“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me”
– Luke 22:19 +INPFSS+
Today is Maundy Thursday, the night when, among other things, we remember our Lord's institution of Holy Communion, nearly 2000 years ago.
But to understand what our Lord Jesus was doing on this night, we actually need to go back in time further still.
Back another 1500 years, to around the year 1500 BC.
To the time when the Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham, were all enslaved in Egypt. And had been living in hard slavery for 400 years or so.
At long last their prayers for mercy had been heard, and God was ready to show the world his power, and the people he had chosen for himself.
And so he had raised up Moses as a leader for the people, who for several weeks had been bringing down plague after plague on Egypt, in an attempt to convince Pharaoh to release the Jews from their slavery. To let God's people go. But the plagues had been un-succesful. The evil emperor of the Land had continued to harden his heart. And so the only move next was to pull out the big gun, so to speak. God himself would send an Angel that would kill all the first-born of the Land, and would himself miraculously rescue the Jews, out of the land of slavery, and taking them over to the Land that had been promised.
But on the very Eve of this divine rescue. On the 15th day of the ancient month of Nisan. In the very twilight of their slavery. Before God showed his marvelous power for all to see:
A meal was instituted.
A meal that was to be repeated each and every year.
A meal that embodied the covenant that God had made with his people.
A meal that, if you ate of it, meant that you were one of God's people, and that you would be spared the terrible judgment of God against the wicked.
I'm speaking of course, about the passover meal. Described in its details in the reading we heard this evening from Exodus chapter 12.
The passover meal that was celebrated on the night before the great Exodus from Egypt began.
The passover meal that was celebrated every year from then on out, so that the Jews would never forget what God did for them in brining them out of slavery in Egypt.
Isn't that interesting? That God would ordain a meal. A meal of remembrance.
And not just of the mental kind, but of the participation kind. For when 40 years had passed since God brought Israel out of Egypt, when all the adults who had been a part of that momentous day had died, still, when Moses in the book of Deuteronomy is reminding the people about the Passover, he tells them that it is to be celebrated because God brought THEM out of Egypt. That is, even those who weren't actually there for it, when they share in the meal, they share in the deliverance.
So this is our backdrop for Maundy Thursday.
Fast-forward 1500 years or so, to the year 30 A.D.
To the month of Nisan – the month of the Passover, corresponding in that year to our month of March.
To the 14th day of Nisan, the day of preparation for the Passover.
The day of preparation for the great meal of deliverance.
And what does Jesus do? He gathers his disciples in a borrowed dining room, and institutes a meal.
A meal. Which, as St. Luke the Gospel writer clearly records, Jesus calls a Passover, when he says, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”
Fair enough. But things are a little different at this passover.
It's a day early, for one. And the usual food isn't there. Or is it?
What's the central dish of the Passover meal, as we just heard in Exodus?
A spotless Lamb.
Are you starting to see what Jesus is doing here?
He is taking the Old Covenant feast of the Passover, and, as Israel's Lord and God, he is re-ordering it. Re-forging it in the crucible of Calvary.
He is offering himself as the spotless Lamb.
The Lamb of God, as John the Baptist announced him to be when he began his ministry three years beforehand.
The Lamb who would be slain on the very next day, to pay the price for the sins of the whole world, including each and every one of your sins, and my sins.
A sacrifice that would set God's people free from slavery to their sins.
From the evil emperor of the world.
A sacrifice that would initiiate leading God's people to the Promised Land.
Are you starting to see the connections?
See God is the master story-teller. Well, he's more than that, he's the master story teller, and the main protagonist all in one.
God is layering meaning on meaning. Making a beautiful harmony out of the notes of sacred history.
It's like the Passover is the musical note “C”, that then on Maundy Thursday he adds the new notes making the glorious C-chord.
All of the significance of the Deliverance that took place under Moses, gets folded into the deliverance God the Son himself works in this Holy Week.
Here we have the birth of the New Covenant, as Jesus says, “This cup that is poured out for you is the NEW covenant in my blood”
The New covenant stemming out of and supplanting the Old.
The Old only saved one ethnicity, the Jews. The New is for all the peoples of the world, including Alabamians, and Wisconsinites, and even Brits.
The Old covenant rescued Israel from human captors.
The New covenant rescues all of us from sin and from our spiritual captors.
In fact, the New outshines the Old so brightly, that by comparison, the Old is nothing more than a shadow!
The Old is gone. The New is Here.
The New Covenant in Jesus Christ, through which OUR disgusting sins are forgiven, and through which we are given eternal life in him.
And this New Covenant, like the Old, has its symbolic meal.
A meal that re-affirms our own personal incorporation into the covenant.
A meal that forever commemorates and brings into the present the divine rescuing.
The new Passover meal for the new covenant.
This incredible feast through which we actually get to eat the Passover Lamb.
The TRUE Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ himself.
As the Lamb himself told us:
This is my body.
This is my blood.
When we eat the bread and drink the wine, we are spiritually feasting on the True Lamb.
We aren't marking our doorposts with his blood. We are being cleansed in our inmost soul by his blood.
And when the Great Judgment of God comes, we will be protected by that same blood.
Being found with Christ Jesus within us. And us in him.
What a gift this is.
That the Lord Jesus gave us a tangible, more: an EDIBLE means by which we could bring his sacrifice of himself into our lives.
That we could be spiritually nourished by his Body, even as our bodies are physically nourished by the Bread.
That our sins could be blotted out with his blood, even as we swallow the wine.
What a gift.
That he would come to earth, not only with the humility of a man.
Not only with the humility of being willing to die a horrible death for our sake, and in our place,
Not only to be among as one who serves, himself the servant of his creation.
Not only that he would minister his own salvation to us, as the host of the Holy Table,
But on top of, or rather BENEATH all of this, that the Son of God would have the humility to be our very FOOD!
To come and dwell within US, frail sinners that we are.
That he would happily make his home in our hearts.
That he would willingly be with us, as we ever so slowly turn our lives over to him.
What a Man!
What a God!
To him, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, be glory forever and ever. Amen.