Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Matthew 26:27-28

Dear Friends in Christ,

The object that we are adding to our Lenten museum tonight is the cup. If you are an Indiana Jones fan, you will realize that this cup is probably not very much like the one Jesus used on the first Maundy Thursday. Jesus was a carpenter who only had the clothes on his back. The cup that Jesus used was probably not silver-plated. It was probably not very fancy at all. In fact, the cup is really not all that important. What is important is what is in the cup and the promise that Jesus gives to all who drink what is in the cup. The cup in the Lord’s Supper is a relic, a reminder of God’s covenant, the new covenant in Jesus’ blood.

A covenant is a solemn promise often sealed in some special way. We make our wedding promises and seal them with the exchange of rings. We sign a contract and seal it with a notarized signature. We need such procedures because we are prone to forget what we have promised, or we may want to back out or change our mind. God certainly doesn’t need something to remind him of the things he has promised us, and he will not, nor can he, ever go back on anything he has promised. Yet, when he has made us wonderful promises he has often attached a sign to them for our benefit. He has given us something that will remind us of what he has promised.

The covenant that God made with Abraham was sealed by circumcision. Circumcision was a constant reminder to Abraham and his descendants that God had promised not only to give them the land of Canaan, but to send the one through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This covenant with Abraham was a unilateral covenant, an extension of the promise God made to Adam and Eve. It was something God promised to do no matter what. It wasn’t dependent on what Abraham and his descendants did or didn’t do.

About 400 years later, God made different kind of covenant with Abraham’s descendants at Mt. Sinai. He gave them the 10 Commandments, the laws about the Tabernacle and the offering of sacrifices. He made it clear that this was a conditional covenant. If they would faithfully follow these laws he would be their God and they would be his people. If they kept these laws they would be blessed. If they failed to keep these laws they would be cursed. Exodus tells us, Then Moses took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” The blood not only sealed the promises made by God and his people, it was a sign of what would be required if either side broke their promises.

We know what happened. God was faithful to his promises. When Israel worshiped the Lord and offered the required sacrifices with thankful hearts, Israel triumphed over her enemies and prospered. When Israel turned away from God and worshiped idols, when they offered the required sacrifices but their hearts were far from God, their enemies triumphed over them and they suffered. The writer to the Hebrews says, quoting from Jeremiah, God found fault with the people and said: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

God had also made a “one time” covenant with his people while they were in Egypt. This covenant was that whoever trusted the word of the Lord through Moses and slaughtered an unblemished, year old lamb and painted their doorposts with the blood of that lamb would be spared when God destroyed the firstborn in the land. Although this was a one-time act of judgment and grace, it was to be celebrated each year as Israel’s independence day, together with a week long celebration of God’s love and faithfulness.

The rules the Bible gives regarding the celebration of the Passover are quite simple. At twilight, sacrifice a year old male lamb without blemish. Roast it and eat it with unleavened bread. When your children ask why you are doing this, tell them about all that God did for you in Egypt and how he continues to be faithful to all his promises as you await the coming of Messiah. Over the years, many traditions developed around the celebration of the Passover and Jesus was observing some of those traditions as he celebrated the Passover in the upper room with his disciples. They had sacrificed the lamb and roasted it. They had prepared the bitter herbs and the unleavened bread. They started the meal, drank the first cup of wine, used the second cup to recall the ten plagues that God had sent on Egypt pouring a drop of wine in a saucer for each of the plagues. They had enjoyed the festive meal. Now the time had come for the closing ceremonies of the Passover. The Aphikomen, a piece of unleavened bread that was hidden, or buried, at the beginning of the celebration, was resurrected and shared with the group. As Jesus shares this bread with the disciples he parts with tradition. In addition to the usual blessing of the bread Jesus says, take and eat; this is my body. While the disciples were wondering about this unusual addition to the Passover tradition, Jesus took the third cup of the Passover celebration, the cup of blessing, spoke the usual blessing, and then added these words, drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

The old covenants had been fulfilled. God had been faithful to his promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had sent the Messiah, the one in whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Jesus is that Messiah. In a matter of hours he would finish the job he came to do. He was the true Passover lamb, the one without spot or blemish, who would offer himself to God in payment for the sins of the world. As the writer to the Hebrews says, Jesus appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. He entered the Most Holy Place (heaven itself) once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.

God’s new covenant, his promise to you and to me, is that because of what Jesus has done in our place, he forgives our wickedness and remembers our sins no more. Although he would not have to do it because his promises are sure all by themselves, he has chosen to give us a reminder and a seal of what he has promised. He gives us the cup in the Lord’s Supper. And just as it was that first Maundy Thursday, it is not the cup that is important, but what is in the cup. What was in the cup that evening was wine mixed with water. And, although red wine certainly reminds us of the blood that we know Jesus shed for us on the cross, what is in the cup is much more than just a reminder. Jesus very simply and very clearly said, this is my blood of the covenant, the new covenant in my blood. In a miraculous way that is beyond our understanding, when we receive the Lord’s Supper we receive the blood Jesus shed on the cross as the seal of God’s covenant, his promise that our sins are forgiven. Although he is omniscient and knows all things, he chooses to forget our sins for Jesus’ sake. He chooses to treat us as if we had never sinned. That’s God’s promise to you and to me, sealed with the blood of Jesus himself.

The cup; regardless what it looks like, whether it is plain or fancy, silver plated, wood or stone, whether we use a common cup or individual cups, may we remember that the cup contains the seal of God’s promise of forgiveness, the blood of Jesus shed for us on the cross. Filled with joy and thankfulness to God for giving us the seal of his covenant, may we boldly proclaim to all his death and resurrection until he comes again in glory.