Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
On Holy Thursday, we remember and celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper. On that Thursday evening, as Jesus celebrated what would be His last Passover with His disciples, He gave them His last will and testament. In place of the Passover, Jesus’ disciples – then, and for all time – receive a new meal, the meal of His body and blood. By the power of His Word, Jesus gives His body which was broken and His blood which was shed with the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of sins. For His last will and testament, Jesus gave His Church this Holy Supper, with the instructions that we receive it until returns, in His memory and for the forgiveness of sins.
The concept of a last will and testament is not a new one for us. Many of us already have wills written, and some of us probably should get around to doing that. We leave wills and testaments directing the use of the earthly possessions we leave behind when we die, and to provide for those previously in our care. Whether written or if, according to need, spoken, last wills are legally binding and may not be changed once the will’s owner has died. The concept of a will is not new to us, and neither was it to our Lord.
Our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, knew what would be happening to Him later that Thursday evening. He knew that He would be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and crucified. So, He took the opportunity in the hearing of His disciples, to give them His last will and testament. Birds of the air have nests, Jesus once said, and foxes have their dens; but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head. Jesus had no earthly possessions to leave behind, no amassed wealth; so, what would He leave His disciples? This bread and this cup. The translators of the English Standard Version translated the words as, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood,” to bring the words in line with Exodus; but the context implies a better translation would be, “the new testamentin My blood.”
Jesus had no earthly possessions to dole out, no money to bequeath, but what He could leave behind for His disciples throughout all time is this – His body and blood. In the context of His last Passover, Jesus took bread, He broke it and gave to the disciples, saying to them, “This is My body.” In the same way, He took the cup of wine and gave to them saying, “This is the new testament in My blood. Do this…in remembrance of Me.” By the power of His Word, Jesus joined the body which would be broken and the blood which would be shed for world to the bread and wine. His last will for His disciples, and even us, is that we receive the Supper He gave.
Holy Thursday is the Church holiday remembering and confessing our faith in the Institution of the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, every time we receive the Sacrament, these words are spoken, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed.” It is good for us also, on this night, to confess again our faith in what Christ gives us in the blessed Sacrament. Our Lord, on the night He was betrayed, took bread. He broke it and gave to the disciples saying, in Greek, “Τοῦτόμούἐστιντὸσῶμα;” in Latin, “hoc est corpus meum;” in English, “This is My body.” In the same way, He took the cup and said, “This is My blood“On these clear words, we set aside our human reason and, in faith, believe what Jesus has said. The bread and wine are His body and blood.
We learned in confirmation that this called the Sacramental Union. That means, that Christ, by His Word, gives us His true body and His true blood with the bread and wine in way known to Him alone. When we receive the Supper, it’s not like we’re biting into Jesus’ knee or something. No, it is not a physical eating but a sacramental eating. The bread and wine retain their natural substances. But, by the power of His Word, Christ joins His real body and blood to them. Therefore, we receive in the Lord’s Supper not just bread and wine only, but His very body and blood in, with, and under the earthly elements. Though plain reason may not comprehend how this can be, yet faith believes and trusts what Christ has said.
Faith also trusts the reason for and benefit of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is My body…Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”As His last will and testament for the Church, Jesus gave the supper of His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Though Christ, truly, is present everywhere, He is present in the Supper for the forgiveness of sins. And, as the Catechism says, “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”Christ has left us this supper as the pledge of His love for us and to be the place where we can turn to and trust in the forgiveness of our sins. Our Lord said to receive it often, which is great, because we daily sin much and need as much forgiveness as we can get. Thankfully, our Lord never tires of forgiving and blessing in His supper.
Beloved in Christ, tonight we confess our faith in Christ and His blessed Sacrament. But, before we end, we should also hear again these words of the Spirit through St. Paul, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”Christ, as His last will and testament instituted this Supper for our benefit. By His Word, He joins His body and blood to the bread and wine so that we may receive the forgiveness of sins by faith. As the bread and wine become the body and blood by the power of Christ’s Word, they remain so whether one believes it or not. Only those who receive the Supper in faith receive it to their blessing. Those who do not believe or who do not desire forgiveness receive, as St. Paul said, “judgment.”
So that we may not receive judgment from the Lord, but His abundant blessing, St. Paul encourages us to examine our hearts before communing. We should ask ourselves, first, do I believe what God has said in His Word. Do I believe that He has revealed to me what is good and right and true, and that I – for my part – have failed to observe it? Do I believe that because of my failure to keep the commandments, I deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment? And, do I believe that, for my sake, Christ suffered and died as the atonement for sin? Do I believe that in this Supper, I receive not just bread and wine, but also Christ’s true body and blood; do I desire that forgiveness?
We should also examine our hearts by asking this, by the Spirit’s aid, do I desire to amend my sinful ways? If I am at odds with my brother and sister in Christ, do I desire to be reconciled and so live together in the love of Christ? This is what St. Paul means by examining ourselves before receiving the Supper of the Lord. If the answer to these questions is yes, and you have faith in the words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” then you are well-prepared and may receive the Supper to your abundant blessing. If you find yourself wrestling with these words, it may be well to refrain and speak with the pastor before communing again. It is not a sin to refrain from the supper for a time; it is a sin to commune while harboring and entertaining sin in our hearts.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, gave to His whole Church on earth His last will and testament. We are to receive His true body and blood as the pledge of His love for us and for the forgiveness of our sins. May He give us all repentant and trusting hearts, that we may receive this Supper to our abundant blessing. Amen.