Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sermon for 4/21/11—Maundy Thursday (LSB 1-year)

Believe What Jesus Says

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Surely it is one of the chief ironies of Christian history that the gift of the Lord in which we are most intimately united with Him has from the beginning been the center of controversy. The very place where there should be the most unity—the very body and blood of Jesus—has become the center of division. But this should come as no surprise, for wherever Christ's words are set aside, there will be only confusion and lack of clarity. So the Apostle Paul laments the sad divisions at Corinth and then goes on to say, "For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you." Factions are caused when people hold to their own opinions rather than the Lord's words. Apart from His Word there can be no unity. To paraphrase Luther, they would make this Sacrament the Christian's Supper, rather than the Lord's Supper.

That surely happened in the history of the church. There came a time when the Lord's Supper was redefined to be "the unbloody repetition of the sacrifice of Christ." The Roman Church holds that the body and blood of Christ are offered by the priest to the Father for the sins of the living and the dead. At the time of the Reformation some would argue that the words of Jesus couldn't possibly mean what they say; and so it has been argued—and still is—that the bread simply represents or symbolizes Jesus' body which is in heaven, and that the wine represents His blood shed on the cross. Both of these opinions depart from the clear words of the Lord Jesus and therefore cause division in the church. But divisions in the church over the Lord's Supper are not new. Already in the New Testament, there were divisions that centered in the Lord's Supper.

The Epistle for Maundy Thursday speaks to this situation. There were some in Corinth who saw the Lord's Supper to be something other than the gift of Jesus' body and blood given us sinners to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins. They had transformed the Lord's Supper into their own party. No longer were Jesus' body and blood being confessed as the gifts that they are. No longer were the gifts of Jesus' body and blood at the center of the congregation's life. There was eating and drinking, but the Corinthians were no longer coming together to partake of the Lord's Supper.

We sinners always seem to give a higher priority to our own notions about what we need rather than what the Lord promises to give. In the Lutheran Church, our public confession of what we receive in the Holy Supper cannot be faulted, for we confess exactly what Jesus says concerning the Supper He instituted. Perhaps our biggest concern, then, the false notion we cling to most, is that the Supper might become less special if we receive it too often. But Paul does not begin with his own opinion. He does not, like so many in today's churches, consider it a matter of indifference what one believes regarding the Lord's Supper. Instead Paul begins with what He had received from the Lord. He says: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that our Lord Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner, He also took the cup after supper and said 'This cup is the new testament in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.'"

These words tell us what the Sacrament is. It is the body and blood of our Lord given under the bread and wine for us to eat and drink. These words are the Lord's gift, His invitation to receive what He gives, in the means in which He gives it. It is on the basis of these words—the words of our Lord Jesus Himself—that Paul goes on to deal with the problems at Corinth.

In the Sacrament we are given Jesus' body and blood. The very body that was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary to bear our sins and suffer our death is given into our mouths. The very blood He shed to redeem us is the means of forgiveness which now flows into our bodies. The Lord's body and blood proclaim to you the complete forgiveness of all your sins; and as you eat and drink at the Lord's Table you confess Jesus Christ to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. So we may bring no contradiction of Him and His words to His altar.

This Sacrament does not depend on us but on the Lord Jesus who established it. It depends on Him and the Word He speaks to make it what it is and to make it give what He says. It is not your faith which makes Sacrament. All who come to the altar and who partake of the Supper receive Christ's body and blood whether or not they believe. That is why Paul goes on to warn the Corinthians that those who partake of the Supper in an unworthy manner are guilty not of bread and wine, but of Christ’s body and blood.

We give attention to faith—not because our faith establishes the presence of Christ in the Sacrament, but because it is only in faith that we may partake of the Savior's body and blood in a way which is salutary and beneficial. Therefore, Paul says, "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup." There is only one way to worthily eat and drink of the Lord's Supper, and that is with faith in words of Him who is the Host and Donor. The Catechism says it well: "He is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: 'Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.'" Thanks be to God, who by His Holy Spirit grants us such faith; and thanks be to God, who feeds us here with the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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