April 18, 2019
This is the last night of Jesus’ life before he will die and he knows it. St. John writes, “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father...” That right there sets the mood for what Jesus is about to do and say. Jesus isn’t joking around. He is about to die. He has only a few more hours with his disciples before he will be taken away by armed men to be tortured and killed. It behooves all of us Christians to pay careful attention to the words and actions of our Lord this night. They weigh greatly upon his heart and he makes the best use of his final hours to speak them and to do them.
This holy night is commonly called Maundy Thursday after the Latin word mandatum, which means command. Jesus says in our Gospel lesson, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (vs. 34) This night is also when our Lord Jesus instituted the Sacrament of his body and blood for us Christians to eat and to drink. And as with the command to love, we Christians should also listen to these words with special reverence. St. Paul again sets the tone with these words, which are repeated every time the Church receives this Sacrament, “[Our] Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread...” (1 Corinthians 11:23) These words tell us that what Jesus is about to say and do is absolutely deliberate. And he wants us to pay close attention. These words about eating and drinking his body and blood are his last will and testament before he dies.
Preachers are often conflicted between these two great lessons on Maundy Thursday. Which text should I preach on? Should I emphasize Jesus’ exhortation to love one another just as he has loved us? Or should I give a lesson on what the Sacrament of the Altar is and why it is important for the life of the Christian? Yet, these two lessons first taught by Jesus on the night he was betrayed are not exclusive, but flow in and from each other.
Jesus did not simply give a command to love, he gave an example by washing his disciples’ feet. If he, their Lord and Teacher washed their feet, so also should the disciples wash one another’s feet. Yet, even this example was only a lesson, a small token of what Christ was about to do. It says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” The service Jesus offers his disciples and indeed the entire world transcends feet washing. Jesus loves them to the end, his end upon the cross.
Jesus’ death upon the cross was the greatest act of love ever done. And it is that act of love, which enables his disciples to love one another. St. John writes, “We love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) It is this act of love, which washes away our sins, conquers hate, death, and hell. When Jesus washed the grime off his disciples’ feet, he taught them that he washed the guilt from their souls with his very blood. Jesus said in John chapter 12, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” All people are sinners. And Jesus joins all sinners to himself by bearing their sins and giving them all access to eternal life through faith in him. Jesus’ love is universal.
And on the same night in which Jesus teaches his disciples to love, he feeds them his very body and blood, which he gave in love to save sinners. These words, “Given and shed for you.” are a proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus tells his church every time these words are repeated that he gave his body over to death for us. He tells us that his blood, not the blood of bulls and goats, is the basis of his New Testament. Jesus’ blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sin. His blood marks our door, so that death not only passes over us for a night, but for all eternity.
Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Every time we receive Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament, Jesus makes known to us that we are his friends. He laid down his life for us. There is no greater love than that proclaimed to the faithful, who receive this Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood.
Jesus tells Peter that if he does not wash him then he has no part in him. Jesus does not mean a physical washing, but a spiritual washing. Unless Jesus wash away your sins, then you have no part in him. Unless you receive Jesus’ love, which he performed for you on the cross, in faith, then you cannot call yourself a Christian. And then Jesus says something more. “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.”
Now, there is an obvious reference to Baptism there, but what Jesus means is this. You do not need another atoning sacrifice. You do not need to be baptized again. You who have been made clean by Christ’s love on the cross through faith are indeed clean. Yet, you still need your feet to be washed. You are still going to get dirty in this world; you’re still going to sin. You need to be forgiven. You need to be absolved. You need the muck that sticks to you from your sinful nature, from walking in this God-hating world, from the assaults of the devil to be cleansed off of you. This is done by the repeated forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ washes your feet when you receive the absolution, when you hear the preaching of the Gospel, and yes, most certainly when you eat and drink Christ’s true body and blood for your forgiveness. Here at this altar, Christ washes your feet.
The Lord’s Supper is a “feast of love,” not only because Jesus instituted it out of love for you, but because it is the source of the strongest love between Christians, as we pray after receiving this meal that it would strengthen us in fervent love toward one another. This Supper is not only an expression of love between God and the individual Christian, but between all Christians who participate in this meal. Through this meal you are given the ability to love one another and in fact this very meal is an expression of love between us.
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17) It is this passage from 1 Corinthians 10 where we get the word Communion. Participation is Communion. The body of Christ is not torn apart by the congregation or by an individual as they eat the bread and wine in the Supper. Rather, each communicant receives the one and the same complete body and blood of Christ in a miraculous way that only God understands. This means that each Christian receives the entire Christ when he receives this meal. We all become intimately united with one another as one body and soul.
You don’t hate yourself. Then how can you hate the one, who is joined to you so closely as to be a fellow participant in the body of Christ? It is impossible for one who believes in the mystery of this meal to hate his fellow Christians, whom he knows also share in the same body and blood of Christ.
This is why it is so important that we believe that the Lord’s Supper is truly Christ’s body and blood. First, because the clear words of Jesus compel us to believe that his body and blood are truly present with the bread and the wine, as he says, “This is my body. This is my blood.” The only reason not to believe this is because it is impossible to understand. But we must remember that God is able to do far more than we can ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20). But second, because Jesus truly is present with us. We don’t just hold him in our memory, while he is really far away. Christ is truly with us here, his body and soul. And he is in those, who receive the Sacrament. And if you despise those, who receive this Sacrament in faith, then you are despising those who are joined in a loving relationship with Christ. It means that you are despising Christ’s own body and blood.
This Sacrament of the Altar, which was given to us in love by Jesus Christ indeed increases the mutual love all those who receive it. And so, many might ask, “why don’t we practice open Communion, so that we may spread this love to even more people?” The answer is because this Communion we experience with this meal is real. It is not created by us, but by Christ, by his pure teaching and his real presence. When you partake of Christ’s real body and blood in the Sacrament you confess that you are truly eating Jesus’ body, which hung on the cross and drinking his blood, which was shed for you. You confess Jesus is truly here with his Church. It is wrong then to commune with those, who say that Christ’s body and blood is not here, that we eat only bread and drink only wine. The unity we experience is dependent on Christ’s body and blood truly being here and given to all who believe it.
Also, when we eat and drink the body and blood of the Lord, we confess the teaching of the Church where we commune. Here, we confess that the Bible is the true Word of God and source of all Christian teaching. We confess that Baptism saves and that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone apart from our works. It would then be a lie to eat from an altar where the whole truth of the Bible is denied, or where it is denied that we are saved by grace as a free gift. To confess two contrary things to God is to misuse the name of the Lord. It would only achieve superficial Communion, but not the Communion that comes through faithfully receiving Christ’s body and blood with a united faith.
It is also important to receive Christ’s body and blood with a repentant heart, because you receive this meal for the forgiveness of your sins. It is therefore also important that you be willing to forgive those, who sin against you. You receive forgiveness from this meal, so you can also freely forgive others.
Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, because he loved them. In this Sacrament Jesus gives us a greater washing, which not only forgives our sins, but creates in us a greater love toward God and toward one another. Every time we receive this Sacrament, God feeds us the very same body and blood, which was given and shed for us on the cross out of great love for us and desire for our salvation. It is only through first receiving such love from God that we are able to then love each other. We have received such from love God. And God pours this love into our hearts again this evening. So, let us love one another with love from God’s own heart. Amen.