Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This night at 6pm does indeed start the Passover. As from the beginning in Genesis days were marked with evening and morning, in Jewish calendars days begin at sundown, roughly 6pm. In beginning the Passover many might be tempted to wonder why we don’t simply do a Passover Seder meal? Why not do what Jesus was observing this night? Quite honestly, its not for us to do anymore. He gives us this night something new.
On the night of Passover the people of God would eat the meat of lamb, make unleavened bread, and drink wine and the children were lead to ask “what is this?” In this way, each year the people of God were lead to recall the Lord’s deliverance, particularly from slavery and Egypt and also the promised deliverance to come in the Messiah. The bread from heaven in wilderness was even called this, manna, which means “what is it?”
In observing this meal Jesus begins the night as we heard tonight with something quite remarkable. He washes the disciples feet. It is not so remarkable that one would wash the feet. No one really wants all that dust gathered upon feet to be fluttering through the air especially when there is food involved. It was the job of the host, the one whose house it was to ensure that the feet of the guest were washed. Jesus, though not within His own house, takes over as the host as well as the servant. He takes over the night.
It is just the beginning of what is to come over the next few days, without much break in the action. We live through it over these next few days. The Triduum, which means three days, is really one service that spans over the next three days through the Vigil of Easter.
Jesus is fulfilling that which He came to do, not be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Humbling Himself by becoming obedient unto death. Jesus is now the one who serves as well as the one who teaches. On this Passover night the Lord’s teaching extends beginning in John 13 through His time in the Garden in chapter 17. It is no longer though a recalling of what the Lord has done with promise of the Messiah to come, but that the time is now and all is being fulfilled in Him.
Jesus takes over the night as Host and teacher. And all too often, we find ourselves like Peter. We overstretch and miss the point. We think we know what we need and what needs to be done. We are tempted to be like Peter and direct the Lord how He should act and what He should do for us. Rather than receiving the Lord’s Word, gifts, and instruction, we are tempted to direct Him.
There are still some similarities that remain between this night, and each week, as there is in Passover. In instruction of what it meant to recall the Passover, the Lord’s salvation, Hebrew children during the meal are to ask, “what is this?” Each component of the night recalling the Lord’s gifts. In being instructed and brought into the church, and soon to be confessed by two more tonight, is the question “what is this?,” “vas est das?” in German, which is often translated “what does this mean?” This manner of teaching of the Lord’s salvation, the Lord’s work for His people still remains the basis of our catechism instruction.
It is all just the beginning. The beginning of the Lord’s work for you. Only now, it much more than a recalling of past events. The old Law read, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The new commandment says, “Love one another just as I have loved you.” His love comes first. The old covenant was given in the looking forward to Messiah. That’s why there would be an empty seat, not for the Messiah, but in anticipation of Elijah to proclaim the Messiah’s presence. John the Baptizer has already pointed us, behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus, just in case we missed it, proclaimed John as Elijah who was to come. The new commandment begins and ends with that which comes first, as He has loved us.
The other Gospel records record that which we heard from Corinthians tonight, that Jesus institutes this night that which is the beating heart of all we do in giving us the Lord’s Supper. That He in His body He is the sacrificial Lamb for the sin of the world. The bread of the Passover was the bread of affliction and slavery, unleavened and hard. Jesus does something entirely new with it. “This is my body,” He declares. This bread of the Passover is the body of the Lamb of the new Passover, His body which He would give into death for the life of the world. In the old Passover, the lamb was eaten roasted to the point of being burnt to a crisp. In this new Passover, Jesus gives His body for bread, the bread of life, true and living bread come down from heaven like manna to feed those who hunger for righteousness.
In the first Passover, the blood of the Lamb was painted on the doorpost. Where the blood, there death passed over. Now in the cup we drink is the blood of the covenant, that is His blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.He gives His sacred blood for wine to gladden the hearts of sinners. By His blood, we have our freedom and Death passes over.
This is now what you are to do, take eat and take drink. Not though in some mystical way, but concretely in the way He gives, in this holy meal. And just as the old proclaimed something amongst all those who participate, so still does it today. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you (together, plural) proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. You see, just as Passover was a communal and family event, so too is the Lord’s Supper. That is, it is communion, life together.
“We are one body for we all partake of the one bread.” One bread, one cup, one body and blood, one holy church. It is not personal time with God, but bodied together, confessing together at the table. Brought together by the body and blood of Jesus. Here divisions are healed. Here family squabbles are brought to their end. Here those things which divide us are united as we come together and participate in the receiving together the same gift, the body and blood of Jesus.
It is no longer the past recalling of action in the Passover, but the active receiving of the body and blood of Jesus which gives forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is what comes first. This is how He has loved us, by serving us, cleansing us, and giving us Himself for our forgiveness and life. This is how He comes. He washes us, just as He washed Samuel tonight, and gives Himself to save you. He bends down and washes the dung off our feet to make us clean in His presence.
It is just the beginning of what is to come. Over the next few days it is just the beginning of His serving by becoming obedient to death. It is just the beginning of the new covenant, which is fulfilled in His death and resurrection. It is just the beginning of our life together, in which He serves us first in faith towards Him and then in love for each other. He is the gracious host who washes us and gives us to share in Him, that is in His death and resurrection. Here is the true fountain of grace and the inexhaustible supply of mercy. This most holy medicine heals the wounds of your sin.
On the night when He was betrayed Jesus said to His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In a similar way Jesus comes among us today (tonight). He invites you to His table. In a world where trouble is certain, in a life where we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, for hearts tempted by bitterness or hate or getting even, for minds divided by worry, our Lord comes to offer us His certain love. He does so in His feast. He gives His life. He gives a pattern for life – love. It is the Lord’s Passover. When troubles come, when we need forgiveness and grace, we run not to a cross but here to this meal, to the place where the forgiveness won on the cross is given.
Behold, the Lamb of God, given and shed for you, here to serve you and in a matter of a few hours into the night to be betrayed and suffer and die for you. As we celebrate in one three day service, He goes forth in one act of service for you, to save you from sin and death and bring you into communion with Him, soon in resurrection glory.