Christ, Our Meal With God

Christ, Our Meal With God
Exodus 24:3-11
Maundy Thursday
April 13, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

The Temple in Jerusalem was a bustling place, especially during the high feast days like Passover. The priests who worked there filled their day by offering sacrifices on behalf of Israelite worshippers from sunrise to sunset. Every animal sacrifice had two significant parts: the flesh and the blood. The priests did different things with the flesh and the blood, depending on what kind of sacrifice was being offered. But the flesh and the blood were the key elements.

Each day began with a priest on duty offering a whole burnt offering, a sacrifice of an entire lamb. Since only one of these was offered each morning, a priest might only get to perform this sacrifice once in his life. The offering was called the whole burnt offering because the entire animal was sacrificed. The blood of the lamb was splashed against the base of the altar and flesh of the lamb was placed on the altar to be consumed by flame. None of it was eaten by the priest. None of it was eaten by the Israelite worshippers. None of it was used for anything. The whole offering was burnt on the altar.

This daily sacrifice was the divinely instituted means of grace that covered the sins of the people so that the holy God could dwell among them in the Temple. The burning of the meat on the altar would produce a pillar of smoke to remind the Israelites of the pillar of cloud that led them out of Egypt and across the Red Sea in the days of Moses. It served as a visual reminder that just as the Lord dwelt among his people in the pillar of cloud and fire during the Exodus, he was now dwelling among them in the Temple. It was the sacrifice of the whole burnt offering that allowed the people to live in the presence of God.

Once God was present among his people by virtue of this whole burnt offering, the priests would then offer the other sin offerings of the day. If a new mother needed purification after giving birth or if a soldier was returning from war with blood on his hands, their offerings would be offered at this point. Again, none of the flesh and blood would be eaten in these offerings. They were sacrifices that made atonement. They were sacrifices that covered the sins of the people. They were whole burnt offerings to the Lord. Day after day, year after year, lamb after lamb was sacrificed to cover the sins of the people, to reconcile God and man, to bring peace where there was division and hostility on account of sin.

Once all the whole offerings for sin had been made each day, once the entire congregation present had their sins covered in order that they could stand in the presence of the holy God, that’s when the peace offerings would happen. They were called peace offerings not because they established peace, but because they reflected the peace that had been brought about by that day’s sin offering. That’s when things really picked up at the Temple. That’s why there would be several priests on duty on any given day. While there may have been only one whole burnt offering each day, there were sometimes hundreds of peace offerings. Peace offerings were celebratory meals.  They were required for each family at the high feasts like Passover or Pentecost, but that’s like saying it is required that you have turkey and pie on Thanksgiving. Peace offerings could also be given throughout the year in thanksgiving for just about anything, like the safe return of a family member from war or the birth of a child.  Just like we celebrate significant events with a meal, the Israelites celebrated significant events with a peace offering.

As with the other sacrifices, the key elements to a peace offering were the flesh and the blood. The Lord’s institution of the peace offerings required that the blood of the animal be splashed against the altar, but the flesh would be consumed by the worshippers. Israelites rarely ate meat – it was expensive to buy an animal and if you killed an animal from your own flock you no longer had that animal for breeding, wool, or milk. Typically, the only time Israelites ate meat was as part of a peace offering. There, they ate the flesh of an animal, but they didn’t eat the whole thing. No, the priest got a small portion, and a small portion was left on the altar for God. God and the Israelite would consume the same animal. Just like your entire family eats one bird on Thanksgiving, God and his people would eat one lamb together. It was a holy meal, one that took place after a whole burnt offering had covered the sin of the people.

This holy meal at the Temple was foreshadowed by the holy meal described in today’s reading from Exodus. At Mount Sinai, God ate with his people. We are told that the there was pavement as sapphire stone under his feet, for Moses and the elders were truly in the presence of God. Yet even though they were in the presence of God, the elders of Israel were not struck down, for God covered their sin. They beheld God, and they ate and drank with him and with each other. In this meal with God on Sinai, like the meals with God in the Temple, the Lord first covered the sin of his guests. In the Temple, this was done through the daily whole burnt offering. At Sinai, we are told that Moses ordered burnt offerings to cover the sins of the people. Then he took half of the blood and threw it against the base of the altar, sprinkling the other half on the people, covering their sins with the blood of the lamb and bringing them into the covenant of God. Once God was present among them, they ate and drank with God.

All of this paved the way for the events we remember today. On the night when he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus instituted a new covenant. And the disciples ate with God. Like the sacrifices of the first covenant, flesh and blood are the key ingredients in this new covenant. Our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is the flesh of the new covenant. It is my flesh. I give it for you to cover your sins. I give it to you as your meal with God.” This flesh was sacrificed on the cross as the whole burnt offering to cover the sins of the world. In that one offering, sin was covered once for all. The Temple curtain was torn in two. The earth shook. Graves were opened. God and man were reconciled.

