Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on Maundy Thursday, 4/14/2022. Due to ongoing technical difficulties, the service was not broadcast. The bulletin is available as a PDF: MaundyThursday Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the Sacrament of the Altar, from Luther’s Small Catechism, and the lectionary readings for the day. To read the Bible texts for Maundy Thursday, click here.
When God bound up the future of all the nations in the history of Abraham and His seed, He made that history prophetic. Each event and every rite of Israel became flower buds on a tree. Each bud, each law, each ceremony, as beautiful as it was, was temporary, destined to blossom as a flower and then to ripen into fruit. That fruit is the cross of Jesus Christ, the culmination of all history, the gift of God to man, and under the shadow of the cross all nations are gathered and made sons of God.
Of all those rites and in all that varied history of grace, in the great testament of the prophets, the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are the most essential. They marked the miraculous deliverance from the angel of death who passed over those houses which were marked with the blood of the lamb, and they marked the release from bondage to Pharaoh that immediately followed. That was the beginning of Israel as a nation. In the Passover, the children of Israel, miraculously preserved and set free, became a people by the direct intervention of the God Who Is and the blood of the Lamb.
The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were kept in all the following years. God’s people marked those great and defining historical events and gifts. But that which they marked was in itself only a mark of something else. They were buds awaiting the light of the Incarnation to shine in the darkness, warm the soil, and bring life to light.
The Passover and all the history of Israel opened as a flower at the nativity of our Lord. The angels sang and peace was declared. The earth bloomed in joy, but that bloom was still not the end. That from Mary’s virgin womb matured. He was the loveliest fruit: the Lord Himself, in the flesh. And He ripened, became sweet and good for food for us upon the tree of life in the desolate garden of white-washed tombs, in the place of the skull, outside the City of Peace. There, strung up, hanging like that which once tempted Eve, now tempting Satan, is the fruit of God’s love and the fulfillment of Israel’s history and rites: our hope and salvation.
It is because the Passover was the most essential and central of Old Testament events that our Lord lays down His life in the midst of its remembrance. He goes as a lamb to the slaughter, silent, but not without knowledge. He lays down His life as a sacrifice, of His own accord, and He chooses the time. He is the Lamb whose blood shields us from the angel of death and delivers us from the slavery of Pharaoh. He is both the new Adam and the true Israel, the One Who Is.
And if that simple, undeniable truth causes Caiaphas to rend his garments in mock piety, let it cause us to rend our hearts in humility and repentance. For the God Who Is and always has been – who set the continents into their place, who carved out the oceans by His hand, and who carries the sky upon His shoulders – He has joined our cause, been born of the virgin, and goes as sacrifice to the cross.
He has become one of us, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones. Our God is a Man, come to be a sacrifice, a lamb, worthy of our sins, a complete and holy substitute. The life His veins carried through this dying world is poured out upon the earth and down our throats to cleanse our broken hearts. Indeed, we ought then to rend our hearts and repent, that there be room for Him and His holy blood.
For this He was born, and for this He died: to have the body and blood that would be offered on our behalf, to give us that body and that blood as food and drink, sweet and satisfying to sinners desperately in need of forgiving food. On that holy night in which He was betrayed, on the very eve of His crucifixion and sacrifice, while yet in His humility, He gave His body and His blood to us, which He would give on the next day for us. For this He was born, and for this He died.
He, His precious body and His holy blood, is the fruit of God’s love, the culmination of history and the continuance of God’s own nation. It was only a bud in Egypt, only a type in the lambs, bulls, and goats, only a promise yet to be fulfilled in the prophetic word. It flowered when the Lord preached on the mountainside. It flowered when He healed the sick and turned water into wine. But now it is mature. Now it is ripe. It has come to what it was intended for all along, to what was prophesied against the devil in the garden: it is the very means and substance of our reconciliation with the Father. We have a new tree, a new fruit, and a new way back to God. Thus are we, by grace, back where we belong.
The woman has a Seed. That Seed has grown and is fruit. That fruit restores us to the garden’s fellowship and beyond. It undoes death and removes the curse. Here, in His Holy Supper, the Lord gives Himself to us, to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of sins. This is what it is to be a Christian, not simply to be spared death but to have fellowship with God and to be sundered forever from the devil.
The fruit of the tree is on the paten and in the chalice. The angel of death passes over. He has no claim upon us. We belong to God. We bear His watery name. We eat at His table. We are His people and more. We are not merely guests, sojourners in His house for but an hour, but we are members of the royal family raised up from stones. We are not Gentile dogs hoping for crumbs, worshiping what we do not know. We, by grace, are the Lord’s own beloved and immaculate bride. We belong to Him. We are baptized. We eat at His table. We are gathered under the protecting shadow of the cross.
This is the Church of the New Testament. Christ Himself is her mediator. Like the Church of the Old Testament, it is a testament of blood. Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us. His body and blood have been rent asunder in death and joined again in the resurrection.
Let us celebrate the feast not with the old leaven, but with sincerity and truth, with faith, hope, and love. For it is not merely the beauty of bud or flower that brings us joy tonight, but the full fruit of His love. And it is not merely our houses that are marked with the blood of the Lamb, but our very hearts and souls.