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The Blood of the Covenant. Maundy Thursday 2017: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32.

last supper cranach the younger with luther bugenhagen melancthon etcMaundy Thursday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

1 Corinthians 11:23-32

April 13, 2017

“The Blood of the Covenant”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;     the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him;    he remembers his covenant forever.

(Gradual/ Tract for Maundy Thursday: Psalm 111:4-5)

 

“Karl, wilt thou have Angela, here present, to be thy wedded wife?  Wilt thou love, honor, and cherish her, and keep with her this bond of wedlock holy and unbroken till death you do part?  If so, declare it before God and these witnesses by saying, I will.”

 

Angela, wilt thou have Karl, here present, to be thy wedded husband?  Wilt thou love, honor, cherish, and obey him, and keep with him this bond of wedlock holy and unbroken till death you do part?  If so, declare it before God and these witnesses by saying, I will.

 

I Karl, in the presence of God and this assembly, take thee, Angela, to be my wedded wife, and plight thee my troth in every duty, not to part from thee, till death us do part.

 

I Angela, in the presence of God and this assembly, take thee, Karl, to be my wedded husband, and plight thee my troth in every duty, not to part from thee, till death us do part.

 

Those words are not the exact words that we said when we were married.  They are from the old version of the hymnal.  You may have said them when you were married.

 

What do we call those words?  Vows.  They are oaths taken before God by which we enter into marriage, into a relationship with this other person.  We ask God to witness our solemn promises, whether we keep them or not.  On other occasions we make different kinds of vows.

 

I.

The people of old had a term for this kind of promise before God and the new relationship established by that promise.  They called it “a covenant.”  (How covenants were entered: witnesses, solemn pledges before God (maybe with a visible or written monument to the pledge).  An animal’s blood would be shed to seal the covenant, often.  And there was often a meal between the two parties, signifying fellowship, peace.  The two would become like brothers, bound by blood.

 

People entered covenants out of need for assurance.  People cannot be trusted simply to keep their word.  We know that too well.  In fact, people cannot even be trusted, many times, to keep the pledges they make before God.  Marriage vows are broken.  So are the vows we make at Baptism and confirmation.  Pastors take vows before God when they are ordained.  None of these vows can be lived up to perfectly by any sinful human being.  Yet often people disregard them entirely; and then these institutions of God are no longer held in high regard.

 

In the Bible, however, the true God does a remarkable thing—He enters into covenant.  He makes a covenant with Noah after the flood; He covenants with Abraham, promising that He will be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s descendants, and that He will bring blessing—that is, salvation—to the whole earth through one of Abraham’s seed, or offspring.

 

He also enters into a covenant with the children of Israel.  He causes Pharaoh to let them go that they may worship the Lord by slaying the firstborn of every household in Egypt, but passing over the houses of the Israelites.  He brings them through the Red Sea, utterly destroying their enemies, and brings them to a divine service at Mt. Sinai, where He appears in fire on top of the mountain and speaks the ten commandments to them.  Then Moses told them the rest of God’s commandments—the terms of His covenant.  The people agreed to obey God as His covenant people.  Then, it tells us in Exodus 24, Moses slaughtered and offered oxen as offerings to God.  He took the blood in bowls, threw half of it against the altar.  Then he read the book of the covenant to the people, and once again they said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient (Ex. 24:7).  And Moses took the remaining half of the blood and threw it on the people—about a million of them—and said, “Behold, the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”  (Ex. 24: 8)

 

Then, the book of Exodus tells us, that Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons went up on Mt. Sinai, where God was, along with 70 elders of Israel, the leaders of the people.  And they saw the God of Israel.  There was under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.  And He did not lay His hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank (Ex. 24:10-11). 

 

Do you see how this works?

 

God takes the people out of slavery with great power.  He proposes to enter a relationship with them where He will be their God, and they will obey Him and keep His commandments.  Then blood is shed and first splashed on the altar, which signifies that God is in.  Then, when the people agree to the covenant, the blood is splashed on them.  They are in.

 

The blood means God and the people of Israel are bound together.  They are one blood.  But if one party breaks the covenant, the blood signifies that they should die like the oxen whose blood was shed.

 

Think of how amazing it is that God would enter this kind of relationship with His creatures! To make Himself a party in an agreement like this, as though it were possible for Him to lie and be punished for breaking His covenant!

