There are a lot of things I ‘d like to know about this night. This upper room gathering. John relates Jesus’ prayers and teaching, the washing of feet, but nothing else. The other gospels all tell bits of a meal, a Passover celebration. I’d like to think it was just like the Jewish seder meal – certain cups and prayers and sayings and rituals – so I can walk through it and envision it. So I can map the words and attach significance. But rules for that kind of meal aren’t even recorded until decades after Jesus death… Or perhaps I think about which location it was – the house of John Mark? the same place as Pentecost? as when the disciples gathered in fear? But I don’t really know and the gospel writers don’t really share the geolocation, all the “who sat where” and “what was the lighting like?” detail. I might want to know it. But it’s just speculation.
What’s not speculation? What’s totally clear here? Jesus invites his disciples into something new. Jesus takes whatever their Passover meal was and institutes something new. The gospel writers do not describe the seating arrangements, the location, or the dinner courses. They do share this blessed moment where Jesus brings his church into a holy communion with himself. Jesus speaks the two sets of three words tonight, “Take and eat. Take and drink.” and, as his disciples, these words are our invitation to give thanks.
Consider for a moment those invited to this meal with Jesus. In that upper room, it was Jesus with his twelve disciples. His closest friends and followers. But, if we sat down elbow to elbow and got to know them? These are they who earlier had argued who was greatest. Those who had to question whether they’d be Jesus’ betrayer later. The ones who later would all run away. One who would deny knowing Jesus at all. All who would weep in doubt as Jesus died; who would hide afraid, forgetting what Jesus had said. None of these really belonged with such a servant. And yet, these were invited, gathered. With these he communed. As Luke recorded in his gospel, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15). He gathers with them. Is eager to do it.
He invites us too. People of all colors, all backgrounds, with experiences of all kinds, histories long or short, torrid, terrible, and tidy. People just like these disciples – fearful of this world and its powers. People selfish and arrogant – prone to boasts. People doubtful of the things Jesus has said – whether they’re true, whether they’re beneficial, whether they’re good. In like kind, we are people who don’t belong with such a servant as Jesus. And yet, we have been invited, gathered. With us he desires to commune – and eagerly so.
Are we as eager? He makes this miraculous meal. He gives thanks for this bread, breaks it, and invites that we take it; eat it. He gives thanks for this cup, passes it, and invites that we drink it. As St. Paul bids, (1 Co 11:28) before partaking of this meal examine yourselves – a number of things about yourself – but right now just this: do you give thanks too? This miracle meal – blessed, consecrated, sanctified – still, is it mundane? Missable? Just one of many invitations we’ve got? Do you need what he gives? Do you believe what he gives? Do you long for this like you do for the weekend? Or is it just a thing that happens, take it or leave it? Do we give thanks too?
When we examine ourselves under the brilliant light of Christ’s perfect life, under the light of God’s law – it’s always condemning. It shows us our sins. That we don’t always cherish and rejoice in what he gives. And still, to us tonight Jesus says, “Come!” Because, as we move from this quiet Maundy Thursday into the loud death of Good Friday, God’s grand plan of salvation is coming to a close. And tonight we recall – it’s not just at the cross—this meal too is part of that plan: a heavenly meal for sinners.
I cannot understand it, but Jesus to me, to you, “Take and eat. . . . Take and drink. . . .” He desires for you to eat and drink with him and rejoices to see you here. Come! The Lord himself has invited you. This is a meal for sinners, for you and me. And give thanks because he is here giving blessed things.
First, his Presence. Take the face-value, most straightforward blessings. They’re the most miraculous and amazing. They’re also very clear. Jesus takes this bread and says, “This is my body.” He takes the cup of wine and says, “This is my blood…” His very, true body for us to eat. His very, true blood for us to drink. In a way that I cannot see but that I must trust. St. Paul calls it a “participation” in Christ’s body and in Christ’s blood – with both we participate, because they’re present, really. Body and blood of a Savior against whom we can sin; but better, with whom we commune. Believe his promise that he is here; that he can do this thing; and that when he does there is great blessing.
Under this Premise. In particular, as we eat and drink, Jesus’ body and blood are promised to do just as they do on Good Friday – offered up and poured out “for the forgiveness of sins.” Just think! In Christ’s cross, God was reconciling the whole world to himself – not counting sins against mankind. In this meal – again and again – he wipes your sins from your record. Here he invites you. Here is forgiveness taken, eaten, drank – by you – for your sins and your fears and your guilt. You he invites and when you come, with his own body and blood your sins he takes away.
And, it’s with this Promise. It’s in his covenant. Jesus the Passover Lamb protects us from death and keeps us alive as God’s people like no other sacrifice could ever do. In him God makes the new covenant. Its promise is inscribed on your hearts by the Holy Spirit’s work: “the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them [to] put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” [And] where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:15-18) That is, when Jesus invites us to this meal and personally brings his promise of forgiveness of sins to each of us, he means the fullness of the thing. Ours is not just forgiveness for wrongdoings, but life as the people of God by faith – his law planted in our hearts and minds, love for his will and ways, longing for his heaven. In this sacrament, we are strengthened and encouraged with Jesus’ blessings to be God’s blessed people. Such full, complete, and free forgiveness brings life with God, peace before him now, and even salvation life everlasting. What blessed things our Savior gives!
Consider it tonight. Think through it again. Cherish it more. Take and eat. Take and drink. For your Savior invites sinners to receive his gracious work with thanks and joy. And he gives the blessed gift of himself – which brings to believing hearts forgiveness so that we might depart in peace.
Come – your Savior has set the table, prepared this meal, made everything ready for you. And, thanks be to God, every bit of it is for our good.