Friday, April 18, 2014

Maundy Thursday 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Exodus 12:7
Theme: Blood Armor

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Blood is the currency of divine favour. It gives access to the holy presence of God. That is the ancient and unequivocal decree of the Almighty. Defining the cultic ritual for Aaron, the high priest, God gave the directive to Moses, “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been.”1 All such actions pointed to the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ’s blood on the cross.

We are far too removed from the historical reality to appreciate the freedom we have from ritual sacrifice. The practicalities alone were confronting, even nauseating. Yet some of the visceral impact is undoubtedly lost. It would have been difficult to not have been struck by the significance of so much blood being spilled. Even in practiced routine the gravity of some things always excels that of others. And it must be that way. Open-heart surgery is never as trivial as tonsillectomy. Giving birth is never as inconsequential as cosmetic surgery. Receiving the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion is never as frivolous as having a few biscuits with your cup of tea. This sacrament sustains your spiritual life.

The most significant activities must always be prioritized in life. Some people are drawn to dangerous or high pressure jobs- the military, emergency services, law, medicine- because the consequence of those activities is often far-reaching. They are adrenaline-inducing careers. Spiritual truths too can be prioritized. The work of angels is minor compared to the ministry of Christ. Recognition of our sins is fundamentally more important than our grasp of ceremonial laws. The biblical teaching on charity is not as critical as the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion. Justification by grace is more essential than a nuanced explanation of the Tenth Commandment. Still, one should not be played off against the other, for all cohere in the person and work of Jesus and serve His kingdom and people. The Bible’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper is not an ancillary doctrine, it is central to the life of His people.

The meal Jesus’ shared with His disciples that night became popularly known as the ‘Last Supper’. It was immortalized by Leonardo da Vinci’s painting. But far more importantly it was the first offering of the Sacrament of the Altar. Luther instructs us competently asking, “What is the Sacrament of the Altar? 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.”2
The purpose is always to convey to us the forgiveness of sins. Blood has a pivotal place in this regard.

Firstly, Christ’s blood was sacrificial, that is, it was the means by which we are reconciled to the Father. It signifies the payment. Apart from this ransom price we sinners remain lost and condemned. Without this sacrifice penitent sinners would have nowhere to turn. The New Testament clearly identifies with this truth. “The blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”3 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”4 “You were redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”5

Secondly, Christ’s blood is also sacramental, that is, God’s promised presence is constituted through it. Blood carries life and it denotes the presence of Christ among His people. Why did Lutherans hold so tenaciously to the Bible’s teaching about the presence of Christ in Holy Communion? Why wasn’t it sufficient to agree that He was present in some spiritual way only in the hearts and minds of believers? What’s lost if the meal is a solemn remembrance, an occasion of historical reflection only? Does this not honour Him?

What’s lost is the assurance that Christ is truly present bodily in this meal. It betrays an incomplete understanding of His divine nature. If Christ’s presence is limited to a local presence in heaven then His promise, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”6 dramatically loses its significance. What’s finally lost is the certainty of the forgiveness of sins, the chief blessing in this sacrament. If Christ is distant then absolution is aloof, a pious theory without point of contact for the sinner. The Holy Spirit does not work where Christ is not present in His word.

But, dear friends, the love of Christ is not abstract. He who stoops to wash the feet of sinners communicates to us boundless mercy in His body broken and blood out-poured. The authenticity of God’s being among us is not determined by our faith or our skepticism, but by His decision. It is a sobering thought to remember that the potency of the Sacrament does not depend on our faith. An unbelieving person still receives Christ’s body and blood, but only to his or her judgment. Christ is never honoured when sinners are not receptive of His gifts.

Like entering the Holy of Holies we can only appear in God’s presence on the merits of another- namely Christ- lest we incur judgment for sins. The rule in time is the rule for eternity. Jesus said, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom.”7 The Lord’s Supper is also the closest point of contact with the saints that have gone before us. Communion is the communal meal of the kingdom.

Dear friends, Christ’s gifts of tender mercy are at the same time His bulwark of defence. Each time you take His body and blood upon your lips for the forgiveness of sins you are being clothed with the armor of God. Satan will launch his fiery darts. But our blood-forged armor nullifies them. This contest must rage throughout our time on earth. But finally, when you are at the precipice of mortality, waiting to cross the threshold to participate in the heavenly banquet, the blood which marks your spiritual ‘house’ will give you safe passage to that promised land. Death will not be victorious over you for the Blood of the Lamb has rendered death powerless. It is this same blood, sourced from the cross that fortifies you in body and soul on your journey to His eternal presence. It is the blood of the living Saviour. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Leviticus 16:15-16
2 Luther’s Small Catechism
3 1 John 1:7
4 Ephesians 2:13
5 1 Peter 1:18-19
6 Matthew 28:20
7 Matthew 26:29

Maundy Thursday
17 April 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

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