What Wondrous Love – When Giving His Body and Blood

Matthew 26:26-30

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

St. Matthew 26:26-28  And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

Dear Fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… There are two basic things that make a family meal enjoyable: good food and good conversation.  Having both makes a meal something to look forward to and something to enjoy.

Our Lord’s disciples certainly had good food and good conversation at the meal called the Passover on that very first Maundy Thursday.  At the time, however, they were mystified by the things Jesus was saying, and they did not fully understand the significance of the food they were eating.

But as we look back on that last Passover meal, we can understand very clearly the things Jesus was saying because we know how the events of this night concluded.  We can appreciate the significance of the food they were eating because through that same meal which we receive each and every Lord’s Day during our lives as believers, we receive the forgiveness of our sins.

The disciples were eating the Passover meal which Jesus had earlier told Peter and John to prepare.  This was the meal that reminded the Israelites of the wondrous love and power their Lord had demonstrated by freeing their ancestors from bondage and slavery in Egypt.  The Lord had sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn of the Egyptians but to “pass over” all the homes of the Israelites which had the blood of the unblemished, year-old lamb sprinkled on their doorposts.

And every year since that time, God wanted the Israelites to have a meal to commemorate that event and to talk about what it meant; they were never to forget the Lord’s deliverance.  They were to have a meal of roasted lamb, which reminded them of all the lambs that were killed on the first Passover.  There was to be unleavened bread, which reminded them of the bread the Lord had told them to prepare quickly so that they would be able to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice.  They were to eat bitter herbs, which reminded them of the bitter suffering they had endured as slaves in Egypt.  And as they enjoyed the food and the retelling of God’s plan of salvation at this festive meal, they would intersperse their meals with cups of wine, which would lead into prayers and expressions of thanksgiving for all that God had done for them.

These were the things that were taking place at this meal that Jesus was eating with His disciples.  The key difference, of course, was that this supper was the “last supper,” the last official Passover, because Jesus was showing how He was the fulfillment and completion of everything the Passover meal signified.  Jesus was the Lamb who would shed His blood so that eternal death would “pass over” all who had it sprinkled on their hearts through faith in Him.

And so that His disciples of all ages would have the opportunity to have that same certainty, Jesus instituted His New Testament Supper.  He took some bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  Then He took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and offered it to them, saying: “Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

No wonder we want to eat this meal as often as it is offered.  We want to receive again and again that which Jesus gave His disciples while He was eating with them on that first Maundy Thursday.  When you come forward to this table, you will not only be eating with Jesus, you will be receiving His real and true body and blood.  In, with, and under the bread and wine, you will receive your Savior’s very body and blood, just like the disciples also received that night.

We do not, as so many others teach, receive Jesus “only in a spiritual manner,” ascending to Him with our minds; no, we receive Jesus really, truly, physically, because He come to us.  And because Jesus gives you His actual body and blood which He gave and poured out for you on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, you have what He delivers: forgiveness of sins.  This isn’t something we are doing simply to remember what Jesus did.  No, we are not doing the verbs here, Jesus is doing them; He is the actor and the deliverer and He comes to you with His very self – really, truly, physically.

God’s old covenant was sealed with sacrifices of lambs and oxen, which pointed ahead in time to the coming of the final sacrifice, the Lamb of God.  God’s new covenant was sealed with the sacrifice of the one who in just a few hours would be dying on a cross.  Therefore, St. Paul is quite correct when he writes in I Cor. 11:26, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  Our eating and drinking are a witness, a confession of Christ’s death and resurrection, and what He gives and delivers in this wondrous gift.

The reason we can be so confident when looking forward to the future because of what happened in the past is due to what happened right after Jesus spoke these words.  Jesus showed wondrous love when giving His body and blood while He was eating with His disciples.  But what gives it lasting significance and power is that this wondrous love was shown before He would suffer for His disciples.  In other words, Jesus didn’t just say this was His body and blood given and poured out for them.  He actually went ahead and gave His body and blood into death.

Jesus told His disciples He would not drink of the fruit of the vine – the cup of Communion wine – with them again until He would be with them in His Father’s kingdom.  They certainly would have been at a loss that night to explain what Jesus meant by that, but their ignorance wouldn’t last for long, because we are told that at the end of the meal, “when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (v. 30); this meant that Jesus was one step closer to accomplishing His saving task.

What took place in this little olive garden outside the city gate of Jerusalem was the fulfillment of some of the words Jesus had been speaking during this long Passover meal and celebration.  In the garden would come the betrayal, which Jesus had told Judas to “do quickly” (John 13:27).  In the garden would come His forsaking by all His disciples (Matthew 26:56), exactly what He said would happen.  In the garden would come the beginning of the events that showed why Jesus told Peter, James, and John that His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow (Matthew 26:38) to the point of death as He was about to pray to His Father.  He was about to go to His death, a death He knew was necessary, a death He would have been pleased to avoid if it had been His Father’s will (Matthew 26:42).

But it was not the Father’s will for Jesus to avoid death.  It was His Father’s will – and, therefore, Jesus’ resolve – to defeat death by meeting death, a death in which Jesus would give His body and pour out His blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Tonight we eat and drink in Christ’s Supper the body and blood that He gave and shed for the forgiveness of sins.  We come forward with both seriousness and joy.  We are serious and sober-minded because we know, as we have been reminded these past six weeks, the great suffering Jesus endured as He left that upper room and prepared to meet Judas and the mob that followed him.  We are serious and sober-minded because we know that by nature we are the betrayers, we are the deniers and we are the mockers.  We are serious and sober-minded because we know that there is simply no way we deserve to come to this feast, but that we are simply invited to come.  We are invited to come because of the wondrous love of Christ who showed wondrous love when giving His body and blood.

And that’s why we also come forward with such great joy.  We cannot understand God’s grace in inviting and welcoming us any more than we can understand how God causes this bread and wine to be at one and the same time His Son’s very body and blood.  We simply listen to what our Lord tells us and we rejoice in our Lord’s love for us.  As the bread and wine are distributed you will hear me say to you, “The body of Christ given for you,” and “The blood of Christ shed for you,” for that is truly what is being given and received “for the forgiveness of your sins.”

When you hear those words and eat and drink the body and blood of Christ you are enjoying food given to you and a conversation directed to you by your Savior Jesus, who desires to celebrate his Supper of salvation anew with you someday in His Father’s heavenly kingdom.

Therefore, as you come to the Lord’s Supper tonight, come seriously and come joyfully, because you know what Jesus said and did while eating with His disciples.  And you know that what Jesus said and did while eating with them has such meaning and power for you because the things He was saying and doing actually came to fulfillment soon after He left that upper room and completed the work He had been sent to accomplish.

You know the wondrous love of Jesus, who gave His body and blood on the cross to pay for the sins of the world.  You know the wondrous love of Jesus who allows you personally to taste His love and experience it every time we receive His very body and blood with the simple bread and wine in His Supper.  That, dear friends, truly is wondrous love!

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.