Watch the livestream beginning at 7:00 p.m. on Maundy Thursday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.
Gospel: John 13:1-15,34 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 416:1-4 “When You Woke That Thursday Morning”
- Choir “An Upper Room With Evening Lamps Ashine”
- Hymn CW 659:1-4,7 Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior
- Communion Duet “Behold the Lamb”
Maundy Thursday 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 Pastor Ryan Wolfe
Forgiveness in the Upper Room: “Do this in remembrance of me”
I’ve told many of you that I’m not really a big “decoration” kind of guy. I just don’t notice things hanging on the wall or pay much attention. There are two wall hangings at my house that mean a lot to me though. Both are pictures that members at my previous churches gave to me when I moved on to serve a different church. I treasure those pictures. I’m sure many of you have given or received these kinds of farewell gifts too.
But why do we give farewell gifts? My wife and I will never forget the love members of our past churches showed us. We got to visit my first church last year and after 11 years away names came right back and along with them stories and memories. But the fact the names and memories had to come back in the first place teaches us that humans are wired to put the past in the past. I suppose it’s necessary. We can’t spend our entire lives aching to see people we once knew and loved. Our brains are wired to move on. But we’re also wired to want to remember and farewell gifts help us stay connected to the people we love. I bring this up because tonight we consider the farewell gift that Jesus left for us — the Lord’s Supper. As he gives instructions for this holy meal he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We find forgiveness in the upper room, and we’re reminded that this is how Jesus wants us to remember him.
The Lord’s Supper is so simple a child can understand it. We eat bread and drink wine to remember Jesus. But you know that under the surface there’s more to it than that. And the very circumstances of that original meal show us that. Jesus was in the Upper Room here with his disciples to celebrate the Passover with them. The Passover meal is full of ritual and symbolism. Jews celebrated it every year (they still do in fact) to remember how God delivered their people from death in Egypt. Maybe you remember the sacrificing of a perfect lamb and putting its blood on their doorframes. God himself gave them the menu for their continued remembrance of the day he saved his people. Bread without yeast, bitter herbs. Wine with the meal.
But as Jesus celebrates with his disciples, he tells them that the bread and wine of this meal would from that point on mean a whole lot more. Jesus said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” And then, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” In some miraculous way that children believe by faith but theologians don’t understand, Jesus puts his real body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Now that doesn’t mean the bread and wine go away. If we put the wafer under a microscope it would have all the elements of unleavened bread. The wine we drink at the communion rail tastes like wine, not blood. No, the bread and wine remain. But Jesus miraculously adds his body and blood to it. And not just in some spiritual, symbolic way – he says “This is…”
Jesus says whenever we “do this in remembrance of him” we receive his body and blood also. Only then. In other words, the body and blood of Jesus are not there on the altar right now, but when we come forward and receive the Sacrament, taking it in remembrance of him, then we receive the real body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the real bread and wine. And then when we’re done, all that will be left on the altar is bread and wine, until the next time we use those things “in remembrance of him.”
And this gift that Jesus gave to the disciples in the upper room is given to us as well. This text, in fact, is a proof of the sacrament given to us. Paul wasn’t in the upper room the night Jesus was betrayed. He wasn’t even a believer yet. But when God brought Paul to faith, Jesus himself taught him in the desert. Obviously Jesus taught Paul about the events of this night in the Upper Room, because Paul says here, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you.” Paul and the Corinthians were celebrating this meal in Jesus’ memory years after he had ascended into heaven. This meal, these promises were for the disciples, for the Corinthians, and for us.
Paul explains the meaning of the meal in words that we now use ourselves after we celebrate the Supper. He says in verse 26, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” In this sacrament believers are reminded, and we proclaim to each other, that Jesus died. It seems an odd kind of thing to remember. But remember what the death of Jesus means. The blood that he shed and the body that he gave into death were the perfect sacrifice that saved his people from death. Just like God passed over sinners in Egypt when he saw the blood of the Passover lamb, so now God passes over judgment on sinners when he sees Jesus’ blood covering over us.
The body and blood we receive in Holy Communion are the very offerings that Jesus gave to pay for our freedom from hell. And so yes, whenever we partake of this supper we do proclaim his death. Not to be reminded of sadness, but to be reminded of forgiveness. That’s what we find in the upper room. That’s what we celebrate until that glorious day when he returns to bring us all together with him to everlasting paradise.
With such an important remembrance of love from God we cherish every chance to receive the sacrament. We offer it often enough for people to partake regularly no matter what their schedule. Our pastor and certain trained elders take the sacrament to our shut-in and elderly members. Who wouldn’t want to receive this final memorial of love from our Savior.
Because it’s precious we also want to protect it from being abused or confused. The church that Paul wrote these words to had fallen into just that trap. The congregation in Corinth was abusing the Lord’s Supper in the worst of ways. Some of them were getting drunk before they celebrated it. Some were so selfish with the regular meal before the Lord’s Supper that others went away hungry. It was so bad that God even punished them with illness and death.
So Paul says here, “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” But what does Paul mean by “receiving it in an unworthy manner”? Does he mean sinners? If that were the case none of us could receive the sacrament. Paul doesn’t condemn the unworthy recipient, because really, we’re all unworthy recipients. He condemns the unworthy manner. Taking the meal with the wrong attitude. And that means not believing or trusting the promises Jesus attaches to the Supper. If I don’t think I need to be forgiven for something but take the sacrament anyway, I’m receiving it in an unworthy way and sinning. If I don’t think it gives me forgiveness as Jesus says it does, and I take it anyway, I’ve sinned against the Lord. Not everyone who takes the sacrament receives its blessing.
St. Paul also says in the last verse, “Those who eat and drink without recognizing the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” It’s one more way of taking the Supper in an unworthy manner. If a person doesn’t recognize the body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and the wine—in other words, if you don’t believe they are really present—you do not receive the blessing God put into the sacrament. Instead, you receive judgment.
The body and blood are present whether a person believes it or not. It’s present because Jesus said it is, and his Word is the power behind the meal. We receive Jesus’ body and blood when we eat and drink whether we repent of our sins or not. For that reason Paul teaches us to prepare ourselves before we take the meal. To recognize our sin. To understand what’s present at the meal. To trust the promises he attaches to it. It’s why we have confirmation for our young people before they receive the meal. And one reason why we limit who partakes with us.
Some don’t understand that we make them wait out of love for their soul. We don’t want anyone to celebrate this sacrament with us if they don’t see the need for forgiveness or if they don’t believe Jesus’ body and blood is there. It’s an act of love no different than teaching people how to drive a car before giving them the keys. We want people to know, to trust, to believe. And if that means asking people to wait so they have time to study, then it’s a trade-off well worth it.
Because this isn’t the only way God gives us forgiveness. This meal has power because it connects us to Christ. It reminds us of his sacrifice and promises his continuing love. Here we taste and see, literally, that the Lord is good. This supper takes the forgiveness we have in faith and buries it deep into our hearts. So if you’re a visitor tonight, know that in God’s Word the Holy Spirit offers the same forgiveness. You don’t have less than we do. And if you’re a member, know that you celebrating something you already have. This is Jesus telling us to remember him. It’s Jesus, giving us the gift of salvation through body and blood. This is Jesus, the perfect lamb of God who takes away all our sin. There is forgiveness in that Upper Room. May we remember him in the meal always. Amen.