On this night we commemorate the institution of the Lord’s Supper. For centuries, the Christian Church has called this night “Maundy Thursday.”
The name comes from St. John’s gospel, the 13th chapter, which we will hear later this evening. Of the four gospels, John is the only one that does not give us the account of the actual eating of the Passover meal and the words of institution that Jesus speaks over the bread and wine.
But John is the only one of the four who gives us the account of Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet and His explanation of what this means. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34). The word “commandment” in Latin is “mandatum” which has elided into “Maundy” in English. “Maundy” refers to the ‘new commandment’ that Jesus lays down in the Upper Room. “Love one another just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
When Jesus calls this a “new” commandment, He doesn’t mean that He is adding something to the 10 Commandments that hadn’t been there all along. The commandment that we should love one another is the summary of the 2nd Table of the 10 Commandments that Jesus had previously summarized saying “love your neighbor as yourself.”
When Jesus calls this a “new” commandment, He means that even as He gives this commandment to us to keep, He Himself is already keeping it for us, and by the laying down of His life unto death for His friends, will keep it in the fullest sense.
By naming this night “Maundy Thursday” the Church is telling us that the new commandment to love one another is inseparably connected to the receiving of Christ’s body and blood who has kept this commandment for us, in our place, on our behalf.
Our goal this evening is to commemorate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, both by reminding ourselves of what took place, which we will do in this sermon and by washing Jacob’s feet, as well as participating in this sacrament which is the very purpose for which Christ instituted it.
The Words of Institution that we use in the Divine Service is a compilation of what we are given in Matthew, Mark and Luke as well as 1st Corinthians 11.
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night that He was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to them saying, “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same manner also he took the cup, after supper, and when He had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you. This is My blood of the new covenant which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
I. Night Betrayed
The first thing that we reminded of every time we celebrate this Sacrament is that Jesus gives this precious gift to His disciples and through them to His Church forever in the very midst of man’s betrayal and rejection of Him. Certainly, these words were not spoken by Jesus when He instituted the sacrament. Yet St. Paul includes this historical detail as part of what “I received from the Lord and what I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed…”
Every time we administer this meal and receive this sacrament, we are reminded first of all that this is NOT a celebration of our loyalty and faithfulness to God, but of His loyalty and faithfulness and love for us. He gives us His body and blood while we were and still are sinners.
II. He took bread.
“He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them…”
We use the word ‘bread’ in a couple of different ways. “Bread” can stand for the things that we need for our physical survival. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask Our Father to provide us with our “daily bread.” Luther says that this includes the following: ‘clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self control, good weather, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors and the like.’
To ‘break bread’ is understood in a several different ways as well. Usually, when we talk about ‘breaking bread’ with someone, we mean that we ate a meal together. How many times had Jesus ‘broke bread’ with His disciples over the course of the three plus years He had been with them?
“Breaking bread” isn’t just the act of eating a meal with someone. When we “break bread” with someone, we enter into a close ‘fellowship’ with them. One of the things that irritated the Pharisees and Scribes of Israel was that Jesus ‘ate with sinners.’ He ‘broke bread’ with them. It wasn’t the eating in and of itself that bothered them but the fact that by eating with sinners, Jesus was entering into a fellowship with them. Something that a REAL Rabbi would never do. To come into contact with sinners made you a sinner. To dip your bread into the same bowl that a sinner dipped his bread into was just as effective as actual touching.
So when the Apostles introduce the very words that Jesus used in the Lord’s Supper by saying that ‘He took bread and after giving thanks He broke it and gave it to them,” they have in mind a lot of these things. This “bread” is the sustenance that we need to survive – not for our physical needs, but for our spiritual needs.
And, in the “breaking of the bread,” Jesus is entering into a personal fellowship with those whom He is eating with.
But the Lord’s Supper is also clearly different and more significant than every other meal that Jesus has eaten with His disciples or anyone else. This is the only meal in which Jesus adds a new meaning to the word “bread” and a new meaning to “breaking bread.”
