We have gathered here on this most solemn night of the year to be with our Lord, to remember His suffering, death, and resurrection, and to reflect on the gifts He has given us in this wonderful meal we call The Lord’s Supper.
I have heard it said that everything in the Christian Church is about gifts. We usually associate gifts not with Lent and Easter, but with Christmas: The gift of God made man in the birth of the Messiah. Jesus becoming flesh for our salvation is the beginning of that greatest of all gifts we call salvation. Christmas is just the beginning.
If you think about it, though, this night is about gifts and giving just as much as Jesus’ birth. It is the night in which He was betrayed into the hands of sinners. He knew it was coming, and in just a few short hours he would agonize over that in the prayer of the Garden of Gethsemane. With all of this going on, how could He be thinking about gifts and giving?
Jesus knew His disciples. He knew that Judas would betray Him; he knew that Peter would deny Him three times; and He knew that they would all desert him at the Garden. Furthermore, He knows us. He knows that we betray Him every day; He knows that we deny Him with our words and with our actions; and He knows that we have all deserted Him and fled. You are no better than those disciples those many years ago, and neither am I. We, like sheep, have each split off in our own direction, not paying a moment’s notice to our Lord and His sacrifice for us.
As we look at this text from Mark, our unworthiness comes out strong and true. Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray Him. What is their response? “Surely not I?” (v. 19) They were saddened by the news, but you almost get the impression that they were more worried that they were going to get stuck, or get caught.
This is often our own response to God’s Law. Rather than repent and admit our guilt, we try to deny it, get around it somehow, blame our parents or some other circumstances, and so forth. This is who we are as human beings since the Fall. Guilty, but constantly trying to squirm our way out of it.
This brings us back to the gifts, and in many ways down to the basic question of why. Why would God send His Son into our flesh to be our Savior? Why would He care? The answer to that is very simple. It is God’s very nature to give. One church father put it this way: “God created man in order that He might have someone upon whom to bestow His blessings,” (Saint Irenaeus; Adv. Haer. IV.14.4).
If you think of it that way, one can see how incredibly painful and hard it must have been for our heavenly Father to see His children, us, denying and refusing the gifts He has given. I can hardly imagine the pain He must have felt at knowing that His own disciples would desert Him and flee at the sight of trouble. What could He do to strengthen them in their time of need? What can He give to us as we struggle with sin and death every day of our lives?
Looking at it from that perspective, we begin to get a glimpse of the wonders that Jesus has given to us in his Holy Supper. We live in a culture that glories in self-help. Self-help medicine, business plans, exercise equipment, self-serve gas stations, etc., etc., etc. But where do you turn when you are out of the “self-help” mode? Some would try to turn to positive imaging and visualization. I know when I was in elementary school fifteen years ago this was a big hit. Visualize your problems gone, and they will disappear!
Other groups would try to comfort the hurting sinner with doctrine. Sometimes I think that we in the church try to use the Bible as a Band-Aid. If you have a problem, pull out your cross-reference index, and then all of your problems will magically disappear. Now obviously our Lord wants us to use His Word, the source of our strength and life. He doesn’t want us to use it like a glorified self-help manual for living. There is a difference.
So what is that difference? The difference is Jesus Himself. Jesus in our text does not try to comfort or console or strengthen His disciples with pithy sayings and quick answers. He gave them the one thing that could heal their pain, and take away their sin: He gave them Himself. The Christian faith isn’t about a book or a doctrine; it is about a Person, the one and only Jesus Christ. That is what the Lord’s Supper is all about.
This is why Lutherans consider the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament so important. Our faith is not based on remembering something that happened long ago. Faith is given and created through the Word, Jesus Himself, and probably the clearest place in all of Scripture where we see that is in the words of institution. Jesus body and blood are given to you for the forgiveness of sins.
Think of these words for a moment. Jesus gives you Himself. He gives you Himself for the forgiveness of your sins. As you kneel at the Altar and receive Him under the bread and wine, think of all of the blessings that He gives to you. Communion with Christ. Forgiveness of all your sins. Life. Salvation. Communion with the whole Christian Church, both in heaven and earth. In the Lord’s Supper heaven and earth are joined together, and you become one with all of the saints who have gone before. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, the Apostles and martyrs, and the whole heavenly host. That is why we say in the liturgy, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name . . .” Those are just words on a page or in your mouth. That is reality.
Considering the wonderful gifts and promises that God has attached to this blessed Sacrament, how can anyone stay away from such a blessed gift? Many feel that they are unworthy, and that they must become pure before they can receive communion. To this Dr. Luther answers with these words from the Large Catechism:
Here stand the gracious and lovely words, “This is my body, given for you,” “This is my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” 65 These words, I have said, are not preached to wood or stone but to you and me; otherwise Christ might just as well have kept quiet and not instituted a sacrament. Ponder, then, and include yourself personally in the “you” so that he may not speak to you in vain.
66 In this sacrament he offers us all the treasure he brought from heaven for us, to which he most graciously invites us in other places, as when he says in Matt. 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will refresh you.” 67 Surely it is a sin and a shame that, when he tenderly and faithfully summons and exhorts us to our highest and greatest good, we act so distantly toward it, neglecting it so long that we grow quite cold and callous and lose all desire and love for it. 68 We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also.
Our Old Testament lesson for tonight told of how after the sacrifice the priest was to turn to the people and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice over them. The sacrifice was made once and for all for you on Calvary, and Christ now offers you His body and blood to seal you in that forgiveness of sins. Here we become one with God. Here we truly are the Church, the body of Christ. Here, we may journey with Christ to Calvary, so that we may journey with Him to heaven at the end of our sojourn here on earth.
Come, then, and feast on the body and blood of our Lord for your salvation. The table is set, and the banquet is ready. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith unto life everlasting. Amen.
The Rev. Todd Peperkorn is pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He has contributed in many and various ways to Higher Things.
Created: March 20th, 2008