Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Though many in America today often lament the breakdown of the American family unit, there is one area of business that still thrives. Fast food businesses make their money by promising you a fast meal so that you can get back to work or to a sporting event or a dance recital or a meeting. Dining out has become common-place in our society. Many meals are no longer consumed in the privacy of our homes with our family or closest of friends. Dining has become a public event. We eat in massive rooms with countless strangers. While we might enjoy the company of family or friends in the immediate vicinity, eating is still far less of an intimate experience than it was 30, 40 , or 50 years ago. Dining with someone was an even bigger deal in Jesus’ day. You did not recline at table with just anyone. This was saved for your family… your closest of friends. To share a meal with someone was to share a trust. I won’t poison or trick you. You won’t poison or trick me. This is lost in our society today, and I think it impacts what we do with tonight… Maundy Thursday… The Last Supper.
When Jesus sat at the Passover table on that Thursday of His Passion, He found Himself surrounded by His most devout disciples. These are the ones that He had specifically chosen. These are not the meddlesome masses that found him on the mountain as He tried to rest, or in the Garden as He tried to pray, or on the beach as He tried to get away for a few minutes. These are His guys… His entourage… His peeps, if you will. They had spent the previous 3 years following Jesus hither and yon from city to city. They had seen the miracles. They had heard the teachings. They had left their lives behind to sit at the feet of the Son of God for three years. They were predictable, even if you were not the Son of God. You knew that James and John were going to spend the night arguing about who was the best. You could count on Thomas being skeptical about everything. You knew Judas would seek to amend the budget about 5 times. And you could bet your last denarii that Peter would talk way too much. This makes Jesus’ words and actions emotionally compelling for us that are tuning in to the Passion drama this evening.
The words of Jesus are not pithy parables to people gathered on the shoreline. These words are intentionally intimate from the Savior’s lips to the precious ears of His closest of acquaintances. The supper they share is not the mere dinner that they would woof down as they get a few minutes reprieve from those that are tagging along. This is the Passover. This is THE celebration of Jewish families. The glasses of wine, the bitter herbs, the roasted lamb, the unleavened bread that all pointed to THE event of their shared history. The salvation of their God as He led their forefathers out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land… the land promised to their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Passover celebrated every year looking back at the salvation of their God, and looking forward to the salvation of their God in the coming Messiah – the one that would free them from oppression and lead them into the future. Just by being there in that room each person was making a statement because you only celebrated the Passover with your family. Just by being in that upper room, Jesus was binding Himself to His disciples, and His disciples were binding themselves to Him.
So the words of Jesus at that table resonated with those that heard. As they went through the liturgy of the Passover, they bound themselves together in, both, the tortured past and the hopeful future of the people of God. But that was not enough. Jesus, as the Son of God, took it one step further. He was done speaking in riddles. He was done cloaking His teaching in parables. Here in this place, Jesus lays it all on the line. Jesus breaks from the script with something new. He picks up the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and says, “Take eat; this is My body.” Then, He picks up the glass of wine, blesses it, and says, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” It is impossible for us to fully know what the disciples thought when they heard these words. But Jesus knew what He meant. With these words, Christ instituted and ushered in the very fulfillment of the Passover meal. Here, Jesus stands in the place of the lamb that was killed whose blood was spread on the doorposts on that very first Passover. With these words, Jesus puts in motion the series of events that we will follow the rest of this week. With these words, He sealed Himself to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus not only bound Himself to His disciples as a fellow Jew or family member, but He bound Himself to His disciples as their Savior.
