Home > Sermons, The Sacrament of the Altar > Lift up your hearts! Maundy Thursday 1 Cor. 11.23-32

Lift up your hearts! Maundy Thursday 1 Cor. 11.23-32


Maundy Thursday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

1 Corinthians 11:23-32 (John 13)

April 5, 2012 (evening)

“Lift up your hearts!”

Beloved members of Christ’s body, the Holy Church:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

On Christmas Eve the shepherds saw a great company of the heavenly host singing.  “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace to men with whom He is well pleased!”  Human beings heard the song of heaven, the joy of heaven, because heaven was being given to them.  It was given in Jesus, God with us.

 

He was not with us simply in power and glory, the way He is everywhere, seeing everything.  That is no comfort to us.  It’s no comfort to a condemned criminal that the judge is with him in the room about to read his sentence.  It’s small comfort that the doctor is with you when he tells you that there is nothing more that he can do for you.  The doctor may care about you, but after all, he gets to home, kiss his wife, eat dinner, and play with his kids.  He may feel sorry for you, but he is not going to die with you.

 

God is not with us like that—not simply to read a verdict, or to diagnose us, or to give us a prescription that we are not able to fill.  The angelic song and the joy of heaven opened to the shepherds because God was with us as a baby bound in baby clothes.  With us in our helplessness, sharing our weakness, sharing our poverty as He lay in a manger, sharing our pain in that He was born without a clean, private room, born among the overlooked and unprivileged.  Human problems and human suffering are now God’s problems and suffering.  God now shares the futility of human life under the curse.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat your bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken.  For dust you are and to dust you shall return.  That curse God pronounced on us He has taken as His own.  That is why heaven opened up to the shepherds.

 

All throughout the year we sing the same song as the angels during the divine service.  That is the liturgy’s way of saying that heaven is open to us too.  Because God has come to us and is with us, we get to go into heaven and rejoice with the angels—today.

 

 But we haven’t sung that song since Lent began.  Why?  Because we were trying to direct attention to why God is with us.  Jesus explained this to the disciples repeatedly, but they didn’t understand Him.  God is with us—yes; He is coming to bear our curse and lowliness—yes.  But He will do this not by lifting us out of the curse, or showing us the way to walk out of it ourselves.  He submits to our curse and makes it His own all the way to its bitter end; He has come to suffer, to be crushed and condemned, to die and be damned in our place.  So to wake us up to this fact no Alleluias.  No “Glory to God in the Highest.” 

 

So now why do we sing “Glory to God in the Highest” again tonight?  Isn’t the suffering of Jesus still to come?  Yes.  But on this night before He suffered Jesus wrapped up all that was to come in His Word and joined it with the bread and wine.  And He says, “All my suffering and all my death I endure for your sake.  It is for you.”  All this Jesus pledges and offers to us when He says, This is my body.  Do this in remembrance of me.  This cup is the new testament in my blood.  Do this in remembrance of me.

 

Before all the pain, He gives us this meal so that we may have joy and salvation. In it He invites us to enter heaven and go before the face of the Father, to take our place with Him and to enter the joy of angels, archangels, and the whole host of heaven.  We do this not by sight, but by faith, when we believe that our sins are forgiven because of the sacrifice He offered once on the cross. 

 

We sing “it is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you…”  Imagine if we lived that way!  That would be heaven on earth. 

 

For just that kind of thankfulness and joy Jesus instituted the sacrament of His body and blood.  As you eat and drink, He wants your faith that your sins are forgiven to be nourished.  And as your soul is nourished in this way, the new life of Christ within you is also strengthened. 

 

Lift up your hearts!  Your citizenship is in heaven.  You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God; and when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, you will also appear with Him in His glory.  Where this is believed, the fruits of the Holy Spirit also appear—love, patience, joy.

 

However, it also needs to be said that this Sacrament can be used in a way that does not give life and does not strengthen the soul. 

 

We participate in the benefits of Jesus’ passion by faith—by faith alone.  It is true that we have a share in Jesus’ death apart from faith.  Though we did not spit on Him or nail Him to the cross, we have participated in the rebellion against God that demanded justice.  But apart from faith, Jesus’ death does not benefit us, even though He made atonement for our sins.

 

In the same way, everyone who comes to the altar and eats the bread and drinks the cup receives the real and true body and blood of Jesus which was given and shed to take away the sins of the world.  But apart from faith, the body and blood is not received for our blessing, but for judgment.  Paul warns, For everyone who eats the bread and drinks the cup and does not discern the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.  Because of this, many among you are weak and sick, and some sleep, that is, some have died!

