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March 24, 2016

The Last Supper: A Place of Forgiveness

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lent & Holy Week 2016: Places of the Passion Category: Biblical Scripture: Luke 22:7–23

Maundy Thursday
March 24, 2016
Luke 22:7-23

“The Last Supper: A Place of Forgiveness”

With sundown on this day, the forty days of Lent come to a close and we now enter into the highpoint of our Christian faith: the Three Days, or Triduum, that remember and rejoice in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Day make up these Three Days. They flow seamlessly one into the other, and together reveal God’s plan to rescue and redeem our fallen world through the sacrifice of his own beloved Son. Our Lenten journey has taken us to different places of Jesus’ Passion: the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, the courtyard of the high priest where Peter three times denied knowing Jesus, and the halls of Pontius Pilate where sentence was pronounced against Jesus. Tonight on this Maundy Thursday, we go to the upper room where Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, and in so doing, instituted that meal of remembrance and forgiveness that we call the Lord’s Supper. As we enter into these holy Three Days, the theme for the message this evening is “The Last Supper: A Place of Forgiveness.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

In Luke’s account of the Last Supper, it is very clear that Jesus knew what Judas was going to do. In truth, there are actually two different, contrasting Passover preparations underway in what Luke records. First, in the verses that precede tonight’s Gospel lesson (Luke 22:1-6), there is Judas who goes to the chief priests and confers with them how he might hand Jesus over to them. Conveniently, Judas’ action solved the problem for the religious leaders who were seeking how to put Jesus to death, but without starting a riot, especially at Passover (Luke 22:2). “And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22:5-6). This was the Passover preparation of Judas: finding a way to betray Jesus. Over against this is Jesus’ preparation for Passover, sending Peter and John into the city to the upper room where they would prepare for Passover. Luke also telescopes the time of this from “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near…” (Luke 22:1), when Judas’ preparations began, to “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread…” (Luke 22:7) when Jesus instructs Peter and John to prepare the Passover meal, and finally to “And when the hour came…” (Luke 22:14) when Jesus and his disciples are gathered around the table together. These two contrasting and conflicting preparations that take us from Passover approaching to the day of Passover and now to the very hour itself all come together there at the table: Judas and Jesus together at the Passover table. Here Jesus says, “Behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table” (Luke 7:21). Jesus knows. No matter how much Judas tries to conceal his plan and purpose, Jesus knows. And here is the truly amazing thing about Jesus: in the face of such radical evil that seeks to destroy him, Jesus practices radical love. Knowing what he does, Jesus does not mount some pre-emptive strike against Judas to destroy him first. Neither does Jesus turn away from Judas, or turn the other disciples away from him, either. No, Jesus demonstrates redeeming love that promises forgiveness to everyone and seeks to set everyone free.

How much of Judas there is in us! In truth, no matter how much we try to conceal our devious plan and purpose, Jesus knows. No matter how hard we try to cover up where we have been or what we have done or what we are planning to do, Jesus knows. We may concoct elaborate schemes to deceive others, but the truth is known to Jesus. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). As Jesus practiced a radical love toward Judas, so he practices a radical love toward us today – a love we do not deserve and do not merit. In the midst of own betrayal of Jesus – what we have done and left undone, the evil we have done and the good we have failed to do – it is here at the Lord’s table that we find a place of forgiveness and receive Jesus’ own radical love for us.

The Lord’s Supper, instituted by “the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed” (1 Corinthians 11:23), is rooted in the Passover meal. The Passover was and still is all about remembering how God had delivered his people of old from slavery in Egypt by the blood of the lamb which marked the doorposts and lintels of their homes (Exodus 12:1-14), all of which we heard the Old Testament lesson for this evening. Because of the blood, the angel of death passed over their homes and the firstborn of the Hebrews were spared while the firstborn of the Egyptians were not. The freeing of God’s people from slavery is what is remembered in the Passover, but now Jesus calls his disciples to remember him. There is a new deliverance and a new freedom that Jesus inaugurates with this Last Supper that becomes the Lord’s Supper. There is a new Lamb who is sacrificed, whose blood destroys the power of death. It is all in Jesus who is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) – your sin, my sin, the sin of the whole world. All of our sins, all of our failures, all of our betrayals – all are heaped on this sinless Lamb who bears them all and who now comes to us in this holy Supper. He comes to us now under forms of bread and wine, giving us his very Body and Blood, even as he tells us: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me… This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-2).

This place of the Passion – Jesus’ Passion – is a place of forgiveness. We are invited by Jesus to come to the Supper which he has prepared. So often in life when we are invited to a meal in someone’s home, we will ask: “What can I bring?” Even if we are told we don’t need to bring anything, we may bring a gift such as a bottle of wine. But here at the Lord’s Supper, we can bring nothing except the sin and failure and betrayal of our lives which we must release and turn over to Jesus, and leave here at the Lord’s Table. We leave these things behind – things which accuse, degrade, and undermine God’s marvelous gift of life. And we receive from the Lord new things – forgiveness that removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), peace which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), hope that does not put us to shame (Romans 5:5) because it is rooted in the One who gives us himself here in his Supper.

For Judas and for us, Jesus knows. He sees and knows us more intimately than we know ourselves. With certainty, we know ourselves to be people who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But tonight, God comes and proclaims the certainty of your salvation. In the life-giving death of his Son, your sins are all forgiven. In the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, received here at the Lord’s altar, you are assured of the certainty of his love. No longer known as a sinner, in Jesus you are known and acknowledged as God’s beloved child. Tonight, the Lord has prepared a place for you at his table – a place of forgiveness. And in receiving Jesus as he comes to us in his holy Supper, we are called to go forth from his table to practice the same radical love toward others which we have received from him. Come, for all things are now ready. Amen.