Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday, Bloody Thursday

T Maundy Thursday – April 21st, 2011 T
Text: Exodus 24:3-11; Hebrews 9:11-22; Matthew 26:17-30

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

            Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.  Blood purifies.  Blood atones for sin.  Blood cries out for justice.  Blood is a substitute.  A life shed for a life lived.  A crimson canopy for shameful sinners. Where there’s a covenant – there’s blood.  Hurled upon the altar.  Sprinkled on the priest – covering his vestments, placed on his ears, his lips, his forehead, his heart – he entered the holy place by means of the sacrificial blood.  Blood even poured out upon the people.  “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.”  Forgiveness is a bloody affair. 
            You might think that the paraments should be red tonight.  What a blessed irony that they are white.  For though your sins were as scarlet, in Christ, you are white as snow.  And this scarlet river of forgiveness flows downstream to the cross.

            This is the night of the Passover. A night of remembrance. A night of forgiveness.  The eve of Israel’s passage though blood-stained doorways into freedom and life. 
            This is the night in which God remembers the blood of the first sacrifice, shed to clothe Adam and Eve in their naked, sinful shame.
            This is the night in which God remembers the blood of circumcision as the sign of His promise to the faithful remnant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
            This is the night in which the blood of Isaac is spared as the Lord provides Himself a Lamb.
            This is the Paschal night, the night of the remembrance meal - the hard, unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, the lamb roasted to dry toughness.  The Lamb’s blood painted on the doorposts.  It is the night of judgment and death as God seeks out the blood.  Under the blood of the lamb, you are safe.  Death passes over.  Without the blood you are dead.  For it is neither safe nor salutary to deal with God apart from the blood of the Lamb.  He’s not a tame God after all.  So, the life is in the blood.  It was true for Israel and it’s true for you today.
            Because, contrary to what the Israelites promised – “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do and we will be obedient” – they did not do what the Lord asked.  They were not obedient.  And neither are we.  Look no further than the mirror and your dresser.  Clothing is our daily reminder that we too walk in the shameful footsteps of our forefathers in the wilderness. 
            Even our daily bread is a constant echo: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain shall you eat of it all the days of your life – thorns, thistles and sweat.  Bread is the food of the fall - toil, labor and death.  Dust you are and to dust you shall return.”  And there we stand: naked before God in the sin of Adam.  Uncovered. Ashamed. Humiliated. Dead. Nothing to cling to except our mortality.

            But, this night isn’t only about our remembrance.  For as much as the Israelites remembered God’s salvation at Passover, more importantly, God remembered them, remembered His covenant, His promise.  And although we remember many things on this night nothing is more important than God remembering us, His chosen people.

            For this is also the night in which Jesus was betrayed.  The eve of Jesus’ passage under the blood-stained cross into freedom and life, your freedom, your life.  But first, the Passover.  The table is set.  The meal is prepared. The disciples are gathered.  The betrayal plot is already hatched.  The cup is ready; the bread is broken.  Everything is there.  But where, O Lord, is the Passover Lamb?  The Lord Himself will provide the Lamb.
            Jesus takes the unleavened bread – the bread of affliction and suffering.  Take eat.  This is my body.  In simple, yet significant words – His life and salvation – His soon to be Crucified and risen body – into the bread.  And in this meal, bread is redeemed.  The food of the fall is reclaimed by our Lord for a meal of forgiveness.  Bread now serves the most holy purpose of bringing Jesus’ body to our bodies.  Take eat.  This Lamb of God is good – good for you who have been so bad.  So good, in fact, that in this Sacrament you are what you eat.  By taking this body into your body, you receive all the good that He is.  The Bread of Life is our life.  The Manna from above feeds His wandering sin-starved people.

            And then Jesus takes the cup.  He gives thanks.  “Drink of it all of you, this is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  He pours His life giving blood into the cup.  Here wine finds its perfect culmination – to gladden the hearts of sinful men with the forgiving blood of Jesus.  Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  And with the shedding of His blood – in this cup, on these lips – Jesus pours out a new and better covenant sealed with His own precious, life-giving blood.  And wherever the blood of the Lamb is – death passes over.
            Through the veil of Jesus’ flesh, you are brought to the holy place sprinkled with the blood in Baptism – over your forehead, upon your heart; His New Covenant - take drink, this is His blood.  Paint it, not on your doorways, but on your lips, in your mouth, on your tongue and on your heart.

            Jesus not only institutes this New Covenant – He is the New Covenant.  Just as He did in His incarnation, so too, on the night of His betrayal, Jesus exalts creation by bringing the glory of heaven down to you in the lowly, simple things of earth.  The food of immortality.  Eat and drink and live forever!

            Yes, the Lord provides Himself a Lamb.  The Priest becomes the sacrifice. The Life of the World is the death of death itself.   Jesus goes to ratify His last will and testament in His own flesh and blood on the cross – forgiveness, life and salvation – a covenant eternally inscribed in His hands and feet.  For a will takes effect only at death.  Jesus’ death.  And so this night is the eve of your passage, your exodus from death to life, under the doorposts of Calvary where you pass into freedom and life through the blood of the Lamb.  Death passes over you and onto Jesus.  Your Last-Will-and-Testament, the true Testator – is Crucified and with Him all of your sin.

Behold the Lamb of God, skewered on the beams of that cruel tree, all the flames of hell blaze beneath him, stoked by the firewood of our sins. He is the God who makes His glory visible in servitude.  He is the God who bends down to wash the feet of His disciples.  He is the God who gives His cheek to the betraying lips of Judas, to the slapping hand of the High Priest and the spit of the Sanhedrin.  He is the God who gives His head to the thorns, His feet and hands to the spikes, His side to the Romans.  He is the God who endures pain and suffering, guilt, bitter shame and death – all for you.   
Everything is taken away.  Jesus is stripped. Laid bare. Betrayed.  Garments removed.  There He stands: nailed to the tree.  Naked before God in the sin of all mankind. Uncovered. Ashamed. Humiliated. Forsaken.  Nothing to cling to except our sin and His cross.  All of this He does for you.

And so, tonight, in a way, the Church reflects Her Lord.  Everything is taken away.  The chancel is emptied.  The altar is stripped.  Garments, paraments all gone.  Laid bare.    Tonight the church is naked.  Uncovered.  Ashamed.  Humiliated.  Forsaken.  Nothing to cling to except our Lord Jesus and His New Covenant. 

His Table is set.  He’s gathered His disciples. The Paschal feast is ready.  The Cup is full. The Bread is broken.  Everything is here.  Behold the Lamb, poured out for the forgiveness of your sins.

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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