For You (Matthew 26.17-30)
Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation on this Maundy Thursday comes from our Gospel text, especially where Matthew records, “And [Jesus] took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins ….’” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends…

What we’re seeing tonight … is a big deal. A very big deal. It is such a big deal that Martin Luther, who was willing to concede all points of doctrine for the sake of unity against the threat from the church in Rome, simply could not and would not yield on this point when it came up. It is such a big deal, that we sometimes, out of love and concern, prevent unrepentant sinners and those who do not share our confession from partaking, lest they do so to their own damnation. Oh, yes, this is a very big deal. It’s been a big deal for the Church Militant since her formation, and here in our Gospel text, we see this institution – which we celebrate every Sunday – being founded, as Jesus gives His body and blood in, under, and with the bread and wine. It’s a big deal because, in our text, God is doing a new thing.

Admittedly, it sounds reminiscent of old things. In our Old Testament text, we heard how Moses took the blood of slain animals and sprinkled it on the people, saying “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” There’s no question whether the people heard these words or not. They received and understood their calling to be a people set apart, a beacon of hope as the nation from whom the Savior of the nations would come. They respond with, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient,” confirming that they would do all that YHWH their God had commanded. After this oath-taking Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up the mountain, and we are told, they beheld God and ate and drank. 

All of that … sounds familiar. Eating, drinking, blood being shed, covenant language, seeing God and not dying. These echoes of the past, foreshadowing what would come in the future. However, a cursory glance through the Old Testament reveals just how successful—or rather, unsuccessful—the descendants of Jacob were in keeping their oath. They failed … miserably. They were not what or whom YHWH had called them to be, and His anger burned hotly against them. They were a people of stiff necks – heartless and uncaring, faithless and unrepentant. They broke, literally, every aspect of the covenantal relationship they had with YHWH their God … and worst of all, it appears that they couldn’t care less. Sure, they would occasionally make sacrifices to YHWH, but they would be of no avail to them, as God Himself described through the prophet Amos, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Israel – broken, fractured, and sinful – would pay for her apostasy. She would be led out into captivity for her faithlessness, into Assyria and into Babylon.

YHWH would have been right to leave them right where they were – languishing in foreign lands, longing to be back in the city of God’s glory. He would have been right to leave them there to rot, but as YHWH Himself told Moses, He is “The LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast-love and faithfulness.” He would deliver them out of the hands of their oppressors, and with their punishment over, the remnant of Judah returned to their homeland. They rebuilt and rededicated themselves to the covenant their ancestors had cut with God. It sounds as though things were finally back on track, that they were finally earning their way back into God’s good graces. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Despite the manmade rules and laws established to prevent the people from ever again falling into apostasy, despite all the sacrifices being offered and the newly reconstructed temple in Jerusalem, despite all the best efforts of the leaders of the Jews, it wasn’t enough, nor could it ever be enough. The hymn we will be singing momentarily rightly declares, “Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain.” These rules and laws, they were never meant to be an end unto themselves; the ceremonial laws, all the festivals, the sacrifices, they were all pointing forward to something far grander, something more lasting. Something … new.

In the ancient times of Israel, the burnt and peace offerings were offered using the bodies of oxen and other sacrificial animals; now, Jesus was declaring that this bread that He gave to His disciples was—and is—His own body that they were to take and eat. Before, blood was taken from oxen and sprinkled on the people as a seal of the covenant YHWH made with them; now, Jesus was proclaiming this cup of wine used in the paschal meal to be His own blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. The old things all foreshadowed this blessed meal of Jesus’ own body and blood, given and shed as a sign, seal, and promise of the forgiveness of the sins of many. It was instituted in that upper room with His disciples for the forgiveness of their sins, and it has come down through the generations to us, who daily sin against God and neighbor in thought, word, and deed, for the forgiveness of our many sins. 

This sacrament, established those many centuries ago, brings us face-to-face with our God and our Lord; approaching this altar, be aware that you are approaching holy ground. Approaching this altar, know that you are partaking in the very flesh and blood of Jesus the Christ, the very Son of the living God—not symbolically, not spiritually, not magically transformed. It is a profound mystery, and for the worthy recipient, it is a life-giving meal, worthy of remembrance, reverence, respect, but above all, trust. Trust that what Jesus says of this meal—what it is and what it does—is true, even though it is far above our mortal comprehension.

Thus, tonight, we remember. We remember how our Lord instituted this meal. We remember how He demonstrated the heart of the servant-leader. We remember how He struggled with Satan as the burden of His created world’s brokenness weighed down on Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. We remember the pain in Judas’ treacherous kiss. We remember the initial beatings He received from those who arrested Him. We remember the farcical “trial” in the early hours of the morning. And we remember, in solemnity and gratitude, what our Lord endured the following day, this new thing that He did, all to atone for our sins. All of this, done … for you.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.