If that wasn’t amazing enough, as the Son of God, Jesus knew things that were not public knowledge at this time. You see, He was binding Himself to suffer, die, and be poured out for the sins of His disciples, and He would go through with it. The disciples bound themselves to Jesus by eating the Passover with Him, but they would not go through it. You see Jesus knew these men. He knew everything about these men. He knew that the minute the swords and torches came, they would scatter. He knew that one that sat at this table had already betrayed Jesus to His death. He knew that Peter would deny even knowing Jesus three times in the next 12 hours. He knew that the disciples were lazy and would fall asleep while He was in the Garden praying. Jesus knew they would all… every one of them would stand at a safe distance and observe His torture and death. He knew they would hide in fear afterward. These twelve wouldn’t even take care of His burial. Jesus knew everything. He knew that He was giving everything and would get nothing in return. He knew that the very people who would drink from that cup would need the forgiveness it offered before the wine had even gone through their system. And, yet, He still said those words. “Take eat; this is my body. Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood of the covenant poured out for many… poured out for you… for the forgiveness of sins.” That was why Jesus came. He came for the purpose of dying for their forgiveness.
If you want to blow your mind even more with the magnitude of what happened in that room 2000 years ago, think about this. Jesus was not just sitting in that room with His 12 disciples. He was not just binding Himself to those twelve disciples. He was sitting in that room with us. He was binding Himself to us. And He knows us JUST as intimately as He knew those twelve. Jesus knows which of us tend to put their feet in their mouths. He knows which ones of us are always concerned about the budget. He knows which ones of us are always jockeying for positions of power or prestige even if it means stepping on a few others to grab it. But He also knows those things about us that no one else knows. He knows the images on the computer screen late at night. He knows what happened in that car that was parked in the shadows that one night. He knows words that you say out loud and in your head. He knows the grudges that you hold. He knows the guilt that you feel. He knows about the addictions, the lies, the fears, the struggles. He knows everything. He knows that you are in need of the forgiveness that flows from His side to you by way of the chalice. He bound Himself to you knowing that if you were in the same situation as those original 12, you would fail just as epically. But Jesus still uttered those words for you. You will here them again tonight. “Take eat; this is my body. Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.“ Here is your forgiveness and life. Here is Jesus fulfilling all righteousness for you. Here He comes to bring you life and peace.
When I was growing up, I never used the Lutheran Hymnal. I used a different blue hymnal. I used Lutheran Worship, and in my home congregation, at the end of what felt like just about every midweek Lent service, we would sing the hymn, “Abide with Me”. However, since we didn’t use the Lutheran Hymnal, I missed out on what has come to be one of my favorite verses of the hymn. Thankfully, they put it back into Lutheran Service Book. In this masterful hymn, we ask that Jesus, “Come not in terrors as the King of Kings, but kind and good with healing in Thy wings. Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea. Come, Friend of Sinners, thus, abide with me.”
Come, Friend of Sinners, thus, abide with me. That night in the upper room, this is precisely what Jesus did. He did not come in righteous indignation and terror to judge sin. He came to bear the judgment for our sins. He came to be poured out for us for the forgiveness of sins. Tonight, The Friend of Sinners is, once again, here. He binds Himself to us. He makes us whole with His broken body and shed blood. He comes tonight to free us from all of the things that try to separate us from Him. He comes tonight with forgiveness for the liar, the adulterer, the thief, the scoundrel, the gossip, and the naysayer. He comes to restore the fallen, the lonely, the spurned, and the shameful. He comes tonight for you… given, shed and poured out for you… His people… His treasured possession.
And as Christ comes tonight with forgiveness or each one of us… as He binds us to Himself and His death for our sins… He also binds us together as His people. We all come as beggars. We all leave as saints. Tonight, in front of us, we have the Great Exchange – All He is for all that we are not. As we proceed through this Holy Week, let us approach with reverence and awe of the magnitude of that which Christ did for us. Let us be somber as we walk from upper room to garden to trial to Golgotha. But let us not lose sight of what happened on mournful Calvary. Let us not forget what happened with every betrayal and denial… with every mocking sneer and wounding whiplash. Let us not forget the power… the healing… the balm for woe that is the cross of Christ… the body and blood of Jesus. May our heavenly Father unite us in the renewing power of forgiveness as we continue this weekend.