by Rev. Brian J. Thorson
Lessons: Exodus 12:1-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-32, John 13:1-15, 34-35
Catechism: The Sixth Petition
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We pray that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us.
Did you hear that unholy trinity? Busy deceiving us and misleading us are the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. A temptation we all face is simply to blame the devil, excusing ourselves by saying, “The devil made me do it.” In doing this, we deny the reality that the world and our own sinful flesh are leading us into temptation.
God tempts no one. But all around us we face temptation. Even our own flesh tempts us. As we confess in the Catechism, these temptations bring about false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.
The first temptation is false belief. The unholy trinity wants us to reject God’s pure word and replace it with opinions of the society and sinful man. Often, I am met with the objection, “Pastor, I know the Bible says that, but deep down I really believe this.”
Therefore, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” We are praying these words against our own sinful flesh, which is opposed to the Word of God. After all, we believe these words of Scripture: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).
Instead of seeking acceptance for what we feel we believe deep down, all thoughts that contradict the Sacred Scriptures are to be crucified. Done away with. Put to death. Gone.
The devil put into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus. Deep down he figured this was the right thing to do. He was a lover of money. Like true American fashion, he put himself first.
But Jesus taught a better way. He washed the disciples’ feet. Now, He did not do this to teach churches to institute some sort of foot-washing ceremony. Instead, He washed their feet so that His action could serve as an example. By washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus illustrated the important principle of loving service. In love, we are to serve one another. We are to have a humble spirit of forgiveness, love, and service. True leadership is one of service. By washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus was demonstrating that He was taking the humblest position of a slave—a bondservant. And so, bearing the world’s sins, He goes to the cross to make satisfaction for sins—to atone for the sins of the world—to offer the sacrifice of His Blood for the remission of sins.
On this holy night, Jesus is in the Upper Room with the Twelve to establish His last will and testament. What He establishes goes into full effect upon His death. It is written in Hebrews 9:16-17, “For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives” (NKJV). Therefore, He takes bread, blesses it, and gives His Body to His disciples. He then takes the cup of wine, blesses it, and gives His Blood to His disciples. He declares that this is His testament. Therefore, Christ is truly present in Holy Communion when Christians celebrate even today. As Jesus says, the bread is His Body and the wine is His Blood.
Now, why would Christians want to receive the Body and Blood of Christ? Why would Jesus institute a meal like this? Are Christians quasi-cannibals? Do Christians just love to focus on death and dying?
No, the Church is centered on life, for Christ is the life of all the living and the death of death our foe. God is the author of life. He created all that came to be. Jesus offers this meal to give us life. For through it, Jesus strengthens the faith of His own and delivers the forgiveness of sins which He earned for all on the cross. With this forgiveness granted by faith, eternal life becomes ours. We are rescued from everlasting death and the torments of Hell. We are granted access to our Father in Heaven and will one day dwell with Him. And, through this Sacrament, God is working in us strength withstand temptation.
These are certainly life and death realities. This also demonstrates that the Christian Church is far more than a social gathering or just another flavor among many spiritual concepts. For Jesus “is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through [Him]” (John 14:6), as He told His disciples on Maundy Thursday.
As civil authorities across our country made recommendations and mandates on social distancing and social gatherings, that left many church leaders trying to determine how they fit into the legal definitions. The first question is, “Are churches exempt from these mandates?” The argument can be made that the civil sphere cannot place mandates on God or His house. But since the Church is located within lands controlled by the state, churches are also subject to regulation. We are to submit to our governing authorities, as Romans 13 teaches. While churches enjoy fewer regulations, there are some that the Church must follow. The City of Lexington gave clear definitions. Churches are considered essential businesses so employees of churches may go to work. And people may come to the Church as long as the regulations on social distancing and social gatherings are met. The City defines social distancing as six feet. And the City defines social gatherings of groups of ten or less. These definitions are not found in the County mandate.
While it is nice to know that we are considered by civil authorities as an essential business, it is not nice to be lumped as a social gathering. We are certainly essential. For the God who made all creation meets us with His gifts at His Church. God establishes churches. God works faith through the ministry of Word and Sacrament. This is essential. In fact, there is nothing in this life that is more important than the work of the Church in your life.
But that gets us to the definition of a social gathering. The Church is not just a social gathering. People who come to church simply for social reasons have come for the wrong reasons. While God can work faith in those who come just for the social aspects, the real reason for coming to Church is to hear the life-saving, life-giving Word of God. God the Holy Spirit is present to work faith in His people through this Word.
When God instituted the Passover, it was not to simply be a social gathering. It was a means by which God freed His people from Egyptian slavery and delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh. God used the occasion to prefigure the sacrifice Christ would make on the cross. For just as lambs were slaughtered and their blood put on the doorposts so that the angel would pass over them and not kill them, so also Jesus was lifted up on the cross where He shed His innocent Blood. God now passes over our sins and rescues us. That is, He forgives our sins and gives us everlasting life.
In the years that followed the original Passover, God’s people continued to gather annually for the Passover feast. Again, this wasn’t simply a social gathering, but it was a means by which the people remembered God’s mercy at the first Passover and were taught of God’s mercy granted through Christ, our Paschal Lamb who would shed His blood for the sins of the whole world.
When Jesus longed to be with His disciples to celebrate the Passover feast the night before His crucifixion, it was not to serve as just another social gathering. Instead, Jesus taught them many truths as recorded in John 13-16. And there, He instituted the Lord’s Supper.
And when Christians gather today around Word and Sacrament, it is not to simply be a social gathering. The Church is not a club. The Church is the Body of Christ—the assembly of believers who hear God’s Word and receive Holy Communion.
The civil authorities have ordered churches to adhere to the social gathering limitations. While they have rightly defined the Church as essential, they have incorrectly called us a social gathering. Yes, there are social aspects to the Church, but that is far from complete, as we have heard. While we are far more than a social gathering, we are adhering to the orders set forth by our local government. We are doing so in love.
Remember Jesus teaches us to love one another. It is a loving thing to do our part in preventing the spread of a deadly virus, especially when we hear on the news of other churches who have unwittingly caused localized outbreaks.
Jesus longed to celebrate the Supper with His disciples. We long for the day that we can celebrate the Lord’s Supper with God’s people here in God’s house. We long for that day when things are restored to normal.
And more than that, we long for the day when Jesus returns and makes all things new—when He makes all things whole and complete. We long to be with the Lord. We long for the day when our bodies will become perfect in every way. We long for the day when all tears and sorrows will be wiped away forever. We long for the time when we will no longer be forced to face temptation from the devil, the world, and from our own sinful nature.
Until then, listen intently to the Word of Christ and go to God’s house to receive Holy Communion—a blessed Sacrament still administered to God’s people here at Grace during these days of social gathering mandates. Come, for all things are ready. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen