Text: Matthew 26:17-30
Date: Maundy Thursday + 4/13/17
It is debated to what extent our Lord’s observance of the annual Passover was like the modern observance. Many think it was a bit simpler. Yet we know from Luke’s Gospel that there were the traditional four cups of wine, the sharing of the matzah and a meal or supper. Certainly it wouldn’t be a valid Passover without the prayers and the reading and review of the Exodus from Egypt especially the command to place some of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts. As God sent the angel of death when the firstborn of every household would die, as the last sign to Pharaoh, so He spared his own people, saying, “The blood shall be a sign for you.” “And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Ex 12:12-15).
That event and the yearly remembrance of it all pointed forward to its fulfillment on this night when Jesus, the Lamb of God, was ready to shed His blood on the cross so that everyone now who is washed in His blood will be delivered from eternal death and damnation in the forgiveness of their sins.
For years during Holy Week my wife and I would host a Passover Seder in our home. It’s funny how almost every year we would number around the same size group as at that first Passover of Jesus and His disciples. Did I say the first Passover? Actually, it was also the last Passover as Jesus and the sacrament He instituted that night is the fulfillment of the command given by God saying, “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” (Ex 12:14). Now as the fulfillment of that feast, which was held only once a year, now we gather to participate in the feast of victory of our God “every Lord’s day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it.” Because the Passover has been fulfilled and completed as Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed on the cross for the sins of the world, any celebration of the Seder meal is not a sacramental event but only a review of history, the history that proclaims Jesus Christ the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
On this night Jesus clearly has his coming sacrifice in mind. The Words of Institution we hear each time we celebrate the sacrament of the altar only mentions two small elements of the Passover Seder. After the making of Kadesh, the opening prayer of thanksgiving, there follows the washing of the hands, the Karpas or vegetable dipped in salt water, then the breaking of a matzah and the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Then follows another washing of the hands and the command to eat the matzah. This is the point when Jesus said, “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” It was then that the meal was eaten. How long did this meal take? You can only imagine.
Then we hear, “In the same way, after supper, Jesus took the cup and said, ‘Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” St. Luke and St. Paul tell us this was the third of the required four cups of wine, the cup of blessing. In a most interesting detail we notice that we’re not told that they ever did drink the fourth cup of wine. For Jesus said, “I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Mt 26:29-30).
So when is the Father’s kingdom? We may think of the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which will have no end (Mt. 25:10), that is the great heavenly banquet (Lk 14). But then the Father’s kingdom also comes to us now in Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit creating and strengthening faith in the heart and imparting the forgiveness of our sins as we eat this bread and drink this cup. But wait. Jesus did drink again of the fruit of the vine before His death. Rejecting the drugged wine offered before they nailed Him to the cross, it was when He was hanging on the cross. Tomorrow we will hear Jesus say from the cross, “I thirst.” “A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:29-30). Could this be what He meant? Is this the Father’s kingdom? The cross? Christ crucified?
So this is the primary answer to our prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” It comes to us by the cross. As Jesus told Nicodemus and us, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14). The Lord had sent serpents among His people for their impatience and complaining. Then they cried out to Moses to pray to the Lord to take away the serpents. But notice the Lord did not take them away. Rather He commanded Moses to fashion a bronze snake, the image of the enemy, and lift it up on a pole. “And everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Num 21:8). Our fiery serpents are our sins. God does not take our sins away just yet, but the damning effect of them. He sent His Son who is the very image of sin on the cross. Yet anyone who looks to the crucified in faith will live.
This night is called Maundy Thursday, from the Latin “mandatum novum,” the new commandment. Jesus said, “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). Love is the fulfillment of God’s Law, love to God and love to neighbor. Here at our Lord’s table and at our Lord’s cross we learn love. The highest form is God’s love which comes to every sinner in spite of his sin. That is good news as we say with the Apostle Paul, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:6-8).
In the intimate silence of this night our Lord and King summons us to His love. With Him as host it is truly a royal banquet. So do we by faith here participate with all those who have gone before us. As our loved ones who have died in the faith are with the Lord, and here the Lord is with us, so is it here by means of this sacrament that we remain closest to those we miss, for here we truly gather “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.”
Kolb, R. 2000. The Book of Concord : The confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Fortress Press: Minneapolis