 

Inside of this covenant there is peace between God and sinful human beings.  The leaders of Israel see God and eat and drink in His presence, like you eat at the table of a relative or a friend.

 

However, this peace didn’t last long, because what Israel vowed to do, it did not do.  When Moses went up on the mountain for 40 days to speak with God and then return and tell the people of Israel what God said, the Israelites became anxious and lost patience.  Since the prophet of God didn’t return, they decided they needed new gods to lead them to a land where they could settle down.

 

That was the problem with the Old Covenant made at Sinai.  There was really nothing wrong with the covenant.  There was something wrong with the people of Israel.  At the heart of the covenant God made was the ten commandments, and at the heart of the ten commandments is the first commandment: You shall have no other gods.  The people of Israel couldn’t even keep this covenanant in an external way for a month.  As soon as they became afraid, or desired other things, they started setting up festivals to other gods.  They did not “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

 

Israel wasn’t unique.  All the pagan nations of the earth—our ancestors—worshipped false gods.

 

What they did in a formal way, we do in our hearts.  We are anxious and afraid of other people and what they will say and do more than we fear God; we desire other things, we love other things more than we love God.  And we trust what we can see, what we can feel, not the Lord and His Word.

 

Because Israel was like this, God promised a “new covenant.”

 

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

 

II.

 

In the same way also He took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”  1 Cor. 11: 25

 

God is faithful to His covenant, even when Israel is unfaithful.  He goes beyond the covenant in faithfulness.

 

Remember how Moses threw half of the blood on the altar and half on the people, and how it meant that whoever broke the covenant would die?  That is the way it works with God’s Law.  “The soul that sins shall die”—Ez. 18.  But God is never unfaithful—we are.

 

Yet Jesus here makes a new covenant.  Lutherans prefer to use the term testament.  That is because the greek word used here usually refers to a “last will and testament”.  But also because a testament simply gives—it does not ask the person it gives to do something in return.

 

Jesus says, This cup is the New Testament in My Blood.  My blood.  Not your blood.  In the covenant between Israel and YHWH, all the transgressions were on the part of unfaithful Israel.  They were the ones who should have had their blood shed.

 

Yet Jesus says His blood—God’s blood—was being shed.  Yes, because God was taking on the transgressions of His covenant committed by His people.  So that they might be in His presence and eat and drink eternally, and the Lord would be at peace with them and be their God.

 

That is what follows tonight.  When we see the altar stripped bare and naked and the chancel become desolate, we see a picture of what should happen to us sinners.  Instead, it happened to Jesus for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.  That is why He is stripped, beaten, mocked, nailed to the cross, forsaken by God.  To “forgive your iniquity”, so that your “sin will be remembered no more.”

 

That is why it is a New Testament.  It is not like the old, which we broke and could not keep in the flesh.  It is new.  The requirements of this testament are all met by Jesus.  You simply receive it.

 

But how do I receive it?  How do I know it applies to me?  How do I know God forgives me?  He declares it to you in preaching; He throws the blood of the covenant on You, making You one blood with Him.  He douses you in it in Baptism.

 

But how do I know it still applies to me, when I have sinned and turned away from Jesus after I was baptized?  He absolves you at the altar tonight, by name.

 

Then He gives you this bread to eat, and this cup to drink; His body, which is for you, given to agony, pain, and death on the cross.

 

His blood, the blood of the New Testament, that seals this new relationship with God.  Jesus doesn’t say, This cup symbolizes the New Testament in my blood; He says, This cup is the new Testament in my blood.

 

It is the blood that brings about this new relationship with God where He forgives our sins and remembers our iniquity no more.  No more!  Never!  He never remembers it.  He remembers instead the suffering of His Son for you, who bore your guilt.

 

He writes His law on your heart from within instead of banging it on you from without, so that you keep it willingly.  He makes you know Him.  The Israelites ran away from Him at Sinai, but through the blood of Jesus’ testament you know Him and want to know Him.

 

As often as we eat and drink this body and blood of Jesus, we proclaim His death for us.

 

It is a serious thing to receive it unworthily—results in death and condemnation.

 

What is worthiness?  Not to do…since we are not capable of doing what merits communion with God.  To receive.  That is, to eat and drink, believing Christ’s Words: “My body, given for you.  My blood shed for you.”  This is what Jesus left us in the night He was betrayed– a remembrance of His own death for the ungodly.  The very blood of the testament, that makes peace with God for us, given with the wine to drink.

