April 5, 2007 – Maundy Thursday
The road that led Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem was about to take a dramatic turn. Jesus was about to leave. And the road ahead was going to be very difficult for his followers. So he wanted to prepare them.
That’s a big part of what this celebration was about. It was about the road ahead. And it was about Jesus assuring his disciples – and us – that we are not alone!
As I mentioned the last couple of weeks in worship, Luke records events in the life and ministry of Jesus that are found nowhere else in the Gospels. One of the biggest examples of that comes at the beginning. Luke is the only one who tells us all about the birth of Jesus! By the way, I hope you all saw “The Nativity Story.” It was a wonderful film depiction of that story, And it’s taken mostly from Luke, because he’s the only one who tells it in that kind of detail, (Though Matthew does give us some of it – including the story of the Magi.) But like I said, there are a number of other things that are found only in Luke. Also by the way, he’s the only one who tells the story from later that first Easter day, of the road out of Jerusalem – the road to a town called “Emmaus.” We’re going to look at that story Sunday! (I hope you’ll be on hand for that!)
For now, though, I remind you of these things because there are elements of the Holy Week accounts that are different in Luke’s telling as well. As we said this past week, his is the most complete telling of the story of Palm Sunday. And then Luke includes elements of the story we read this evening that are slightly different than the others. And again, this is not inconsistent with the other Gospels. It’s just told in a way that emphasizes different elements of the story. And the main difference I want you to hear this evening comes in verse 15.
When the other writers speak of the Last Supper, they each tell about the way Jesus went about preparing for this evening. But Luke is the only Gospel in which Jesus says this. “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” He’s telling us that this is not just a matter of the Jewish “obligation” to celebrating the Passover. Luke emphasizes that Jesus was anxious to spend this particular time with these men. This was extremely important to him!
Just think about this. These men had been through a lot together! And knowing what was coming down the road, Jesus wanted to prepare them. And I’m not just talking about the next 24 to 48 hours! That would be tough enough! Jesus wanted to prepare them for what would be happening to them in the early days of the newly established Church. He know it would be hard! And their being his disciples meant that they would be the main leaders of the early Church through some very difficult times! I wonder if they had any inkling of that! Jesus knew it. And he wanted them to know that he would be with them! I believe that’s one of the most important reasons Jesus got them together that night.
In John’s Gospel we find several entire chapters devoted to the various things Jesus told his disciples that night. If you were looking at a red letter edition of the bible you would see several pages completely in red! (I used to like to do that!) Luke doesn’t give us very much of that speech. And that’s ok. But he did know of the importance of that time together. And I hope you’ll take some time before Sunday and read Jesus’ “farewell address” in John. (Chapters 13-17 should cover it.)
For now, though, I want you to see that the way Jesus conducted this Last Supper. Because the way he changed this Passover meal shows that his intention was to prepare the disciples for the road ahead. And though he doesn’t give us the long farewell discourse we find in John, Luke sees the thing that is most important in this meal, as being the “communion,” that is, the connection with Jesus.
As we look back on this night, as we celebrate this sacrament, we too must recognize that he is with us in the breaking of bread. It is through his continual presence that this meal represented, that they, as well as we, would have the strength to endure. That’s the key as we look ahead down that road. It’s not what we know, but who we know that gives us the strength to endure.
So I would ask you this. Do you know of Jesus’ very presence in this sacrament? Do you feel him with us, strengthening us, guiding us, empowering us? If you don’t, you’re missing out on the most important part of what we do here.
Over the years, God’s people have represented that presence of Christ in various ways. For instance, our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters would tell us that these elements are actually changed – mysteriously – into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. That’s the process they call, “Transubstantiation.” Maybe you’ve heard that term before. In other words, there is an actual “Change of Substance” that takes place here.
Later, Martin Luther redefined that slightly, saying that the Communion elements become “of the same substance as” the body and blood of our Lord. He used the word “Consubstantiation” to describe that.
We “Presby’s” don’t usually think in those terms, but we do try to get at much the same idea. We say that Jesus is “present with us in these elements.” And I know it’s hard to understand exactly what that means. But we believe that, through this sacrament, we are able to experience a sense of his presence that’s unlike anything else. And we recognize here that we need his presence for the living of this life – just as the disciples would need his presence for their road ahead.
So Jesus took these elements, that were part of that Passover Feast, and he changed them in ways that were so significant that they still carry the same meaning for us, over 2,000 years later!! Jesus is with us, here in these elements, here in this place. They look pretty common. They look quite ordinary. But when we share these elements with each other in this community, he is with us! And through this experience, we who are common and ordinary ourselves, become holy, too! (I hope that’s almost unbelievable for you. If it is you’re starting to get it!)
So, as we prepare for this communion, I ask for us to be in a time of silent prayer. (Close your eyes now.) And as each of you pray, instead of speaking, listen. Concentrate on hearing God’s voice. Shut out all other distractions, and concentrate on feeling God’s presence. Let go of all those things that would separate you from God – those anxieties, those critical thoughts, those things that you know demand your attention. Set them aside, and seek to know the touch of the Holy Spirit. Take a few moments to do that now…
Eternal God, we seek your presence. We need you on the road ahead in our lives. We need to know of your Spirit touching our hearts. Help us in this sacrament to know that we are in your presence. Help us to have the peace to know that you are with us through what ever this life has in store for us. Change us, restore us, renew us. Help us to know your joy, and your blessing. Prepare us for this your sacrament of thanksgiving and praise. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.