Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 28, 2013

Sermon on Luke 22:7-20

THE APOSTLES:

  1. Observers of Jesus’ continued power
  2. Recipients of Jesus’ new covenant

Lent Sermon Series: The Minor Characters of the Cross

Text: Luke 22:7-20

Introduction

It’s Thursday of Holy Week. We’re gathered for worship. What should we talk about? There are many topics that could occupy a 20-minute sermon on Maundy Thursday. We could talk about the dispute that arose among Jesus’ disciples as to which of them was the greatest. We could talk about the way Jesus ended that dispute by washing the feet of his disciples, a task meant for the lowliest of servants. We could talk about the Passover meal that the disciples ate. We could talk about the institution of Holy Communion during the Passover meal. We could talk about the anguished prayer Jesus prayed in Gethsemane. We could talk about Judas the betrayer arriving with Jesus’ enemies to arrest him in Gethsemane.

There is plenty that we could discuss tonight—enough that make this sermon last until the start of the 1:00 afternoon Good Friday service tomorrow! Lutherans historically viewed Maundy Thursday as the “birthday of the chalice”—a fancy way of referring to the anniversary and commemoration of the institution of Holy Communion. But even if we narrowed the topic just to the Lord’s Supper, there is much we could discuss—the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood, what the Lord’s Supper does for our faith, how the Supper is received properly and how it can be abused and received improperly. The list could go on for a mile. But our task tonight is to simply look at Luke’s Gospel account and let the Holy Spirit take the discussion in the direction he first inspired in these verses. Tonight the Holy Spirit will help us to see Maundy Thursday and the institution of the Lord’s Supper through the eyes of Jesus’ apostles. On the first Maundy Thursday, Jesus’ apostles were observers of the Lord’s continued power, and recipients of the Lord’s new covenant.

I.

Luke’s account of the Passover reads rather matter-of-factly, but there is more than meets the eye in this Bible reading. The account begins with Jesus telling two of his disciples, Peter and John, to go into the city of Jerusalem and make plans to celebrate the Passover. Jesus is likely keeping these plans away from the rest of his disciples and especially Judas, who had already made his plans and struck a deal to betray Jesus. Their private Passover celebration would have been the ideal time for Jesus’ enemies to arrest him, but Jesus is in control of all the details, even the details about his betrayal and arrest. Everything would happen on Jesus’ timetable. 

Jesus gives Peter and John a sequence of events that they should follow once they enter the city. “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.” In first century Jewish culture, it was typically women, not men, who would have drawn water and carried it back home, so when Peter and John entered the city and saw a man carrying a water jar, that would not have been an ordinary site and that became their cue for what to do next. They were to follow that man to the house he entered, and then ask the home owner for a guest room where “The Teacher” and his disciples could eat the Passover.

It is possible that Jesus had prearranged this with the home owner and hadn’t told any of the disciples until now. It’s also possible that this was a miracle that a room was even available when there would have been such a high demand for places to eat the Passover feast, but the all-knowing Son of God knew this all along and demonstrated his continued power by sending the disciples to the one home in Jerusalem that still had an available room for the Passover. In either case, the entire incident is a demonstration of Jesus’ continued power. He knew Judas’ plans to betray him and would not allow those plans to disrupt this final, important Passover meal with his disciples. He knew exactly how events would play out before they happened—the man they would see when they entered the city, and the house owner who would have a room ready to go. Jesus’ control of the details allowed his disciples to observe the Lord’s continued power right up to and through his Passion.

Holy Week could easily be just a “story” for us—yes, a story we believe as fact, but a story or annual Christian tradition that is just the cultural thing that practicing Christians do during Holy Week. But as you observe the Lord’s activities during Holy Week, see his continued power at work, and know that his power continues to work through the little details of our lives. Ah, but how often we forget that! Life seems out of control. Finances are a mess. I make plans and then something unravels the whole thing. I trust people only to find that I can’t trust them for a second. Insert your own example. “I’ll do this church thing and this Holy Week thing, but don’t tell me to trust some story about Jesus setting up Passover details as evidence that he has my life under control.”

That would be a sore mistake and a sorry sin, because these seemingly external details of Maundy Thursday show us a Lord who is in control. He knows the water-carrying male servant who will walk through the city; he knows Judas’ plans to betray him, and while Jesus permits the betrayal, it happens on his timetable, not his enemies’ timetable—and, by the way, those little details led to the perfect fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and the perfect completion of our salvation. And if those little, seemingly insignificant details play out into Jesus’ grand, divine plan to save the world, isn’t it also true that the little and not-so-little details of your life play out into Jesus’ grand, divine plan for you? Maybe the trial you endure is meant to drive you to your knees in repentance so that he can comfort you with his forgiveness. Maybe the troubles you encounter are meant to drive you back to his cross to adjust your perspective back to the things that really matter. Maybe the troubles you encounter are meant to drive you back to the empty tomb we will revisit in three days, where your sins and doubt and fear were declared forgiven, and your Lord promised you a future, eternal release from all earthly turmoil in heaven.

II.

