Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and said, "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in memory of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup and said, "This cup is God's new covenant, sealed with my blood. Whenever you drink it, do so in memory of me."

A night to remember

In my travels I have visited some of the great battlefields in Europe. While walking through countryside that was once a place of death – a place where so many people lost their lives – it’s impossible to not be moved by what had taken place on what are now green pastures.
In the town of Ypres there is a special arched gateway with hundreds of thousands of names inscribed on it – soldiers who had disappeared during the battles and whose remains were never found. Every night at 8pm buglers play the last post, calling everyone to remember those who died from all countries defending their town.
This week we heard the news that the wreck of the HMAS Sydney had been discovered on the floor of the ocean. This ship sank after a battle with a German ship and all 648 crew members were lost. We have seen on TV families of the crew holding photos of their father or grandfather or uncle and remembering the person whose life had been suddenly cut short.

Remembering people and their deeds of the past is an important part of our lives. We remember with deep appreciation the part that someone has played in our lives.

Sometimes we have what we might call "keep sakes" that help us remember. It may not fetch much if you sold it but as far as you are concerned it is one of your special treasures. Every time you look at it you remember the very special relationship that you had with that person. This is especially so if that person is no longer present with you. Even though death has intervened in your relationship with that person, these "keep sakes" make the memories of that person real and alive.

When Jesus planned his departure from his friends on earth and thought of those who would be his followers throughout the centuries, he wanted something by which they would remember him; remember what happened on the first Good Friday and the reason why he came. And so he gave us a "keep sake", you might say - the Lord's Supper.

One of the important aspects of Holy Communion that we emphasise is the real presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper. As we eat and drink the bread and wine we are eating Christ’s real body and blood sacrificed for us on the cross. In a wonderful way our sin is forgiven and our faith in God’s love for us is made stronger.
Our relationship with God is renewed and our hope for eternal life is strengthened as we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood. As we eat the bread and drink the wine in Holy Communion it is as if Jesus is personally beaming all the love, forgiveness, hope and faith directly on to us from heaven. He says this is "for you" and gives it to you with so much love.

There is another aspect of Holy Communion that I want to especially emphasise tonight. Jesus gave us the Lord's Supper to help us remember.

He first celebrated this meal just before Judas betrayed him to the temple guards in the Garden of Gethsemane. In an upper room, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples. He took a piece of bread and gave it to his disciples to eat, and said, "This is my body. Remember it was broken for you." He took a cup of wine and gave it to them to drink and said, "Remember that my blood was shed for your sins."

The Passover was and still is a special time of remembering how God chose his people from the beginning of time and how he led his chosen people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. God wanted them to remember the way Moses challenged the great Pharaoh of Egypt to let God's people go, and the series of plagues that were sent to convince Pharaoh to free the Israelites.

God wanted his people to remember how he broke the stubborn resistance of Pharaoh with the warning that the first born in Egypt would be slain. There was only one way to escape this death. Each household was to kill a lamb and put some of its blood on the doorposts of their houses. The flesh of the lamb was to be roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. When the angel of death saw the blood on the doorposts he would "pass over" their homes and those inside would be safe.

The Israelites did as they were instructed and they were kept safe that awful night. The wailing of mothers who had lost a child was heard throughout the land of Egypt. Saved by the blood of a lamb, the people of Israel left Egypt.

God said, "This day shall be for you a memorial and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations." Still today, faithful Jews celebrate the Passover at this time of the year and thank God for their deliverance by the power of God.

And so when Jesus and his disciples and all their fellow Israelites celebrated the Passover they looked back and celebrated the fact that without God's untiring, never-failing love for his people they would have been left for dead in the Sinai desert somewhere. When they celebrated the Passover they recalled with horror the slavery in Egypt, the lash on bare flesh, the scorching heat, working till they dropped. But they also recalled with great delight how God in his love saw them in their anguish and came to their rescue. They remembered the daily supply of food that fell from the heavens, how the cloud led them during the day, and a blazing fire at night - this whole fantastic story of how God rescued these complaining, grumbling, disobedient people is a sheer miracle.

Not only was the Passover a time of recalling, but it was also a time of thanksgiving and celebration. They praised God for his love.

Tonight we are remembering, celebrating and thanking God for his love. We are not celebrating the Passover, the feast that celebrated God's rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt, but we are celebrating a "new Passover", our rescue from slavery to sin and death. Jesus gave us a special meal to help us remember, he gave us his body and blood to eat and drink with the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins, and to help us remember the great love that he has for us.

This "new Passover" gets its meaning from the cross. Jesus gave his body and blood on the cross for you and me. He did it because of our desperate need to be made right with God. He did it because we are caught in slavery to sin and we can't do anything to free ourselves. Like the slaves in Egypt we are unable to free ourselves from this slavery. Our situation is desperate. If nothing is done to free us, we would all die as slaves to sin and death. God was prepared to go to any lengths to save us because of his love - even send his only Son to give his body and shed his blood on a cross.

As we eat and drink we remember the new life that Jesus has given us – to love one another just as he has loved us. We remember that just as Christ was a servant who knelt to wash the disciples’ feet he commands us to be servants of one another. We are reminded that in the body and blood of Jesus we are bound together as his dearly loved chosen ones whose key responsibility is to love another. Jesus said at the Last Supper and he says this to us tonight, "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples" (John 13:34).

Tonight we join with Christians the world over raising our voices in thanksgiving as we celebrate Holy Communion. In fact, one of the names used around the world for Holy Communion is "Eucharist", which means "thanksgiving". Like the Israel of old we thank God for his love and mercy, but unlike the ancient Israelites we have seen God's love at work in ways that has far outshone the Exodus event. We have seen with our eyes of faith the love of God at work freeing us from sin and death through the agony and dying and rising of Jesus.

We receive bread and we eat with it the body of Christ. We drink wine and hear the words: "This is my blood" and we remember.
We remember with regret that it was our sin that led to Jesus’ death on the cross.
We remember with repentant hearts that our lives have not demonstrated Christ living in us.
We remember with thanksgiving what Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection.
We remember with joy that our sins are forgiven.
We remember with anticipation when we will gather around the heavenly banquet table.
We remember in celebration that we have been given a new life to live as disciples of Christ.

Tonight we remember and celebrate the powerful love of God that has made our salvation possible. Tonight is a night to remember what it cost God to bring us forgiveness and eternal life. Tonight we remember and give thanks!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
20th March 2008
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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