Sermon for Holy Thursday, April 2, 2015

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (Holy Thursday: Words of Life from the Cross)

“The Remembering Word”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

April 2, 2015

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Our text is the Epistle recorded in 1 Corinthians 11:

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.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.


It is Passover night, the night before the day the children of Israel walked though blood-stained doorways of their houses in Egypt into freedom and life as God’s covenant people.  This is the paschal night, the night of the remembrance meal—the hard, unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, the lamb roasted to dry toughness.  The lamb’s blood is painted on the doorposts.  It is the night of judgment and death as God seeks out the blood.  Under the blood of the lamb, you are safe.  Death passes over.  Without the blood you are dead.  It is neither safe nor helpful to deal with God apart from the blood of the lamb.

This is a night of remembrance.  God said to the Israelites, “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, you shall keep it as a feast.” (Exodus 12:14)  In this meal, you remembered the Lord and His saving work; and the Lord remembered you, His Israel.  You ate in solidarity with Israel, past and present.  You remembered who you were and who God is, and in remembering, your identity was carved as you ate and drank with your fellow Israelites.  It was a holy communion of a holy community.

On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus reclines at the head of a table with His disciples, His Twelve, His Israel.  It is the Lord’s Passover.  At this table, Jesus gives to His disciples in two ways.  First, Jesus gives an example of humble service: He washes their feet.  “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 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.”  (John 13:3-5 ESV)  The Lord and Creator of all bends down to do the work of the lowest rung of servant.  The Master becomes the slave—He came not to be served, but to serve, and to lay down His life as a ransom for the many.

Peter refuses, “You shall never wash my feet.” (John 13:8)  Pride gets in the way of Peter being served by the Master.  Pride also gets in the way of our being served too.  Too proud is the old Adam in us.  We do not like being given to; we do not like losing control, we do not like being dependent.  We hate that, at least the old self-centered sinner does.  That’s why a doctor makes a terrible patient; a pastor has a hard time hearing the Word—we are all reluctant receivers.  But Jesus, ever patient, ever lowly, gently persists in His giving: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” (John 13:8)  Peter must learn the way of receiving, the way of faith, the way of Baptism.  Before you can give of yourself in service to others, you must first receive the Lord’s service to you.  He must wash you before you can wash others.

In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus gives them a pattern for service—“that you also should do just as I have done to you,” Jesus says. (John 13:15)  This is what it means to live under Him in His kingdom and to serve Him.  This King bows before His subjects and washes their feet.  So you also are called to do with your fellow servants—to serve one another in humility and love.  “A servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” (John 13:16)  

But Jesus gives in another way, too, not by the way of example but by the way of sacrifice.  Jesus takes the bread of the Passover meal, the hard, unleavened bread of affliction that the Israelites ate on the fateful night of freedom.  He gives thanks, and breaks it into pieces, and hands a piece to each of His disciples.  “ This is My body, which is given for you.” (Luke 22:19)  His words tell what we could not know for ourselves by the science of our reason and senses.  This bread is Jesus’ sacrificial body, which would soon be given into death on the cross.  Here bread finds its highest and holiest utility in the Divine Service, to deliver Jesus’ body to our mouths and bodies, the bread of life, the living bread come down from heaven as manna to feed God’s people.

Jesus then takes the cup of wine after supper.  He lifts it, gives thanks, and gives each of His disciples to drink.  This is “the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20)  The blood of the new covenant is given as wine to drink.  Here wine finds its ultimate purpose, delivering Jesus’ blood to our lips, binding those who drink of His cup together in a blood covenant.  Blood is life.  “The life of the flesh is in the blood,” says Leviticus 17:11.  This blood of the new covenant is the blood that Jesus’ poured out for you on the cross, in your place, for the forgiveness of your sins.  Where the blood of the Lamb flows, death passes over.  This bread and wine/Body and Blood is the food of immortality.  Eating and drinking with faith, we live forever.

This Holy Supper is for us Christians also a meal of remembrance.  Jesus saidm “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  (Luke 22:19).  Interestingly, the Greek text could also be translated, “Do this for My remembrance.”  So which is it?  “Do this so that you will remember Me?” or “Do this so that I will remember you?”  Might it perhaps be both?  

St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (11:26).  To eat the body of Christ and to drink His blood calls to mind all that He is and all that He has done for you—His incarnation, His life, His death, His resurrection and ascension.  This is how Jesus wishes to be remembered by you as you receive the fruits of His cross as your food and your drink.

But this is also how He remembers us.  We are one body and one blood together with Him, and He will not deny His body and blood.  This meal of remembrance marks us, just as Baptism marked us.  We are redeemed by Christ, the Crucified One.  Christ gave His all to you to save all of you.  Nothing stands outside His forgiveness.  Nothing can separate you from His self-giving, self-sacrificing love.  No greater love is there than Jesus’ servant love with which He laid down His life for you.  In His Supper, at His Table, Jesus puts before you the gifts of His cross and says, “These are here for you.  Do this for My remembrance.”  Every time God showers us with Christ’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation received in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, it is because He remembers His promise in Christ to save us.  As communicants with faith in these words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, we receive the benefits of Christ’s perfect life, atoning death, and new resurrection life.  God “remembers” us for Christ’s sake as He bestows these gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation upon us in the Body and Blood of Jesus.    

From this Holy Supper you arise refreshed, renewed, and restored in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another.  Faith trusts in Christ alone; love then bends down in service for your neighbor—both friend and stranger, anyone to whom you can show love and mercy.  Faith receives Jesus’ service; love then seeks to serve Him in the least of these brothers and sisters, the lost, and the lowly of this world.  Faith receives the washing away of sin; love washes the feet of a fellow sinner.  Faith remembers Christ’s love; love remembers Christ’s service.  Amen. 

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