Maundy Thursday 2016

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 10:15-25; Luke 22:7-23

      Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22)

Last week, during a meeting with the other pastors of our Circuit, Pastor Harper told us about the funeral of a 102 year old parishioner, a long-time and very faithful member of his congregation. Before she died she confessed to him that she had had an abortion when she was young, and the memory of it weighed on her. He gladly forgave her in the name of Christ, but afterward she told him, “When I die, I want you to speak of this in my funeral sermon.” You see, for years, when people in the congregation held her up as an example of godliness, she would think to herself, “If you only knew.” She wanted people to focus more than anything else upon God’s mercy in Christ.

Now, there may be no sin like hers that marks your past, but we all carry scars from the things we have done. And, in a moment our world can become smaller when we find ourselves surrounded by people who don’t know what we’ve done. We are alone with our scars. We’ve had a failed marriage or broken a vow. We’re a recovering alcoholic. In the fear of an unwanted pregnancy, we aborted our child. We have a parent we haven’t spoken to for over a year. We’ve fought with our children for so long that we don’t know how to begin again. Sin disrupts the lives of God’s people and leaves its scars. Then, when we gather, a polite smile masks our face while we think, “If you only knew where I’ve come from, what I’ve said, what I’ve done, maybe you wouldn’t even talk to me. If you only knew.”

Tonight we remember our Lord’s Last Supper and celebrate the institution of the Sacrament of His body and blood. As we do this, we gather in the presence of a God who knows all about us.

In Luke’s account of the Last Supper, he is very clear to let us know that Jesus knew about Judas. As the Feast of Passover approached Judas went to the rulers to betray Jesus. His Passover preparation was secretly betraying His Lord! But, Jesus knew. At the Passover table Judas hears Him say, “The hand of him who betrays Me is with Me on the table.” “I know, Judas, I know.”

How did the disciples react to this knowledge? They began to argue among themselves about which of them it was. Typical, huh? Most rumors in churches rise out of similar questions. Someone talks about an unnamed member who once had an abortion, and everyone wonders, “Who is she?” Somebody says, “I would like to pray for someone in our church who is having marital problems” and the questions and the gossip begin. And soon, the spiritual work of God is set aside and everyone is digging around in everyone else’s closet, looking for the certainty of sin that is present there.

Jesus doesn’t do this. That is what is so amazing about this Last Supper. Jesus knows about this evil. He begins the meal by talking about His suffering, and He closes the meal by talking about His betrayal. Yet in the face of certain evil, Jesus does not try to keep Judas away from His disciples or turn them against him. He doesn’t run away in fear. In the face of certain evil, Jesus does the certain work of God. Yes, one will betray Him and another will deny Him and all will fall away. But in the midst of all that is wrong and weak and evil about human flesh, His love is certain. In the face of certain evil, Jesus offers certain forgiveness. “This is My body, which is given for you. This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”

In the Passover the Jewish people remember the freeing of Israel from slavery. Tonight, however, Jesus calls us to remember Him. He is our freedom. In Him is the new covenant. In Him is eternal love. In Him, sin, death, and the power of the devil are destroyed. In His body, He will bear the punishment of our sins on the cross. With His blood, He will claim us as His own so that the angel of death sheathes His sword. In this body and blood are eternal forgiveness, and as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death for all people until He comes.

There, at the Last Supper, we see the gracious work of God among His disciples. Here, in the Lord’s Supper, we see the gracious work of God among us. We all come to it with scars, with parts of our lives that we’d rather not remember. There are things we have done that make us say, “If you only knew.” God knows. He sees and knows, and tonight we confess to Him the certainty of our sin. But tonight, God comes and proclaims the certainty of your salvation. In the death of His Son, He has forgiven your sin. In His body and blood, He comes tonight to assure you of the certainty of His love. Here, you are no longer known as a sinner; you are known and acknowledged as a child of God. Tonight, God prepares a place for you at His table. A place of forgiveness. Come. Experience the wonder that happens when God knows all about you: He chooses to know you only through the gracious work of His Son.

A few weeks ago I showed you Matthais Grunewald’s painting of Christ’s crucifixion. It is part of the Isenheim Altarpiece, which is a carved shrine, with two painted wings that open and close over a main painting, like doors on a cabinet. The crucifixion is on the outside, and it is gruesome. When the wings are opened, however, there is a radically different picture: of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus bursts forth from the tomb in an explosion of color. His hands are raised in blessing. Behind Him, in orange and startling yellow, a sun rises against a brilliant blue sky. His body is wrapped in swirls of clothing: yellow, white, red, and blue garments. But most amazingly, the artist has placed rubies in His hands and His feet and His side. The wounds of Jesus have been transformed by the artist. They are precious jewels that shine with the brilliance of the resurrection. Grunewald has captured the wonder of this night. Christ’s body bears scars. These scars come from a punishment we will never know. After His resurrection, these scars stay with Him. But now they are jewels, for they tell the world of a perfect love.

We have a Savior who invites us with wounded hands to His table. With these wounds, He continually reminds us of a love that our God will never forget. These scars are the marks of a God who truly knows His creatures: knows our suffering, our sin, and the punishment of our death. But these scars are also on the hands of the risen Savior. He carries these with Him, after death. They communicate His perfect love.

So: you see your scars. You wonder what would happen “if anyone really knew.” Well, God knows. But He knows you in love, because of the life, death and resurrection of His Son. For this reason, Jesus invites you to His table. A place of forgiveness. A place where your scars are covered with His wounded hands; with the wonder of His love! Amen.