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Maundy Thursday
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, April 1, 2021

Looking for the Real Thing

Text: Luke 22:14–30

When I was in Junior High and High School, I was part of the drama department and had the privilege of being cast in quite a few plays. Actually, it was through that period of time that I got to really know an absolutely gorgeous brunette named Teresa, but that’s for another sermon. One of the most memorable plays was the musical, Lil Abner. I played the part of General Bullmoose and that in itself was ironic. I wore a full Army dress uniform and had long hair and a beard. I looked more like General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. I had to jump down off the stage and wander among the audience singing the song, “Progress Is the Root of All Evil.”

Our drama teacher was quite an actress herself. She didn’t seem to ever be out of character, every move she made and every word she uttered was done with dramatic flair. At first, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why she felt that life was simply a production and she was a primary character. Once I got to know her, I realized that her dramatic persona was in truth an act she put on, because, in reality, she was lonely and miserable. Dramatics was her life and she had little else. She had to act like someone who had vitality and lived an exciting life when in truth her dreams had not come to pass. I suspect all of us have read the stories of famous actors and actresses who seemed to have it all together and to be living the dream, and then we find out that they were in reality quite miserable.

As I considered Jesus introducing the Lord’s Supper to his disciples in the Upper Room, I realized that they could not then understand the impact of what Jesus was instituting that night before his betrayal. I remembered being in Rwanda preaching and celebrating the Eucharist at the cathedral in Kamembe. As I handed the host to each one who came to the altar I looked down and saw an old woman who was clearly very poor, and without the use of her legs. She had dragged herself across the floor to her place at the altar. She was beaming up at me with a broad smile revealing a toothless mouth and I saw in her face such joy and peace. She knew where she was and that she was welcome at the altar before her Lord Jesus.

I was taken back by her countenance and the Holy Spirit let me know that she understood the table of the Lord better than I did and most likely better than the 300 or more who were in that room. They all came to the altar in the correct ways—holding out their cupped hand for me to place the host and placing it in their mouths. They did that every week, but the old woman was coming to her Lord Jesus and she knew how much he wanted her there and how much he loved her. In that moment I loved her too, and felt grateful for the lesson that her joy taught me. I wondered how many who came to the table of the Lord that morning were acting the part of a follower of Jesus Christ. Clearly, the old woman was the real deal. I suspected that she taught me more that day than I did her.

I think the Lord brought her to my mind as I considered what it must have been like for the disciples gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room to eat the Passover together. They came to Jerusalem excited at the prospects of Jesus becoming the King of Israel as David had been. They were his retinue and were ready for all that was certainly going to happen over the coming day or two. However, something seemed wrong as Jesus began to institute what would come to be called “The Lord’s Supper.” This did not feel like a celebration and Jesus didn’t seem to be excited and ready for his ascension to the throne in Jerusalem. I can picture silence that was only broken by the words of institution spoken by Jesus, as he passed each one the bread, “this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me…this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

It is often customary on Maundy Thursday to focus on the Gospel of John and the account of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. I always love that time as one of the greatest reminders that if God is willing to come down and wash the feet of his disciples, then we should be willing to love and serve each other to the same degree. For those times where the emphasis is on tonight’s reading from Luke 22:14–30 where Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, it is often a time of looking at the symbolism of the Feast of Passover or the way that Jesus reveals that he is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, and we will touch on that briefly.

However, tonight I want to focus on the intimacy of the meal that night in the Upper Room that when rightly understood continues to offer intimacy with Jesus after over 2,000 years.

I want to begin by looking at John 6:51–57 where Jesus first teaches of the need to partake of his body and blood. I believe that this will serve as the background for tonight’s passage,

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”

We should remember that when we read this passage, we have the advantage of knowing what Jesus was really talking about. In this passage Jesus’ hearers completely misunderstood what Jesus was actually teaching. They were used to thinking about feeding on the sacrifice of a lamb, which was fairly impersonal. This sounded like cannibalism and the drinking of blood, both strictly forbidden in Old Testament law.

In order to test their hearts, Jesus did not correct this misunderstanding but instead used the figures of eating his flesh and drinking his blood to illustrate the powerful intimacy of the union between Christ and the believer. This spiritual union, by which Christ imparts new life and nourishment to the believer, is portrayed later in John 15:1–8, as the union of the vine and the branches. It’s sometimes called a “mystical union” because its nature goes well beyond our comprehension and involves a powerful identification even beyond the union of man and wife, where the two become one flesh. Paul refers to this in Galatians 2:20,

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

In other words, Jesus was offering the reality of a spiritual unity where true life and all the benefits of salvation come through that union. What he is pointing to is not merely symbolic but is realized through a literal act of faith, eating the bread, and drinking from the cup. Thinking about bread doesn’t offer nourishment nor does looking at a picture of bread. Focusing on a cup of water will not quench the thirst, only drinking from the cup will do. In the same way, Jesus is revealing a level of commitment and intimacy that no one would have imagined to be possible with God.

It’s interesting to note that in the John 6 passage many of those who had been following Jesus left because of this teaching saying,

“This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

In verse 66 Jesus then turns to the 12 and says,

“Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

The twelve disciples heard the same words from Jesus that everyone else heard but rather than leaving they recognized that Jesus’ words were life.

