Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Text: Mark: 14:17-20, 22-24

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me - one who is eating with me. They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "One who dips bread into the bowl with me...While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they drank from it. "This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many", he said to them.

In the thick of everything


Have you ever been bush walking and following a trail that at times was difficult with steep climbs that left you exhausted? In other places, the trail was overgrown and the tree roots and holes cause you to stumble. You had to walk very carefully for fear of twisting an ankle.

But you pushed on, you kept on walking and just when you were about to give up and turn around and head for home you came across this magnificent scene. In the thick of the bush, in the midst of what seemed to be endless trails and millions of bugs there was this untold beauty. A glorious waterfall, a trickling creek and mossy rocks and logs with the sunlight filtering through the trees. You could spend hours there in the thick of the bush soaking in the beauty and the peaceful atmosphere and listening only to the sound of the birds and the waterfall. But eventually you have to go back along the track and through the millions of bugs to the car and then home. But this time when you do so, you walk that distance with the memory of what you have seen and heard.

When we look at the events of Maundy Thursday, the night Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples and then went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, we see something similar. It's a bit like that bush walk. There in the most unlikely place, there in the thick of the most uninviting terrain, there where you wouldn't expect to find such beauty, you find Jesus saying to his disciples and to us, the church down through the ages, This is my body... this is my blood.

The Last Supper is sandwiched between Judas' act of treachery when he went to the chief priests and offered to hand Jesus over to them for thirty pieces of silver, Jesus announcement that one of his disciples will betray him and then Judas' act of betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. There's no doubt about it. The Last Supper is surrounded by treachery. The Last Supper is celebrated in the thick of sin.

When Jesus sat down with his disciples and said "This is my body … This is my blood" sin was running rampant. The Last Supper in the Gospels was not set in some high and holy moment of Jesus’ life. In fact, quite the opposite. Judas had already put in motion his dirty work which culminated in a false kiss of betrayal. Jesus was arrested like a criminal and dragged off to court in the middle of the night. Peter denied three times that he ever knew Jesus even though he had boldly stated that he would never do such a thing; the other disciples fled and hid in fear and shame and guilt.

So it was then, so it is still today. And so it must always be in this mixed up contradictory world of ours. Holy Communion has its setting in the world that we know so well with its conflicts, stains, shame and betrayal. Holy Communion is not found in antiseptic holy conditions. Holy Communion is not there for holy and righteous people who feel they have got it all together in their spiritual lives.

Holy Communion has its place right in the thick of everything that happens in our lives, and you know as well as I do, that every day we are in the thick of sin. Jesus takes bread and wine and gives them to us. This is his body and blood, given to us right where we are, in the world, stained with the world's shame. Jesus gives his body and blood to the guilty, to those who have in some way betrayed Jesus as Lord of their lives. In spite of what we are, what we have done, and what we have failed to do, he gives us a meal sharing himself with us.

There is no escape from the world, for all of its shame. There is no escape from our weaknesses and sin. Jesus does not remove us from all of this to give us Holy Communion. Rather he comes to us in the midst of our weakness and guilt and shame and gives us his body and blood right in the middle of it all. In this meal Jesus shares our sorrows, he join us in our troubles, he sympathises with our sadness, he struggles as we struggle with our weakness and he gives us victory over it all.

Again let me refer to the bush walking illustration. We struggle with the difficult terrain of our daily lives. We wonder if we are going to make it. We even wonder if the whole thing is worthwhile. Weary, worn out, sin stained, guilt ridden, our spirits down, we come here and we taste that food and drink and we hear those words of Jesus again: Take and eat this is my body. Take and drink this is my blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. We are refreshed, revived.

It some times happens that people feel that they are too weary, too sin stained, too guilt ridden to come into the presence of their Lord. They feel they are not clean enough to come before his altar, or take into their hands his holy things. And if you know anything about God, that is a natural response. God does judge the sinner. He will not allow the imperfect to come into his presence. There is not one of us who is good enough to come here and to take into our hands his holy things.

But God has provided a way for us. He sent his Son to make us right with himself. He took on himself our sin and reconciled us with God. And he keeps on forgiving us and assuring us of his love when we come here into his presence. He says: Take and eat; … take and drink... for the forgiveness of your sins. You might say it's like coming to an oasis after a hot dry journey, or to that wonderful scene in the bush after a long tiring hike - you are refreshed and reassured even though the journey has been a tough one. And you are glad you have made the journey, because now you have the will and the strength to go on.
We need the Lord's Supper to strengthen us in our endeavour to do God's will in our lives.
We need the Lord's Supper to strengthen our faith and our love for the journey ahead of us as we seek to do God's will in our daily lives.
We need the Lord's Supper for the reassurance that we are the Lords and that his love for us is unlimited.

As we eat and drink in the midst of all the sordidness and ugliness of our lives, he shares our troubles whatever they might be and he demonstrates that he is with us, really with us, as we eat and drink his body and blood.
Through that simple food and drink he assures us, who are constantly caught up in the ways of the world, that we are forgiven.
The food that Jesus gives us to eat and drink guarantees that we are still loved by him and that our relationship with him has not changed even though we too have betrayed the Lord with our lives. We come to this Supper trusting, that through this meal we have forgiveness and salvation.

After we have taken in the wonderful scene for awhile, the waterfall, the quiet creek, the mossy rocks and logs, the sunlight streaming through the trees, you feel you could stay there forever and bask in the peace and beauty, but, you have to go back into the real world, back to your home, your work, etc.

It's like that with Holy Communion too. We come here, we are refreshed and feel reassured, revived, but then we are sent from here back into our everyday lives, back to our homes, our work, our neighbourhood etc. We take with us the peace we have received from hearing again that our sins are forgiven, that we have a loving Saviour, and that we have a heavenly Father who watches over us in our daily journeys.

We are sent out as Christ's ambassadors and disciples to carry out his mission and ministry among the people we come across during the next week. We are commissioned to love as he has loved us. And it is just as we go about our tasks in the coming week that we find that journey can get very heavy going, very painful, and very distressing.

It is just for these times he has given us his body and blood in the midst of every weak moment and every painful event and every sordid corner of our lives. He comes into our lives with his presence when he says, This is my body ... This is my blood. Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sin.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
17th April, 2003

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