Sermon for Maundy Thursday - March 29th, 2018
Rev. Dr. Brian German
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
You’ve had ashes on your forehead, you’ve carried in a few palm branches, and throughout our midweek services, perhaps even sung more stanzas from a single hymn than you’ve ever done before.
The Israelites, however, had years’ worth of dust on their foreheads, could only dream of places with palm trees, and offered up more prayers of deliverance than 490 Thomas Kingo hymns.
But on this night—on this night—everything would change. We get excited about big anniversaries and stuff in space that doesn’t come around too often, but this night puts all of creation, both heaven and earth, in perspective.
“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months. …the first month of the year for you.’”
“The beginning of months.” This certainly wasn’t the first month in human history, and yet this first Passover is so monumental that it goes down in history as “the beginning of months.” Start measuring all other months from this one. Mark your calendars around what is happening on this night. Order your days and your deeds with this night in mind.
Stephen Hawking may have known a thing or two about time, but he could never get on top of it in the way that’s being done here. Here time is told to get in the passenger seat to something far more important. Many ancient rabbis, in fact, used to say that the Bible actually starts right here, at Exodus 12, and not with Genesis 1. On this point, they’re on to something. God’s creation of the world, as majestic as it all is, will always be a #2 seed to the salvation of his people…to your salvation.
It’s not the case, then, that these Israelites were to go around asking, how many times a year should I think about this here Passover Lamb? Or, what if we remember this Passover Lamb so many times that it no longer feels special to us? So many church bodies have fallen into this type of thinking, and your hearts have been tempted all the same: to treat the things of the Lord like they’re just one small part of a huge diet that really depends on many other ingredients.
No, the very nature of what is happening on this night can never be bracketed out as some sort of box to be checked off. In this Passover Lamb the Israelites are given their lifeblood, their heart, their lungs…all their vitals. Apart from this Lamb, from here on out, there really is no Israel. Everything about who they are now revolves around it.
“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever….”
“A memorial day.” Do this in remembrance throughout your generations. Not, “remember how the Passover Lamb once functioned in the past,” or “retain this information in your mind about how the Passover Lamb represents something else,” or “reenact this night in order to help you recall something in the past that is no longer present.”
No, no…no. All of those are just cheap, imitation lambs. This is a memorial day not because of what your mental facilities are able to accomplish but because this is how I provide and will continue to provide for your redemption. Do this in remembrance is to do this believing that in this Lamb I am giving you what I am promising you. Do this with the certainty that “when I see the blood, I will pass over you…” You can even say “Amen” to that, if you’d like. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.”
This is a memorial day because this Lamb joins you to your salvation. You are one people, after all—past, present, and future—sharing one deliverance, one Lord, one faith. And even if the first Passover was yesterday or yesteryear or thousands of years ago, when you partake of this Lamb, salvation is happening today. Right now. Everything about who you are depends on this Lamb.
“…you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.”
Keep the Passover Lamb for a little while before its death. And while you have it, ponder its innocence. Look at how meek it is, how unassuming. It’s even kinda foolish at times, don’t you think, but it’s the wisest thing that God has ever done. Meditate day and night on what this Lamb is about to do for you, how it’s walking in the way of the slaughtering house for you, how your life depends on its death for you.
“…until the fourteenth day…when the whole assembly…shall kill their lambs at twilight.” Surely our Lord could have turned Egypt into a parking lot at the snap of his fingers. Fire and brimstone, maybe…you take your pick. But no, on this night, for this deliverance, let there be blood everywhere—bucket after bucket—under your fingernails, maybe a little bit in the hair—so that there can be life everywhere. “Put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.” Make vertical and horizontal strokes, much like the shape of a cross. And then…
…take and eat. This Lamb is given for you not to march around with it, but to consume it. Don’t dilly dally, either; eat it in haste. Your salvation is physical and tangible, inwardly digestible. And if anything is left over, consume that, too, or you can burn it the next morning, but whatever you do, don’t dispose of it carelessly. This is the Lord’s meal, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
Dear saints of God at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center, Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. On this night the one who instituted the first Passover now embodies the Passover. A perfect male, in the prime of his life, firstborn from all eternity, roasted by the fire of his cross, seasoned with bitter tears, serving up the most important meal from the Garden of Eden to the consummation of all things. The Bible now begins with the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
So keep the belt of your confession fastened, then, not loose, and your sandals standing firmly on the promise of what this Lamb is—the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and the wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ himself. The One who once said “let there be light” has now said “let there be my blood in this cup.”
You shall not to do any work on this night, then, my friends, because it’s not about what you can bring to the table. It’s about the table that has been prepared for you in the presence of your enemies, and the cup that overflows with who you are. In this Lamb we have a seat at the table of salvation—past, present, and future—binding us together in one body through an eternal feast that unfolds in earthly time.
In the midst of a culture caught up in identity confusion, there’s nothing more central to who you are than what is given on this night. So, stop revolving around your earthly success, your money, your perfect scores, your image, your drinking, your ego. Those are all cheap, imitation lambs—inwardly they are ravenous wolves, gnawing away at our life together, how we carry out our vocations, and what our focus is every time we gather here.
Whatever it is that you like to orbit around these days, it will not do for you what this Lamb does for you. Meditate day and night on that, because no sin of yours is left uncovered by this Lamb, no stain on your conscious cannot be comforted by this Lamb, no suffering cannot be reached by this Lamb. Whatever it is that plagues you, our heavenly Father sees this Lamb’s blood first. And when he sees this blood, death passes over.
Yes, you’ve gotten ashes on your forehead and carried in a few palm branches, but now it’s time to proclaim our Passover Lamb’s death until he comes. As we do so, we join up with another group who’s already at it in this way: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
In the name of Jesus, Amen.