Maundy Thursday 2013                  
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
1 Corinthians 11:23-29 Sermon                                   
March 28, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
155 "Sweet The Moments Rich In Blessing"
163 "The Death Of Jesus Christ Our Lord"
159 "Go To Dark Gethsemane"
655 "I Pray Thee, Dear Lord Jesus"
157 "There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood"


           TEXT:  23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when 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 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.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
           27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

            There are a lot of things in our word that I simply don’t understand.  And it seems that the older I get, the more I realize just how much I don’t know.  Of course I will study up on things so I can understand the subject the best I can, but there are many things that happen that simply cannot be explained.  That’s usually the area where God has to be God, and I have to be one of his human creatures with my limited human understanding.

            For example, why do people age?  What makes us grow old?   Science has studied the way the cells in our body work.  Old cells are being continually being replaced with new healthy ones; in fact, it is reported that we have a complete change in cells about every twenty-five years. 

            But things do eventually age and wear out, and that’s an established fact.  This is all part and parcel of what’s known as the second law of thermodynamics.  It defies explanation; it simply is what it is.

            Or how does a seed work?  We all know what it takes to make a seed grow.  We have to plant it, water it, and give it nutrients, so it grows into a plant.  In fact, Jesus uses this as an illustration in Mark chapter 4 in the Parable of the Sower.  We know that seeds don’t do well at all if they’re sown on the footpath, or on rocky soil, or amongst the thorns.  But when seeds are planted in good soil with the proper moisture and nutrients, then it will produce a good crop, even a hundred times over.

            But why does the seed work this way?  We can adequately explain the circumstances surrounding the growth, but we cannot explain how the seed itself works in the first place.  We simply know that it does, and we have to be satisfied with that explanation.  It defies human logic.

This evening is Maundy Thursday, which is the time when we focus our attention upon the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples.  I used the simple illustrations provided by the aging process and the seed to introduce the mystery surrounding the Lord’s Supper.  We don’t know how everything happens; we just know that it does.  We have to trust that what God is telling us in his Word is true, and leave it at that.

            The problem comes in when people try to reduce God’s actions to the confines of faulty human logic.  And when this happens, I can assure you that it will get you completely off the track.  Eventually, human logic will either cause you to deny the various things God is telling us, or it will cause us to fabricate things that just aren’t there.  God’s actions are supreme, and they defy human reason.

            This evening, I chose to use as a text Paul’s description and application of this doctrine that he used with the congregation at Corinth.  This gives us the most complete and detailed description of the Lord’s Supper; and it brings together quite nicely what Matthew, Mark, and Luke have recorded about that night in the upper room.

            The first item I’m going to address is one of perspective.  People are inclined to look at the human action in the Lord’s Supper, and leave it at that.  Their perception is focused upon what we are doing.  We come together, we are given the bread and the cup, and we are doing so out of obedience so that we are reminded of what Jesus did for us on the cross.  Even though there is truth in those statements, God seems to be left entirely out of the picture. 

            I remember asking one young man why he took Holy Communion.  He told me, “I take Communion to show Jesus how much I love him.”  Even though our love for Jesus indeed brings us to the Lord’s Table, his focus was in the exact opposite direction. 

            The Lord’s Supper is Christ’s gift to the Church.  Here, Jesus is showing us just how much he loves us!  He has given us his body and blood into death as the price to redeem our souls.  His love for you and me is what took him to the cross.  His sacrifice is what has given us forgiveness and made us righteous before God.  This is all ours through nothing more than faith alone.

            So you see, the place we need to start is to look at what God is doing in Holy Communion, and not what we are doing.  God has the active part, and our role is a passive one.  We simply receive the gift Jesus has given us, namely his true body and his true blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  When the focus here gets turned around, then the meaning of Holy Communion is reduced to a mere human process with a pious intent.  And when humans attempt to take what God says and does into their own hands, then that can spell big trouble.