 

Those who did not discern Jesus’ body during His life on earth—who did not recognize that Jesus was not a mere man, but true God in the flesh, or who fell from this faith—denied, betrayed, condemned, and killed Him.  This was a grave sin.  The Roman soldiers who abused Jesus’ body, pressing down the crown of thorns and causing the blood to run from His head, lashing Him with whips and causing the blood to stream, piercing His innocent hands, feet, heart—they committed blasphemy.  They inflicted dishonor and suffering on the Holy temple of God—Jesus’ flesh.

 

But what is still worse is when the Sacrament of the Altar is received in unbelief.  Then it is not only the Son of God who is not recognized and who is condemned to death.  But then, after He has died and gives us the priceless ransom that He paid to save us from eternal death—we trample it underfoot.  We treat the priceless treasure that saves us as common, earthly food.  We treat His holy ones who have been bought with His blood not as members of His flesh and bone, but as those whom we are free to judge and condemn.

 

God save us and forgive us for all the times we have come to His table and misused or despised His unspeakably great gift!  May God have mercy on all pastors who have allowed His body and blood to be treated with contempt because of their negligence in their calling to teach and administer the Sacraments!

 

Since the consequences of misusing Christ’s body and blood are so grave, and since, on the other hand, those who receive it in faith are strengthened to partake of the joy and life of heaven while still in this valley of sorrows, may God grant us hearing hearts

So that we may lift up our hearts and learn to prepare to receive Jesus’ body and blood.

This preparation consists of two things:

  1. 1.       Remembering the Lord’s catechesis (instruction)
  2. 2.      Letting the light of Christ’s words test us and console us.

 

 As great as this gift is that Jesus gives us in the Lord’s Supper, you would think that the church would be shining lights, overflowing with mercy and thankfulness.  After all, if you receive Jesus’ body and blood, then you are saved!  You are forgiven!  Sin, death, and Satan cannot harm you!

 

But the sinful flesh within us and the devil outside of us are far more evil and crafty than we can comprehend.  They conspire and work nonstop within the church so that those who have been washed in Baptism and made clean by the Gospel are drawn away.  They work so that many in the church are present where Christ’s gifts are.  They make it so that many hear the Gospel and receive the Sacrament, and yet resist it and do not receive it in faith.  This creates havoc in the Church because we cannot tell who is a real Christian, struggling with weakness, and who is a hypocrite who trusts not in Christ but in the filthy rags of his own righteousness.  In fact, we ourselves are quite capable of deceiving ourselves.

 

This was happening in the church at Corinth.  The people still had the body and blood of Jesus, and yet the way they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper was a contradiction of its purpose.  Christians at that time celebrated “agape feasts” alongside of the Divine Service.  In addition to hearing the Word of God preached and receiving the Sacrament of the altar, they also celebrated a communal meal.  Unfortunately the wisdom of the flesh and the ways of the world had gotten the upper hand and Jesus’ purpose in instituting the Supper was being covered up.

 

In the house in which the Corinthians worshipped, they followed the practice of the Roman world in which they lived.  Honored guests sat at the head table; less honorable guests sat in outer rooms.  Honored guests received the best food and wine; less honored guests received inferior food and drink or perhaps nothing. 

 

This practice was really a contradiction of the Gospel.  Because Christ our rich Lord does not play favorites and put the honorable or the rich at His table.  Rather He came down to the lowest place so that the ungodly and unworthy would sit at the feast of the Kingdom of God. 

 

In allowing this to happen, the Corinthians—many of them, at any rate—had forgotten why the Lord’s Supper was instituted.  They were not discerning the body.  If they had recognized that it was Jesus’ body and blood they were coming to receive, and that no one in the Church deserved to receive this heavenly food, they would not have exiled the poor and unimportant to the lower places.  In fact, if they had recognized the Lord’s body and blood, given and shed for them, in the bread and wine, they would have honored the poor and lowly among them, since Jesus became poor for our sakes, and came to die without defending Himself for our sakes because He is “meek and lowly in heart.”

 

Worldly-mindedness constantly fights with the word of God in the Church.  Our flesh and its thoughts are always at work to fight against the Gospel, assert our own righteousness, and exalt ourselves.  And as this happens, the Gospel of Jesus is covered up.  The Gospel may still be preached, but all sorts of stumbling blocks surround it so that people take offense.  We see it among us too—in our tendency to divide into factions within our congregation and within the larger church.  That tendency does not mean that we have fallen from faith in Christ, but it is a very serious threat nonetheless—to our salvation and to the salvation of others.

 

So what does Paul do to correct the abuse of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth?  He did not simply let it go.  Bad practice ultimately always leads to corruption of God’s Word, to false doctrine.  Instead, He reminded them of what had been handed on to Him by the Lord and which He handed on to them.  He reminded them of their catechesis!

