Sermon For Maundy Thursday, Year A
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Based on Matt. 26:26-29 & I Cor. 11:23-26
"The Lord's Meal"
The Last Supper, the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the sacrament of the altar, the breaking of bread, the meal--it has been given many names. Ever since that night when Christ shared a meal with his disciples before his death; the Church has developed many different beliefs, teachings, doctrines and practices concerning the Lord's Supper. It has been the subject of endless books written by Christians down through the ages. Theologians and philosophers have debated and fought over its meanings. There are some who believe that unless a person is able to understand the theological and philosophical niceties of the Lord's Supper, they are not worthy to receive it.
Tragically, even today, there are many Christians who refuse to share the Lord's Supper with other Christians because of doctrinal and practical differences. Some churches call it a sacrament, others do not. Some churches insist that it is only a memorial or remembrance of our Lord. Other churches insist on the Real Presence of Christ in, with and under the elements of bread and wine. Some churches celebrate the Lord's Supper once a week, others only once a year.
I certainly don't pretend to understand--nor do I have all of the answers why Christians have so many different doctrines and practices concerning the Lord's Supper. Over the years however, the more I've participated in this sacrament, the more I've come to appreciate the fact that there are so many different meanings of the Lord's Supper. Paradoxically, these different meanings of the Lord's Supper haven't necessarily increased my understanding. Rather, they have underscored the mystery of this sacrament. The mystery seems to point to a deeper, greater reality, which cannot be completely expressed in a rational fashion by words.
In our passages from Matthew and I Corinthians, there are at least three different meanings of the Lord's Supper, which I would like to explore with you tonight, they are: covenant, sacrifice, and future banquet feast with the Messiah.
The theme of the Lord's Supper as a covenant or testament is present in both of our passages. Matthew 26:28 reads: "for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many." And I Corinthians 11:25 states: ""This cup is the new covenant in my blood."
When Jesus spoke of a new covenant, he likely meant at least three things. First, he probably was referring to a binding agreement established by God with the people of God. Jesus probably believed that he was fulfilling Jeremiah 31:31-34. Here, the emphasis of the new covenant is on people receiving knowledge of God in their hearts and the forgiveness of sins. Jesus promises his followers exactly the same gift in his covenant.
Second, both Paul and Matthew mention Christ's blood in relation to the new covenant. Now by virtue of drinking the wine--Christ's blood--we become Christ's next-of-kin. We become his relatives--his family--by receiving his blood. We are his blood-relatives just as we are our parents' blood-relatives.
Third, the Greek meaning of the word covenant has the connotation of a last will and testament. Jesus, on that last night with his disciples before he died, was giving his disciples and the whole Christian Church, down through the centuries, his last will and testament.
Even today, it is not until after a person dies that their family members receive an inheritance, which is valid by means of a last will and testament. The same is true of Jesus and his followers. We receive his inheritance by means of his last will and testament, which was validated through his death. But, unlike all earthly inheritances, which can be wasted or spent; Christ's inheritance is always there for us--it can never be completely wasted, lost or spent.
Another theme of the Lord's Supper, which is closely related to covenant, is the theme of sacrifice. In I Corinthians 11:24, Jesus said of the bread: "This is my body which is for you." And in Matthew 26:28, Jesus speaks of his blood: "which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." When Jesus spoke of the bread as his body, which is FOR US; he may very well have been referring to himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. He is God's Suffering Servant. His innocent suffering, pain and grief is sacrificial because it's for the good of us all. He willingly and lovingly gave up his body and died, that we might have life.
When Jesus spoke of the wine as poured out blood for the forgiveness of sins; he likely meant, at the very least, that his blood would effectively bring about the forgiveness of sins--just as the blood of the sacrificial lambs had done in Old Testament times. If Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Lord's Supper on the eve of the Passover when the lambs were slaughtered, this meaning would have been very clear. Jesus is the new covenant Passover Lamb. His sacrificial covenant seals the covenant. His sacrifice, unlike the Old Testament sacrifices, does not have to be repeated. It was, a once, for all times and all people sacrifice. Each time we eat and drink of his body and blood, we receive the benefits of his sacrifice.
Matthew emphasizes that because our sins are forgiven in the Lord's Supper, we, too, are able to forgive each other's sins. The sacrifice of our Lord is made effective over and over again, when we celebrate his meal and when his meal actually DOES BREAK DOWN THE DIVIDING WALLS BETWEEN US AND GOD AND ONE ANOTHER. Paul emphasizes this point in I Corinthians 11:26, when he says: "For AS OFTEN AS you eat this bread and drink the cup, YOU PROCLAIM THE LORD'S DEATH until he comes." Eating and drinking the Lord's Supper is a LIVING SERMON, which bears witness to CHRIST'S SACRIFICIAL DEATH.
Another aspect to the significance of blood in relation to sacrifice is that at the time of Jesus, for Jews, blood was the symbol of LIFE ITSELF. This also, of course, is true today. For example, if you or I donate our blood to the Red Cross, it may very well save the life of someone else who receives our blood through means of a transfusion. In a similar manner, when we drink the blood of Christ in the Lord's Meal, we are given new life. In return, we are strengthened in our faith so that we are able to share this new life in Christ with others. We, too, are then able to make sacrifices out of love for others and love for Christ.
A third theme of the Lord's Supper is a future banquet-feast with Jesus our Messiah. This theme is emphasized most clearly in Matthew 26:29, when Jesus said to his disciples: "I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine UNTIL THAT DAY WHEN I DRINK IT NEW WITH YOU IN MY FATHER'S KINGDOM."
This theme was realized in a humorous way by one of our confirmands several years ago, who, at the time, ironically enough probably didn't grasp the importance of what they were saying. When asked about the meaning of Holy Communion, the confirmand replied that it was a snack to stave off hunger pangs until the congregation could go home and eat lunch. In a sense, the confirmand was right--for when we celebrate Holy Communion, we sing the following words in our offertory: "give us a foretaste of THE FEAST TO COME."
The Lord's Supper, in this sense, is a provisional meal for a people on a journey; giving them strength and sustenance to reach their final destination, God realm. It is a meal that prepares us, gives us a taste, an inkling, a yearning, a longing for THAT FUTURE DAY, when we shall be with Christ, see him face-to-face, and share with him a FAR MORE WONDERFUL BANQUET FEAST--THE LIKES OF WHICH EVEN SURPASS OUR GREATEST EXPECTATIONS!
It is a meal of hope, which enables us and empowers us to live as agents of change for the future, that the world may be drawn ever closer to the Messiah.