            So let’s look at what God tells us in his Word; and when we do this, the very context of the Lord’s Supper dictates that we must take the words literally.  To get the proper definition, we have to look at the original Greek text, and include with that a little bit of instruction as to how the Greek language actually works.

            In a Greek sentence, you will very rarely see any linking verbs.  These are all determined by the context of the words themselves.  So linking verbs such as: “is, was, will, has, etc.” are implied in the sentence structure.

            However in the passages pertaining to the Lord’s Supper, Jesus himself and the Apostle Paul actually supply the linking verb, even though the rules of Greek grammar do not require it.  So what does that mean?

            In those rare cases where a linking verb is supplied, it adds a strong emphasis to it.  In this case, the Greek word is “estin.”  This is exactly what is happening when Jesus says, “This is my body; this is my blood.”  If we were to add the same emphasis in English, it can help us understand the meaning if we were to say, “This is absolutely, positively, without any doubt my true body; this is absolutely, positively, without any doubt my true blood.”  This is the way the context of the Greek sentence has to be understood.  There’s a whole lot of meaning packed into that one emphasized linking verb.

            The most common problem that I’ve encountered is when people say, “Well, ‘is’ only means ‘represents,’ so it is only a metaphorical reference.” 

            Just think about it for a minute.  To have this understanding would virtually mean the complete removal of that emphasized linking verb “estin.”  And then, the word “is” would have to be completely re-defined.  The word “is,” regardless of the language you choose, only has one definition, and that can’t be changed.

            For example, do we day that Dave Heinemann IS the governor of Nebraska, or Dave Heinemann REPRESENSTS the governor of Nebraska?  “Is” and “represents” are two different words meaning different things, and they cannot be interchanged.  Regardless of how you look at, it just doesn’t work to attempt this.  You can’t change a definition to suit faulty human logic.

            Now some have taken this too far the other way, and will assert that the bread and wine actually change physical substance.  But if we look at our Epistle reading for this evening from 1 Corinthians 10, verse 16 states: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”  The bread and wine are still identified as such; however it is also identified as the true body and blood of Christ.  The linking verb “estin” is still here, even in the interrogative sense.

            I want you to keep this in mind as we move along to another word that gives people some difficulty.  That word is “remember.”  Jesus says, “This do in remembrance of me.”  What does that mean for us?

            In English usage, “remember” usually refers to something brought to mind.  We talk about remembering somebody’s birthday or anniversary.  Or you might ask the question, “Did you remember to lock the door?  Did you remember to feed the dog?  Did you remember to stop the newspaper delivery while we’re away?”  It’s a pretty common word, and we use it a lot.  I know that I do.

            For many people, they’ll look at the word “remember” as Jesus uses it in the Lord’s Supper, and carry over the same definition.  So eating and drinking in remembrance of Jesus means bringing to mind what he did to pay for our sins and secure our salvation.  Believe me, that’s an excellent thing to do, and it’s something we need to do all the time, whether it is in connection with the Lord’s Supper or otherwise. 

            As true as this is, it doesn’t stop there either, and this is the part of it that people often don’t understand. We first have to realize that the Lord’s Supper is the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover, and that Jesus instituted it amongst his closest disciples, who were Jews and understood things according to a Hebrew frame of reference.

            For a Jew, the term “remember” meant a lot more than bringing something to mind.  To “remember” something meant actually taking an event that happened in the past, and to make it happen again just as if it was happening for the first time.  Let me repeat that again, because this is of prime importance: to “remember” something meant actually taking an event that happened in the past, and to make it happen again just as if it was happening for the first time.

            So when Jesus tells us to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper, he is telling us to do it in remembrance of him. This means that each time we do it, we are taking what happened in the upper room so long ago, and recreating it here again for his disciples, the likes of you and me.  Each time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, this is what happens, regardless of where it is.  It happens here at our altar.  It happens at St. John.  It happens at Holy Cross.  It happens each time Pastor Schauer has his Communion service at Seward Manor.  It happens whenever or wherever we eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus.  We receive the very same supper and the very same blessings as those disciples did in the upper room so long ago. 

