130328 Maundy Thursday

Last Updated on Friday, 29 March 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: I Corinthians 5:7
Theme: Names of Wondrous Love: The Lamb

If you have been worshiping at St. Matthew's the past six Wednesdays, there is a good chance that you will remember this year's Lenten theme: Names of Wondrous Love, six different names that describe who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us.

One of those names, Immanuel, came from the pen of the prophet Isaiah (7:14) and means "God with us." Another name, "King," brings to mind Jesus' crown of thorns and the sign Pilate placed over his cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Speaking of the cross, another name, "Christ Crucified," anticipates what will happen tomorrow, the day Christians call Good Friday.

But what about today? What name of wondrous love matches up with the events of Maundy Thursday? Since this was the night when Jesus went around the room and washed his disciples' feet perhaps "servant" would be a good choice. Or because Jesus prayed long and hard for himself and his disciples on this night "intercessor" might make sense.

But if you asked the men who were in the room with Jesus that evening, if you remember what it was that brought them together, if you take into account the special festival the Lord was celebrating with them and the special meal the Lord shared with them, my guess is that their choice would be unanimous.

There is one symbol name that brings together the Passover and the Lord's Supper. There is one divine name that weaves together the shedding of innocent blood with the perfect sacrifice for sin. The rich imagery associated with this name runs through the Old and New Testaments, and it assures disciples of every age of our Savior's wondrous love: the Lamb.

NAMES OF WONDROUS LOVE: THE LAMB

It was a religious ritual that God-fearing Jews had been observing for some fifteen hundred years, but it is somewhat surprising that it didn't originate in the Holy Land. It was in Egypt where the Lord first gave Moses and the people he led very specific instructions about how they were to observe the Passover.

They were told to eat with their cloaks tucked into their belts and their sandals on their feet. The menu featured bitter herbs and bread made without yeast, but the focal point of the feast was the lamb. Families were instructed to select from their flocks a year old male without any defects, and four days later they were to slaughter the animal at twilight.

The next step in the process was also the most important. In fact, it was a matter of life and death. The Lord told the people to take some of the lamb's blood and put it on the doorframes of their homes. And later that night, when the Lord passed through Egypt and struck down the firstborn in every family, whenever he saw the blood painted on the doorframes he passed over the homes of those people and spared their lives.

The Lord commanded the children of Israel to continue to celebrate the Passover year after year as a lasting ordinance, as a way to remember how he delivered his people from slavery, as a way to celebrate the greatness and goodness of the one true God.

That is why Jesus and his disciples were gathered together on this night. Even though the details are not recorded anywhere in the four gospels, there is a good chance that the doorway they passed through to get to the Upper Room was covered in blood. And it is pretty safe to assume that they sat down to a meal of unleavened bread and roasted lamb.

Hundreds of years and hundreds of miles removed from the first Passover, the focus of the feast had not changed. At the center was the lamb, the lamb whose blood was shed to save lives. The Passover was designed to help God's people remember what God had done for them in the past, but this Passover observance was different. It was different because it also anticipated what the Lord would do for them in the future.

Some seven hundred years before Maundy Thursday the prophet Isaiah saw that future when he wrote: "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7).

Three years before the events of this night took place, before Jesus' disciples became Jesus' disciples, John the Baptist saw that future when he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29)!

And if the prophetic testimony of Isaiah and John the Baptist aren't enough for you, if you need more proof that the Lamb of God is not a what, but a who, the inspired words of the apostle Paul remove all doubt. With perfect hindsight Paul declared: "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (I Corinthians 5:7).

Christians don't celebrate the Passover anymore, but we do have a Passover lamb. We don't put blood on our doorframes, but we do rejoice because the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. We don't eat roasted lamb to commemorate our deliverance from slavery, but in Holy Communion we do eat and drink to celebrate our deliverance from sin.

If you didn't know anything about the Lord's Supper and you observed what people receive when they come forward, you probably wouldn't be very impressed. A bite of bread. A sip of wine. Not much nutritional value, and certainly not enough food to satisfy a hungry appetite.

But if you look beneath the surface, if you listen carefully to the Lord's words there is more, much more. When we receive communion we receive our Lord's body and blood. The language isn't figurative. The bread and wine don't merely represent his body and blood. We receive Jesus' true body and blood, the same body that was nailed to the cross, the same blood that was shed on the cross. Even though we can't explain it, even though our small minds can't comprehend it, we take Jesus at his word because we know what Jesus' word can do.

He used his word to stop a storm in its tracks. He used his word to bring a dead Lazarus back to life. These miracles demonstrate the power behind Jesus' words, and he exercises the same power through the same word every time we "do this," every time we receive Christ's body and blood in communion.

But those are not the only things we receive. The other miracle, the greater miracle is what the Lord gives when he gives us his body and blood. Jesus said: "This is my body...This is my blood...poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:26,28).

In this special meal Jesus gives us the special assurance that we are forgiven. And isn't that what we need? Isn't forgiveness what we need more than anything else in the world? Think of a time when you wronged someone, when you hurt someone you love. You couldn't forget about it. You couldn't get it out of your mind. You couldn't eat. You couldn't sleep. You felt terrible, and the only thing that made you feel worse was the thought of seeing that person again.

But when the day you were dreading finally arrived, when you crossed paths with that person, when your friend looked you in the eye and said those three little words, "I forgive you," how did that make you feel? Didn't you feel better? Didn't your outlook on life all of the sudden become a whole lot rosier? Didn't it feel like a huge weight had been lifted from your shoulders?

That is exactly what happens every time Christians come to communion. We come to the front carrying with us all of our baggage, all of our burdens, all our doubts and fears and failures. And we know that we don't belong up here because when we sin we don't just hurt other people. We hurt our Savior. Maybe that's the reason we look so serious. Maybe that's the reason we try to keep our heads down.

But at the steps of the altar something changes. When the bread and wine are distributed something miraculous happens. The pastor passes by and says some words, but the Lord is the one who is really speaking. And when it is your turn your Savior looks you in the eye and says: "Take and eat; this is my body given for you. Take and drink; this is my blood poured out for you. I know what you have done. I know what you deserve, but I forgive you. And every time you 'do this' I want you to remember how much I love you."

And then we can do what the pastor encourages us to do when we go back to our pews. Because our sins are forgiven we can "depart in peace." Because of Jesus we can lift up our heads and our hearts. Because our Savior has given us the gift of forgiveness those serious, somber faces might even give way to smiles.

You won't have to look very hard to find more impressive descriptions of God in the Bible. Rock. Refuge. Tower. King of kings. Lord of lords. Alpha and Omega. "Lamb" doesn't seem to fit. Lambs are weak. Lambs are meek. Lambs are vulnerable.

Jesus isn't any of those things, and yet Lamb is a fitting name for him because in that name Jesus reveals his wondrous love. The all-powerful Son of God made himself weak and vulnerable for us. The innocent Lamb of God allowed himself to be arrested and condemned and crucified to save us. Jesus shed his blood for us. Jesus sacrificed his life for us. Because he loves us. Because he is our true Passover lamb. Because he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.

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