Thursday, April 01, 2010

I have been a wet noodle for days on end now.  I am getting tired of this.  Very tired.

Still, I managed to drag myself to church for the Maundy Thursday service.  It began with a Service of Corporate Confession and Absolution, which was a blessing.  As was the sermon.  Bettina and I have been talking and reading about the Lord's Supper and that is exactly what Pastor E taught this evening.

Mediating on exactly what we are given, the unity of that confession, and the love behind such a gift before receiving it made receiving it all the more special to me. 

The service ended with the stripping of the alter in preparation for the remaining services of the Triduum.  Afterward, we all filed out in silence.  While it was difficult to refrain from lying down in the pew, I am grateful to have gone.  Such riches God gives us as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament, even to such a wretched sinner as I.

May God bless you with His Word as He did for me this evening.  Pastor E's Sermon:

Psalm 111:4-5 (Gradual and Tract); 1 Cor. 11:23-32 (Epistle)

Beloved, we live in a city full of memorials. Though I have been your pastor since 2001, and a trip into the District of Columbia long ago became ordinary, I am still sometimes struck with wonder at the sight of our nation’s monuments and memorials. Those memorials tell our story as a nation – a story that previous generations wanted us to remember.

Tonight we are gathered on Holy Thursday for a different and greater memorial. Different because it is a meal, so we do not merely look but participate; and greater because it tells not the story of a nation but the story of the salvation of all people of every nation.

But that memorial comes with a warning, a warning about discernment: “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” What does the Word of God mean when it says we must discern the body? It means, of course, that we must acknowledge that the bread is the body of Jesus, and the wine is the blood of Jesus.

But that is only part of what it means to discern the body. The devil knows that the bread is the body of Jesus. Discerning the body also means to receive in faith what the Lord’s body given into death won for us. We cannot discern the Lord’s body with seeing, tasting, or touching. You discern Christ’s body by bearing in mind the greatness of what Jesus has done for you (Chrysostom). Who is this that would provide Himself for you as the food you truly need, the nourishment without which you perish? This is Jesus who gives you not a portion of His time, or energy, or possessions, but who gives Himself entirely for you and to you.

But then the Word of God tells us that there is something else we must discern. Our English Bible puts it this way: “But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.” But this is the same word used earlier about discerning the Lord’s body. So it means, “If we discerned ourselves truly.” Of the utmost importance, says Holy Scripture, is that you discern yourself truly, see yourself for who and what you truly are. 

So who are you? What are you? Discern yourself. You will discern yourself by looking in the mirror of the Law. If you dare look truly into that mirror, you will discern and recognize actual sins—corrupt words and deeds—more than can be counted. And if you look at their core, what drives those corrupt words and deeds is a corrupt heart: original sin, that is, inherited sin, the contagion that makes the heart desperately wicked and deceitful. It is not the gossip or anger alone that is the problem, but the heart that sits in judgment on others. It is not the pornography alone that is the problem, but the heart that lusts after what God has withheld from you. It is not the bitter words, or gluttony, or drunkenness, or greed alone that are the problem, but the heart that is discontent and unstable. At its core, all your sins are a complete and utter failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That is what you must discern in yourself.

And that is how we come to Holy Communion as God wishes: discerning ourselves as great sinners, and discerning the body of Jesus given here as the only hope.

And receiving this great Gift, God the Father remembers you. For this wondrous Sacrament was not just established for you to remember Jesus, but for you to be remembered, by God, for the sake of Jesus. Two times tonight we sang the same words from the Psalms: “He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.” He remembers His covenant, forever.

When Jesus instituted this Sacrament, He did so at the Jewish Passover meal, when the Jews remembered what God had done for them, in delivering them from slavery in Egypt. But before they remembered, God Himself remembered. It is written, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Ex. 2.23-25).

God remembered His covenant. Just like we sang tonight: “He remembers His covenant forever.” After He delivered them from Egypt, He established the Passover as a memorial meal. Note that carefully: He established the memorial. And He does it because it is no mere memorial like we have. We can go and visit the Lincoln Memorial or the Jefferson Memorial. We can be educated or inspired by it, but Presidents Lincoln or Jefferson do not interact with us or continue to lead us. But when God establishes a memorial, He does so to provide for His ongoing blessing of His people. So after they escape Egypt by crossing the Red Sea, and after He gives them the Law, the LORD says, “Where I cause My name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you” (Ex. 20.24).

Long afterward, when the people of Israel were again in bondage, they were comforted by the prophet Jeremiah, through whom God promised a new covenant, a new testament. God would again remember His people, and He would not remember their sins. It is written, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31.31-34).

“I will make a New Covenant,” declared the Lord. That new covenant is cut and sealed in Jesus, and He brings us into its blessing and promises through this covenant meal. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

If the people under the Old Covenant could sing, “He has caused His wondrous works to be remembered,” how much more should we sing and rejoice at the wondrous works of our Lord’s passion? Christ “killed death by death, punishment by punishment, sufferings by suffering, disgrace by disgrace, so that in Christ death is so precious in the sight of the Lord (Ps. 116:15) that it is eternal life, punishment is joy, suffering is pleasure, disgrace is glory” (Luther). In this Eucharist we remember His suffering, and eating we are refreshed and rejoice. 

But the Lord’s Supper is not understood only as a New Covenant or a new Passover. All the sacrifices and rituals of the tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament find their fulfillment in Jesus and this Sacrament. 
Think of the Showbread, the twelve loaves of unleavened bread put out on a table in the Holy Place, and eaten weekly by the priests. The Lord said that this bread, also called the “bread of the presence,” was “for remembrance set before the Lord.” Who remembers whom? The Jewish people remembered the Lord and His promises, but more importantly, the Lord remembered them, and performed His promises. The “bread of the presence” was the bread of God’s presence, whereby He both remembered His people and was remembered by them.

When Jesus uses the same phrase, “This do for My remembrance,” He connects His Supper with the OT “bread of the presence.” This is how He is now present with His people. In the OT, only priests ate the bread of the presence. But under the New Testament, all the baptized are a royal priesthood. Thus you priests eat this bread of God’s presence, and so God remembers you. And how does He remember you? Not according to your sins. Throughout Lent we have prayed numerous times Ps. 25, “Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions.” In this Eucharist, our New Testament showbread, in this bread of the real presence God remembers you according to Jesus. The Father looks at you and remembers His Son. Instead of looking at you and seeing your sins, and all the reasons you deserve His punishment now in time and forever in hell – instead of that, He looks at you and remembers Jesus, His sacrifice, His death, His body nailed to the tree, His blood spilled out for your forgiveness. He looks at you and remembers Jesus, and so forgives.

So what have we learned tonight from God’s Word?

First, discern yourself. You are a great sinner, not worthy of the least of God’s mercies.

Second, discern the Lord’s body, both that Christ’s body truly is present in the bread, and His blood truly present in the wine. And discern that this is a gift, given for you, that your sins may be forgiven, your body raised from death, and that even now you may abide in Him and have a new, cleansed life as you put away sin and live as God’s child.

Third and finally, be comforted that in this Sacrament God remembers you, and what is more, remembers Jesus for you. Therefore be full of joy this holy night, for “He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.” +INJ+

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