            To further understand the concept of “remembrance,” we can look at our Old Testament Lesson for this evening, from Jeremiah 31.  The last section of verse 34 has some special words of comfort for us.  God says, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

            Just the opposite is happening here.  When God says he will remember our sin no more, we can be assured that God will not keep bringing up our old sins and beating us over the head with them.  He will not cause us to relive those old sinful times over and over again.  He promises us that he will no longer remember them, because that’s the way he chooses to act.  Through faith in Christ Jesus our Saviour, those old sins have been removed from us and will no longer haunt us.  So when we come together for the Lord’s Supper, we receive the forgiveness Jesus won for us over and over again as we eat and drink in remembrance of him.

            So it’s at this point that we are prompted to ask, “why?”  Why do we do this at all?  Aren’t our sins forgiven through faith alone in Jesus our Saviour?  Isn’t that enough?

            To answer this, indeed our sins are forgiven without taking the Lord’s Supper.  Many people are in heaven without ever having received it.  It is not a prerequisite for entrance into heaven.

            But it’s here where we hear the words, “for you.”  Most certainly we boldly proclaim that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world.  That’s our mission as Christians.  That’s the message of the Gospel that we proclaim. 

            But here at the altar, you receive personal assurance that his body was given into death FOR YOU.  You are assured that his blood was shed FOR YOU.  What Jesus did for you on the cross has become very personal just for you, right here at the altar.  And every time you come to the Lord’s Table, this sign and seal of your forgiveness is given to you through his true body and blood as you continue to commune in remembrance of him, as you repeat what happened in that upper room just as if it was happening for the first time.  What you are receiving here at our altar is no different than if Jesus himself were handing you the bread and the wine.  Jesus is making it happen anew, just like he did so long ago.

            I cannot explain how it happens.  How Jesus does it is a mystery.  I cannot explain how a seed works either, or why people grow old.  But I know that seeds do grow, and that everything ages, especially human beings.  So when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, we trust what God has told us in the Bible, no more and no less.

            We have bread and wine here on the altar.  Regardless of what we say or do, the elements of bread and wine remain intact.  Chemical analysis would prove that true.  However, Jesus makes no mistake when he says that this bread and wine are absolutely, positively, without question his true body and blood, which are given and shed for you for the remission of sins.  So when we look at everything the Bible teaches us, we use the term “real presence,” which means that Christ’s true body and blood are given to us in, under, and through the earthly elements of bread and wine.

            Through the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is joined to us not only spiritually, but physically as well.  Our entire being is connected with him at every point.  It’s like the Apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 13, verse 14:  “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

            Throughout history, theologians have pondered the mystery surrounding the Lord’s Supper.  Some have taken Christ’s words too far, and others have altered the meaning and not taken them far enough.  As Christians, it behooves us to take Christ’s words literally when it comes to the Holy Supper.  When Christ says, “This is my body, this is my blood, shed for you for the remission of sins; this do as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me,” That is what we must do.  This is what we believe.

            So we come forward this evening to receive this wonderful gift Christ has given to his Church.  We come confessing our sinfulness and desiring the forgiveness he has promised us.  We not only hear the words of absolution, but we are personally given an actual and tangible sign and seal of that forgiveness through the Lord’s Supper.  By its very nature, our faith is strengthened. So we focus our attention upon what Jesus does for us in this feast, and believe it happens just as he says.

            In pondering this great mystery, I think the hymn writer Samuel Kinner says it best, and I’ll close this evening with his words: “Though reason cannot understand, yet faith this truth embraces; thy Body Lord is everywhere, at once in many places.  How this can be, I leave to thee, thy Word alone sufficeth me; I trust its truth unfailing.”   (TLH 306:5)