much medicine as we can get, and God wants to give it to us. The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, is of a different kind than the other things that we do. In the regular celebration of it, it becomes more meaningful, more special, more important-not less. Think about the Scriptures: surely it cannot be better to hear and read God’s Word less, because we think we might tarnish its special-ness. Do you come to the Lord’s House only once a month, or only on the second and last Sundays? Why not? Because it is not your coming or your staying away that determines what God does here. Let us never forget that they are God’s Word, God’s holy Sacraments, God’s forgiveness. We may not do with the Lord’s Supper as we wish because we do not give it its meaning or its significance. God does that. Always and forever, God does it.
If you, for whatever reason, do not wish to receive this great gift of God, then do not, for the sake of your wishes, deprive others of it. Do not keep others, who feel the depth and magnitude of their sin, from knowing the full forgiveness of Christ. Understand, though, that the giving of the Sacrament often is no law about how often you must receive it. Neither I, nor anyone else, may make the regular reception of the Lord’s Supper into a law or a command, because law is something humans are to do or not to do. But the Lord’s Supper is always and ever what your God does for you. It is pure and unadulterated gift. It is forgiveness, life, and salvation; it is strength for the living of your life in Christ; it is armor against the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh; it is the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ Himself, and where Christ is present there is no condemnation for the members of His Body.
To receive this wondrous gift every time we, as the Body of Christ, meet together is really not a new idea or practice. The practice of not offering it every Lord’s Day is the new thing, which, among Lutherans, has only been around a couple hundred years-and two hundred years is not long at all compared with the two thousand years of Christ’s Church. The early Christians in the book of Acts gathered around four things: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42, ESV). In Acts 20, the Christians are meeting on the first day of the week to “break bread” (20:7). For nearly the first five centuries of the Christian Church on earth, her members gathered at least weekly to celebrate her Lord’s last will and testament. Even when the people stopped coming to the Altar weekly, the Sacrament was still offered and remained available. It is true that after the fifth century, regular reception decreased, but that was because the emphasis came to be on the sacrifice of the mass, rather than the forgiveness offered “for you.” Luther and the other reformers realized this abuse and worked to correct it. Being a Lutheran Christian means being guided and formed by the Lutheran Confessions, which, after the Scriptures, bear a central place in the Constitution of this congregation, as well as in the vows that I took before God and before you. If that is true, then we have betrayed our Lutheran birthright for a mess of pottage when it comes to the Lord’s Supper. In the sixteenth century, Philip Melanchthon could write in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession that the Lutherans, or Evangelicals, observed Holy Communion “more frequently and more devoutly” than the Roman Catholics. He wrote that “it is again necessary…to point out that we do not abolish the Mass but religiously retain and defend it. Among us [Lutherans] the Mass is celebrated every Lord’s Day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved” (Apol. XXIV, 1, Kolb/Wengert). Even more, Melanchthon wrote, “For the people use it, but only after they have been instructed and examined. They are taught about the proper use of the sacrament, that it was instituted as a seal and testimony of the gracious forgiveness of sins and therefore as an encouragement to sensitive consciences in order that they may be completely convinced and believe that their sins are freely forgiven” (Apol., XXIV, 49, Kolb/Wengert). Not so among us who call ourselves Lutherans in this country. Not only do we not follow the Scriptural example, but can we say any more that we use the Sacrament of the Altar “more frequently and more devoutly” than our separated Roman brothers and sisters? Now, even our separated Presbyterian brothers and sisters put us to shame with their weekly communions, even though they eat and drink only bread and wine.
Beloved, do not labor for the food that perishes; come, he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food (Isaiah 55:1, 2). All other food you eat strengthens your body for only a short time, and you will be hungry again. Of this world’s food, we rarely miss a meal, not even to make sure we appreciate our food. The body that is filled with only breakfast, lunch, and dinner will die and nothing will come of that food, except to feed worms. But here! Here is forgiveness itself. Here is Jesus Christ to serve you, who is Himself the bread of life. “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am,” Jesus says, “the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48-51, ESV). We who feed on His flesh and drink His blood have eternal life, because we trust in Him who died and is alive again. Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:54-56, ESV).
Brothers and sisters of Jesus, who is the Fountain of Living Waters, come and eat His flesh. Come and drink His blood, and be satisfied forever. This food and drink is eternal and every time you eat and drink, you are being served the medicine of immortality. Here, today, the fountain is opened anew for you to be cleansed of your sin and uncleanness. The Shepherd was struck, and the sheep were scattered. But, in God’s divine irony, the striking of the Shepherd means that a fountain is opened to again gather sinners, even you, from all the ends of the earth. “Come to Calv’ry’s holy mountain,/ Sinners ruined by the fall;/Here a pure and healing fountain flows for you, for me, for all,/In a full, perpetual tide,/Opened when our Savior died. Come in poverty and meanness,/Come defiled, without, within;/From infection and uncleanness,/From the leprosy of sin,/Wash your robes and make them white;/Ye shall walk with God in light. Come in sorrow and contrition,/Wounded, impotent, and blind;/Here the guilty, free remission,/Here the troubled, peace may find./Health this fountain will restore;/They that drink shall thirst no more” (LSB 435, sts. 1-3). “Draw near and take the body of the Lord,/And drink the holy blood for you outpoured;/Offered was He for greatest and for least,/Himself the victim and Himself the priest” (LSB 637, st. 1).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.