Sermon preached on Maundy Thursday, continuing the Lenten theme, “From the Cross to the Catechism,” focusing on the Sacrament of the Altar.
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Do this in remembrance of me. Tonight we recollect. We remind ourselves. We take bread and wine. We give thanks. We repeat the words our Savior spoke. We eat and we drink. We remember.
For 2,000 years the Church has done this. We think turning 40 is old. Tonight we do what those thirteen men did in a dining room in Jerusalem just hours before Jesus death. We do what Christians did in catacombs. We do what the Church has done in on every continent in every country. We remember.
We remember what this is. This is my body….This cup is the new testament in my blood. Jesus spoke simple words. He held bread in His hand and says, “This is.” He held wine in His hand and said, “This is.” Though we can’t comprehend it, we remember that these are Jesus’ words, words that mean bread is body and wine is blood. They are joined together in a supernatural way. Because Jesus said so, and He doesn’t lie.
Almost every other Christian in the world is celebrating, offering, and receiving the Lord’s Supper tonight, like us. But not all of them remember it as we do. One billion of them, Roman Catholics, believe that the priest, by virtue of His ordination, is tonight changing bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The bread and wine are gone. Hundreds of millions of others hear the words of Jesus, distribute bread and wine, and say, “This is bread and wine.” There is no body and blood. They are signs, symbols, and remembrances of the body of Christ on the cross and the blood of Christ poured out. They’re not remembering rightly. They have let their minds and their reason attempt to explain the unexplainable and define the indefinable.
We remember what this does. …given for you….poured out for you. And in case that’s not enough, Matthew adds, for the forgiveness of sins. We remember what Jesus did. He gave His body over to death, He poured out His blood as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. We proclaim that death by this meal. But we also remember that Jesus gave us the ultimate assurance. “What I did for you, I give to you.” For you. For your sake. In your hands, on your lips and tongues, is the guarantee that Jesus is speaking to you and that Jesus acted on your behalf. When He announced forgiveness to His murderers, He included you.
Again, as we celebrate this tonight among billions of other Christians, we must realize that not all of them remember it the way we do. Roman Catholicism says this meal isn’t just Christ’s assurance of forgiveness, it is also the re-presenting of the sacrifice of Christ, and it is a work offered by the priests and the people on behalf of themselves and for others, including those dead and in purgatory. It has gone from being something God does to something offered to God hoping for reward and benefit. For those other hundreds of millions tonight is sort of like the Fourth of July. It’s a holiday, a festival, a commemoration, a memorial. The Lord’s Supper is offered because Jesus said so, and because He said it helps you remember what He did. It’s done tonight, because it happened tonight, like why we shoot off fireworks on the Fourth of July, not October 12. Tonight, for them, says. “See what a good job of remembering we’re doing, Lord?”
But tonight we remember rightly. We remember this new covenant and what it means. We remember what God instituted in the Old Testament – the Passover feast that has passed into history – and we remember what God said, When I see the blood, I will pass over you. Then, it was from slaughtered lambs. Then, it was on doorframes. Now, it’s from the slaughtered, Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away sins. Now, it’s given and shed on a cross for the world, and offered and given in His holy Sacrament for our comfort, our assurance, our strength, our forgiveness. What He did there, He distributes to you here.
Tonight we remember rightly. We remember this new covenant. We remember that it’s not us offering Christ up to God, but Christ offering Himself up for us. We remember that is it the gift of Christ to His Church, to me, a gift, a sacrifice made by Christ that means all other sacrificing is done. The sacrifice for sins has been offered. And accepted. The debt is paid. Your sins are forgiven, life and salvation is yours, because He gave His body, He poured out His blood. As we heard from Hebrews, Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Whence this confidence to enter the Most Holy Place and pass through the curtain? Whence this sincere heart full of assurance? Whence this unswerving hope? Here, in this Meal. Here’s what we remember. Take it. Eat it. The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ, poured out for you. We remember Jesus who remembers us. Amen.