|Text: Luke 22:19,20
(Jesus said:) This is my body given for youÖThis is Godís new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you."
Sometimes we hear of the tremendous sacrifices that people make. A well known story of sacrifice comes from the Second World War. Maximillian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest, was arrested by the Gestapo and interred at Auschwitz for political crimes in February, 1941. He had been helping Jews in Poland. Toward the end of July, an escape was discovered in Kolbe's group during roll call.
The camp commandant arbitrarily selected ten men to die by starvation in reprisal. One of those ten who were selected begged, "Have mercy! I have a wife and children!" Father Kolbe, whose name was not on the death list stepped forward and offered to take his place. The condemned man was saved and the innocent man went into a cell with nine others where they all died.
The man for whom Kolbe died survived Auschwitz. He rejoined his wife and children. He lived knowing that his life since 1941 had been a gift because of the ultimate sacrifice made by someone else.
This is a powerful story about the extent people can be generous givers. We marvel at this kind of sacrifice Ė generous, unreserved, selfless, giving. We wonder how anyone could do anything like this and we marvel at the love that is behind such committed and unselfish giving.
The theme for my address tonight is a very simple one - "God gives". This theme could be a theme for Christmas. God gives.
You see, the celebration of Christmas and Easter go hand in hand. We canít have one without the other. When the child Jesus was only a few days old, Mary was told that this child is chosen for the salvation and destruction of many in Israel Ö and sorrow like a sharp sword will break your own heart" (Luke 2:34,35). The manger and the cross go hand in hand.
And so here we are at Easter and the theme God gives is prominent in our minds again. On Good Friday Jesus gives himself totally and completely. He has no concern for his own safety and welfare. He goes all the way to the cross, and dies there on Calvary Hill.
He gives up his freedom and is arrested and cruelly
treated by the authorities.
He gives his life on the cross so that we can have forgiveness and eternal life.
He gives us freedom from God's judgement on our sin and death.
He gives us the promise of life forever because he has overcome the power that sin and death have over us.
He gives us peace knowing that he has done everything to ensure that nothing will be able to separate us from the love God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:39).
He gives us the assurance that he, the living Lord, and he is able to help us in every situation that life throws at us.
There can be no doubt about it Ė God gives everything to us wholeheartedly and completely. John says, "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5:11). And Paul when talking about death and how powerless it is in the face of the resurrection states cheerfully and boldly, "Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:57).
As Jesus sat or reclined around the Passover table with his disciples he again gives. He takes some bread, gives it to his disciples and says, "This is my body given for you" (Luke 21.19). Likewise he takes a cup of wine, passes it to those around him and says, "This is my blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin".
Iím sure the disciples didnít understand what Jesus was driving at as he spoke those words in the Upper Room that night, but they certainly understood when they reflected on the whole crucifixion scene. They came to realise that Jesus was giving him his body that was nailed to the cross and gave to them the blood he shed on the cross. And when they celebrated this special meal in the future they remembered with thankfulness all that he did to achieve forgiveness and reconciliation with God for them.
Now in the supper, he calls on us his disciples to remember what he has done for them. And as we remember we are assured of our salvation and the hope of eternal life. As we eat and drink we realise that he is giving us his very real body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
We come to this altar with our whole lives laid bare before God. We can hide nothing as we kneel in repentance.
As we eat and drink his body and blood we are assured that
all is forgiven. That he loves us in spite of our sinfulness, and wants all of
us to enjoy one anotherís company in the kingdom of God.
As we eat and drink each of us is assured that the love of God will not give up on us and burns as strongly for us as it did that day his Son died on a cross because of his love for us.
And itís just at this point that our celebration of the Lordís Supper turns to thankfulness and praise. We have again tasted the goodness of God. He has given us everything we need. He has given us a gift that is far more generous than we ever realise. He has given us the body and blood of the Son of God. He has given us a clean slate. We are forgiven. We have eternal life.
A middle aged man lived alone on his farm during the financial depression of the 1930s. A welfare officer was sent to visit the impoverished farmers of the region to make small loans for seed, stock, and improvements, or even aid simply to survive.
Coming to this farmer the welfare officer found him barely eking out a living on his farm, using primitive equipment. "If the government allotted you a sum of money," he asked, "what would you do with it?"
The floor of his house was covered with broken bits of lino, some of the curtains were thread bare, much of the furniture was recycled crates and kerosene tins, Ö but he looked up at him and said, "I think I would give it to the poor."
This man saw the needs of others as more important and greater than his own. Thatís the kind of generosity Jesus has shown to us. Totally unconcerned about his own welfare, he gave everything to the point of giving his own life, for our sake.
And it follows then that after we have experienced the love and forgiveness of God here in this church through the sacrament of Holy Communion, we go out into the world, into our families, into the affairs of the Church, and reflect that same kind of unreserved generosity. God renews and refreshes us through Holy Communion and sends us out into our daily lives challenging us to have the same kind of faith and love and unreserved generosity.
But you and I know how hard this is. It is our nature to be selfish and tight fisted. Thank God for his love and generosity Ė he has given us his Son. As we receive the Sacrament, let us offer to God a short prayer of thanks.
"God is good; he has given us everything".
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
13th April, 2006