“The Lord invites you to His table, family, and fellowship” Holy Thursday 2023

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06. April 2023

Maundy Thursday

1 Cor 11:23, 26

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you… For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Like the disciples, we are drawn along by Jesus. We can do nothing except follow Him, watch, and listen. Everything hangs on Him. The disciples hung back when Jesus went to Jerusalem because they were scared. What is He doing? Does Jesus want to get Himself killed? The fearful, faltering disciples Jesus draws on.

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And on the third day, He will rise again” (Mark 10:33–34).

The disciples did nothing; they just tagged along. When they did do something, it was usually wrong and made Jesus all that much more alone. Everything hangs on Him. The spotlight is on Jesus. The disciples are there, but that is not where the action is. They don’t know what is going on. Mary does a beautiful thing with her alabaster jar of ointment, and Jesus says, “She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial” (Mark 14:8). That makes no sense because death has to come before the anointing. But Jesus is anointed beforehand.  

Then Jesus tells two disciples to find a man carrying a jar of water on his head and follow him. Who ever saw a man carrying a jar of water on his head? Then there is a sort of password that brings them to a large upper room that is furnished and ready. What is going on? “In the evening He came with the twelve. Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me’” (Mark 14:17–18).

This statement shattered the disciples completely. Not only were they useless, but one of them would betray Jesus. None of the disciples is sure of himself. “And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, “Is it I?” And another said, “Is it I?” (Mark 14:19). Is it I? It could be. It has been—so much for us disciples and our contribution. But “the Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him” (Mark 14:21). What is going on is not just of this moment. It is the unfolding, the enacting of what the Scriptures are about, the promise of undoing the self-destruction we do with our sin.

The setting is a Passover with its ancient ritual, but there is no mention of the usual lamb, and some of what we are told never was in any Passover before. It goes in the ordinary way of the Passover celebration. “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them…” (Mk 14:22) There is nothing extraordinary about that. The same thing happened in thousands and thousands of other Passover celebrations. But then something happened that had never happened before. Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is My body” (14:22). 

Then, continuing with the normal practice, “…Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it” (14:23). This happened in thousands of Passover celebrations that year, and all the years before since the first Passover when the blood of the lamb saved them from death. But once again, something happened that had never happened before. Jesus said, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.” (14:24). Jesus said that! Never before had such a thing happened, and to understand how outrageous it was, you have to be an Old Testament Israelite to appreciate the awesomeness of blood—sacred as life. Life and blood are one. To speak of drinking in any connection with blood was revolting.

Because this could not emerge from the matrix of the Passover, a particular methodology of biblical interpretation says that Jesus could not possibly have said this. The disciples only knew who Jesus was after the resurrection. Before that, they didn’t know, and it seems He didn’t either. These words must, therefore, have been inserted later, certainly post-Easter. Can you imagine anyone in Israel thinking up such outrageous words? The disciples can only say, “Not bloody likely.” Some scholars say it must come from the Greek religions. That won’t only work if you look closely at Greek religion and the role of blood. Here is “blood of the covenant,” a quotation from the Old Testament (Exodus 24:8). The making of the first covenant with blood, blood of the burnt offering, and the peace offering.

And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.” Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.  (Exodus 24:8-11)

This is a fellowship meal with the God of the covenant made with blood. Making such covenants is only God’s doing. Something like it had happened before, as Jesus makes clear when He speaks of the blood of the covenant. The blood He speaks of is His blood, poured out for many. The “many” is from Isaiah 53:11, which we heard earlier when Jesus told us what He had come to do: “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). To give His life and to pour out His blood is the same thing. “By His knowledge, My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him” (Mark 14:21).

As the bearer of our sins, Jesus dies. He dies the death for sin that was ours to die. He does it in our place. Body and blood separate are the sacrificed sin-bearer. Sin answered for can condemn us no more. We are forgiven. The sin that separates us from God is taken from us and atoned for by Him. Jesus does it all and makes His disciples partakers of that sacrifice in restored fellowship with their Lord. His blood makes the new covenant in which we participate in that sacrifice and are given what it achieved as we are given His body to eat and His blood to drink.

It is Jesus who has done it all for us. He gives it all to us as He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. Look nowhere else, only to Him, not to any of our doing but only to His. We find ourselves among the disciples who can’t figure out what is happening, have no confidence in themselves, and can even see themselves as betraying their Lord. But they hear what the Lord says and receive what His words say He is giving them. It doesn’t depend on them at all. So come to His table, listening only to His words and receiving what He gives. All your doing doesn’t count against you anymore. 

There is none of you, none of your doing outside of Jesus’ forgiveness. Nothing can separate you from Him, for He has borne it all and answered for it in your place. The Lord invites you to His Table, family, and fellowship to share all His happy good. That is how much He loves you. And by this Meal, the Lord brings you on your way to that glad feast that is the feast of the Lamb with all His saints.

Saints—that is you and me and all His disciples, the many accounted righteous, whose iniquities He bore, whose chastisement He took, those whom He makes whole by what He did as the sacrifice for sin and by what He gives us to share together at His Table. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin

Based on a sermon by the sainted Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel.