This morning is the beginning of Holy Week. As we saw earlier with the children waving the palm branches, this week we remember the week that lead to our Lord’s crucifixion. We remember how he entered to shouts of Hosanna and how he wept over Jerusalem. We remember the cleansing of the temple and the last few teachings. We remember how he told the disciples he would suffer and die, but they did not understand. In this week, we remember the death of Christ – who died for the sins of the world. And next Sunday morning we will join with the disciples as they marvel at the good news of the resurrection of Jesus.
During that last week, Jesus sat down for a special meal – the Passover. It was a meal that drew the people back to the Exodus, when the lamb was slain, the blood put on the doorposts and the people saved from death and slavery. It was a meal Jesus would have eaten every year of his life with his family. It is a now a meal he eats with his disciples.
This Lent we have been joining Jesus around the table and this morning we join him around the last table at his last meal before he will be crucified. And we will be watching for what Jesus does at this last supper. It is Luke chapter 22, beginning in verse 1. Feel free to turn there with me. Luke 22, beginning in verse 1. Luke is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Luke 22, beginning in verse 1. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.
Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching
and the chief priests and the teachers of the Law
were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus,
for they were afraid of the people.
Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.
Then Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard
and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.
They were delighted and agreed to give him money.
He consented and watched for an opportunity
to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread
on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.
Jesus sent Peter and John, saying,
“Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”
“Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.
He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you.
Follow him to the house that he enters and say to the owner of the house,
‘The Teacher asks: where is the guest room,
where I can eat the Passover with my disciples.’
He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished.
Make preparations there.”
They left and found things just as Jesus had told them.
So they prepared the Passover.
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.
And he said to them,
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said,
“Take this and divide it among you.
For I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying,
“This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper, he took the cup, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you.
But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.
The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed.
But woe to that man who betrays him!”
They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I struggled to know how to preach this passage this morning. I struggled because there is so much here for us. The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are the two thickest, richest, most fulsome practices of the Christian life. I spent hours reading and wrestling, I spent two days this past week at a conference listening to top scholars discuss the Lord’s Supper and my mind has been swirling. There is simply too much for us to even think of doing the sacrament justice this morning. We could notice how Jesus desires to eat with the disciples and how he is still with us now at the table. We could notice how Jesus says he will not eat it again until the kingdom of God comes and how that sets our hearts longing for heaven. We could notice the different aspects of the Passover celebration that form the context of Jesus’ words – when they ate, how they ate, where they sat, and who sat where. All of this would be good and right and serve to build up our faith and renew our minds.
But it is too much. Coming to the story of the Last Supper is a bit like sitting down for lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in a year. Where do you begin? So much has happened, there is so much to say. If you meet with someone every week, that’s one thing, but once a year, It can feel overwhelming.
Instead of trying to do everything, we are going to focus on two aspects of this story and they center around the words of Jesus. Our hope is that, like a fantastic gem, by looking from different angles, the light will shine through in beautiful ways.
First, Jesus gave. verse 19: And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”
Three times in this verse, we hear that Jesus gave. He gave thanks. He gave the bread to his disciples, and his body was given. He gave. He gave. He gave.
We are used to a world of earning. Input effort, output rewards. We work to earn a paycheck. We study to pass the test. We practice to improve our skills. We put in the effort and we expect results. This is how the world seems to work. We do not expect things to come to us for free and we struggle with resentment toward those who do. We expect to work, but we expect for our work to be rewarded in some way.
We live in a world of earners. “There is no such thing as a free lunch” we are told. But in this world of earners, Jesus gives and we receive. At the last supper, Jesus gives what is unearned. “This is my body given for you.”
The Last Supper is a table of grace. It is not a table approached with thoughts of doing, of earning, of achieving, only receiving. It is a table where the Lord Jesus Christ breaks and gives, where he provides food and nourishment, where he gives and gives and gives. At the table, Jesus gives and the disciples are called to receive these gifts of God.
When we come to the table, we bring nothing. We don’t wear our honor cords as we approach the Lord’s table. We don’t bring the size of our house or the size of our paycheck. It makes no difference how many acres we have when we approach the table of the Lord. We come and Jesus gives. We receive the bread and the cup as the gifts of God for the people of God. Jesus gives the bread. He gives the cup. Ultimately, he gives himself to us and we receive him by grace – “This is my body given for you.” We receive Jesus himself at the table.
Jesus gives and we receive.
