John 13:1-17, 31b-35
On this night when Jesus gathered his disciples for this last meal before his suffering and crucifixion, he imparts the greatest gift for those he calls to follow him. He transforms this ancient meal of eating and drinking into the source of forgiveness, healing and life for the millions and millions of human beings he would call after his resurrection until his coming again.
There is nothing quite like sharing a meal with family or friends. It is just what seems to hold us together as families and as friends. What would life be like without shared meals- BBQâ€™s, dinner parties, picnics, restaurants? What would the day be like without dinner time and that opportunity to take a breath and maybe catch up with the dayâ€™s events â€“ especially for those with children? Human life is lived around shared meals and the blessing they bring to everyday life.
We cannot thank the Lord enough for his special meal. What a thing to do for us! He knows us and he knows about shared meals. By setting up a special meal he did something that would always binds him and his people together.
For thousands of years since that great night of mighty deliverance from a life of oppression and death under the Pharaohs, Godâ€™s people shared this special Passover meal with his people. The Passover was the pinnacle of sharing a moment with God for Jewish people. As they shared this meal and retold the events of Godâ€™s saving work for them to their children and their grandchildren, God shared the meal with them and blessed them year by year and they remained connected to God and his blessing and care for them.
And then Godâ€™s Son, Jesus our Lord, made this old meal even greater and made it into something for his new people. He changed it. He kind of super-charged it! This meal had always been special but now it had super-charged elements. This was no longer a meal of a roasted sacrificial lamb and bread and wine, but a meal of THE sacrificial lamb â€“ his own body and blood!
Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes way the sins of the world by his own slaughter, now shares his own holy body and blood in bread and wine with his people and they are made holy and acceptable to God through it and they are charged up to live out their new life in the world through this meal.
What a gift â€“ a regular sharing in Jesusâ€™ holiness and healing through the very human activity of eating and drinking.
What a mystery- the holy body and blood of the risen Jesus in the very everyday stuff of bread and wine.
We can struggle a bit with this meal because it is a mystery received by faith and we never really intellectually understand it. We like to rationalise everything and get to the bottom of it. â€œHow is the bread the body of Christ and how is the wine the very blood of Christ?â€ we ask. â€œHow can this meal give me forgiveness and healing and life here and now â€“ itâ€™s just a church ritual?â€ we might sometimes think.
This meal is a mystery and so it is only fully shared in faith. Faith in what God says about it. It is what God says about this meal that is the key thing. Not what we believe or do not believe, not what we want it to be or donâ€™t want it to be.
What is this meal according to God? It is the body and blood of Jesus. Thatâ€™s what Jesus says about the meal. â€œThis is my body; this is my bloodâ€. It is a meal. It is where human beings eat and drink with the Lord of the whole universe on a regular basis.
It is a meal set up by Jesus himself. He is the host of the Meal and the meal itself! Jesus is the meal. He is the beginning and end of this meal. It is all about him giving something to us. And what does he promise to give at his table to those who put their faith in his promises? He says â€œbroken for you for the forgiveness of sins; shed for you for the forgiveness of sinsâ€.
This meal is a meal of forgiveness. It is a meal of reconciliation between God and his people. It is a moment when God imparts his holiness and life by taking away our sin and giving us his new life to ingest into our very souls and carry with us. As Jesus gathered his often troubled disciples for this meal to encourage them and give them a gift for the rest of their life with him, so Jesus still gathers in his people and gives them the gift they most need to live this Christian life â€“ forgiveness and peace with God.
But the meal can be mistreated. Judas was present at this meal and we know his actions before, during and after this meal. This is a meal of humbly receiving Godâ€™s promise of forgiveness of our sin and healing for our souls.
But even if a person comes to this meal with no faith in Godâ€™s promises, no humility, no recognition of sin in his or her life, does that mean that this special meal ceases to be Godâ€™s special meal? What if the minister presiding over the meal is unrepentant of his sin or less then humble concerning his life before God? Does Jesus pull up stumps and get out of there because there is a sinner at the table? No. Just like everything else in the Christian faith â€“ like the Lordâ€™s Prayer or Baptism or the Word of God, so this meal and what God makes it by his promise does not lose its value or power if we donâ€™t believe it or participate in it with faith in Godâ€™s promises.
No, God says that in this meal he gives forgiveness, healing, freedom from sin and evil and life itself to those who come to it in simple faith to receive these things from him. A believing heart is all that is required.
But even those who come to the meal without faith receive something because this meal is still very much Godâ€™s meal. The unbelieving, unrepentant heart can only receive Godâ€™s judgement at this meal. Thatâ€™s whySt Paultells us to be careful how Christians receive Godâ€™s meal. We examine our life, our hearts in line with Godâ€™s Word. We let God speak into our life and invite his Word to examine our hearts.
And how do we know we are ready or worthy to receive Jesusâ€™ forgiveness in this great meal? A simple trust in those wonderful words â€œgiven for youâ€ is enough. When God says this is all for you for your well-being and continuing life in him, then this meal is indeed for your well being and continuing life in him. If God says that by sharing in this meal you are blessed and restored, then you are blessed and restored as you eat and drink the meal.
As we go from here into the Easter season, let our prayer be the words of the final verse of hymn 285:
For thy consoling supper, Lord,
Be praised throughout all ages!
Preserve it, for with one accord
The world against it rages.
Grant that Thy body and Thy blood
May be my comfort and blest food
In my last moments. Amen.