Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Strange, yet Holy Table

Matthew 26.17-30

Maundy Thursday 2011

This is my body given FOR YOU.

This is my blood shed FOR YOU.

These are the words that grace us this night. These are the words that turn simple bread and simple and simple wine into something more and something greater than we could have ever possibly imagined. These are words FOR US, including those who are celebrating their place at the communion table that has always and always will be there for them. These words are the very words that Jesus imparts to his disciples, his friends on an evening where he very much knows that he must do what he must do, that he must be betrayed and abandoned by these very same people that he dearly calls friends. These words gather us all around a table set for a meal where there is a place for all of you.

It is a strange table, is it not? It certainly does not look like a big long table that a family would gather around for Christmas or Easter, and there certainly is not a sumptuous feast of turkey, roast beef, or ham with all the trimmings. We sometimes kneel. We sometimes stand. We even sometimes have it brought to us when cannot make the journey to it ourselves. It is a strange table that people the whole world over share a place at when they hear those words “given and shed FOR YOU.” This meal that we receive at this strange table is a sacrament – a gift given to us by God by God’s command FOR US for the forgiveness of our sins.

It used to be thought for a while that for a person to be able to come to this table that person had to prepare and purify his or herself – that he or she had to take care not to receive it in an unworthy manner. But this line of thinking simply misunderstands what Jesus declares to be true for us all as they gathered for that last meal together. What happens in this holy meal is something that God does and that God does alone. It is God’s word that turns this everyday bread and every day wine into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus. It is God’s word that commands us to this in remembrance of our Lord Jesus. It is God’s word that declares from that night in Jerusalem to this very day in a small country church in Wisconsin that, in Christ’s body and blood, we have the forgiveness of sins. All because it is FOR US.

So when we come to this visually strange, yet wholly wonderful meal, we come as people in need of God’s grace. Jesus knew this that night in which he instituted it. He knows that this night he is to be betrayed. He knows that these people who he has come to call friends are going to abandon them. Christ knows that they are very much a people who need grace and forgiveness even as he speaks those words of institution at that Passover meal and gives to us this daily food that has the power to refresh and strengthen us in our faith.

There are times when doubts and sorrows assail us for all sides. There are times when it seems like the devil “sneaks and skulks about at every turn, trying all kinds of tricks…[wearing] us out so that we either renounce our faith or lose heart and become indifferent or impatient. For times like these, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment.” (Luther’s Large Catechism, p. 469; Kolb-Wengert ed. of the Book of Concord.)

The power of this meal resides in the one who goes to do what he must do. Today and through the next two days we will see the depths and the heights our God goes to for us. For the next two days, we see that Jesus’ body and blood are broken and shed for us, for all of us, for the forgiveness of the sins we carry with us, even to this strangely shaped, but wholly holy table.

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