Maundy Thursday 2017

Exodus 24:3-11; Hebrews 9:11-32; Matthew 26:17-30

      Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exod. 24)

      Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26)

 

In tonight’s readings from Exodus and Matthew we see very clearly the unity, and yet the disparity, between the Old and New Testaments; even between, it might seem, God in the Old Testament and God in the New Testament. In each Testament a covenant in blood is central. “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you,” Moses says to the people. “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” Jesus says. There’s the unity: the blood of the covenant. The disparity is seen in how that blood is given. Moses throws the blood of sacrificed animals on the altar and on the people, whereas Jesus gives His disciples a cup of wine to drink and tells them that it is His own blood, which He will soon pour out. Aren’t you glad for this disparity? Imagine coming up to the altar, kneeling, and having me throw blood on you! Such a violent act! Who would want to come up for this, or serve on the chancel guild to prepare blood for this and then clean up afterward? Thanks be to God for this New Testament difference! Thanks be to God that in Christ He has become more gentle.

Or, has He? A covenant between the holy God and sinful people that is sealed by the sacrifice of an innocent victim is at the heart of both Testaments. In the OT it was an animal that was sacrificed. In the NT it is a man: the incarnate Son of God. Why such bloodshed? Well, sin has consequences. Remember God’s warning to Adam? “In the day that you eat of [the fruit] you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). And, the New Testament warns that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The sacrifices remind us that sin – our sin – is a serious matter, that its end is death.

God doesn’t just wink at our sins, you see. He is holy and hates sin. He is angered by our disobedience. And because He is a just God, He cannot let sin go unpunished. Do you not think it unfair when a criminal gets away with his crime? If you do the crime you must do the time. There must be blood and death. But, God does not desire the death of the sinner. And so, He provides an innocent substitute who will bear the punishment that the guilty deserve.

Thus, these sacrifices—as horrifying as they were—are also reminders of the depths of God’s love. God takes no pleasure in the death of sinners. He would prefer that we turn from our evil ways and fear, love, and trust in Him alone. Those bloody sacrifices in the Old Testament were the necessary means to that end. The sacrifice of His Son is the ultimate and final means to that end.

Thanks be to God that Jesus offers His sacrificed body to us so gently in the meal that He instituted this night! “Take, eat; this is My body… Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” How gentle and easy it is to receive Him! But, this does not mean that Jesus is not as urgent as God was in the Old Testament in the response He expects from you.

We are told that Moses took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Jesus? On the night that He gave us the Supper of His body and blood, He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) And, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) He who has shown such fervent love for you in His sacrifice for you, and in His giving that sacrifice to you in His body and blood, expects sacrificial love and obedience from you!

Do you give it? Do you gladly hear and learn the words of your Lord, including His good commands, and work hard to put them into practice in your daily life? You should. You must, for this is your Lord’s command! And you don’t.

Be honest: are you stronger in faith than Jesus’ twelve apostles? All except John were put to death for their faith in Him! And yet, Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him, the rest would abandon Him in just a few hours, and Peter would claim he did not even know Him. Before He gave them the Sacrament of His body and blood they each wondered, “Is it I who will betray you?” They knew their sin and weakness, and He knew it even better. Even so, God knows your own sins and your own weakness of faith.

Know yourself as God knows you. Admit your sins and bemoan your weakness! And then… come to receive the forgiveness Jesus won for you by the sacrifice of His body and blood for you. This is what your Savior wants. “Take, eat; this is my body. Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” He instituted this meal of forgiveness and gave it to sinners, just as centuries before God had invited Moses and the leaders of the people to eat and drink in His presence, even though He knew they would soon break their promise to obey everything He had said. Our God and His Christ want sinners to come to Him to be forgiven and cleansed and strengthened for living a holy life. This is His covenant, His promise.

Tonight, as we remember God’s old covenant, we rejoice in His new covenant in Jesus’ blood. We rejoice that God has made His covenant with us through the death of his holy Lamb, Jesus Christ, and that He has established the salutary gift of the Lord’s Supper for us Christians to eat and to drink.

Like Moses and Aaron and his sons, and the seventy elders of Israel, we, too, “behold God and eat and drink” (Exodus 24:11). We behold Him in a new way, eating and drinking of Jesus and with Jesus in His Father’s kingdom; the kingdom He established by the sacrifice of His body and blood. Come, and behold your God! Come, and receive Him and His kingdom! In and through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.