Maundy Thursday \ Pastor Terry Defoe \ 1 Corinthians 11 \ Joyful Remembering
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 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.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,“This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Holy Communion – we sometimes call it the Sacrament of the Lord's Table in the our Lutheran circles – is, at its heart, a joyful remembrance of Jesus. Holy Communion is more than just a faint recollection of the Lord – a recollection in which we might way:
"Oh, yes, I do remember Jesus."
The word used for remembering in the original language refers to a profound kind of remembering – a vivid memory of something very important to us. As we participate in the Last Supper with Jesus tonight, we vividly remember him and what he has done for us. A parallel to this kind of remembering might be the kind of memories we have of a particularly traumatic or, on the other hand, a particularly joyful experience at some point in the past. In vivid memories like this, psychologists call them “flash-bulb memories,” we re-live an event – one that’s vividly imprinted on our memories. And when we do re-live these life-changing events, the original emotions associated with them come back to us in a powerful way. I pray that God bless our consideration of His Holy Word and of this important topic on this special evening!
The Lord's Supper is more than just a mental re-living of an event. The Lord's Supper has the power of Jesus' own words associated with it, the power of his true body and blood, which are given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. When Jesus says,
"Do this in remembrance of me…"
he's not talking about a symbolic fellowship meal. Our Lord doesn't want our faith to be just an empty mental exercise. Our Lord wants our faith to be an experience of the head and of the heart – together. Jesus changes us – he literally transforms us, spiritually – when we come to the altar. At the altar, we come into contact with him, with his body and blood, given and shed in love for us.
The first occasion of the Holy Sacrament was our Lord's final Passover meal with his disciples. This event happened, we are told,
"… on the night in which he was betrayed."
In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verses 20 to 23, we find a description of the Jewish Passover. And the Jewish Passover is the direct precursor of the Lord's Supper. We find these words in Deuteronomy, chapter 6:
"When your son asks you, 'What is the meaning... [of this]?' tell him: 'We were slaves of the Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out ... to give us the land that he promised – on oath – to our forefathers."
It's important to note that the Israelites were instructed to remember these things. Not only were our Jewish ancestors freed from Egypt and given the Promised Land, but, in a very real sense, we were, too. In the Passover meal, the people of Israel re-lived their forefathers’ participation in the Exodus events. And when our Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, it just so happened that this was also the night the Jewish people were remembering their Exodus deliverance. It was the night they remembered what God had done for them, by His grace, at the Red Sea.
In the same way, Jesus wants his disciples to remember him in this sacred act. In the Lord's Supper, we experience Jesus in the most tangible way possible – that is, on this side of heaven. In the Lord's Supper, we receive his body and blood into our very body and blood. In the Lord's Supper, we receive the very "remission of sins" he came to bring to the world. When we receive the Sacrament, we are filled with inexpressible joy, because we have received Jesus himself. Christ now dwells in us and we dwell in him. We live on account of him.
A Lutheran pastor recalls a chapel service he attended when he was a student at the Seminary. A professor had preached a sermon on the Sacrament as a joyful experience. And, in that sermon, he questioned why Lutheran people so often attend the Lord's Supper with somber faces.
Our Lord’s will is that His Supper be a time of great anticipation. His will is that it be a time of great fulfillment. When you think about it for a moment, in the Lord' Supper, God is no longer "way up there." He’s here, with us – with you and me – literally and personally. In the Lord's Supper God literally touches us – he makes contact with our life, our weaknesses, our struggles, and our sins. In the Lord's Supper, God touches us and makes us whole.
When we hear in the Scriptures about God's great gifts, our attitude towards the Lord's Supper becomes one of powerful gratitude. It’s true. As that professor emphasized, the Lord's Supper is a joyous occasion; it’s not a time for long faces. The Lord's Supper is an occasion for thanksgiving – when you think about it, it actually prompts and enables that thanksgiving. As we receive our Lord's forgiveness at the holy table, side by side with fellow believers, as we experience the fullness of his love, our hearts are filled with thanksgiving. As we come to the Lord – humbly, shamed by our sins and shortcomings – but lifted up by His gracious forgiveness, he comes to meet us. After all, he came to this earth for each one of us. We are told in the Scriptures that He "emptied himself" as he went to the cross to pay the price for our sins. When we remember him, we are filled with thanksgiving. When we receive him in the Lord's Supper, we are filled to overflowing with his presence and his amazing grace.
Our joy in Christ, is prompted and sustained by our sanctified memories – by our memories of all that he has said and done for us. In the Lord's Supper, our trust and confidence grows. As the Israelites of old were encouraged in the Passover meal to recall all that God had done for them, so we, too, in the Lord's Supper, remember all that Christ has done for us. In the Lord's supper, we recall and we re-connect – with the Lord and with his people. In the Lord's Supper – in this "Lutheran altar call" as some have called it – we re-affirm our faith in Christ and we again remember his promises. God remembered his promises to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob. He remembers his promises to you and to me. In Romans chapter 8, verses 32 and following, the Apostle Paul says:
32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (N.I.V)
This is the confident joy our that Lord has for us in the Sacrament. When we attend the Lord's Supper, we are blessed in many ways. We are re-united with friends, we are renewed and strengthened in spirit. And when we leave the Lord's Table, we have been empowered to change the world – our particular world – for Jesus' sake. Christian joy is much deeper and robust than mere happiness. We may not be happy all the time, perhaps not even when we approach the altar; but, just below the surface, no matter the circumstances in our lives, we are joy-filled. Our confidence is real. It’s life-changing, and it’s life-sustaining. It’s a sense of confidence that the Lord gives. As has been said so many times: the unbelieving world didn’t give it to us and the unbelieving world can’t take it away.
So, on this Maundy Thursday evening, in the year of 2015, we are gathered here in this place set aside for God’s use to remember Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples. We are gathered here to experience again what they experienced for the first time that night. Within 24 hours of these events, Jesus would be dead – in the grave. On that first Maundy Thursday evening, so close to the time of his death, Jesus showed his disciples the full extent of his love. On that first Maundy Thursday evening, Jesus did two things. He washed his disciples' feet. And he shared His Supper with them.
When it comes right down to it, Jesus is our servant Savior. He has washed us clean – forgiven our sins – in Holy Baptism. On Good Friday, His body and blood were sacrificed for us, on the cross – for our forgiveness and for our eternal life. Our joy tonight, knowing full well what’s coming tomorrow, is a restrained joy. It’s there, but it's subdued. We know that the cross came after the Lord's Supper. But we also know something else – something that makes all the difference. We know that death could not hold Jesus captive. We know that his tomb is empty. We know that His suffering and the dying were for a purpose. He did all of this for you and for me and for the world – by grace alone!
And so, when you come to the Sacrament tonight, do come with joy in your heart. Come with a prayer of repentance and thanksgiving on your lips. Hold out your hand to receive the bread – the Lord's Body. Humbly receive the wine – the Lord's precious blood – shed for you and for all people for the remission of sins. Hear his gracious word of absolution. Gather strength from this Christian community – from your Christian brothers and sisters – those who share your faith and walk the road with you. We face Good Friday with confidence – confidence in God's gracious promises. Our God – as the well-known chorus says – is an awesome God. Experience that sense of awe tonight at the Lord's altar. May God bless us and keep us – each and every one – in the very center of His most holy will. Amen.
Let’s pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – We thank you for your many gracious gifts. Tonight, we especially thank you for the gift of your Holy Supper. We thank you for the forgiveness of sins we receive there – and for the strengthening of our faith. Bless us so that we might be a blessing in this world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.