Mar 28, 2013 A+D
The Lord’s Supper is the Lord’s Passover fulfilled.
We often look with derision at the Israelite complaints in the desert. We ask “how could they eat miraculous manna and quail from heaven and long for cucumbers in Egyptian slavery?” What must they think, from their perspective in heaven, of our complaints about hard pews and long hymns and boring sermons while the Lord gives us His very Body and Blood? Ingratitude, which is the mirror image of boasting, is among the most distasteful of attributes in fallen man. Yet, which of us has been truly grateful or cognizant and not taken for granted the myriad blessing of God’s grace, of all the riches poured out upon us, not just in the material material things and luxuries of this world, but even in what He bestows in His Supper? Repent.
In the Supper, Christ delivers to us the fruits of His death. He gives us His living Body and Blood. He joins us to Himself. This gift is greater in every way than what was given to our fathers in the Passover or in the desert. We eat the Body of Christ, but He is not diminished. We drink the Blood of Christ and His Life is in it. That which was forbidden is now commanded. Our doorposts are not marked, but our very souls are marked, and that, with water and blood, with the Name and the promise of God. Christ pours out His Life for our nourishment and salvation. We partake of it, not simply as His honored guests, but as the very members of His own family.
The Passover meal was filled with tension. It was a feast, yet they ate it in haste. Not only were they saved, but so also were the Egyptians killed. Without the blood of the lamb, the Israelites would have also been killed, not by the Egyptians, but by God. The meal was costly in this sense: the lamb had to die. The firstborn of Egypt had to die. The Pharaoh had to come to a watery end with instruments of war and the people had to leave their sins behind. The lamb’s blood shielded God’s people from God’s wrath and gave himself as meat to strengthen them for their journey. They left slavery, free, but only to walk out into the desert.
God commanded that this meal, commemorating this complicated history of sinful rebellion and redemption, be kept forever.
It is. It is kept to this day. Not by Seders or reenactments, not in synagogues, but it is kept by the Lord’s death and resurrection delivered in the Holy Communion. The Lord kept the Passover even as He kept the Sabbath. He kept them by fulfilling and finishing them. What God keeps is lifted from man. He keeps the Passover. He keeps the Sabbath. He keeps the Law – all of it and therefore also all its burdens and duties and counting. But most significantly, He keeps all of the Law’s accusations and punishments. He keeps all of the iniquities and curse. He keeps death and Hell and He keeps the angel. The Passover is, and has been, kept. There is nothing more.
How is this? The eternal God, without beginning and without end, became a Man. This He did that He might go as a Lamb to the slaughter for fallen men. He endured not only physical death as the lambs before Him had, but He suffered also eternal death. This is the key to our Lord’s keeping of everything in the Law. On the cross, He endures Hell. He suffers eternal death. This is what it means when He cries “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It means that He has been separated from His Father. That is what Hell is: separation from God.
The angel of death did not pass over Him: it stayed right there. It didn’t see some lamb’s blood and move on to the next house. It didn’t kill one boy and go looking for the next. It stopped, dead in its tracks, and spent everything it had on Him. For Him, there is no mercy, no ram in the thicket, no change of heart in the Father or substitute. Thus the Passover is kept, and kept forever. Because the angel of death is kept. He is stuck. He cannot move. He is dead. At the command of the Father, the Holy Spirit handed over the Son to Satan. The Father forsook Him. The angel of death took Him, and then the angel had no room for anyone else, had no accusations left, could do nothing but pass over us. Death is spent.
Then, when that is finished, when the Passover has finally, really, been kept, the Lord endures physical death. His Body and His Soul are separated. He, true God and true Man, dies.
He has taken up Flesh, become a Man for us, in order to keep the Law for us and to die as a Sacrifice. But He is not only a Man. He is also God equal with the Father and the Spirit according to His Divinity. Thus He can, and He does, exchange His life not simply for one other person, as He might if He were just a man, but because He is also God, He can, and He does, exchange His perfect life for all of humanity. And because He is God and not just Man, He can, and He does, satisfy all that Hell could demand, even eternal demands. His time on the Cross stands for every man, woman, and child in all of history and for all of eternity. That is how the Passover is kept: He finishes it. He completes and perfects it. He ends eternity even as He ushers in eternity.
Then, since it is finished, since the angel of death is done, since the Law can ask no more, since Hell has lost all claim upon us, He dies physical death. He is man of body and soul and His body and His soul are separated, dead. He dies. Having put eternal death to death, His Father takes Him back. He is no longer forsaken. His body goes into the grave to await Easter. His Sacrifice is not outside of time. It ends. He finishes it. When the God-Man makes it His task to redeem humanity, He can get it done in one lifetime, even a short lifetime of only 30 or 33 years. So He dies, a Man, like us, and His soul goes to His Father in heaven. He is received by the heavenly host with great joy – establishing the very pattern for all of us.
And on Easter, He is vindicated. His Word is shown to be true. His innocence is affirmed and we, and Hell, and all the demons, know that His Father has accepted the Sacrifice as payment in full because He comes back together body and soul, a Man, like us, but risen from the dead. On the cross He cried the beginning of the Psalm, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me.” But the Psalm does not end there. It goes on. Even in His sorrow, even in Hell on the cross, the Man Christ has faith. He knows His Father is good. He knows He will be raised. The Psalm goes on. At the end, it says, “My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation.” That praise begins when His soul is received into heaven already on Good Friday. It continues with renewed joy on Easter.
The Passover that was to be kept forever has been and is kept in the death of Jesus Christ. The Lamb has been slaughtered. The angel of death passes over all the earth. And the Lord’s Supper bestows upon us, most blessed of humanity, the fruits of that keeping, the fulfillment of God’s promise, so much so that we even drink the Lifeblood of God made Man and that which was once forbidden is now commanded.
In this way, the Lord prepared the apostles for the terrific events of Good Friday: He instituted His Holy Supper and gave them His Body and His Blood to eat and to drink. We know the end of the story. At this point, we know it far better than they did then. But we still have sorrows and tragedies. We still have fear and doubt. We still live in ingratitude and ignorance. We need this Supper tonight. Indeed, we need it every night, as much now as they did then. Fortunately for us, the Lord is not stingy with His gifts. He who keeps the Passover provides.
There is tension now, not completely unlike feasting in haste. We endure the death of loved ones. We suffer injustice. We are tortured by our sins. But the Lord has not and never will forsake us. Still, even though we never rightly say that God has forsaken us, even though the beginning of Psalm 22 does not belong to us in the first person, still we get to say with Jesus, in the first person: “My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation.” We don’t get forsaken, but we do get welcomed back like the prodigal son. In meantime, the Lord provides what we need for the journey, a feast of joy in the midst of sorrow, a foretaste of what is to come, in His Body and His Blood. Thanks be to God: the Passover is kept. And that, for us, and for whatever is that we face, until such time as He deliver us and bring us to Himself in heaven.
John’s Gospel doesn’t include the instituting words of the Lord’s Supper. When the children learn those words, they always stumble. The Catechism asks first what is the Sacrament of the Altar. The answer is: “It is the true body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself, for us Christians to eat and to drink.” Then it asks: “Where is this written?” The answer is: “The Holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and St. Paul write: Our Lord Jesus Christ on the same night” and so forth. The children, having learned well the books of the Bible want to say: “The Holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” But John doesn’t record the words or even the scene. Instead He gives us details from that last evening that are missing from the other Gospels. He gives us long speeches from Jesus and the foot washing.
The Church, however, has never thought that the Sacrament of the Altar was missing from John’s Gospel. Rather, as you know, John presents everything differently. In many ways his Gospel is the deepest and most complex. He likes to show us Jesus doing things for symbolic meaning and he likes to record words of Jesus.