The Holy Gospel for Maundy Thursday is… NOT about the Sacrament of the Altar.
Or is it?
While it isn’t the institution of the Sacrament, Jesus washing the disciples feet is all about Holy Communion. You can read it after the jump, or click here to listen.
The audio has several points clarified that aren’t in the manuscript.
It seems strange that on the day when we celebrate the institution of the Sacrament of the Altar, we don’t hear the Gospel reading of the institution of the Sacrament. We hear the words in the Epistle reading, but not the story around it, as we do in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The Gospel reading itself is from John, the only of the evangelists NOT to include the institution narrative.
Instead, we hear what happened immediately after the institution of the supper. After dinner – that is, after the supper – Jesus gets up, takes off his outer garment grabs a towel, and begins washing the disciples feet – a task reserved for the lowliest of servants.
Jesus showing the disciples the love he has for them, and the love that we are to have for each other.
Not really what we normally think of as sacramental imagery. Except that it is. Jesus tells Peter – unless I wash you, you have no part in me. Must be washed by Jesus – A baptism sort of thing.
As for the Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus is giving a sermon on the effect and benefit of the sacrament.
How so? We learn the benefits of the eating and drinking in the small catechism, Forgiveness, life and salvation. So, we get accustomed to thinking of the sacrament as a purely internal sort of thing. After all, Paul says, let a man examine himself. The forgiveness, life and salvation is given to me. The words “for you” require all hearts to believe. Since our sinful nature doesn’t want to love God or others, it’s easy for us to get so wrapped up in the sacrament that we forget it is not just a personal thing.
Paul : As often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes…
Luther’s Post communion prayer “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another…” This prayer puts the sacrament firmly in the realm of joint activity. First, that we would all be strengthened in faith toward God, second that we would be strengthened in love toward one another. That takes another to be strengthened in love towards. The most common name in English for the Sacrament of the Altar is “Holy Communion.” A communion – joining together in Christ.
It isn’t a coincidence that, as John relates the final words that Jesus says to his disciples before being betrayed and crucified, Jesus says, “love one another.” Not a coincidence that this occurs immediately following the institution of the Blessed Sacrament. One of the appendices to Luther’s Small catechism is questions drawn up by Dr. Luther for those who intend to go to the sacrament. Question 18 “Finally, why do you wish to go to the sacrament? That I may learn to believe that Christ, out of great love, died for my sin, and also to learn from him to love God and my neighbor.”
The Sacrament of the Altar can not be just a personal thing. When you receive the body and blood of your Lord, you are joined to him in a one-flesh sort of way. You have taken his body and blood into yourself, and now the life you live is his life lived in you. So already, it goes beyond you. Because Jesus did not live just for himself. He lived so that he could love others by showing them the love that he and his heavenly father have for each other. A love seen when Jesus fulfills the will of his heavenly father and goes to his death to save you.
But your not just joined to Christ. In being joined to Christ, you are joined to all those who have been joined to him. You are now one with Christians of all times and places. You are in communion with them. United together with them in Christ. And this unity is not just a human thing, it is an eternal unity, a gift given by Jesus to his Holy Church.
And in this unity, you are given the opportunity to show love to your neighbor. It’s not always easy. But then, that’s what makes it love. Jesus gave his own life to save those who crucified him. As they were nailing him the cross, he asked his heavenly father that they might have forgiveness. Now that’s love. You have the opportunity to show love to those around you, both those that you like, and those that you don’t. As one mother was heard saying to her children, “You don’t have to like each other, you have to love each other.” We are joined in Christ. We now love as Christ has loved us. And we better get used to being around other Christians, because we’re going to be with them for a long time.
That’s what eternal salvation means. Living together in love, both with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, here in time, and hereafter in eternity. This isn’t just figurative spiritual talk. As we will hear tomorrow and Sunday, this is about Jesus death and resurrection – a death that now is yours, and resurrection that is given to you when you are baptized. The life you live is no longer your own. And if you die your death is not your own. It is Jesus life, and Jesus death. That’s what the body and blood of Jesus in the sacrament mean. That you are now joined to Christ, that we are joined to each other, and that we now share together in his life, receiving the forgiveness he won for us, and showing love to those around us.
That’s what Jesus did, and it’s what he still does through his holy church, of which you are a part. It’s what he does whenever two or three are gathered in his name to hear his word, to receive him who comes to us in his body and blood, to go out from this place in the love of Christ, praying that God gives us opportunity to show that love to those around us.
On this night, when we remember and celebrate the institution of the blessed sacrament, and also the beginning of our Lord’s passion, which he went though for the forgiveness of your sins, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. Let us remember and celebrate and be joined to him in his holy supper, for you, for the forgiveness of your sins, and the salvation of your body and soul.