06 April 2012

Homily upon Maundy Thursday

Behold, the old is gone, the new has come.  All this is from God.

The old is the Jewish Passover - commemorated every year for a millennium and more in Jesus’ day - the night forever remembered when, sheltering beneath lamb’s blood, the first-born of the Israelites were “passed over” by the destroyer, spared from the death that visited Egypt’s firstborn.  Lamb’s blood turned away death exactly as the Word and promise of God had declared it would.  Might look silly.  Might seem foolish.  Doesn’t matter.  With the spilling of that blood and the painting of the doors, life was preserved and spared.

Our Lord was a good Jew.  He lived in the liturgy of His people.  He gathered with His own to celebrate Passover.  And it was in the context of that “old” that He began to make all things new.  He gave the “new.”  The old covenant - the covenant of the Law given through Moses - the covenant that insisted that cursed is everyone who does not abide in all the words of this law to do them - that covenant is brought to its end.  This evening we celebrate that a new covenant was being inaugurated, a new and far better promise being given.
Paul wrote of it in our epistle as it had been handed onto him from the Lord Jesus.  How the night of His betrayal, the Lord took bread, gave thanks - that is, made Eucharist - broke it and gave it to the disciples.  “This is my body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

And then again the cup after Supper:  “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this in remembrance of me.  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim my death until I come.”

The new wine of the Eucharist poured into the old wineskin of the Passover, filled it up and burst it.  More grace and life and hope and joy and love there than the old feast could handle.  Once a year? Think again! Not this grace!  “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup.”  No yearly feast, this.  The new is bigger.  The new is more.

For here is not mere remembrance of deliverance from a disaster that struck your neighbor long ago.  Here is remembrance of a Deliverer who rescues you even now from every disaster that strikes you.  Hence the “uper umon” - the “for you all” - the “in the place of you all, for the benefit of you all.”

As the old Passover Lamb died so that others might live, so that night THE Passover Lamb, the Pasch Himself, He was going to His death so that you might live.  He would pour out His blood so that you might have the life that is in that blood and so NOT DIE eternally, but live in Him forevermore.

“All this is from God who reconciled us to Himself, not counting our sins against us.”  This Eucharist, this Feast of grace that fills and bursts and overflows the old Passover, this Feast is the feast of God not counting your sins against you, but giving His blood to blot them out every one, and to rescue you from death.

“Do this in remembrance of me” - yes, but remembering that He has promised that He will remember you.  He will never forget you.  He who would go to the suffering and death of Golgotha and through that to Resurrection and life unending - He will not forget you.  He wants you to remember that He has remembered YOU.  Has given His body for YOU.  Has shed His blood for YOU.  He wants you to remember that His love for you proved stronger than the grip of the grave and that He will raise your body from the dust and bring you into the glory that is His.  And so the Eucharist.

Why no Eucharist in tonight’s Gospel?  Surely odd.  Your Catechism gives you a hint:  “What is the Sacrament of the Altar?  It is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus under the bread and wine instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.  Where is this written?  The holy evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, AND St. Paul write…”  Notice something wrong?  Where’s John???  In His gospel, Passover is shoved over a day.  Not tonight, but tomorrow.  Why on earth is that?

John’s Gospel is so filled with the new that the old is already burst and broken.  So the real Passover to John isn’t what happened the night of the betrayal.  It’s what happened when the Lamb of God offered Himself on the wood of the tree.  THERE’S the Passover, John is saying.

So in his account of this night, not a hint of passover, but instead the Lord Jesus on his hands and knees, humbly doing a task that none of his disciples were humble enough to do.  He’s washing their feet.  He’s serving them.  He was all about service.  And so there’s John’s commentary on what the Lord’s Supper is all about:  it’s all about Jesus going on serving you, touching you, washing you clean.  The dirt from off of you, onto Him.  The grime of your life, sullying the clean water and rags in which he is draped.  The Supper is about Him loving you that much.  And notice that He does this washing for Judas, just as for Peter and John and all the others.  There’s none whose sins Jesus wouldn’t wash away by the sacrifice He was preparing to offer.  He would be on the cross for all.

But it didn’t help Judas, and it won’t help anyone who doesn’t believe it.  So with the Supper.  Whoever comes to the table meets Jesus there in His true body and blood - but only those who come in the faith borne of repentance receive in that body and blood the forgiveness and love that Christ is offering with the body and blood.  Those who don’t believe, those who like Judas are determined to hold onto their sin and not let it be washed away, they receive the body and blood alright, but as Paul said in the Epistle they do so in an unworthy manner and so find that which the Lord intended to give life actually bringing judgment.  

The Lord doesn’t want that for you or for anyone.  He wants to meet you in His Eucharist so that He can go on being your servant by washing away your sins with the gift of the body and blood that were for you on Golgotha.  God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but sadly, whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s only Son.  

Tonight the old meets the new.  The new bursts the bonds of the old.  Your old life, your old sins, your old habits and ways.  Tonight they meet their end.  Come to the Table and receive Him whose forgiveness is bigger than all the world’s transgression; whose pardon is mightier than all the chains that have held you down.  Come, He is waiting to pour forgiveness and life down your throat.  All this is from God who has reconciled you to Himself, not counting your sins against you.  Amen

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