Luke 22:7-20 (Maundy Thursday)
Augsburg Confession-Article X
St. John, Galveston 4/14/2022
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Tonight’s message is based on the Gospel reading from Luke 22, but also on Article X of the Augsburg Confession. The Augsburg Confession was presented in Germany in 1530 as a statement of faith regarding the Lutheran understanding of the Scriptures. Pastors in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod bind themselves to the ten confessions of our faith that make the Book of Concord, including, of course, the Augsburg Confession. We do so because they are “a true and proper exposition of the word of God.”
The word “symbol” is commonly used in the Lutheran understanding of the scriptures as we speak about those things that represent our faith. For instance, the three ecumenical creeds of Christendom, the Apostle’s, the Nicene and the Athanasian, are referred to frequently as symbols of our faith. There are, of course, many other symbols of the faith, the cross, for instance, as well as many of the things you see this evening in the sanctuary, the altar, the baptismal font, and so forth.
In some respect, we are more enamored with symbols than we are with the reality that lies behind them. A military medal, for instance, earned for meritorious service, is quite a thing to behold. But the symbol cannot do justice to the situation out of which it arose. If the medal is a “Purple Heart,” for instance, then were talking about the shedding of blood and the anguish and the pain of war, and the putting of one’s life on the line for the sake of duty and honor. The symbol projects a stately, almost romantic image. The event itself projects the image of blood and anguish and death. We would, I should think, prefer to reflect on the symbol rather than have the situation out of which it was hewn pass before our eyes.
The cross too is much that way. One rarely sees a cross that does justice to the reality of death by crucifixion. As we see the cross it is generally sterile and neat. It’s clean, even shining and pretty. The cross of Jesus though was ugly, it was tortuous, and bloody. Again, we would rather have the symbol paraded before us than have the situation out of which it was hewn pass before our eyes.
Perhaps it is in the use of symbols that we strive to protect ourselves, or to shield ourselves from realities that we can barely stomach or even fathom. Today, of course, is Maundy Thursday, the day in which Jesus celebrated His last supper with His disciples. In the context of that night, and in the meal that has fed the Church now for lo these many centuries, hopefully you can see where this discussion of symbols and their reality is so important. The things on this altar tonight may seem to be simply symbols of an event that took place many, many years ago. In fact, as you are not doubt aware, for much of Christendom, Holy Communion is simply a symbolic re-creation of our Lord’s Last Supper with His disciples.
Even our Lutheran forefathers had to fight to keep the true and proper understanding and teaching of the Lord’s Supper alive in the Church. When divisions started to arise over those who held to the “real presence” of Christ in the Supper, and those who didn’t, there were some who believed that the issue was simply not worth fighting for. In other words, the doctrine of the “real presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, was, to some, a peripheral issue, a secondary doctrine, if you will.
For others, it was the Gospel itself, for they recognized, they believed and confessed that where Christ is, there is the Gospel, there is God’s grace, there is His forgiveness and strength freely given. They recognized that, at least in this case, the symbol and the reality are precisely the same thing, for Jesus said, “take and eat, this is My body. Take and drink, this is My blood of the New Testament, and it has been shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
The fact is, in this sacred meal, the promises of God in Christ come to an apex, a climax, if you will. The body of Jesus that was broken for you and His blood that was shed for you is here given to you. In, with and under this bread and wine, is the infant Christ, the Babe of Bethlehem, the One over whom the angels sang their joyous song – “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” This is the Christ of Epiphany, whose light shined on the world, in order that salvation might be carried to the ends of the earth. This is the Christ of Good Friday, the One who endured the abuse and the scorn of His captors, who took the deceit and the betrayal of His friends. This is the Christ who died as the Lamb of the New Covenant, that “your iniquity may be forgiven and your sins may be remembered no more.” This is the Christ of Easter, the One over whom death has no power and the grave has no grip.
And so, yes, symbols are good reminders of greater realities. But here, in this meal, Christ has set before you the greater reality itself. He has given you His body and blood. The reality out of which this meal was hewn, that is the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, is inseparably part of this meal. While our hearts and minds can scarcely fathom the suffering that gave us this blessed gift, we are none the less comforted to know that the blessings of the cross are ours, having been laid upon our lips in this scared moment.
The good news is this, whether you are enamored with the symbol or not, your devotion or your pious thoughts are not what enable you receive Jesus’ body and blood at this table. Rather, His body and blood are here given because He said they are. Thus, you arise from this rail and walk away with Christ and with everything that is His, for He has given you something infinitely greater than bread and wine. Indeed, “take and eat (He says) this is My body which is given for YOU…this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for YOU.”
It all looks so ordinary, so common, doesn’t it? But here, God puts you at the foot of His cross that you might be touched, indeed, that you might be sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice.
“The holy Lamb, undaunted came
To God’s own altar lit with flame;
While weeping angels hid their eyes,
This Priest became a sacrifice.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +