April 17, 2003 A+D
St. John 13:1-15; 34-35; 1 Cor 11:23-32
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The night before God’s people left Egypt was a horrific and bloody night. Children, cattle, and lambs died. They died because Pharaoh’s heart was hard; because Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit. They joined the rebel angel armies of Satan. They took up the cause of death and plunged all creation into chaos and destruction. They invented slavery.
But the lambs were innocent. They had not rebelled or sinned. They had not enslaved their brothers. Yet they died that night. They were sacrificed in the place of guilty people. The lambs’ blood marked the doors of those who submitted to God’s Word through Moses, who in repentance pleaded for mercy to the only One who can give it. Thus while the angel of death took the firstborn of the Egyptians, those marked by the blood of the lambs were spared. That blood counted for them and the angel passed over them.
It was a bloody night because while God loves the world, He has no sympathy for those who reject Him, who attempt to worship Him by some other name, who like Pharaoh will not hear His Word, or who ask Him to share their devotion and prayers with false gods. They get what they desire, the inheritance of the fall, death. He has no sympathy either for the lambs. Their blood is the price of man’s rebellion. He is unflinching about the sacrifice. They have to die that men would again be His. And thus God loved the world by killing them. He hid His people under innocent blood. The killing angel passed over them. God spared them from death through death.
But it was not enough that the lambs died in their place, that their doors were marked, that they hid behind that innocent blood, and trusted in God to deliver them. They still needed life. So they ate those lambs. Safe from death, they ate in a foreign land, in haste, in preparation for a pilgrimage to freedom. They drew strength and nourishment for the journey from the flesh God provided. It was a double giving: one a substitution, a satisfaction, the removal of guilt, and the turning away of the angel of death. The other giving was a feeding, a filling, a bestowal of righteousness. Thus they escaped slavery with the strength to travel to the promised land.
The night before Our Lord’s departure was also a bloody night. In the Garden His anguish turned to bloody sweat. But His Father was unflinching about the Sacrifice. He had to die so that men would again be His. God loved the world by killing Him. His blood would stain thorns, lashes, the hands of evil men, the wood of the cross, and the dust of Golgotha. That God would spare men death through death. But first, His Blood stained the Cup and the lips of His children. He marked the doors of theirs hearts with His blood and thus warded off the angel of death. For He is our Passover Lamb. He takes away the sin of the world. He does what those lambs in Egypt illustrated and prophesied. He lays down His life in a double giving: one of substitution and one of feeding. He dies in our place. He gives Himself as the food of salvation, providing strength and courage.
Thus we remember Him in the eating and the drinking. We proclaim the Death He died, once for all, as an atoning sacrifice to remove all wrath, all guilt, all sin; the Death that makes men who believe in Him safe from death and heirs of life; the Death that triumphed by defeat and from which has issued forth the reign of Life. His living flesh is eaten by the mouth. It slips past the teeth and down the throat. He is present in bread and wine in the genetic material, the skin and bones, the tissue of Mary’s womb which felt the nails and which rose again on the third day. But it is only seen, comprehended by faith. For He is present according to His Promise, by the power of His unfailing Word. It is what He says it is or He is a liar.
When men receive Christ in His Body and Blood but deny it, are impenitent, or are making a hypocritical confession, they receive Him whom they have rejected in this Sacrament that confesses unity. They make a mockery of His gift. Thus, St. Paul, warns that such an unworthy reception is a reception of condemnation. What God meant for good, fallen men pervert and use for evil, to promote their own agendas and create their own unity. Thus the Church has been afflicted over time with the likes the crusades and the inquisition. Even the Sacrament of the Altar can be misused to the detriment of men’s faith when it is forced into the categories and rules and society of men. In such evil ways Satan turns men for whom Christ died into the first born of Egypt who die for themselves. St. Paul issues this stern warning on purpose. We must heed it. We must examine ourselves. We must be judged by the Lord, conformed to His Word, and chastened in love so that we are not condemned along with the world. On this side of glory the Church fights, struggles, hurts, and is persecuted. She is divided because of sin. She suffers in those divisions. They are painful. But that suffering is her chastisement. And chastisement always beats condemnation.
So, examine yourself, O Christian. God has called you. He has baptized you into His Name. He has given you faith. He has revealed His grace and will in His holy Word to you so that you are sorry for your sins and want to do better. You trust in the sacrifice of the Messiah as the appeasement of God’s holy wrath against you. You rejoice in the acceptance and favor you have found in Christ. You confess the Lord’s actual Body and Blood, crucified and raised, offered in bread and wine for the remission of sins in the Holy Communion. And you make together a common, united confession of the same. You call each other brother and sister, not in the abstract, but in the concrete reality that you are united not just in heaven, but also here on earth.
Thus, you come on bended knee seeking mercy and correction, seeking to receive the Body and Blood to your good. Are you worthy? Yes. Because God has made you worthy through His sacrifice. He has forgiven your sins, given you faith and a fellowship, a confession, brothers and sisters who believe the same. He has done it all for you. He thus joins you to Himself and to each other. You who eat this Body in repentance and faith together at this Altar make one bold confession: He who died on Mount Calvary died for us and rose again to bring us to life. His Word is true. He never lies. The grave could not hold Him. He is alive. And He is the only hope for sinful men; the only Savior; God and Man in one Christ, who has loved us to the end. His Doctrine is what sets men free and liberates them from all false gods and all false teachings of the devil. He will bring us at last to the promised land and to our father Abraham.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.