And then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you – this is the blood of the New Covenant. My blood. I give it for you to cover your sins. I give it to you as your meal with God.” This blood was poured out on the cross. It dripped down our Savior’s back as he was whipped within an inch of his life, down our Savior’s brow as thorns cut into his scalp, down our Savior’s arms as nails were driven into his wrists. The blood was shed once for all. The Temple curtain was torn in two. The earth shook. Graves were opened. God and man were reconciled.

At the Temple, once the whole burnt offering had been made for sin, it was time for the peace offering. Now that God and man are reconciled by the sacrifice of the cross, we enjoy a meal with God. It is a meal of thanksgiving, which is why we call it a Eucharist. It is a meal hosted by God himself, which is why we call it the Lord’s Supper. It is a meal shared with God and with each other, which is why we call it a Holy Communion. It has gone by many names through the history of the church, but the dynamic remains the same: once God and man are reconciled, they share a meal. The did it at Sinai. They did it at the Temple. We do it tonight.

And it’s all because of Jesus. He is the fulfillment of the sacrifices of the old covenant. He is the true sin offering, the one who gave himself entirely, the whole burnt offering that covers our sin. On the cross, he offered himself as the sacrifice to forgive all your sin. The lying and lust and anger and bitterness that would separate you from God have been covered by the blood of Jesus. There is no longer any need for sin offerings or whole burnt offerings. God made him who knew no sin to be the sin offering for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God. The suffering and death of Jesus in our place put us right with God. There is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Jesus has done it. It is finished.

But not only is Jesus the true sin offering, he is the true peace offering, the Lamb of God who gives himself as the feast which we eat with God. The Israelites celebrated being reconciled to God by eating with him. So also, in this meal, because we have been reconciled to God by the blood of Christ, we now eat with him. We gather at the Lord’s table as if we were gathered around Easter dinner. The blood of Jesus and water of baptism has brought us into God’s family, and families eat together. We eat with God as part of his family. And as the family of God, we eat with each other.

So let us repent of our bitterness. Let us repent of our grudge holding. Let us repent of our gossip. Let us repent of the ways we drive wedges into the family of God. Let us repent of the ways we bring selfish division.  And let us rejoice in Christ, the whole burnt offering, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Let us rejoice in Christ, the peace offering, the Lamb of God, who is the main course in this our meal with God. The sin offering is done. The peace offering in prepared. The feast is ready. Come to the feast.

+INJ+

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Love Like Jesus – Sermon for Maundy Thursday, 2015

Love Like Jesus

John 12:34-35

Maundy Thursday

April 2, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             Jesus left us a new commandment, a new way of doing things. That night in the Maundy-Thursday-Backgrounds-3upper room, after he had washed the disciples feet, Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Christians have held these words in high regard for centuries. They will know we are Christians by our love. We take pride in these words, we take pride in our loving actions. We set up food banks and hold clothing drives. We hold our tongue when that coworker is especially rude. We do our best to respect our boss or the other authorities in our lives. We genuinely want people to experience the love we have to share. We want people to know we are Christians by our love.

And yet, Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another.” Pay attention over the next few days, for we will see exactly how Jesus loved us, and see what it means to love others in that way.  Pay attention over the next few days, for we will see what the world thinks of that love. Pay attention, for we will see what we can expect Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh to do when we set out to love one another just as Jesus loved us.

Jesus loved us by being betrayed into the hands of his captors by the kiss of a friend. Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-31-_-_Kiss_of_JudasWho has betrayed you? Do you feel betrayed by a society that was at one time more favorable to the Christian way of life, but now seems intent on tearing down every last vestige of the faith you hold so dear? Do you feel betrayed that God’s gift of the family is being assaulted on every side, that the notion of man and wife, which was once a fundamental part of the American dream along with a few kids and a white picket fence, is now viewed as out-of-date, oppressive, or downright silly? Do you feel betrayed that a society that at one time largely reflected Biblical morals and values in many spheres of life has turned in the opposite direction? Maybe we have been betrayed by our culture. Maybe we put our trust in the wrong place to begin with. Maybe the culture was never as Christian as we took it to be. Maybe we could speculate until we’re blue in the face. But all speculation aside, one thing is certain. Jesus loved us by being betrayed. If he has called us to love like he did, why should we expect anything else?

Jesus loved us by being put on trial for his confession of the truth. He stood before Pilate and was accused of many things which were true, but which did not sit well with the Jews or the Romans of his day. His confession of the truth made them uncomfortable. His confession of the truth threatened the way they wanted to look at the world.  “Are you the king of the Jews?” Of course he is. He’s the king of the whole universe. In him all things jesusandpilatelive and move and have their being. But they didn’t want to hear that. They were not interested in truth, they were interested in continuing to live the life they chose for themselves regardless of whether it was in line with God’s design or not.  They did not want to hear that Jesus is truly king, for if he is truly king, then they are truly his subjects. They have to listen to all that he said concerning their hypocrisy and empty rituals, about their being white-washed tombs, about the axe being at the base of the tree, about the branches being thrown to the fire.

