Sermon for Holy Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 21, 2011

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In baseball, the curveball is used by pitchers to keep hitters off balance.  Fastballs come in fast and straight.  Get your timing down and you can hit them.  But a curveball moves.  It curves.  It drops through the strike zone so that when you swing at the ball it suddenly isn’t where you thought it would be.  And you miss it.  The deceptive nature of the curveball has even entered everyday conversations when people say, “That situation threw me a curveball.”  Something unexpected happened that changed things.  Two ladies were talking over coffee, “We had plans to go out to dinner, but he threw me a curve and decided to stay home and do nothing!”  The Biblical events of Holy Thursday are just filled with these kinds of curveballs.

The first curveball is recorded in John 13.  “Jesus, . . . , rose from supper.  He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’  Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’  Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’  Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’  Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’  For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.’” (John 13:3-15)

This was not the start to a typical Passover meal.  A household servant would have washed the feet of the guests upon arrival as a sign of hospitality.  But Jesus got up from the seder meal, dressed as a servant would, and washed the feet of the Twelve.  Of course it would be Peter who would object.  Christ’s behavior was too demeaning.  Certainly washing feet is not the role that the Lord should be taking.  Yet it is exactly this servant role of humbleness that Jesus had come to take.  Jesus would later say this very night, “For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves?  Is it not the one who reclines at table?  But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:27)  And was it not Jesus who announced earlier in His ministry that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”? (Mat 20:28)

This unexpected curveball of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet was a demonstration of the self-sacrifice and love that He would should the next day on the cross.  Christ came to wash away our sins, even though it cost Jesus His very life.  Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet also established a pattern of humility and service us to follow in His way of love and self-sacrifice.  If foot washing was not too lowly a task for Christ, then you and I as His disciples cannot turn away from doing such humble acts to and for those in need of our loving service.  As we follow Christ through His Passion, we see the humble servant of God at work for us, washing away our sins and saving us to be sure, but also modeling for us a life of service and mercy to be rendered to others in Jesus’ name as His forgiven people.  Who could have expected that?

No one in the Upper Room on that Passover evening would have expected Jesus’ next curveball.  “When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.  And as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’  And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:20-22)  They were looking for a fastball and Jesus threw a 12-6 curve and wow, was it a devastating pitch!  Who could do such a thing to their Lord and Master?  Who would be evil enough to hand over a friend to His enemies?  It would be one of the Twelve.  It would be Judas Iscariot, one who was eating the Passover meal with the Lord.  Yet Jesus did not say “Judas, you will betray me,” but only “one of you will betray me.”  The early church father John Chrysostom commented, “This was again to offer time for repentance by keeping his identity concealed.  [Jesus] was willing to allow all the others to be alarmed, just for the sake of redeeming this one.”

It has been a very strange and unusual Passover meal so far.  I’m not sure that the disciples were even able to think straight at this point.  This has not been like the Passovers that they had celebrated before.  The Seder was the liturgy for the remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt.  A major part of the Seder was the “telling” of the story of the Exodus.  Ceremonial foods were used to represent the events leading up to the Exodus as well as the foods God commanded to be eaten during this Feast of Passover.  But things don’t seem to have gone entirely according to routine, nor would they end according to tradition either.  You guessed it, another curveball!

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

That’s not in the Passover liturgy.  At the breaking of the bread, the head of the family would have said, “Blessed art thou, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who dost bring forth bread from the earth.  Blessed art thou, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who has hallowed us with thy commandments, and hast commanded us concerning the eating of Matzah.”  But Jesus, as the head of the family, took the Matzah, the unleavened bread, broke it, and gave it to the disciples with the words, “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of me.”  With this bread, Christ gives His very body for the disciples to eat.  He gives His body that would be crucified in, with, and under the bread for us Christians to eat for the forgiveness of sins.  Not at all what was expected!  Something new and something miraculous—a curveball of great blessing.

The third cup of wine used at the Seder, known as the cup of redemption, was used to remember that God promised to redeem His people.  It was this cup that Jesus “gave thanks and offered it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.  This is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”  With this wine Christ gives His very blood for the disciples to drink.  He gives His blood shed on the cross in, with, and under the wine for us Christians to drink for the forgiveness of sins.  Not what was expected!  Something new and miraculous—a curveball of great blessing.

Tonight we approach the Lord’s Table to receive this very same body and blood of Jesus Christ in, with, and under the bread and the wine.  It is a meal that Christ desires us to eat with Him as our Host.  It is a meal of blessing, a meal of new life.  For a moment we leave the world outside and let the Lord Himself throw us a curveball, a change from what we deal with hour by hour, day by day.  We recline at Table with Him, our Lord and Savior, in the company of all the saints and angels.  And at this Table Christ feeds us.  Jesus breaks bread and with that bread gives us His true body, crucified and risen for us.  Jesus distributes the cup of wine and with that wine gives us His true blood, shed for us on the cross.  With faith in these words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” we receive the blessings of this Holy Communion—forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

This wonderful “curveball” moment that we celebrate tonight in the Lord’s Supper is put into these words by Horatius Bonar in our hymn 631:

Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon Thee lean.

Here would I feed upon the bread of God,
Here drink with Thee the royal wine of heav’n;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiv’n.

This is the hour of banquet and of song;
This is the heav’nly table spread for me;
Here let me feast and, feasting, still prolong
The brief bright hour of fellowship with Thee.

Too soon we rise; the vessels disappear;
The feast, though not the love, is past and gone;
The bread and wine remove, but Thou art here;
Nearer than ever; still my shield and sun.

Feast after feast thus comes and passes by,
Yet, passing, points to that glad feast above,
Giving sweet foretaste of the festal joy,
The Lamb’s great marriage feast of bliss and love.  Amen.

Public domain

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