Let’s turn now to our passage from Luke 22:14–30. The scene is the Passover meal in the Upper Room with Jesus and the twelve disciples, the ones who had stayed with him through all of his teaching and had followed him to Jerusalem. He had told them repeatedly that he had come to suffer and die but still they don’t understand the reality that is about to come upon Jesus and them.

Each of the men present was Jewish and had celebrated Passover many times. They knew the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the ceremony instituted in Exodus 12. They knew what to expect and the correct words that would be spoken and the responses. They understood the meaning of the bitter herbs, the four cups that would be passed around and the way that the sacrificial lamb was to be eaten. The symbolism was a vital part of their Jewish customs and memory, but Jesus was about to change the meaning and importance of this meal.

Let’s read Luke 22:14–18,

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

This celebration of Passover itself was an intimate ceremony remembering their common heritage as the people of God, but Jesus sets a new mood. Jesus desires this meal to be a final fellowship between them before he suffers. They cannot yet understand that Jesus had come to die as the Passover sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus gives them the first cup which symbolized fellowship and told them to pass it around and share it. He reveals that he will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.

Again, Jesus was looking forward to the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is an important part of the Lord’s Supper; in that it points past itself to the Lord who is coming again to restore all things. This is why Jesus desired to eat this Passover with his disciples. He longed for them to be restored to the place that only he could take them because of his death and resurrection. It’s the next statement that would have caused them to stop in surprise because Jesus introduces words to the ceremony that were new and pointed them to the truth that they had first encountered in John 6:51–57, which we read earlier.

Let’s read Luke 22:19–20,

And he 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.”

When the bread was lifted up at the traditional Passover, the head of the meal said: “This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let everyone who hungers come and eat; let everyone who is needy come and eat the Passover meal.”

Jesus didn’t give the normal explanation of the meaning of each of the foods but instead, he reinterpreted them in Himself, and the focus was no longer on the suffering of Israel in Egypt, but on the suffering of Jesus as the substitute on their behalf. The words ‘this is my body’ had no place in the Passover ritual; and when Jesus said them, they must have had a stunning effect. Instead of remembering that God had rescued Israel from the bonds of slavery in Egypt, the disciples of Jesus were to remember that Jesus had become the sacrifice that they were to feed on for nourishment and strength for the journey in the wilderness.

To further drive home the point he gives them another cup later on in the meal but again redefines the meaning of the cup of blessing. It was now to be remembered pointing to a new Covenant sealed and bought with the blood of Jesus. Both Jesus and Paul draw on something from Jewish tradition to provide insights not previously understood. By calling the cup “the new covenant in my blood,” Jesus makes a direct reference to the promise of Jeremiah 31. God had declared that He would make a new covenant because the previous covenant had become “broken” (Jeremiah 31:32). To violate a covenant agreement with God would surely incur His wrath and judgment—a terrible cup! But instead, God promised a new covenant of grace and salvation. Jesus declared that this new covenant would be poured from the cup of salvation in His blood.

The cup of redemption stood for more than the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt; it stood for the plan and purpose of God for all the ages. Judgment and salvation, wrath and redemption are brought together in the mystery of one cup, explained by the Messiah in that upper room. Jesus was not speaking of the cup in a purely symbolic manner. He was describing events that would soon occur in His own life and he was also pointing to who he was. No man could ever institute a new covenant between God and man, but Jesus is the God-man. He has the authority to establish a new covenant, sealed with blood, even as the old covenant was sealed with blood. Exodus 24:8.

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.”

Jesus was going to make the sacrifice that would renew the covenant that God had made with Moses and Israel on Sinai but this time it was to be a new covenant and God’s final word. The Apostle Paul in recounting the institution of the Lord’s Supper on the night that Jesus was betrayed repeats the words of Jesus to his disciples but then adds an important reminder in 1 Corinthians 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Notice the connection between proclaiming the hope of the gospel and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Paul was teaching that the visible celebration of the Eucharist was bound up with the mystery of faith that we proclaim every week as we say together:

Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.

There are those who feel that the Eucharist is merely a ritual or a symbol for us to remember but Jesus wasn’t teaching his disciples that. He was offering new life and hope through the intimacy of his body being broken, pierced and his blood being poured out for their sins. Whenever we come to the table the invitation is to feed on the body of Christ and drink his blood as the real presence gathers with us with the same love, intensity and intimacy found in the Upper Room over two thousand years ago. This is what I saw in the face and bearing of an old saint who found such joy and intimacy at the table of her Lord. That moment redefined the Lord's Supper for me, but it also reminded me that this was not to be taken lightly. The table comes with a warning both from Jesus and from the Apostle Paul.

We see the warning of Jesus in our passage tonight in verses 21–22 and 28–30. Let’s read those again, Luke 21–22,

“But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”

Judas Iscariot was present for the Lord's Supper and received from the Lord the bread and the wine. However, in his betrayal of Jesus he made a mockery of what was offered. For those who remained faithful Jesus promised in verses 28–30,

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

The Apostle Paul taught on the blessings found in the Lord Supper but gave a warning to those who came without faith and repentance in 1 Corinthians 11:27–31,

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.

That’s why before we come to the table, we hear the Word, we respond with proclaiming the Nicene Creed and we confess our sins to God. We come understanding that Jesus is offering us life and nourishment through his body and blood and that in partaking we are proclaiming that there is life through his death until he comes again.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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