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Fasting from the Feast
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s Maundy Thursday, and the altar is bare. We are sheltering in place, and even if we weren’t, it would be impossible to give you the Lord’s Supper in a way that was both faithful to the Lord’s institution and in line with the recommendations put forth by the government. Jesus says, “Do this,” but we can’t. This is not how we expect to worship during Holy Week. So what are we to do? We love the Lord’s Supper. We love the fact that on this night nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus instituted a holy meal for us. He gave to the church as a meal the very body and blood which were going to be sacrificed for us on the cross. The giving and receiving of our Lord’s body and blood in His Supper has been the central act of Christian worship ever since the Lord instituted it. It is the place where the Church is most clearly and visibly constituted: our Lord’s very body and blood in our mouths for the forgiveness of sins. We are never more the body of Christ than we are when His body is in us through the gift of Holy Communion.
But right now we are in the midst of a fast, one which will continue all the way through tomorrow and even to Easter itself. It’s important to remember that a fast is not an evil thing when the Lord gives it. God instituted the governing authorities for our good. The president, the governor, and the health department are God’s servants to protect us. Americans that we are—sinners that we are—we do not like to submit to authority. We chafe at not being able to do what we want to do. We read through the orders, and then we make lists of all the loopholes, all the exceptions, all the ways we can talk ourselves into doing what we want to do, even if what we want to do threatens the well-being of our neighbor.
Tonight we contemplate the institution of the Supper when we are unable to receive it. Since it is by the Lord’s working that we cannot partake this evening, let us wait eagerly and earnestly for the day that we can receive the Supper again. We should not let the Supper’s absence tempt us to downplay its importance. If it were not as important as it is, we would not feel its lack so acutely.
The fact that we can also receive the forgiveness of sins through baptism, absolution, and the proclaimed Word does not make us miss the Supper any less. When a Christian knows that the Lord desires to give a gift, they desire to receive that gift. Jesus says, “I want to give eternal life and salvation to you in this way!” The Christian says, “Yes, please!” God comes to us in several ways, and we should respond to each and every one of them with the same eager and pious joy. God unites His Word of promise and institution to plain water, to common bread and common wine. When you receive these gifts, you receive with them forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.
The operative thing is the promise of God. In the Supper, the promise is attached to the bread which is Christ’s body and the wine which is His blood. In the same way, in Baptism and in Absolution, the Word runs the whole show. Everything comes back to the Word itself. When you study the Word at home, listen to it in a service, or hear your pastor proclaim it, the Holy Spirit is going to be at work doing just what it is that He wants done. He will convict you with His Law, and He will forgive you with His Gospel. The Word does what it says and it says what it does. And so, while we all feel the lack of the Supper, we can rejoice in the certainty that attends to the Lord’s Word whenever it is delivered to you.
I encourage you to pray for an end to this current plague so that we can again gather together to receive the Supper with great joy. But as we wait for that day, as we look forward to our reunion around the holy Table of our Lord, I encourage you to rejoice that our God showers us with His gifts in many ways. He won our eternal life and salvation once and for all when He suffered and died on the cross, and we receive that whenever the Holy Spirit works through the Word studied, heard or proclaimed. We receive this forgiveness in the particular gifts of baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, and we receive it whenever the word of the Lord’s promise is proclaimed and applied to us sinners.
We look forward together to the day we can receive this gift again. We rejoice that the Lord desires to give it. We anticipate the happy day and long for its coming. Rejoice, people loved by God. Your sins are forgiven, and you are free. 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.