If Jesus was put on trial for speaking the truth, why would we expect anything different? If we speak the truth about sexuality, why would we expect the world to greet our words any more favorably than our Lord’s? When we speak the truth about greed or contentment, about jealousy or pride, about envy, or anger, or life, or death, or anything else in our Lord’s Word, why are we so surprised when the world won’t listen? Why are we surprised when the truth is rejected in favor of the lie? It’s what happened to Jesus. It’s what happens today.

Jesus loved us by watching as the crowd demanded the release of a hardened criminal over his freedom.  The crowd was determined to get Jesus out of the way, to silence his voice and the words that made them uneasy, so they chose to release a convicted murderer. They chose a man of death over the Lord of life, for they were not prepared to live the life that the Lord designed. Why would we expect anything different? Why are we surprised when our world embraces the death of the unborn just so that it does not have to control its sexual desires? Why are we surprised when our world trumpets greed as a virtue with no regard for who may be oppressed or killed in the process? Why are we surprised when the world chooses tyranny to the self, becoming slaves to every passion and base desire known to man, and calls it freedom?  Is an addict free simply because he has the ability to drink or use whenever the desire presents itself? Or is the addict slave to the addiction? Are we actually free when we give in to whatever passion crosses our hearts? Or are we slaves to desire? How often do we choose slavery and call it freedom? How often do we choose death and call it life?  Our Lord loved us by watching as his own people chose death over life. This is how our Lord has called us to love the world.

Finally, Jesus loved us by being executed in our place. Even though he had done Crucifixnothing wrong, he allowed himself to be spiked to a cross, stricken, smitten, and afflicted. He did not speak up in his defense, for he knew his purpose. He knew that he was headed to the cross from the moment he became submissive to his Father’s will and agreed to leave heaven. He always intended to show his love by dying for us while we were yet sinners, by loving us while we were yet unlovable. And that is how we are called to love the world. That is how we are called to love one another – to love the unlovable, for the unlovable has been loved in us. To forgive the unforgivable, for the unforgivable has been forgiven in use. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

This is the life we are called to live. This is the love we are called to love. One of betrayal. One of trial. One of rejection. One of self-sacrifice. And ultimately, a love that overcomes all these things. For Jesus overcame all these things for you, even death itself.

Jesus lives. He loved us in overcoming death, overcoming the betrayal and the rejection. And because he now lives, we also live. For on the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “Take and eat. This is my body for you.” In the same way also he took the cup and, having given thanks, gave it and said, “Take and drink. This is my blood of the new testament for you.” As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are united to and participate in the body and blood of Christ himself. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, I no longer live, Christ lives in me. And if Christ lives in me, then Christ loves through me. Just as Jesus loved me, so also I love others, for Christ lives in me and loves through me.

When the world betrays me, I rest in the knowledge that it betrayed him first. gal-2-20-home-wideIndeed, it betrayed him worse, for he had done nothing wrong. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We deserve the betrayal that we experience, for in our hearts we betray others all the time. We betray the confidence of another with careless gossip. We betray the people around us by selfishly seeking our own needs above the needs of others. We betray the people of God when we greedily cling to our dollars rather than supporting the work of the kingdom. Yet for all my betrayal, Christ lives in me to renew me, strengthen me, and use me in service to his Gospel. I no longer live, Christ lives in me, and Christ loves through me.

When the world puts me on trial for the truth, I rest in the knowledge that it tried him first. Indeed, it tried him worse, for he spoke genuine truth. Often my words are tainted with the residue of mixed emotions. So often my sinful flesh would rather listen to the words of the world and believe the lies, for the lies let me justify myself. The lies make me comfortable. The lies excuse my sin rather than deal with it. Even when I do speak the truth of the Scriptures, I have my moments where I struggle with doubt. My words may have the veneer of truth, but often the wood is rotting underneath.  Not so the words of Jesus. His words are not just true, they are truth itself. His words bring life, they bring life to me as the rain brings life from the clouds. For all my doubts and double speak, Christ lives in me to renew me, to speak through me. I no longer live, Christ lives in me, and Christ loves through me.

When the world chooses to embrace death over life, I rest in the knowledge that it did so for Jesus first. When the world ignores the life-giving gospel of forgiveness and instead dives headlong into its sin and self-deceit, we recognize that it did so for Jesus first. And he took it. And he suffered the consequence, dying to redeem the very ones who condemned him, winning life for those who chose death. And now, I no longer live, Christ lives in me, and Christ loves through me.

So come be fed by the body and blood of the Lord. Be united to your living Lord and Savior. For through this precious meal Christ now lives in you. Christ now loves through you with a new and perfect love, a selfless and self-sacrificial love. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  As we approach the celebration of the Resurrection, as we hear again of the betrayal and suffering and death of our Savior, know that as Jesus loved you, so also you now love the people around you. In spite of their betrayal, in spite of their ridicule and accusation, in spite of their mockery, you love them with like Jesus. For Christ lives in you. And Christ loves through you.