 

Reformation: not a partial sacrifice to God. Not our act of remembering—how piously we receive it.  It is Jesus’ testament, His pledge before dying.  It is the assurance that His sufferings are for us, and they avail before God to bring us peace with Him; He “remembers our sins no more.”

Instead: “He remembers His covenant forever”—the forgiveness of sins won by the suffering of His Son.

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

Jesus Serves Us Because He Loves Us. Maundy Thursday 2015

el greco the-last-supperMaundy Thursday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 13:1-15

April 2, 2015

“Jesus Serves us Because He Loves Us”

Iesu Iuva

When Jesus came to Peter, Peter said, “Lord, you’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” And Jesus said something pregnant with meaning for us tonight. “What I am doing you do not know now, but you will know afterwards.”

Peter did not understand why Jesus was putting himself in the lowest position at the Passover table, the position of washing feet.

We understand why Jesus was doing it. Or do we? It seems more like we are always learning to understand what Jesus did that night, but never fully comprehending it. Just as Peter must have thought back on that night many times and wept, trying to comprehend it.

What was Jesus doing by washing feet? He was serving. Hospitality dictated at that time when you had a dinner, the guests had to have their feet washed so they could stretch out on cushions, recline at the table without getting dust on everything. And good hospitality required that you didn’t just give guests water to wash their own feet. You had somebody wash their feet for them. But this was not something an honorable man would stoop down to do for his guests. He would have a servant do it.

But Jesus wants to make it very clear that at this meal, the disciples are not servants. They are honored guests. Jesus is the host of the meal but He also takes the role of the servant of His disciples. He does the servant’s tasks. John lingers on the details.

Without telling anyone what He is doing the Lord pours water into a bowl, takes off His outer garment, and wraps a towel around His waist. He is dressing Himself for service. Then, one by one, He waits on His disciples. He takes each one of their dusty feet in His hands, washes them, dries them with the towel. He is the servant, kneeling before His disciples. And when Peter tries to get out of it and refuse to let Jesus be his servant, Jesus stays on His knees and quietly informs Peter that he has no share, no part with Jesus, unless Jesus washes him. Unless Jesus serves him.

Why is Jesus doing this? It is a visual sermon to drive home a point. The point is that Jesus, the Lord our God, must serve us. And that in everything that happens from this point forward in His passion, Jesus is serving us.

Why does Jesus serve us? The simple answer is that He loves us. Love is almost not a strong enough word to describe Jesus’ heart towards you, though. We use the word love for many things, but in the end we almost always mean something that has to do with serving ourselves. Jesus’ love is something else. It is love that is not selfish. And it is not an incomplete, wavering love, but a perfect, absolutely full love. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”

How did He love His own? First of all, He washed their feet in preparation for the Passover. It was a very simple, very human, very lowly act of service and love that showed that though He is the Lord and the teacher, at this meal He was the host and the servant and they were the honored guests.

This was very important, because at this Passover they were not only going to remember how the Lord had delivered Israel from slavery long ago. At this Passover Jesus was instituting His last will and testament.

“The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise also the cup after they had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the New Testament in my blood; this do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

The disciples needed to know that they did not prepare themselves to receive this meal. Jesus invited them. Jesus prepared them. Jesus served them the holy food and drink. And He Himself was the meal.

Peter and the others needed to be washed to receive a share or a portion in Jesus. Jesus washed them and then gave them their share of Him as He also gives us a share in Him. He gives the bread which is His body and the cup which is the new testament in His blood, and we participate in Him. We commune in Him. We share in Him, together.

Jesus served the disciples because He loved them. He serves us because He loves us. He took the lowest place and washed their feet. He takes the lowest place and cleanses our filth away by the suffering He is about to undergo. And He gives us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink that we may have a clean conscience and the assurance of the forgiveness of sins.

The washing of the feet is kind of like the knockout punch in Jesus’ overwhelming display of love and service. As if He wasn’t preaching this sermon clearly enough by what would follow, Jesus added to it all that He also washed their feet.

