Posts Tagged ‘Lord’s Supper’

Sounds strangely familliar

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Pastor Paul McCain over at Cyberbrethren had a wonderful post from the great Lutheran teacher Martin Chemnitz recently. I commend you to it.

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Homily for Holy Thursday

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Homily for Holy Thursday

Hebrews 10:15-25

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text this evening is from the Epistle lesson assigned for tonight.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

This is our text.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  There are only two reasons to be here tonight.  One: to be with Jesus, and two, to receive his gifts.

Why did you come to church tonight?  Now probably need to remember my audience here.  You folks are the hard-core, the die-hards.  It’s Thursday night for cryin’ out loud, right?  But maybe you’re here tonight because you feel some sort of obligation to be here.  You’re here tonight because you’re supposed to.  Mom and dad always went to Maundy Thursday service, therefore you should too.  Or maybe it’s because it’s Maundy Thursday, a shortened form of the Latin, mandatum, command.  You think, your Lord commanded you to be here tonight so you better be here.  Or maybe you’re here because you’re always here when the doors are open or maybe you’ve just always come to Maundy Thursday service and you really don’t give it much thought.  We have a mix of reasons for being here tonight after all tonight is the night our Lord gave to his disciples and therefore to the Church his Supper.  But chief among all these reasons must be to be with Jesus and to receive his gifts.

Because Jesus is here tonight, in the flesh, as we say.  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews gets it right: tonight we enter the holy place of God “by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.”  Tonight we are here to be with the real Jesus, not some spiritualized Jesus.  Not your Jesus—not the Jesus in your heart, not the Jesus you’ve made him out to be but the real Jesus, the one whose living voice speaks tonight, the one whose altar we crowd around and where we eat and drink his body and blood.  By eating and drinking you will enter into the real presence of Yahweh, the Lord of Israel, God Most High!  Heaven is open.  The angels and the archangels, the seraphim and cherubim, the four living creatures and the 24 elders and they who have come out of the great tribulation, they will be here when Jesus comes.  We will sing out the song of heavenly throne room, the “Holy, Holy, Holy!” of the seraphim.  Tonight the curtain that separated God from his people for ages has been torn apart by the offering of Jesus for our sins once and for all.  Jesus will be here when he says he is, “This is my body… this is my blood.”  He will be here tonight.

Christians have come a long way in two thousand years and in many ways they have come full circle.  The earliest Christians met every Lord’s Day and celebrated the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day.  They called it the breaking of the bread.  So we read in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  For centuries, well into the middle ages of the church, this was the practice of Christians throughout the world.  The church of the middle ages began to corrupt this simple joy of being with Jesus and receiving his gifts turning the celebration of the Lord’s Supper into a way to merit forgiveness of sins.  But that was never Jesus’ intent for his disciples.  I’ll speak more on Jesus intent in a minute.  By the time of Luther’s day, people communed very infrequently because they thought they must do something to be worthy to receive such a gift. Luther once said that if he were handing out gold coins at the altar, “the balcony would collapse under the weight of those who would be waiting in line. Blind people would swim across rivers to get such treasure!”  Dr. Sasse, a great Lutheran theologian of the 1900’s said, “No Christian of the Reformation… could conceive of a Sunday divine service without the Lord’s Supper, just as already in the church of the New Testament there was no Lord’s Day without the Lord’s Supper.”[1] Luther is quoted has having said that he needed communion every day I don’t think he was exaggerating.  In our own Lutheran Confessions, article 24 of the Augsburg Confession, we read:

1 We are unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass.  Without boasting, it is manifest that the Mass is observed among us with greater devotion and more earnestness than among our opponents.  Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament. 2 Meanwhile no conspicuous changes have been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung in addition to the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people.[2]

Luther and the reformers, even the Germans princes who presented this confession in Augsburg understood what so many of us too often forget: that the risen Jesus is really present with his people today sacramentally, bodily, not just in our hearts by faith.  His presence is a real living presence among us by his body and blood in us.  That is how he makes us into the body of Christ.  It wasn’t until the rise of German pietism in the 1600’s and 1700’s that emphasized this Jesus in your heart kind of faith that we see not only the continuing of infrequent communion but now for a different reason.  Don’t you see how clever the devil is?  At first people didn’t commune because they felt too unworthy.  In the age of pietism they didn’t commune regularly because they felt it was the faith in their hearts that really counted, not some mere eating and drinking.  Get it?  They thought they were too spiritual to heed the Lord’s command to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.  They didn’t really need it.  Oh, how sad it is to be a pietist and miss out on all the great celebrations; it’s like being the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son.  And we are still fighting against this steady stream of pietism in the church today.  But slowly, with faithful leaders like CFW Walther and Wilhem Loehe rereading Luther in the 1800’s and beginning something of a Lutheran renaissance, Dr. Luther’s understanding of the sacrament in the church is coming back to prominence in preaching and teaching.  The words of the catechism are again taught plainly about the Lord’s Supper not with some Calvinistic or Zwinglian slant.  “What is the Sacrament of the Altar? 2 Answer: Instituted by Christ himself, it is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, given to us Christians to eat and to drink.”[3] Words so plain a child can understand them.  We have come full circle.

Jesus wants to be with his people and give them his gifts.  His intention on that most blessed night was to give us a foretaste of the promises the Lord made to his people throughout the Old Testament to be with his people and dwell with them and be a blessing to them, a foretaste of heaven.

The other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (Ex. 29:41-46)

God was dwelling in the midst of his people.  He had come down from the top of Mt. Sinai and was dwelling with them in the Tabernacle.  The entire sacrificial system that the Lord institutes in Exodus and describes in detail in Leviticus is a blessing to his people so that they know that the offerings they make are pleasing to the Lord and he is no longer angry at them for their sin.  Through these sacrifices their sins are atoned for.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews gets this.  “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”  And when, Jesus said, “And, lo, I will be with you always, even until the end of the age,” I don’t believe for one minute he meant some disembodied “Jesus-in-your-heart” kind of presence.  I’m not alone in this either.  Smarter people than me have looked at the texts and concluded that Jesus was speaking with all those OT texts about Yahweh dwelling with his people running in the minds of the disciples and referencing his Supper, his way of being with his people and giving them the gifts he won for them on the cross.  It is no coincidence that Jesus offered himself on the cross at the end of the day, about the 9th hour, as the lambs for the daily sacrifice were being slaughtered at the Temple.  And the grain offering which he offers is his very body in, with, and under this bread given for you for the atonement of your sins.  Through his body and blood, you have access to the very holy of holies.  Here the Lord speaks to you and tells you the one thing you need to know.  “Your sins are forgiven.”  Here he dwells among us as our God.  He has brought you out of the world where you were in slavery to sin and death and the power of the devil and has brought you to be with him in his holy house to his holy table to give you the gifts he won for you at his holy cross—eternal life, salvation, and forgiveness of sins—this Holy Thursday, this Holy Week.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds though faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] Sasse, We Confess the Sacraments, p. 99.

[2] The Book of Concord: The confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. 1959 (T. G. Tappert, Ed.) (56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

[3] The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. 1959 (T. G. Tappert, Ed.) (351). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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