Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Fruits of Our Lord’s Redemption Are Manifest in Us

Maundy Thursday
March 24, 2016
With these words in the Collect for Maundy Thursday we are shown what the Lord’s Supper is: “O Lord, in this wondrous Sacrament You have left us a remembrance of Your passion.” What makes the Lord’s Supper a wondrous Sacrament? In giving us His Supper, how is it that He has left us a remembrance of His passion?

The wording of the Collect picks up on the language of the Old Testament reading: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” This memorial day, this feast to the Lord, was to be in celebration of the Lord’s deliverance of His people. He would strike down their enemies but preserve them. The angel of death would pass through the land of Egypt smiting the firstborn of each household. When he came to homes that had painted on the doorposts the blood of a lamb that was slaughtered, the angel would pass over that home. Celebrating this festival each year would bring remembrance to them that their God was the one who delivered them.

Fast-forward to Jesus celebrating this very festival with His disciples, as John tells us in the Gospel reading. Paul describes what happened in the Epistle reading: “The Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”

What Jesus did was take the memorial meal of the Passover and turn it into a memorial meal of His Passion. He instituted a new feast, the wondrous Sacrament of His body and blood. In the Passover, the Israelites were to eat the flesh of the lamb they slaughtered. In the Meal the Lord instituted they were to eat and drink the very body and blood of Jesus. No longer would a lamb’s flesh be slain, He was the Lamb of God who would be slain on the next day.

It’s no wonder Paul spoke of partaking of this Feast in the way he did. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” When one partakes of the bread of this Meal and drinks of the cup of this Meal they are partaking of the very body and blood of the Lord Himself. He gives Himself to us in this wondrous Sacrament, and if we partake of it in an unworthy manner, we will be guilty of the Lord’s body and blood and eat and drink judgment on ourselves.

The Lord’s Supper is most definitely a great mystery. It is a wondrous Sacrament. It is beyond our ability to comprehend how in bread and wine our Lord gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. But by faith given us by the Holy Spirit we don’t try to solve the mystery but rather, as Paul says in the Epistle reading, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” This proclamation springs not from rational understanding but rejoicing that what our Lord gave over on the cross is given to us in His Holy Supper.

On the cross His body was delivered into death. His blood was shed for our eternal redemption. That was the great miracle and mystery. But He continues the miracle and mystery in His Holy Supper. That is why we prayed as we did in the Collect, “Grant that we may so receive the sacred mystery of Your body and blood.” You can’t fully get a handle on a sacred mystery. We shouldn’t want to!

When two people fall in love, do they want to dissect everything about their relationship, break all the details down, so that they have a solid, rational understanding of the love they share? Or do they rather see that the benefits of their love exceed comprehending it rationally? Love is given and received, not dissected apart. The sacred mystery of our Lord’s body and blood is something, as we prayed in the Collect, that we receive. It is not something we bring about. Our Lord brings it about. He gives, we receive. He gives His body to eat and blood to drink, we eat and drink.

He not only is the host, He is the servant. He not only welcomes us to His Table, He serves us. John says in the Gospel reading that Jesus got up from the table and put a towel around Himself and began washing His disciples’ feet. This task was not the task of the host. It was the task of the slave. In girding Himself with a towel He was showing that He is the master who doesn’t lord it over us but rather serves us. He came not to be served but to serve.

He began washing their feet, which is a yucky job. They didn’t wear socks and shoes in those days. And they didn’t walk around on pavement all day either. The walkways were dusty and dirty and who knows what kind of mess was worked into the dirt from various animals. It was definitely a slave’s job. But this is exactly what Jesus came to do. He came to serve. He came to wash us clean.

Peter, often getting ahead of himself, saw the indignity of this and began correcting Jesus. Jesus, on the other hand, ever patient, told him that he didn’t understand what was going on now but that he would in time. Yeah, that was true, Peter didn’t understand it, and he didn’t want to. “Lord, you will never wash my feet!” Jesus expressed to him that it was the only way. Only Jesus, the Lord, could serve them in the way they truly needed. And so Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” Well, in that case, Peter realized, I want as much washing from Jesus as I can get! “Lord, not only my feet, but also my head and my hands!”

But Jesus was not doing this simply to clean their feet. He was there to serve. To cleanse them of their sin. Foot washing wouldn’t do that. His Holy Supper would. That is why He has given us this wondrous Sacrament. In giving us His body and blood we are cleansed throughout, in body and soul.

And even so, with Christ it’s never enough just to give and leave it at that. There’s always more to the mystery and the wonder. We prayed in the Collect that our Lord would grant that we may so receive the sacred mystery of His body and blood, that the fruits of His redemption may continually be manifest in us. There is the redemption and then there is also what results from that—the fruits of the redemption. He doesn’t simply redeem us, the fruits of His redemption are made known through us.

Jesus bent down and washed His disciples’ feet. If He, their Lord and master, served them in such a way, then they too would serve others. Jesus does not come to us to wash our feet. But He does come to us in bread and wine. In doing so He gives us the sacred and wondrous redemption He brought about on the cross. And in redeeming us He brings about fruit in us which is a blessings to others.

We cannot give as our Lord gives, even in our good intentions we are tainted in sin. But God, having given us His Son in His Holy Meal, will produce in us the fruits of His redemption. He serves us so that we serve others. We are forgiven so that we forgive others. As we pray in the Post-Communion Collect, we give thanks to our Lord who has refreshed us through this salutary gift, and implore Him that of His mercy He would strengthen us through the same in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another. Amen.


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