When I did my graduate work in worship, one of my professors spent a lot of time looking at the way we proclaim the message in worship in a way that really communicates to people psychologically. The human mind is divided into two halves. Our left brain is the logical side of our minds, the black-and-white side, the word-oriented side, the “give it to me straight” side. Our right brain is the artistic side of our minds, the emotional side, the side that appreciates art and beauty and symbolism and music. If we want to sound technical, we talk about the left brain and right brain; if we speak in common terms, we talk about head and heart.

Since God is the designer of the human mind, it comes as no surprise that God communicated the message about the coming Savior to his Old Testament people in ways that spoke to both halves of the brain. His Word contained his inspired words that spoke directly about the Savior he would one day send—a message for their left brain. But God was also the Old Testament “Commission on Worship,” and he designed ceremonies for them that spoke the same message about the coming Savior in ways that spoke to their heart—message for their right brain. And the Passover meal was one of those ceremonies that proclaimed the gospel about the coming Savior in a way that was designed to speak to both head and heart.

The Passover’s background was given in the First Lesson. This ceremonial meal began when Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt. God told his people to sacrifice a lamb and then take the blood of that lamb and smear it on their door frames  That night, God came through the land of Egypt and killed the firstborn of every household, but if the blood of the lamb was on your doorposts, your household was spared from death. This was a real event that preceded Israel’s escape from Egypt. But the event was also God’s teaching tool. It was symbolic communication. The Passover taught the Israelites that the blood of a future sacrifice was going to spare them from death. The Passover meal pointed forward to Jesus’ saving work on the cross where he would shed his blood as the sacrifice to pay for our sin. Because of Jesus’ blood, those who trust in him are spared from eternal death.

Jesus talks about the “big picture” of the Passover in our reading—once before the meal begins, and again as one of the ceremonial cups of wine for the celebration was consumed. “‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’” Jesus said he would not feast with his disciples again until the meaning of the Passover finally becomes reality in heaven. Jesus’ death would partly fulfill the Passover—his shed blood spares his people from eternal death. And once God’s believing children are raised to life and joined with him forever in heaven, then everything that the Passover symbolically communicates would be fulfilled.

The Passover pointed forward to Jesus’ death. But now Jesus was about to die. And so before his death, Jesus gives his church a new meal, not a meal that pointed forward to this death, but a meal that takes us back to his death and actually presents our lips with the very body and blood that he gave into death for us on the cross. “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”  Such simple, yet profound words! In a miracle we can believe but never fully comprehend, recipients of the new meal called the Lord’s Supper receive the very body Jesus offered on the cross and the very blood he shed on the cross. And along with Jesus’ body and blood, he gives his believers the very forgiveness he came to bring. Jesus spoke about the “new covenant,” a term that would have taken his disciples back to the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, where God spoke about the new covenant, the new arrangement he would make with his people—an arrangement that he would unconditionally forgive their sins.

Some of you have asked me about the statement I make when I dismiss you from the communion table: “Depart at peace with God.” Some of you noticed that that dismissal statement doesn’t actually say that your sins are forgiven. So to clear all confusion, let me assure you that if you are at peace with God, it means your sins are forgiven, and if your sins are forgiven, it means you are at peace with God. Those are two ways to say the same thing. In the same way, Jesus’ term “new covenant” is another way to say the same thing: Your sins are forgiven, go at peace with God! But what is more, the forgiveness in Holy Communion is not attached to the words the pastor uses to dismiss you, but in the body and blood of Jesus that you receive.

God wants you to know beyond any doubt that you, his believing son or daughter, stand before him fully and freely forgiven. And so God says the same thing in different words: forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, covenant, justification, adoption. And then God gives you that forgiveness in multiple ways: the read Word of God, the spoken words of forgiveness, the spoken preaching of the gospel, the waters of the font, and the bread and wine of the Sacrament which are truly Jesus’ body and blood. Jesus gives us this supper with words that speak to our head and a ceremonial meal that not only speaks to our heart but that places his very body and blood on our lips and applies his forgiveness to our hearts.  This is so much more than a trip down Holy Week memory lane!  In the Augsburg Confession, the official Lutheran statement of faith and founding document of the Lutheran Church from 1530, our Lutheran forefathers said it well: “Christ commands us, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ Therefore, the [Lord’s Supper] was instituted so that those who use the Sacrament should remember, in faith, the benefits they receive through Christ and how their anxious consciences are cheered and comforted. To remember Christ is to remember His benefits. It means to realize that they are truly offered to us. It is not enough only to remember history. … Therefore, the [Divine Service] is to be used for administering the Sacrament to those that need consolation. [Saint] Ambrose says, ‘Because I always sin, I always need to take the medicine.’”

Conclusion

Many of the “minor characters of the cross” we considered during Lent were the “bad guys” in the story—the Sanhedrin, Herod, Barabbas, the criminals. But tonight and throughout our Holy Week and Easter services, our sermons now shift to those who are followers of Jesus. The apostles were certainly the closest followers of Jesus, and they were certainly blessed to be witnesses of his continued power even during the Passion. But they were not the only recipients of the Lord’s new covenant, because the “do this” of the Sacrament makes us recipients as well—recipients not of a memorial meal or a trip down memory lane, but recipients of a miraculous meal that takes you back in time to the cross and also gives you a little glimmer of the future feast at which we will dine eternally. The feast is ready. Come to the feast! Amen.

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