He says of the bread, “This is my body.” This gives an entirely new meaning to the bread. Because the body of Jesus is holy, the bread is holy bread. Not because of the bread but because of His body. Earlier, Jesus had this night in mind when He said, For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:33,51)
So, when Jesus ‘breaks’ this bread and ‘gives it to them,’ and they ‘take and eat’ as they are told to do, Jesus is entering into fellowship with sinners, and sinners enter into fellowship with Him. He is uniting His holy body to sinners that sinners, by eating it, may receive His holy body into their sinful body. There is only ONE body of Christ, since there is only ONE Christ. Therefore this is the same body that is crucified for the sins of the world and raised from the dead for the justification and salvation of sinners.
The Pharisees and Scribes thought that when a holy man ate with sinners, the holy man became a sinner. But Jesus turns that around. Now, in this particular meal, when sinners eat the holy body of Jesus, they become holy.
So, this is no ordinary bread. And yet, it is ordinary bread. There are three ways to go wrong here. One way is to say that the bread “becomes” the body of Jesus, which is not what Jesus says. He says, “this is My body.” It “is” His very body even while it is also true bread.
Nor does this bread symbolize the body of Jesus. He says, “this is My body.” “Is” indicates true essence and being. If He had meant that the bread was a symbol of His body, He would have said “this is LIKE My body.” But this is not what He says.
Nor are we permitted to say that the body and the bread together create some kind of third substance. Jesus gives His body WITH the bread and both are the real things. Real bread AND real body of Christ.
II. He took the cup.
After Jesus took bread, ‘He took the cup.’ “The cup” is a figure of speech. This is not really about ‘the cup’ but about what is in the cup. Wine was the beverage of the Passover meal. Just as it was the beverage of every feast and banquet, wedding banquets especially. While Jesus as at the wedding banquet in Cana, the wine ran out and that presented a real problem. Without wine, the integrity of the banquet and even the marriage was threatened. So, Jesus turned water into wine.
When the Pharisees and Scribes question Jesus as to why His disciples never fast like other Rabbis have their disciples do, Jesus compares their situation to guests at a wedding banquet. When the Bridegroom is present, you celebrate.
Just like with the bread, Jesus gives the wine of this particular banquet a whole new meaning that builds on the connection of wine and wedding banquet. He says, “This is my blood, shed for you.” This banquet is the celebration of the union of the Bridegroom to His Bride, who gives Himself to Her even unto death, for Her sake so that she may not die, but have eternal life.
He says, “this is My blood of the NEW COVENANT.” Not that this is something new. God has pledged Himself to us in unfailing love and devotion from the beginning. But here, in this particular meal, this marriage covenant is perfectly fulfilled and sealed by the blood of God, shed for His beloved Bride.
Again, this is real wine AND this is the true blood of Jesus Christ. In drinking the wine, we receive the blood of Christ, shed for us from the cross for the forgiveness of all of our sins.
III. In Remembrance
With both the bread and the wine, Jesus repeats this command, “This do, in remembrance of Me.”
Jesus says that the Lord’s Supper is to be an occasion for ‘remembrance’ like a memorial reminds us of something important that happened. The question is, who is to do the remembering in this meal. Is it God who is to remember us as we eat the body and blood of His dear Son? Or is it we who are to remember Christ’s suffering and death for our salvation as we eat His flesh and drink His blood? And of course the answer is both.
It is always first and foremost God’s remembrance of us for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ that is the basis for all of our hope and peace. He REMEMBERS His promises to us and the new covenant that He made with us, which is sealed and unchangeable in the death of Christ.
And WE REMEMBER all that Jesus has done for us, not as fond memories of a past event, but of a past event that is always in the present. As we eat and drink “IN REMEMBRANCE OF HIM,” His death and resurrection become a part of our present life, here and now.
And just as Christ comes to us in the bread and wine in the present, we also remember that He is eternal. And so as we “DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF HIM,” we not only bring the past into the present but we also bring the present into the future and the Lord’s Supper becomes, what we like to call, ‘a foretaste of the feast to come.’
Let us then administer and receive this precious sacrament.