SERMON FOR Maundy Thursday, 4-18-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat, this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
I’ve been teaching on the Lord’s Supper for some years now in the ministry - Bibles studies on the Passover, feeding of the 5000, and Supper at Emmaus – type and antitype – prophecy and fulfilment. I’ve done it many times in new member classes, catechism, or at the bedside of homebound members. In many ways it’s my life’s work to teach on the Lord’s Supper, as it is for every preacher of the Gospel. Of course it’s joyful thing to do – and what a privilege it all is!
But for whatever reason, the Christian children I’ve had privilege to be with, those in my own home and the children in the congregations I have served enjoy a clarity and a way of speaking about the sacrament, that often surpasses their teachers, myself included! “Mommy, I want the body. When can I have the blood?” Those are great questions!
Notice that when a Christian child speaks of the sacrament there’s no mincing words. It’s just the body and the blood. And with it the forgiveness of sins - plain and simple. The little saints are very good on this.
John Calvin a brilliant mind, couldn’t get that brilliant mind around those words. How can Jesus be at the right hand of the Father and also down here in the sacrament? How can the infinite God become finite in bread and wine? So for him, the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper are merely bread and wine. So what’s communion for Calvin? Well, the believer by faith therefore must ascend up to heaven to commune with Jesus way up there. Calvin, brilliant though he was, couldn’t figure out how the bread and wine could really be Christ’s true body and blood. So he rejected what he couldn’t understand. And rather than hold on to the clear words of Jesus he came up with a theory instead, which millions of protestants today sadly hold to - just – a theory.
Thomas Aquinas was another brilliant theologian. He lived a few hundred years before Calvin. He also couldn’t figure out how bread and wine could be Christ’s body and blood at the same time. So he came up with a theory too: that the bread and wine were not really bread and wine anymore and only appear to be. This is called the doctrine of transfiguration. What’s the problem with that? Well, simply put, it defines the Sacrament in a way which the New Testament simply doesn’t do. And millions of Roman Catholics hold to this view.
In our epistle tonight, you’ll notice, that St. Paul doesn’t wax poetic about this sacrament or theorize or philosophize. He just says “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” And then, like a child, like a catechism student, he just recites word for word the words of Jesus – the words of institution of the Holy Supper.
So what is the Sacrament of the Altar? The catechism teaches us: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink? There you have it! Do you see how lovely the Small Catechism is? How simple? And how expansive at the same time?
Four questions put forward and four answers in one beautiful little sentence. First question: What is it? Well, it’s the true body and blood of Christ. Second question - where is it found? It’s found under the bread and wine. Third question. Who gave it to us? It’s instituted by Christ Himself. It’s Jesus Supper. Jesus gives it to us. Fourth question. What are we to do with it? What’s it for? Well, it’s for us Christians to eat and to drink. There you have it!
This is why it’s just so great to be a Lutheran. There are no theories here about the mysteries of this blessed and holy sacrament – there are no abstractions. There is no feverish attempt to adjust God’s word to satisfy our intellect or lack of intellect – or square with our fallen reason. That’s why the Lutheran children are so, well, Lutheran. There’s an innocence there, a purity in their sacramental piety, – a heartfelt trust that takes the Lord’s words at face value, as they well should: “Mommy when can I have the body. When can I have the blood?” As I said, good questions! So let’s touch on that. Who receives this sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training but that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words for you require all hearts to believe.
So, who’s worthy and well prepared? Well to be sure, we must believe it’s the Lord’s true body and blood. Those are the words of our Lord that all must take to heart and believe! That the same body and blood born of Mary, the same body that walked on water and cured the sick, the same body buffeted, beaten, and scourged, and nailed to a tree - that same glorified body that rose from the grave and ascended into heaven is the same body which we receive at the altar. A mystery though it remains.
But what’s added here is something else - the necessity of holding and believing those words of Christ to every sinner. The words, “shed for you.” “For you!” he says. You see, it’s not enough to believe that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. Even the devil himself knows that! But that won’t do him any good! Nor you! You see, we also must believe and have faith in these words: given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. For you, dear Christian! It’s not enough for you to say that Jesus died for Pastor Larson, or any other sinner in this congregation.
You must learn to be bold and apply those gracious words of the Gospel to the proper and intended target: yourself! To believe that Christ fulfilled all righteousness, not just to save the world, but to save you. That he truly suffered for you. Took every heinous and wicked sin you’ve ever committed and bled and died for them all. And rose triumphantly for you. For your justification. To live and reign and impart to you the treasures of salvation. In that precious holy gift of baptism - in that body and blood for your special comfort – for your delight – for the certainty of your salvation and the strengthening of your faith. Shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
In other words, you don’t get any brownie points from God by feigning humility here and imagining that your sins are too great – or just maybe, just maybe, God might be gracious to you. That is not a proper worship and faith in God.
This is what Roman Catholics have historically accused Lutherans of. They think we’re too presumptuous about our salvation. It bothers them that we talk with such certainty about our salvation, the forgiveness we enjoy, and the future life that is most certainly ours in Christ. But you see, if you take away the certainty, you take away the Gospel! And this has everything to do the Sacrament of the Altar. Everything to do with the Lord’s Supper – where there is confidence and absolute assurance concerning the Lord’s gracious promises.
Because how can you possibly doubt where God stands with you, when the very body and blood which procured your souls salvation is placed right under the roof of your mouth? How can you doubt those words ‘shed for you,’ for your forgiveness – when that chalice of love is pressed to your lips – and his cleansing blood is poured down your throat. For here at this altar rail God is declaring loudly and clearly his great love for you.
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness there is also life and salvation.
Who receives this sacrament worthily? Well, no one really. No one is worthy. But that’s precisely why we come in the first place. Luther writes in the large catechism that it is the highest art to know that the Sacrament does not depend upon our worthiness. But rests securely on Christ’s own word and promise.
This is what St. Peter had to learn in our Gospel tonight. It’s what we need to learn each and every week in the Divine Service – in absolution – and the Holy Supper. That Christ is among us as the one who serves. And the gifts he gives are nothing less than himself – his body – and his blood – all that He is – and all that He has.
So therefore, have some gall. Have some nerve to say “I want that! I need that! I believe that’s for me, knowing that as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. In the name of Jesus. Amen.