Maundy Thursday – 1 Corinthians 11:23-32

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            Every family has their traditions. Some have been handed down for many generations. Other traditions unexpectedly begin and seem to linger through the years. Christmas might be the holiday with the most traditions surrounding it, but Easter isn’t far behind. It isn’t Easter without a big breakfast, ham or lamb for dinner or supper, and an Easter egg hunt for children. There may even be a visit from the Easter Bunny.

Christians have their traditions too. Some people think Christian traditions are a bit stuffy and formal. Some Christians are caught up worshiping their traditions and forgetting to Whom the traditions point. Nevertheless, traditions are good for celebrating Christian holy days.

Perhaps the best-known tradition among us is the Words of Institution of the Lord’s Supper. You may be surprised to consider these well-known words a tradition. Saint Paul calls them a tradition when he says in tonight’s Epistle: I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you. Receiving something and delivering it to someone else is a tradition according to Sacred Scripture. It is the passing down of information from one person to another. In the case of the Lord’s Supper, Saint Paul had the Lord’s Words “traditioned” to Him directly from Jesus. Paul in turn “traditions” the Words to his hearers; he passes the mandate of Christ to eat and drink His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus first spoke these Words on the night when He was betrayed. It was the night when He went to His death according to the will of the Father in order to redeem humanity. You might say His death is also a tradition, for it was handed down from our Father through the prophets over thousands of years. Even kings spoke of His salvation, as Hezekiah does in Isaiah chapter 38: I calmed myself until morning; like a lion he breaks all my bones; from day to night you bring me to an end. Like a swallow or a crane I chirp; I moan like a dove. My eyes are weary with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!

These traditional words show us that bread is His Body, given into death for our sins, and that wine is His Blood, shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus’ very Body and Blood is our pledge of safety. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we confess in this eating and drinking that the unspeakable sufferings under which Jesus sank into death in this body had suffered for us and has repaid all our sins and chastisements. We are heirs in the eternal Testament of grace; heirs who receive everything that satisfies the grace of God’s promises to the people of God for time and eternity.

When our Lord gave this tradition to His disciples, He said they were to do this. Notice He doesn’t say how often. He tells them to eat and drink His Body and Blood often. Saint Paul says the same thing in the Epistle reading. As this tradition was handed down to Him by Jesus, so He hands it down to us. We hand it down to the next generation. Those of you who have been members here many years can recall the many pastors who stood in this chancel distributing the Lord’s Supper. Pastors come and go, but one constant remains: hearing the Word and receiving the Sacrament. Those are our traditions and we guard them.

We guard these traditions not to be spiteful or resentful. We guard the tradition of eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper in order that those who despise His Gospel or those who are not properly instructed in the Christian faith may not receive this precious gift to their detriment. It’s never a “no” to them. It is “not yet”. Let us teach you why we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. Let us teach you what it means to be united in fellowship with us. Once you learn what we believe, you have the opportunity to make this confession your own and receive the Supper with us.

This is why it is good for us to examine ourselves as Saint Paul directs us in order to be well prepared to receive the Sacrament. Martin Luther makes it easy for us by providing twenty Christian Questions with Their Answers in the Small Catechism. These Questions are on pages 329-330 of the Service Book. Luther drew up these questions and answers as a sort of “confirmation examination”. If only our confirmation examination was this easy! However, these are not easy questions to ask or to answer. “These questions and answers are not child’s play, but are drawn up with great earnestness of purpose by the venerable and devout Dr. Luther for both young and old.”

Consider also the question in the Small Catechism, “Who receives the Sacrament worthily?” It is good to fast or engage in other preparations for receiving the Sacrament. However, fasting and bodily preparation are not the only right way to prepare. The best preparation is faith in the Words of Christ Jesus: Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Here is the essence, the heart and soul, of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus gives His Body and Blood for us Christians to eat and drink. We take seriously His Words about bread and wine being His Body and Blood. We don’t explain it away. We don’t over-explain it. We believe it. It’s a matter of faith. In believing and in eating, we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

What joy we have in this tradition! Jesus feeds us with exactly what we need to sustain us in the journey through the valley of the shadow of death. He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. On that table, on His altar, is His very Body and Blood. As often as we eat His Body and drink His blood, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Tonight we once again proclaim the mystery of faith in eating and drinking the medicine of immortality. It’s a tradition unlike any other.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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