Holy/Maundy Thursday

Download or listen to Holy Thursday, “The Body and the Blood” (Luke 22:7-20)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“I have greatly desired to eat this Passover with you before My suffering.” Tonight we receive the Sacrament as usual, but we also hear the Gospel account of Jesus instituting this Sacrament on the night He was betrayed. But whenever we receive the Sacrament, we should remember the original context. As often as—whenever—you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). In other words, these words are words that Jesus actually said on a particular Thursday night, as His last private words to His Apostles before He was betrayed and suffered death. As He says, “I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the Reign of God…from now on I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Reign of God comes” (Luke 22:16, 18). And when would that be? Peter tells us in Acts 10: “And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:39-41). The Apostles had been chosen by God to be witnesses to His Son, and they ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead, after the Reign of God had come and the Meal which He gave them before His death was fulfilled in that resurrection Reign.

He is risen from the dead. And because He is alive, we eat and drink with Him in the fulfillment of His Reign. Though we do not yet see its fulfillment, we have it now by faith. This meal is nothing other than the very body and blood of Christ given to us sinners to eat and drink. I am not making an argument, though arguments can be made. We are simply proclaiming the same words that Jesus said; the words that Jesus’ called and ordained servants speak are not their own. The change that happens, when Christ’s body and blood become present with the bread and the wine, is not under my power. These words are not magic. Christ remains free from all human compulsion and coercion. He is free, and in His merciful freedom as the eternal Son of God in flesh, He receives sinners and eats with them. Are you burdened, heavy-laden? Come, eat and drink with the risen One whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. Are you weary of all the less-than-satisfying meals the world offers? Come, eat and drink with the risen One who gives you full and true rest. Do you know that there is nothing sound in your own flesh, that there is only death and decay within? Come, eat and drink with the risen One who is Life. Do you know that the devil is always around you, who with his lying and murdering will let you have no peace within or without? Come, eat and drink with the risen One who withstood every temptation. “Receive the communion of the spotless mysteries of Christ, believing in fact that they are the body and blood of Christ our God, which he gave to the faithful for the forgiveness of sins” (John of Damascus, Luke, ACCS, 332). Your forgiveness is not so much like a gas tank, which needs to be filled once in a while; it is much more like the river that flows beneath the roots of a tree, always there, always nourishing, always necessary. We always sin, therefore we always need the medicine. And the medicine is always here for sinners. This is one of the sacred means by which He has chosen to deliver His death and resurrection; this bread and wine is how He delivers His body given and His blood poured out for you. And tonight, at this altar, His words are true: “’I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:17-18).

There is nothing left to offer the Father in payment for sin, not by Jesus, and certainly not by us. This sacrifice is all. All you need are your empty hands. He no longer gives any sacrifice to the Father, but now He gives His sacrifice to you. Who is greater, the one who reclines at table or the one who serves? Jesus says, I am among you as one who serves. For now it must be this way: the Lord serves and the servants receive. You, the priests of God in Christ Jesus, receive your livelihood from the fruit of the sacrifice. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed! Let us feast, not with the old leaven of evil and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of purity and truth!

And “Let us then return from that table like lions breathing fire, having become terrible to the devil; thinking on our Head, and on the love which He has shown for us… This blood causes the image of our King to be fresh within us, produces beauty unspeakable, permits not the nobleness of our souls to waste away, watering it continually, and nourishing it. …This blood, if rightly taken, drives away devils, and keeps them afar off from us, while it calls to us Angels and the Lord of Angels. For wherever they see the Lord’s blood, devils flee, and Angels run together. This blood poured forth washed clean all the world;… This blood cleansed the secret place, and the Holy of Holies. And if the type of it had such great power in the temple of the Hebrews, and in the midst of Egypt, when smeared on the door-posts, much more the reality. This blood sanctified the golden altar; without it the high priest dared not enter into the secret place. This blood consecrated priests, this in types cleansed sins. But if it had such power in the types, if death so shuddered at the shadow, tell me how would it not have dreaded the very reality? This blood is the salvation of our souls, by this the soul is washed, by this is beautiful, by this is inflamed, this causes our understanding to be more bright than fire, and our soul more beaming than gold; this blood was poured forth, and made heaven accessible. … This is the price of the world, by This Christ purchased to Himself the Church, by This He has adorned Her all. For as a man buying servants gives gold for them, and again when he desires to deck them out does this also with gold; so Christ has purchased us with His blood, and adorned us with His blood. They who share this blood stand with Angels and Archangels and the Powers that are above, clothed in Christ’s own kingly robe, and having the armor of the Spirit… they are clothed with the King Himself” (Chrysostom, Homily on John XLVI (John 6:41-42): 3-4 (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf114.iv.xlviii.html). Come and eat and drink with the Risen Lord, be clothed with the King Himself; come, eat and drink, and live.

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.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/27/13

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