Sermon Text: Matthew 26:26-28
Pastor Steven Pagels
In the name of Christ Jesus, dear friends:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Thent he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).
Three words of truth. If you have been worshiping at St. Matthew’s for the last six Wednesdays, you probably recognize those words as the theme of our midweek Lenten devotions. These short phrases that played an important role in the passion history include two very different questions. When the Lord predicted that one of his disciples would betray him, they went around the upper room, each one anxiously asking, “Is it I?” When Jesus stood trial before the Roman governor, he made the claim that everyone on the side of truth listens to him, a declaration that prompted Pilate to ask the somewhat cynical question, “What is truth?”
We meditated on other three-word phrases that came in the form of commands, including a couple of direct commands that came from the mouth of Jesus himself. In the Garden of Gethsemane, after he found his disciples sleeping, Jesus pleaded with them to “watch and pray.” In the upper room, after he found his disciples arguing about which of them was the greatest, Jesus encouraged them to follow his example and “love one another.”
And on the same night, in the same room, Jesus gave his disciples another three-word command. But this divine mandate was different. Jesus didn’t speak these words because his disciples had disappointed him. Jesus didn’t speak these words because he needed to correct them. This command was not so much a divine injunction as it was a gracious invitation.
And the best part is that the Lord extends the same invitation to his disciples who have gathered here this evening. These three words of truth (times two) are familiar to us because we hear them every time we receive communion, every time the bread is given, every time the cup is shared. Tonight your Savior comes to you and says…
Take And Eat…Take And Drink
- Here Jesus eagerly desires your presence
- Here Jesus graciously gives you his presents
In Luke’s account of the Last Supper, the Holy Spirit inserts an easy-to-miss detail about the Lord’s attitude about the Lord’s Supper. He told his disciples: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (22:15).
What made Jesus so eager to eat this meal with them? Why did he want to be in their company at all? He had spent the better part of three years with them, teaching them the same spiritual lessons again and again, and they were still slow to understand. In a few hours he would ask them for their prayers and their presence when he needed their support the most, and they would show Jesus their undying loyalty by falling asleep on him and then deserting him. And right before they sat down to share this special meal, the disciples were arguing about which of them was the best and which one of them Jesus needed the most.
I would understand if Jesus would have been eager to eat the Passover with the women who faithfully followed him and supported him during his ministry. I would understand if Jesus would have been eager to break bread with Martha and her sister Mary, who had given evidence of a much higher spiritual IQ than any of the Twelve. But none of those women were there that night. The disciples were. In spite of their obvious flaws, even though they were far from perfect, Jesus was eager to be with them.
In that upper room, and in the kingdom of God, the focus should never be on the guests. Instead, we focus our eyes on the host, on our Savior, the man who wasn’t afraid to associate with prostitutes or tax collectors or the worst kind of sinners…sinful people like us.
The fact that Jesus was eager to eat the Passover with his disciples in the upper room is a great comfort for the disciples of Jesus who are gathered in this room. Because we are no different. Because we are no better. Because when we take Paul’s words to heart and examine ourselves before receiving communion (1 Corinthians 11:28), we don’t like what we see. In fact, the picture is down right ugly.
Each of us carries our own heavy load of sins, but tonight let’s examine one specific area of our spiritual lives that may be lacking. Let’s take a closer look at the way we treat/view the sacrament. If you have ever received communion without thinking about it, if you have ever received communion without appreciating it, you are guilty. If you have ever thought of communion not as something that makes your faith stronger but as something that only makes the service longer, you are guilty. If in your mind you ever treat this gift like a burden to be endured and not a blessing to be enjoyed, you are guilty.
None of us deserves to be here. None of us deserves to be seated at the Lord’s table. No one deserves to partake of the Lord’s Supper. And yet Jesus invites us to come! Of course, he does because that is who he is and that is what he does. Jesus did not come into this world to be served, but to serve and to sacrifice his body and shed his blood for our sins of selfishness and ingratitude.
I can’t understand why Jesus would do that for me. My small mind can’t comprehend why Jesus would want to be with me or ever say to me, “Take and eat…Take and drink…” But he has, and he still does. He eagerly desires for you to eat and drink with him, and it gives him great joy to see you here tonight.
I know this to be true because Jesus is the host of this meal, and the host makes the guest list. Do you recognize your sins? Do you repent of your sins? Do you look to Jesus and Jesus alone for the forgiveness of your sins? If so, you are on the list. You are his invited guest. So don’t be timid. Don’t be afraid. Come! Come because the Lord eagerly desires your presence. Come so that Jesus can graciously give you his presents.
It is a time-honored tradition for people to exchange gifts on certain holidays, but not on this holy day. We give and receive gifts to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but we don’t associate the practice with the hours leading up to his death. Maybe that’s a mistake. Maybe we should. You don’t need to go out tonight and buy your loved ones any Maundy Thursday presents, but it would be entirely appropriate to give thanks for the gifts of love that God gives to us.
Luther provides us with a concise gift list in his small catechism. When we approach the Lord’s altar, when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we receive “forgiveness of sins, life and salvation…for where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
Forgiveness of sins. Three more words of truth. Words the Spirit inspired and Matthew recorded to assure us that the sacrament is more than a memorial meal. Taking communion is not something Christians do to show how much we love God. That view misses the point. That view leaves something out. That view ignores the fact that whenever you receive communion you are on the receiving end of a priceless gift. In communion Jesus gives you his true body and blood. In the sacrament Jesus offers you the forgiveness of your sins. In communion your Savior touches your senses so that you can literally taste and see that the Lord is good.
And as if the gift of forgiveness isn’t enough, our God is so gracious and so generous that he gives us even more. Another gift we receive in Holy Communion is related to that word, “communion.” It reminds us that we are part of something greater. We are members of a Christian family. We are part of a Christian community. And when we celebrate communion, we celebrate our Christian unity.
As I look out from the pulpit this evening, I don’t see a bunch of clones. I see people, lots of people, lots of different people. I see male and female, young and old. Some of us work in factories. Others work in offices. Some of us are lifelong Lutherans. Others are brand new Christians. Whether we are weak or strong or struggling or thriving, when we come forward, when we stand shoulder-to-shoulder, God sees us as equals. God sees us as his children. God sees us as brothers and sisters. Through this sacred meal, God binds us closer to himself and to each other.
Communion is a visible reminder that God has not called us to get together for an hour or two a week and then go our separate ways. Communion is a powerful reminder that the members of this congregation are members of a family. And we do what families do. We support each other. We encourage each other. We pray for each other. We love one another.
And we support and encourage and love one other as we strive together to reach our heavenly goal. That truth is represented in communion in church architecture, not necessarily in our church’s architecture, but in some Scandinavian Lutheran churches. Some sanctuaries in this part of the country have a curved semi-circular communion rail. It is only a half circle to remind parishioners that there is another half, an invisible half that represents the church in heaven.
The picture is powerful. The saints militant kneel around their half-circle, while the saints triumphant are gathered in theirs. Together those two halves represent the whole church, the church on earth and the church in heaven. And those two halves form a full circle that surrounds the Lamb of God, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world and now sits on his throne forever and ever. And every time we eat and drink together we are given a small taste of the full communion we will enjoy with our Savior and all the saints in glory.
At the risk of being a bit forward, I would like to close this sermon with a command of my own. Because the Lord eagerly desires your presence, because the Lord wants to give you his presents, I invite you to come. Come to the Lord’s table. Come and receive all the gifts God gives in Communion. Take and eat. Take and drink. Amen.