Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holy Thursday Sermon (Luke 22:7-20)

(Here is a guest post at Gemutlichkeit by an anonymous brother vicar)

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit+
There is a well-known hymn and plantation song that asks a seemingly simple question. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? It sounds kind of like the beginning of the Holy Gospel for Maundy Thursday, And when the hour had come... The hour for what? For the Son of man to suffer and to die at the hands of sinful men. The hour when they crucified our LordWhen they nailed Him to a treeWhen they laid Him in the tomb. The hour had come for all of these things spoken of in that little song to be accomplished. And these things, the suffering the death the burial, these are the reason that Jesus earnestly desired, passionately and with all of His will, to share a meal with His disciples. To share that final Passover with them. For while His blood would mark the doorframes and lintels of many, Death would not pass over this firstborn Son of God. He knows He will face that cross. As He predicts His own betrayal in the verse following today’s Gospel, He says: The Son of Man goes as it has been determined— He goes to be that Passover Lamb. Determined… determined by the Father’s will; consented to willingly by the Son. “Go forth, my Son,” the Father saith, “and free men from their fear of death, from sin and condemnation.” He spoke to His beloved Son, “Tis time to have compassion. Then go, bright Jewel of my crown, and bring to man salvation; From sin and sorrow set him free, slay bitter death for him that he may live with Thee forever.” And The Son obeyed His Father’s will. “Yea, Father, yea, most willingly I do what Thou commandest; My will conforms to Thy decree: I do what Thou demandest.” Composed in the style of a Father-Son conversation, these hymns declare just what was determined: that Christ would accomplish our salvation and win the forgiveness of our sins on the cross. That is where it happened, where the good and gracious will of God was finally done. Where a Man kept the Word of God in its truth and purity and lived a holy life according to it. Where Jesus broke and hindered every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world and the sinful flesh. Where God’s name was hallowed and His kingdom came and where faith first kept a Man unto death. Salvation was accomplished and won on the cross outside of Jerusalem. On Calvary. On that green hill far away, a long, long time ago… So long ago.
Oh yea, were you there when they crucified your Lord? I don’t think you were. So what does it mean? Christians sometimes talk like that song. “Come to the foot of the cross!” they say. “Kneel at the foot of the cross!” “Just touch the foot of that cross!” But what do they mean? What does that even mean? Nothing, really. This piece of wood won’t save you. That piece of wood won’t save you. The phrase is meaningless. At best, it’s a poetic expression to trust in Jesus, to trust in that salvation accomplished and won on the cross… even though the cross isn’t here today. At worst, it’s a sentimentality. A gooey, drippy, emotional plea for pilgrimage. Either we should follow that advice and book a trip to Jerusalem and the churches that claim to have pieces of that “true cross” in Rome, Paris, Ghent, Venice, Brussels, Spain….. or we should at least make a mental pilgrimage in our minds to imagine and meditate…. maybe with the aid of movies and inspirational books.
But this is stuff of superstition and paganism, both of which are alive and well in the 21st century, in America, and even in the Bible Belt and Texas. Happy thoughts do not forgive sinners and make them right with God and each other, any more than pilgrimages to holy places make saints of pilgrims. Where is the comfort in remembering? Where is the comfort in a 2000-year-old historical event? It is distant. That cross is long gone. That hill is covered over and changed. There are no more screams or cries or laughter heard on that hill. And even if such sights and sounds fill the minds of pious Christians today, a child of seven can explain what sort of pilgrimage that is: Pretend.
Our ears are assaulted with this pretend Savior, in hymns, on TV and radio, with this Protestant talk of the cross, the old rugged cross, a tree on a green hill a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and even nothin’ but the blood of Jesus. But these songs sing of old-news. A cross is an antiquated torture device. It’s rugged in that it outlasts its victims, but crucifixion is outdated, inhumane and surely outlawed in the Geneva convention. The hill was never green… and the sweet-sounding word Calvary means Skull in Latin. The Hebrew word is more descriptive: Golgotha. Even blood, which can save lives, is useless if it remains in veins, poured on a rock or even prepared in a transfusion bag sitting outside Jerusalem in 30 A+D. Our sins are here. Our hardships are today. Our suffering and sadness, grief and shame and depression happen right now. They are present. They are real. They are not Pretend. We need a Savior today, not 2000 years ago.
Now consider that Negro Spiritual’s question honestly. It is a frightening one. Were you there? If not, how can you be certain of what Jesus accomplished and won? How can you reap the benefits? What good is it to you—how can you receive it? And even if you had been there, so what if you can remember? What matters is, does God remember? Were you there? Perhaps the hymn should sing, “No-o-o-o.” And no wonder it caused that poet to tremble.
Do not tremble. Do not be afraid. Jesus does not tell you to go to the foot of the cross. He does not sing you songs of green hills and city walls. He is not “a long time ago” or “far, far away.” Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread and in the same way also, He took the cup, and He instituted that Holy Supper we call the Sacrament of the Altar and Holy Communion. He speaks words to you now, today, and often: Take, eat and drinkThis is my body. This is my blood. It is given and shed for you

Not was given, is given for you. It is His New Covenant, literally His New Testament: His last will and testament given in anticipation of His death that He might bequeath to you the only thing He possesses: The Body and Blood of God. With them you receive all the benefits and possessions of God: True holiness and righteousness, true peace and comfort, true life and salvation, which is the forgiveness of sins. It is that forgiveness of sins accomplished and won by Christ Jesus in His death on the cross; But here it is delivered.
He Himself said, He would not eat or drink of it with them until it was fulfilled, completed and finished in the Kingdom of God. On the cross He fulfilled it, completed it, crying out, “it is finished.” But where does He give it? Where does He shed it? Where does He share this fulfilled kingdom with us? First in Emmaus with those two disciples, revealing Himself in the breaking of the bread. Now, today and for you, here this very hour in His Sacrament.
Here the blessings of Christ, of our Crucified Lord Jesus are delivered and distributed. How is it that we are Christians—those dwelling in Christ? Because He dwells in us by entering through our mouths and into our hearts, just as He has soaked into us in Baptism and taken up residence in us through His Word in our ears. The Lord’s Supper is the beating heart of the Christian Church and Her life, for in this Sacrament we receive Christ most intimately for our forgiveness, peace, life and salvation. He surrounds this gift with all of His others: that He truly is given when we hear His voice in His Word, when His apostolic ministers speak His Word to us, “I forgive you all your sins.” When He claimed us for His family Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the flood of Baptism, banishing Sin and Satan and pouring out the Holy Spirit in their place. Our God is not pretend. Our Savior is not “long ago” or “far away,” a myth or a happy thought or a nice song. He who accomplished and won our salvation, forgiveness of sins and the remedy for shame and sadness on the cross is not abstract and imaginary. He delivers. Tonight again, He earnestly desires that you eat this supper with Him, that you receive Him as He has promised to be given for you: In His Holy Body and His Precious Blood. Here we have something far greater than a Seder or a happy thought. Here we taste the true Passover Lamb, roasted to perfection on the cross. His blood is spread on the doorframes of our bodies, poured into our mouths, and Death passes us over. God isn’t found today on a cross or in a fond memory. He delivers. After all, Lambs are meant to be eaten.
So by all means, meditate on Christ’s Passion as we have done for the past six weeks. Live everyaspect of your life in remembrance of Him. But if you want salvation. If you have sinned and need forgiveness. If you are weighed down by shame and sorrow, depressed and weary. If you were notthere, fear not, because Jesus comes to you. Don’t go to His cross. Go to His Altar. Go to His Supper, for your salvation awaits you there.
+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit+

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