Maundy Thursday| 1 Corinthians 11:23| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| April 1, 2021
“The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread…”
We call today Maundy Thursday, because Jesus gave his disciples the new command to love one another. The title Maundy comes from the Latin word for commandment, mandatum. We also remember that on this holy night our Lord instituted the Sacrament of his body and blood for us Christians to eat and to drink. Yet, when you read the chapters of Holy Scripture devoted to this one night, you see that this night was filled with great events and teachings from our Lord Jesus that very much demand our attention now and always. St. Paul titles it well, “the night when [the Lord Jesus] was betrayed.” This was the worst night of our Lord’s life on this earth. On this night he was betrayed by his friend and forsaken for a time by his heavenly Father so that the power of darkness could work. On this night he sweat blood in agony as he prayed. On this night he was abandoned by his disciples, beaten, mocked, and tormented until the morning when they could bring him to Pilate to be sentenced to death.
Yet, this most fateful of nights was also the worst and most dangerous for Jesus’ disciples. And Jesus knew it. On this night Jesus said to his disciples, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” On this night, Jesus’ disciples were viciously attacked by three powerful enemies. They all fell away for a while; one of them permanently. Jesus knew all this ahead of time, so he prepared his disciples to survive the intense battle before them.
The three enemies that attacked Jesus’ disciples and claimed victories over them were: Satan, the World, and their corrupt sinful flesh. We heard that at supper the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus. Yet, Judas was not the only one taken captive by the devil that night. While still at dinner, Jesus spoke to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fall. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31) Yet, certainly it is not for Peter’s sake alone that Jesus spoke these words. If St. Peter the Apostle fell victim for a time to the great serpent, then we too ought to beware of his great power. Peter did return from Satan’s clutches and he strengthened his brothers not only by mouth, but in letter. In his first epistle, St. Peter writes, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
On the night when he was betrayed, Jesus took his disciples out into the garden to pray. He said to Peter again, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) And this was proven to be true when Peter could not even keep his eyes open to watch and pray for an hour. Again, these words were not spoken for Peter’s sake alone. St. Paul writes, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18) And he warns in Galatians chapter 5, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh… Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealously, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Here he speaks of our own flesh. We Christians have the desire to do what is right, but we have clinging close to us our treacherous, sinful flesh that seeks to betray us even as Satan is on the prowl.
On that night when Jesus was betrayed Jesus warned his disciples of the attacks of the world saying, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18) And with these words, Jesus predicted the attacks they would face from the world starting that very night. And just an hour or so later a band of thugs from the chief priests and elders arrived with torches, swords, and clubs. Peter tried to fight with a sword, but Jesus told him that this battle could not be won by such means. The crowd laid hands on Jesus and all Jesus’ disciples left him and fled.
Peter continued to be tormented by the world as he battled fear and shame through the night. He was frightened by a little girl in the courtyard of the high priest, and he denied Jesus, not once, but three times. He even took an oath and swore by God’s name that he did not know that man through whom alone anyone can know God. When the rooster crow reminded Peter what he had done and Jesus gazed at him from across the courtyard (Luke 22:61), Peter ran away and wept bitterly. All this happened yet on that Thursday night when Jesus was betrayed.
Are we better than the Apostles? Are we stronger than they? Do we not have the devil prowling around us like a lion searching for prey, like a serpent looking for a hole in the wall to slide his wicked body into? Does he not know our weaknesses and our guilty pleasures? Have you outsmarted him? Have you conquered your flesh and put it fully into submission to your spirit? Do you never do that which you wish you did not do? Have you escaped from the world? Are you not afraid of what others think of you? Have you no fear of their judgments? Do you not at times desire what they have or find yourself imitating them instead of Christ?
No, on that most awful and dangerous night on which our Lord was betrayed, we see the same enemies at work, which we must battle today. But Jesus did not leave his disciples defenseless. He warned them of what was to come. He prayed for their deliverance. He comforted them with the promise that he would rise from the dead and meet them in Galilee, having rescued from them this world and Satan’s clutches. And furthermore, to strengthen his disciples and to prepare them for battle, so that they would not die or give up in the fray, our Lord Jesus Christ on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to his disciples and said, “Take eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also, he took the cup after supper and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you. This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”
This was not simply a memorial meal or an object lesson. Jesus gave them his real body and real blood to eat and to drink. Satan would attack them, so he gave them the body, which crushed Satan under his feet. The world hated them. So he gave them the body and blood, which overcomes the world. Their flesh was weak, so he gave them the flesh that overcomes the grave having all sin and guilt purged from it with his blood. This is the medicine which strengthened them to endure that most fateful, dangerous, and hellish night. And they did endure.
This is the meal Jesus feeds us tonight and every Sunday. This meal is for Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is strengthening of faith. Where there is forgiveness of sins there is an increase of love. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is victory over Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh.
Martin Luther advises those who don’t think that they need this Sacrament to pinch themselves to see if they still have flesh and blood, look around to see if they are still in the world, and to know that they will always have the devil around to attack them. If we knew how many fiery darts the devil is shooting at us at all times, we would flee to the Sacrament for strength.
In the story The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe there is a battle between the good Narnians and the evil White Witch. Lucy is given a potion, which she uses to heal those injured in battle. In the Sacrament of the Altar, we have a potion that not only is able to heal our wounds and strengthen our body, but give us life from the dead. Meaning, in this meal, we not only receive strength to fight against Satan, the world, and our flesh, but we are forgiven of all the times we fell victim to the devil, joined with the world, and obeyed our sinful flesh.
On the most dreadful night in human history, Christ instituted a Sacrament to sustain his Church and his Christians against their greatest enemies. It is the fruit of his cross, which he bore for them on the greatest day in human history, when the Father glorified him for our sake. In this Sacrament, we hold fast to Jesus, who has won the victory for us. In this Sacrament, God preserves us even in the fray of battle. In this Sacrament, we overcome Satan and this world, and we strengthen our spirit. By this Sacrament, Christ will sustain us until we are out of danger. Amen.