Holy (Maundy) Thursday

Text: Matthew 26:16-29
Date: Maundy Thursday + 4/21/11
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

In the “Confessional Address” almost everything that needs to be said was said. For it spoke about our acknowledgment and confession of our sins. It then drew us to the Sacrament of the Altar as the focus of the forgiveness of our sins. That is because, as we heard in the reading from Hebrews, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22). In His words of institution Jesus said nothing about the significance of giving His body for us Christians to eat. But of His blood he said it is “my blood of the covenant” and was poured out “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:26, 28). Therefore it is especially here where we receive His body and blood according to His covenant and promise that our conscience is calmed, our sins stand forgiven, and we are filled with new, eternal life. We truly receive it and are truly comforted not in so far as we believe this but because Jesus said it.

There have always been those, call them rationalists, philosophers or deniers of God’s Word, that have rejected the Church’s doctrine of the real presence of our Lord’s body and blood under the forms of bread and wine set apart for this use. It is significant that the Lutheran confession never meets these deniers only on the level of philosophy or rationalization but we always return simply to the Words of Institution themselves, these divine Words before us this evening, as saying everything that needs to be said, nothing more and nothing less. Jesus says of the bread, “This is my body.” And He says of the wine, “This is my blood.” True God-given faith responds by saying “Amen. This is most certainly true,” and then moves us to eat and to drink as He commands.

The body and blood of Christ on the altar at Holy Communion is the same, true and substantial body and blood that hung on the cross. That ought to go without saying. Yet the temptation is to spiritualize Jesus’ words, to interpret them symbolically as if he really meant that the bread and wine only symbolize his body and blood. You will hear it said among the others that the important thing is that the “whole Christ,” the “entire Christ,” “soul and divinity” is present. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said “my body,” “my blood.” You cannot get around those words. You cannot say “is” means “represents.” They are two different words.

So we pin our faith and hope on the words of Christ. The mystery of the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood is just that, a mystery. I cannot understand or explain how it is. I can…and must…only believe it.