Summary: Christ institutes a new, different sort of Passover Meal for his disciples and all would be followers of him: A meal of love and forgiveness.
Sermon for Maundy Thursday, Year C
Based on Lk. 22:7-20
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“Christ’s Meal of Love”
Luke’s account of the Last Supper emphasizes that this meal is a new and different sort of Passover Meal for all would-be followers of Christ. Over time, most churches have come to call this special meal a Sacrament. A sacrament is, in the Lutheran tradition, usually defined as God’s Word—usually in the form of a command, but also often containing a promise—together with some external element like water, bread and wine. A Sacrament is a special way in which we believe God comes to us and invites us to grow in our Christian faith.
In the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper—also given, over time, several other names to emphasize different motifs and meanings, such as: the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Breaking of Bread, the Lord’s Meal, etc.—we are dealing with a different kind of experience than that which just comes through our ears. The Sacraments also utilize the other senses, in order that God’s Good News of love is seen, tasted and touched. It touches and influences our heart and soul in ways that are unavailable to the spoken Word.
Out of our Lutheran tradition, someone—unfortunately I’ve lost the source—tells the following story of an encounter, which is not unlike that experienced when partaking of the Sacrament. In 1945, just after World War II, there was a meeting of church people in Geneva, Switzerland. Among the people invited were Bishop Berggrav of Norway, and the German, Pastor Martin Niemoeller. Berggrav was a Norwegian who had just spent a long time in a Nazi prison in Norway. Pastor Niemoeller was much worried how he would be able to meet this person who suffered so much from the Nazis. How would he react to a German? As soon as Niemoeller came into the room, old Bishop Berggrav went up to him and embraced him. The powerful visible act was in that instance more meaningful than the spoken word.
So too, on that first Maundy Thursday, when Jesus sat down to eat what would become a new, different version of the Passover Meal with his twelve disciples; it was as though he were placing his arms around each of them to embrace them. Even though he knew that they would betray, deny and temporarily abandon him. In spite of the fact that they would be guilty of many terrible sins; he could still share this meal with them, to embrace each of them with his forgiveness.
So too, when we eat and drink the bread and wine; Christ’s love and forgiveness embraces us, even though we too are guilty of many terrible sins. The embrace of Christ’s love and forgiveness in the Sacrament is much greater than our sin. The power of his forgiveness is far beyond our human comprehension.
On this night, we remember with both sadness and gratitude the significance of Christ’s Meal—both for his twelve disciples and for us. There was and is sadness, for this was the beginning of the end for Jesus, along with the sad, tragic events of his Passion and death. There was and is gratitude, as he institutes the Sacrament and alludes to his body and blood as the food of this new, different Passover. Rather than the normal unleavened bread and the cups of wine symbolic of life, reminding the Jewish people of the Exodus out of Egyptian slavery; Jesus speaks of the bread and wine as referring to his body and blood—which he is about to sacrifice on a cross for a new covenant with his disciples and all future would-be followers of his.
Luke seems to pick up on the significance of sacrifice by telling us that Christ’s new, different Passover Meal was celebrated on the same day as the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed. Luke, by being the only gospel writer to mention two cups, also emphasizes two quite different motifs than in the normal Jewish Passover. The first cup, before the bread, is viewed by Luke as referring to the future Messianic banquet; when history comes to an end and God’s realm is ushered in completely. While the second cup in Luke, after the bread, refers more to the instituting of a new covenant in Christ’s blood—hence, the more sacrificial emphasis of the cup.
Nonetheless, even though Luke himself was thought to be a Gentile, likely writing to a Gentile audience; he still is somewhat familiar with Jewish festivals and customs and seems to regard certain aspects of them as significant and influential for Jesus and his followers in relation to the institution of Christ’s Meal. In short, ultimately, Christ’s Meal of Love is rooted in Jewish tradition and history, even to this very day. If that is the case, then should we not as Christians work towards and live for a more reconciled relationship with our Jewish neighbours, especially during Holy Week, when in the past, Christians have twisted the message of the gospels to legitimatize the persecution of Jews?!