Tonight, liturgically, we remember Jesus’ service to us by the ritual of stripping the altar. AS all the adornments of the altar are carried away—the paraments, the linens, the candelabras, the candlesticks, the banners, Psalm 22 will be sung. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest…” What is being pictured before us then is the costliness of Jesus’ service to us and the depth of His love. In order for us to receive the forgiveness of sins, in order for us to be absolved of our sins as we were earlier, in order for us to receive a share of Jesus’ body and blood for our justification, an exchange had to be made.

Jesus had to be betrayed and led off in chains from the garden of Gethsemane. He had to sweat blood there, pleading with the Father for another solution but receiving no answer. He had to be robbed of His dignity, to be falsely accused, punched and spit on. He had to be beaten until His back was crossed by bloody stripes, had to be crowned with piercing thorns and mocked by the soldiers. He had to be led away under the cross, stripped naked, crucified, hung bare and bloody between heaven and earth. And there in great agony He had to be forsaken by God. Left alone, barren, destitute, and finally dead on the cross, bearing the wrath of God alone.

He, the eternal Son of God, had to suffer this in order that we might be served with the forgiveness of sins.

He, the most High, had to descend into the lowest place, into the pit, to lift us up to be honored guests at His table.

He had to do this because He loved us with a love that we can only begin to comprehend by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

Yes, Jesus really loves you that much. That’s what He tells you, offers to you, every time He offers you His body to eat and His blood to drink.

Yes, you are really cleansed of all your sins and impurity. Jesus washes it all off you by plunging you into His death in Baptism. And when you find your conscience soiled He absolves you, pronounces you clean and free, as though He were sprinkling you with His blood.

Yes, you are really Jesus’ honored guest at His table. He serves you with life so that you may live in His kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

And in showing us this great undeserved love He also sets an example for us to follow. Not something to feel guilty about. He serves us to take away our guilt. But He loves and serves us out of love so that we might walk in the example of our Lord and Teacher and wash one another’s feet. That is, out of love take the lowest place with Jesus and serve one another. Welcome one another in His name, not cast one another out.

And so as you come as Jesus’ honored guest tonight to His table, rejoice in His great love for you, and welcome one another as fellow sharers, participants together in Jesus.

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Maundy Thursday 2014 + In Remembrance of Me + 1 Corinthians 11:23-32

el greco the-last-supperMaundy Thursday + St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, Illinois +

1 Corinthians 11:23-32 + April 17, 2014 +

“In Remembrance of Me”

 

Iesu Iuva

In your house you probably have a box of memories.  Maybe it has letters and pictures from your spouse when you were first falling in love.  Maybe it has pictures from your childhood.  Maybe it has fingerpaintings and other art work from your kids when they were little.

 

These are not treasures that anyone would pay much for.  They are valuable to you because you treasure the memory of your first child who made you the picture, because you love the person whose hand wrote the letter, whose image is caught in the photograph.  And because of this they are worth more than money.

 

God also had boxes like that.  One was the ark in which He put Noah and the animals.  He was sorry He made the world and He got rid of all the people in it.  But He wanted to keep Noah.  So He put him in the ark, and after the earth had been destroyed, He brought Noah out of the box.  And when Noah came out he made a sacrifice, and the Lord smelled the pleasing smell and promised never again to destroy the earth with a flood, even though man was evil from his youth up.

 

God had another box like this—the ark of the covenant.  And there God kept some mementos of when He had taken the people of Israel to be His people.  He wanted to keep them for the same reason you keep the baby photos of your first born child stored in an album or in a box in the closet.

 

That box with your kids’ memorabilia in it has significance.  You keep it treasured away because they are in your heart.  As long as you have such a box, it’s a fair bet that the firstborn child has a claim on your heart.

 

Is there any way that could change?  Probably not.  You’re always going to love that child who made the finger painting.

 

But what if the kid who made the finger paint landscape and the play-doh sculpture of a rabbit that looks like a warthog—what if that kid breaks faith and turns into someone else?

 

They come into your house high on drugs and try to use their relationship with you as a way to get money out of you?  They try to make a deal?

 

You’d still probably treasure the fingerpaintings, but you’d be angry at them for trying to use that child’s memory as a claim on you.  Because it would be false.  They would no longer be your child making beautiful, terrible art because they love you.  They would be someone pretending to still be that child in order to con you.

 

The child made the fingerpainting because they loved you and you loved them.  But the child who has broken faith is just using your relationship to get something else they love more than you.

 

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

April 5, 2012 1 comment

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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