God’s Old Testament people often celebrated around food. Each week families gathered around the table for the Sabbath meal. The greatest of all these celebrations around food was the Passover. They enjoyed a feast of roasted lamb, but more important than the food was that they enjoyed a feast of God’s word along with it. Each year at the Passover, they reviewed what God had done for them; how he brought their ancestors out of Egypt with a mighty arm, performing miracle after miracle on their behalf. He brought them through the Red Sea, through the desert, and finally gave them victory over their enemies in the Promised Land. Everyone was involved in the celebration. The father led, the mother lit candles, the children asked and answered questions, and everyone sang Psalms together.
As far as we know, there were no children present when Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples on the first Maundy Thursday. But think about who Jesus had invited to the meal with him.
James and John were there. They had recently asked to have the two highest places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom, something the group was still arguing about earlier that evening. On another occasion they had to be reprimanded by Jesus for asking if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy a village that had snubbed Jesus.
Peter was there. Yes, he had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God; but then Jesus had to rebuke him for suggesting that God’s plan couldn’t possibly include suffering. He even suggested that Peter was speaking like Satan. Peter, who at first refused to let Jesus wash his feet, but had not offered to wash the feet of others himself.
Those who had suggested to the mothers who brought their children to Jesus that Jesus had more important things to do than be bothered with children, they were there. Matthew, the former Tax Collector, was there. And, at least for a while, Judas, who had already struck a bargain with the Jewish leaders to betray Jesus, he was there too. Quite a motley assortment of sinners.
Maybe this group of imperfect, argumentative, sinful men reminds you of the group that gathers at your table for a holiday meal. If not, it sure does remind us of the imperfect, argumentative, sinful group that has gathered here tonight. We might wonder why Jesus would want to celebrate the Passover with those disciples. We might wonder why he would invite us to celebrate the new covenant meal with him, a meal that he instituted that night to take the place of the Passover. The answer is because he loved them, and he loves us in spite of all our imperfections. He invites us to his meal because he knows we need what he wants to give us.
In order to receive and appreciate what Jesus wants to give us in the meal we call the Lord’s Supper, Paul reminds us that we must first examine ourselves. We are to take some time before we come to this supper to look at ourselves very closely in the mirror of God’s law. Are you a husband, wife, mother, father, son, daughter, teacher, student, employer, employee? Identify your calling in life and then consider what God asks of you in that calling. How have you measured up to what God demands? Have you set your children an example of devotion to God? Have you talked, not just to them, but with them, about God and his word when you get up, when you sit down, when you drive them to activities? Have you been obedient and respectful to those in authority; bosses, parents, teachers? Have you treated those under your care with love and respect?
As you examine yourself in the mirror of God’s law you will see a reflection that isn’t pretty. You will be shown your sin and your need for a savior for you will realize that the burden of your sin is too great for you to bear, there is no way for you to save yourself. So, Jesus graciously invites you who have examined yourselves and who have recognized your sins, to come to his supper because wants to give you just what you need.
Jesus, on the night he knew he was going to be betrayed by Judas and forsaken by the rest who were dining with him, took bread from the Passover meal. It was unleavened bread because that’s what their ancestors had been told to prepare so that, when they received word from Pharaoh to leave they would be ready to leave; no waiting for dough to rise. It was bread without yeast, and yeast is sometimes used as a picture of sin. Sin may seem like a little thing but can quickly affect the whole batch of dough. It was bread that, because of the way it was prepared, may have had what looked like stripes, and holes as if it had been pierced. This bread had a lot about it that reminds us of Jesus, but Jesus makes it very clear that it is more than just a reminder. He says: take and eat, this is my body.
If the disciples were wondering if Jesus would do miracles like God had done through Moses during the Passover, this was it! If we wonder, “Why doesn’t Jesus do miracles today like he did when he lived on earth,” look no farther than these words. Who can possibly imagine how Jesus could give his disciples his body while he was standing right there in front of them? Who can possibly imagine how Jesus can give us his body, and at the same time give it to the millions of people who are celebrating the Lord’s Supper right now, when his body is at the right hand of God in heaven? The only explanation is that it’s an amazing miracle of God.
But Jesus wasn’t finished. He took the cup. The Passover meal involved the use of 4 cups of wine mixed with water. It’s likely that Jesus was holding the third cup, and after he gave thanks to God, he passed it to those around the table. He told them each to drink from it. He called the contents of that cup, my blood of the covenant. This was to be a new covenant sealed by his blood.
Blood had sealed the covenant Israel made with God at Mt. Sinai, but that covenant had been broken too many times to count. Blood had rescued his people from Egypt, for when he came to destroy all the firstborn he passed over and did not destroy any who had painted their door posts with the blood of the lamb. Jesus is our Passover Lamb. He is the fulfillment of what was pictured by that lamb and all the Old Testament sacrifices. His sacrifice of himself would only need to be offered once. His one-time, perfect sacrifice would win forgiveness for all the times the Old Covenant was broken. This New Covenant in his blood is what God foretold through Jeremiah. I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
The blood that Jesus was about to pour out on the cross, the blood of the only perfect Son of God, the blood that is holy and precious because it is the price that God demanded as payment for the sins of the word, is given to you and to me in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus says to us, take and drink, each of you individually because I want each of you to know and believe that this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many, for as many as will receive it, for the forgiveness of sins.
What a meal Jesus invites us to come to! We might be tempted not to come because we know how sinful and unworthy we are to dine with Jesus. But he eagerly wants to share it with us. We might be tempted not to come because it doesn’t seem like much of a meal. There’s no meat. There’s no dessert. It seems like only tasteless bread and cheap wine. But looks are deceiving. If you have examined yourself, you realize that everyone at the table is just as undeserving of being there as you are. If you have reviewed the words of Jesus, you realize that a miracle is taking place. Jesus is present. His body and blood, the means by which he won forgiveness for your every sin, is given to you under the bread and wine, so that you might have no doubt that your sins have been paid for in full. “And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation!” That’s a better, more satisfying and longer lasting meal than a juicy steak and a tasty dessert. Jesus invites us to this meal often. May our response always be, “Thank you Jesus, that’s just what I needed. Thank you for touching all my senses with something that assures me that my sins are all forgiven. Now help me to show my love and thankfulness by living my life for you every day.”