 

What I received from the Lord I also handed over to you…Paul reminds them of Jesus’ words instituting the Lord’s Supper.

 

This is why catechesis is so important.  It may seem at times like we’re drilling things over and over again that you learned already.  But that’s because faith in Christ and spiritual maturity first requires that we be established in the “ABC’s” of God’s Word.  First we learn the ten commandments, creed, Lord’s prayer by heart.  First we learn simple bible stories and the outline of Christian doctrine.  First we learn the words by heart; then we learn what it means; and then we learn how it applies to us and how we find comfort in it in tribulation. 

 

So even though this is against what our flesh likes to do, we keep going back to the basics.  Our flesh wants to be way up in heaven in deep things, but hates to do and learn simple things.  And when our flesh gets its way, we stay spiritual weaklings and midgets because we haven’t gotten the basics yet.

 

This is why it is so important that from earliest childhood until death the simple things are before our eyes and on our lips constantly.  The commandments, creed, Lord’s prayer.  The catechism with “what does this mean.”  Basic bible verses and bible stories.  Hymns that teach doctrine and not just Christian songs that say little about who Jesus is and what He is done.

 

This is why I have tried so hard to impress upon you the importance of reading Scripture, praying, and learning the catechism every day—not just catechumens, but all of us.  It’s not because I think you have never heard these things before.  People in sports don’t drill constantly because they haven’t done these things before.  They drill and drill and drill so that when it is do or die, it is not necessary to think about how this play works or how to do a layup—it is automatic.

 

And when temptation comes, when Satan attacks, when you are dying—that is not the time to be trying to learn the Word of God.  That is the time when you need it to be part of you so that you are not trying to remember what it says, but so that you may be clinging to it for dear life.

 

So it is with preparation for the Lord’s supper.  First we begin with the Lord’s teaching.

 

What is it?  It is the true body and blood of Jesus.

Who is it for?  It is for Christians to eat and drink.

Why does Jesus give it?  “For the forgiveness of sins,” and along with the forgiveness of sins comes life and salvation—which means we are strengthened in faith and Christ and so strengthened to overcome sins and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit.

 

How is it to be received and celebrated?  “In remembrance of Jesus.”  Which means that we remember His death and the shedding of His blood, believing that He died for us.  And since it is done in the Lord’s remembrance, it means that as we receive the body and blood of Jesus we also proclaim His death together until He comes again.  We are proclaiming that we share in Jesus’ sacrifice, and so are at peace with Him and at peace with one another, that we are heirs of God who are waiting for Jesus to return so that we may share fully in the life and joy of heaven.

 

None of this is new information.  But I would venture to say that all of us or nearly all would agree that we wish that we experienced this joy and life of heaven more.  I think many of us wish that in church we felt more love and more joy.  I think many of us wish that we were not so easily overcome by besetting sins—whether anger, fear, cursing, lust.  We see that our life as a congregation is hampered by feuds and factions, and our witness to Christ to our city is hampered by it.

 

Why is this?  Not because we have never heard the Gospel.  But we rely on it too little and we rely on our own strength much.  We are distracted by many things which may not be sinful in themselves, but which we allow to compete with the promises of Jesus.  No man can serve two masters.  Jesus doesn’t cast us out because idols tempt us or even take hold of our hearts.  Yet to grow comfortable with them endangers us.

 

There is one thing needful.  Man lives by it and not by bread alone.  It is the word of the Lord.  To listen to it and learn it is the first part of preparation for the Sacrament of the Altar.  You have heard it and learned it, there is no doubt about that.  But each day the old nature which wants to put other things ahead of God’s word must be drowned and crucified once again.

 

The second part of worthy preparation is meditation on the Word.  This is where we sit still with the Word that we have heard in the past, and we allow ourselves to be searched by it, tested by it, and finally comforted by it.

 

How this works with the Lord’s teaching—what is it, who is it for, why was it given, how is it to be received.

 

Judgment in the Lord’s Supper

            Evidence among us…spiritual weakness caused by rifts in the body of Christ.

            Do not despair: ‘when we are judged we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned with the world.”

 

Self-judgment

            We come with no words in our mouth but only with our sins–no condemnation of others, no self-justification.

            This leads to the comfort of the Sacrament–where we have no righteousness of our own but only the righteousness of God

            This leads to fellowship…which only happens when we are able to be honest about our sins in front of one another. (1 John 1:7)  Then instead of condemnation, we live as priests for one another.  We exercise the keys, speaking the Gospel of God to one another, each according to his calling.

            This leads to a good conscience looking toward the return of Christ and assurance of our place at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

 

God grant us to examine ourselves and so receive the body and blood of the Lord

To lift up our hearts

And to treasure Jesus’ death for our sins though we lose all other riches.

 

Amen.

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