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Maundy Thursday

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Mark 14:12–26 NIV
12 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. 17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?” 20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” 22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
What are you doing for Easter this year? If you don’t know by now, it is a little late to be making plans. For most of us, we don’t have to think too hard on that question. We may very well have been doing the same thing every year to celebrate Easter with little or no thought as to making any changes. My family when I grew up was very predictable in our plans. The night before Easter morning, us four children would put our empty Easter baskets on the kitchen table. The first thing we did in the morning was to hunt for them hoping to find where the “Easter bunny” had hidden them. Of course, we went to church. Our celebration after that was for our family to host my mother’s side of the family for an Easter dinner and then us children would hope to be able to play outside based on the weather. I remember one morning at 6:00 AM there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. By noon it was overcast and raining. Where did that come from? No softball game in the apple orchard that year.
Perhaps your family traditions for Easter are just as predictable. You have a rhythm that you follow and unless there is an emergency, you are going to do basically the same thing you did last year for Easter. It is common for people to celebrate holidays the same way year after year especially if they are traditionalists. Our God is a traditionalist. The holiday that Jesus and his disciples were celebrating just before that first Easter had been established by the Lord God over 1500 years earlier with the command that his people were to observe it in a very specific way for ages to come and to observe when it would happen, how it would be celebrated, and what would be taught during that festival. We are reminded of this in the opening verse to our text: “When it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb . . . “ Although Christians do not observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread or the Passover, we do well to recall its background as we did earlier in our Old Testament reading.
But this would be the last time that it would be necessary to observe the Passover. Although traditionalists even among the early Christians would do so for several more decades until the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. This is because that which it was pointing ahead to was fulfilled by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. During this “Last Supper” Jesus would transition from a time worn celebration which took place once a year to a new celebration which would be celebrated often without a direct command as to exactly how often that would be. It is the night that Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper.
The summary of that start of a new tradition should be familiar to us. We here it in the words of the institution when the worship leader recites the words of St. Paul concerning this: (NIV)
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Telic Note: What are we celebrating when we receive the Lord’s supper?
The memory of Jesus.
Jesus told his disciples to do this “in remembrance of me”. They were to think about him and about his death on the cross for our salvation every time they celebrated the Lord’s supper. Of course, they did not use a stamped host as we do today (which helps us remember his death by seeing a crucifix on the wafer). But the bread reminds them of his body and the fruit of the vine his blood. Sometimes parents will bring their little children along with them to the Lord’s table. Little children are often curious. I will sometimes hear them as their parents, “What is this?” It is a good teaching moment for them later in the day to help them learn about and remember Jesus. The Bible tells us to remember Jesus whenever we do this. It certainly applies to celebrating the Lord’s supper. I wonder sometimes if it could mean whenever we eat bread and drink wine. We celebrate that Jesus gave his life for us.
The forgiveness of sins.
In some cases a person will sacrifice himself so that someone else can have a better quality of life or to prolong their lifetime. We are often encouraged to be blood donors because we realize how valuable a blood transfusion can be. Sometimes people will donate a kidney so that another can have a healthier life. People in the armed forces will give their lives in service to their country so that others will be protected. But as grand as those sacrifices are, they are only temporary. Jesus gave his life once for all for the forgiveness of our sins. So even if we never received the Lord’s supper, our sins would be forgiven. Certainly, those who are not yet instructed and properly prepared to remember the Lord’s death do not have to wait until they are confirmed to be forgiven. And those who suffer from dementia who no longer can examine themselves are also forgiven. Nor do we have to wait until the next time we receive the Lord’s supper to be forgiven. But there is something special about celebrating the forgiveness of sins when we do receive the Lord’s supper.
First, as was stated before, the Lord’s Supper is not an “automatic” thing; that is, it does not convey forgiveness to a person just because he partakes of the Supper, without, or with faith, without an awareness of the nature of the Supper.
First, as was stated before, the Lord’s Supper is not an “automatic” thing; that is, it does not convey forgiveness to a person just because he partakes of the Supper, without, or with faith, without an awareness of the nature of the Supper.
Second, it does not convey forgiveness only up to a certain time; that is, receiving the Lord’s Supper does not mean that your sins are forgiven up to the time you receive it but no further. It is a fine thing to receive the Lord’s Supper on one’s sick bed or death bed; but this should not be interpreted to mean that if a person could receive the Sacrament with his last breath, he would surely be saved because he has had no further opportunity to sin. No, receiving the Lord’s Supper is meant to strengthen faith in the forgiveness of sin, all one’s sin. The Lord’s Supper, you might say, simply serves to re-emphasize the covenant which God made with us in Baptism, and there is no time limit on that; it is for all eternity.
Third, the Lord’s Supper does not offer a different kind of forgiveness from that in the Gospel or in Baptism, perhaps a deeper, a more complete and permanent kind; not at all. God does not have different kinds or grades of forgiveness. The promise, e.g., which he makes to a child in Baptism is essentially the same as that which He makes to an adult in the Lord’s Supper.
We consider the Lord’s supper to be part of the means of grace. Through this sacrament we are not only reminded or assured of forgiveness, but when it is received in faith, it give us the same forgiveness of sins we received in baptism and when we believe the words of absolution. And yet, it seems more personal because of the act of eating and drinking.
Throughout our lives, we often have ample opportunity to receive the Lord’s supper. Some Christians intentionally seek to celebrate it every opportunity it is offered. Others are somewhat haphazard. In the early church it seems that every time Christians gathered for worship they included the “breaking of bread.” But it seems to me that the most profound time to receive it is on Maundy Thursday as we celebrate the anniversary of when Jesus first instituted it and reflect on its importance for our faith life.
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