“When you listen to the Words of Institution, listen real close” Holy Thursday 2022

14. April 2022
Holy Thursday
John 13:1-15, 34-35

In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.

“This is my body, given for you.” This is the basis for our public confession as Christians. It’s also the centerpiece for just about every controversy in Christian churches. At the heart of this confession is the belief that apart from this man Jesus, there is no God. Any departure from this confession buries faith in Christ under one kind of excuse or another. 

As always, you want to keep God at a safe distance from you. You want time to choose your own path. You want the freedom to decide what’s best for you. You don’t want God coming and crashing your party, sitting down on the altar, demanding you pay attention and listen to him. Jesus orders everything in the Christian Church that everyone daily obtain there nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and sacraments, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here.

The practice of the Lord’s Supper is clear. But you don’t even take Him at His Word. Jesus says, “Given and shed for you (all),” but then you put conditions and qualifications on those words. On the one hand, you’d have your friends and neighbors commune without confessing the faith and being examined by the pastor, contradicting 1 Corinthians 11. You’d have some receive the Sacrament outside of faith and to their judgment? But on the other hand, you won’t have your children commune who confess and know the faith and are easily examined, disregarding the Words of Institution recorded in the Gospels and from St. Paul. You’d have the little ones who believe and desire to receive forgiveness be denied that gift? 

Listen to what Luther says in the Large Catechism, “Let this serve as an exhortation, then, not only for us who are grown and advanced in years, but also for the young people who ought to be brought up in Christian doctrine and a right understanding of it. With such training, we may more easily instill the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer into the young so that they will receive them with joy and earnestness, practice them from their youth, and become accustomed to them… 

… Let every head of a household remember that it is his duty, by God’s injunction and command, to teach or have taught to his children the things they ought to know. Since they are baptized and received into the Christian church, they should also enjoy this fellowship of the sacrament so that they may serve us and be useful. For they must all help us to believe, to love, to pray, and to fight the devil.”

You’ve got it upside down and backward. You don’t even realize what you’re doing. And you don’t want to know so long as you’re left alone to make your own decisions. You fall back on traditions, culture, and the favorite, “We’ve always done it this way.” How about you just take Jesus at His Word? How about you be faithful to Jesus in His Word?

It’s silly and childish to follow your own heart’s imagination about the gifts of God, especially when you have God’s Word accessible everywhere you go. And you are so bold to tell the Lord’s preacher you know what’s best? Or maybe you’ll stop your ears so you cannot hear his words? Slipping out the back rather than confront the reality of what Jesus says?

This is what it means to confess that sin makes you stupid. You actually believe these tactics work! You think you can tell Jesus how to be Jesus. How absurd! You do not need more freedom to make your own choices. You need Jesus to tear out that stony heart that won’t listen to Him, and give you a beating heart of flesh, alive by Jesus’ Word and Spirit.

God is only present for you where Jesus’ body is presented to you. God goes so deep into the flesh that he gives his weight to sinful men and women, boys and girls with such reckless, loving abandon that you’re embarrassed for him. His love is so great that He lays down His life for you, offering that divine love and life to even you. He lays His body and blood down on this altar abundantly and without a hint of frugality for you to receive as your manna in the wilderness, or the Passover Lamb roasted over the fire of God’s wrath, giving you escape.

When Jesus comes and dresses himself up in the words of his preacher he is really and truly present for you in the flesh. The salvation he offers is not an opportunity to fly away from reality, but to become really and fully his trusting creature in Christ’s new kingdom. He preaches to you so that you aren’t left to speculate and wonder about how to save yourself. Salvation in Christ means receiving everything in creation from God through trusting his promises day by day. He even uses the stuff of this creation, bread and wine, to commune with you so that you are forgiven, enlivened, and hopeful again.

God and man are so closely mixed that they have penetrated each other so that now you cannot know God without starting with Jesus. Likewise, you cannot know Jesus without starting with God. You cannot know God’s love apart from Jesus’ way of giving. Everything that God is for you is right there with Jesus – creator, eternal, unthwartable in his decisions, electing, and kind. And this God is so deep in the flesh that when he comes to sit down on earth he’s not going anywhere else, and refuses to be moved out of the way. He’s telling you tonight right where you can always find Him. “Take, eat! Take, drink!”

You have no other God than this particular man Jesus. You’re stuck with him, even though he doesn’t appeal to your religious fantasies of a God who somehow includes you in his decisions, or is present for everyone, everywhere, whenever they choose to go looking for him. He doesn’t conform to your ideas of what is acceptable, traditional, or appropriate. He doesn’t wait for you to understand or figure it all out. He speaks, you hear, and the Spirit gives faith when and where He wills.  

So when you listen to the Words of Institution, listen real close. “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” That’s Jesus saying, “I love you and you and you and I’m right here for you.” You can almost hear him say: “No one can separate you from Me. Not now. Not ever. Not over my dead body!”

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

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