This was the way of things at the Last Supper – Jesus gives and the disciples receive. It is the way of things when we come to the table – Jesus gives and we receive. This is not only the way of things at the table, this is the way of salvation. Jesus gives and we receive. We cannot earn our way into God’s grace. We receive God’s grace. When we enter into relationship with Christ by faith, Jesus gives himself to us. He takes our brokenness, our sin, our guilt and takes it to himself and, in exchange, gives us his righteousness, his holiness, his grace. When the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ, he gives us himself and we receive it by grace.
Jesus gives and we receive.
This is not only the way of things at the table, not only the way of salvation at the beginning, this is the whole of the Christian life. Every step along the way of faith is a gift from God. We fight sin, yes, we seek the kingdom of God, yes, but our progress in the Christian life, our sanctification is not a matter of earning or productivity, but is the grace of union with Christ. Jesus gives himself to us, uniting us to him by the Spirit and, in doing so, makes us holy. It is grace all the way down, it is Jesus all the way down.
Jesus gives and we receive.
When the disciples sat around that table on that fateful night long ago, they were being ushered into a world of grace. Jesus, who eagerly desired to eat this Passover with them before he suffered, broke bread and gave it to them. He poured out the cup and gave it to them. He gave, he gave, and he gave, and they received it.
And in that supper, they got a glimpse of the day ahead – the day only we who know the resurrection could ever call ‘Good Friday.’ In that supper, as Jesus broke the bread and poured out the cup, they had a glimpse of Christ – his body broken and his blood poured out on the cross for the sin of the whole world. He gave, he gave, and he gave. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross.
Long before that night, the people of God sat around a different table. Nine plagues had ravaged Egypt, but Pharaoh’s hard heart refused to let God’s people free. At that table long ago, they sat huddled with their staffs in hand and belts around their waist. At that table, they baked the bread unleavened – not waiting for it to rise. Earlier that day, God had told them to sacrifice a perfect, unblemished lamb, to brush the wood of their doorposts with its blood. They were told that God would see the blood of the lamb and pass-over their house, while one last plague would claim the lives of the firstborn of Egypt. They sat huddled in their homes, breaking bread and drinking a cup, while the blood of a lamb provided the means for their rescue. As they arose from that supper the next day, the people of God marched out of Egypt free.
Every year, God told his people to re-enact that meal, to remember how he liberated them from Egypt. Israel did not earn its freedom. They did not perform well and then get drafted as God’s chosen people. The mighty God, with the blood of a lamb, and his judgment liberated God’s people from slavery. Every year, the people ate this meal in remembrance of God’s deliverance.
Then Jesus sat with his disciples. He broke bread and gave it to them. He poured out the cup and gave it to them. Then the next day, the true passover lamb died. And his blood upon the wood of the cross means that all who trust in him are freed from sin and death and do not experience the judgment of God. Just as God gave and the Israelites received their deliverance, so Christ – the perfect lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – gave the bread, gave the cup, gave his body, gave his blood – and the people of God received.
We must remember how we come to the Supper, because in this world of earning, we are constantly tempted to try and bring performance in through the back door into the Christian life. And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”
Jesus gives the bread. He gives the cup. Ultimately, he gives himself to us.
Jesus gives himself to us, but he also gives himself for us. This is my body given for you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you. These gifts are for the disciples. This is the second aspect of this story I want us to see this morning. The bread, the cup, the body, the blood – these are given for you.
Every time the disciples broke bread and drank the cup from that day onward, the Holy Spirit would confirm in their hearts that what was done the next day on the cross was done for them. There must have been times where they, like us, experience doubts. I know that Jesus Christ died for the sin of the world, but how do I know that what he did, he did for me. How do I know that my sin isn’t too big or too deep, that he bore the curse on the cross for me? Every time they broke the bread, they remembered that just as the bread was given for them, so was Christ’s body on the cross. Every time they took the cup, they remember that just as the cup was poured out for them, so Christ poured out his blood for their sins. I love how the Heidelberg Catechism puts it,
as surely as I see with my eyes
the bread of the Lord broken for me
and the cup shared with me,
his body was offered and broken for me
and his blood poured out for me on the cross.
Jesus gathers his disciples on the very night in which he was betrayed and said, This is my body given for you. and This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you. Just as the supper, so also the cross.
In this way, God strengthens our faith when we come to the table. Jesus gives and we receive. He gives bread, cup, body, and blood to us and promises at the table that he gave his life for us as well.
All this God does in Christ through simple bread and a shared cup. That night, the disciples must have known something was different, but they would not understand it fully until the Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. Instead, they simply received what Jesus gave them in trust, trusting that he would nourish them that night at the table and always.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.