Maundy Thursday + 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
On this evening Christ entered into His sufferings for the sins of the world. His suffering began in the Garden of Gethsemane. He tells Peter, James, and John, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). St. Luke records that “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). What caused such immense sorrow? The cup which He was about to drink. He prayed “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). The cup which He had to drink was the cup of God’s wrath against the sin of all mankind, for He suffered as our substitute, bearing our sins in His own body and all the wrath that we deserve on account of our sins.
His sorrow continues when Judas arrives with a cohort of temple guards to arrest Him. He’s betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of His own disciples. Judas had been with Christ for years, but he had also been an impenitent thief for some time, stealing from the money box. He had been in Christ’s company each day for years, yet he allowed greed to grow in his heart so that it strangled the seed of the Word which Christ had planted there. The sorrow of betrayal struck Him deeply. And when the eleven disciples saw that Christ would not fight against the mob, they fled, according to the words of the prophet, “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7). Betrayed by a disciple. Abandoned by His friends. He is left alone to face His accusers.
Then He’s carted off to Caiaphas for examination. The verdict had already been decided they were simply searching for evidence. They find it in false witnesses but finally they put Christ under oath so that He tells them plainly that He is the Son of God. Charged with blasphemy, “they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands” (Matthew 26:67). Peter witnessed all this. Although he had fled from the temple guards in the garden, he had followed stealthily behind and managed to get into the courtyard of the High Priest’s house. As he warms himself by the fire, he’s asked by three different people if he’s one of Jesus’ disciples. The disciple who began this evening in the garden saying, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny you!” (Matthew 26:35) now begins to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the man!” (Matthew 26:74). St. Luke tells us that “the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord” that he would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed (Luke 22:61). Peter flees and weeps bitterly, sorrowing over his own public betrayal of His Lord, for now Peter has abandoned Him twice, once physically and now spiritually. All of this happened on the night in which our Lord was betrayed as He began His suffering for our sins.
So why the white paraments on the altar, the lectern, and pulpit tonight? White is reserved for joyous occasions, for festivals of Christ. Why does the Gloria in Excelsis, that song of joy and praise, which has been silenced since the first pre-Lenten Sunday, suddenly come back on this night in which Christ was betrayed? Because in the midst of such sorrow and suffering, Christ leaves to His church one of His most precious gifts. He gives His last will and testament to His disciples while in the upper room, after they have finished their Passover celebration. His words are so important that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul record them. “The Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
With these words, Christ gives His disciples His very body to eat and His very blood to drink, for He says plainly, “This is my body,” and “This is the New Testament in my blood.” He doesn’t leave a symbol of His absent body. Nor does He leave a spiritual body. He gives His disciples the very body which would be crucified for their sins and the very blood spilt to atone for their transgressions. In 1 Corinthians 10:16 Paul says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” So in this meal we have communion with Christ’s true body and blood. He gives this to us so that we do it in remembrance of Him. But this remembrance isn’t like a 9/11 memorial or Veterans Day, where He simply pause to think about the suffering and sacrifice of others. We remember Christ’s passion in such a way that we receive its benefits. This means that we receive it in faith, trusting that Christ means what He says. He says it is body and blood. Faith takes Jesus at His word as one who would never lie or deceive. And though it is unfathomable and even offensive to human reason, faith goes beyond human reason and simply believes Christ.
St. Matthew records Jesus as saying of the chalice, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). This is the chief benefit He offers in His supper. He gives us His true body to eat and His true blood to drink, and when we eat and drink in faith, trusting Christ’s promise, we receive the forgiveness of all of our sins. He bore our sins in His body on the cross. He spilled His precious blood which made atonement for our sins and earned forgiveness for every sinner. At the cross He earns forgiveness and salvation for us. Here in the Supper He gives those benefits directly to you. This is why St. Paul teaches us that “whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” For “He who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.” So we must discern that the Lord’s body is truly present. We must also examine ourselves so that we are truly penitent for our sins. Since He offers the forgiveness of sins, we must approach acknowledging our sins and desiring to live a better life by the grace God provides in the Sacrament. This is also one of the reasons we practice closed communion, lest our guests inadvertently drink judgment upon themselves and sin against Christ’s body and blood. Such is the seriousness of the sacrament.
This is why our altar is decked in white and the Gloria fills the air. Christ institutes His holy supper to give us all that He earns for us in His bitter, innocent sufferings and death. It is a testament of joy in the midst of His sorrow and a great comfort given in the midst of His sufferings. So it for us joy in the midst of our sorrows and a heavenly consolation in the midst of our earthly suffering. We have a gracious God and Lord, who gives us His only-begotten Son into death for us. He suffers in His body for our sins so that we might eat His body by faith and receive the fruit of His bodily sufferings. He drinks the cup of God’s wrath which we deserve and He gives us the cup of the New Testament in His blood, which is the forgiveness of our sins. It’s a meal of rejoicing, a supper of joy in the midst of suffering so that no matter our sins and our sufferings, we know that we have a gracious and merciful God who gives us His very body to eat and blood to drink.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.