THE LORD'S SUPPER
April 10, 2017 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
Verse: Hebrews 9:24–9:26,
THE SACRAMENT OF THE ALTAR
But now, once and for all at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by sacrificing Himself.
The Atonement Jesus made is completely comprehensive. From the primaeval sin of the first people extended across the future until the day when sin will be no more, everyone is covered. But the deed itself took place in history, within a particular time and place. It happened during Passover of the sixteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, which on our calendar would be 29 A.D. At least a hundred generations have been born since then, all of whom were sinners. Before that there were hundreds of generations when people were sinning between the days of Adam and those of Jesus. God was deeply grieved by the sins of the patriarchs, prophets, priests, and people of old, but He restrained His wrath because He knew what He was going to do. Since the time of death of Jesus people have continued to sin, to grieve and offend God, but still He restrains His wrath because of what He has done. God’s mercy moves Him to such restraint. The one single pillar that supports His mercy is the cross of Jesus. There is where He broke Satan’s chains, paid mankind’s debt, removed the sting from death, and opened the gate of heaven. There is no need to repeat it. The cross was the sacrifice for sins.
Moreover, the cross was a Passover sacrifice. The old and new covenants meet here. Under each covenant God called together a chosen people through whom He would work, and He commanded both groups to remember His salvation by eating a meal. In the Old Testament the meal was the peace offering, of which the Passover was one example. In the New Covenant this meal is the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Eucharist, which Luther here names “The Sacrament of the Altar.”
The Holy Eucharist is not, in itself, a sacrifice for sins. Like the Old Testament peace offering, it is a community celebration of God’s blessings and promises, not something people do for God. In the peace offering the meat was not burned, but eaten by the worshippers. The same is true of the Passover. We do receive forgiveness through the Eucharist, but not because of anything we do, nor anything the pastor does. We are forgiven because of what Jesus did. The only sacrifice in the history of the world that accomplished forgiveness was the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the cross.
Is there anything, then, that we have to offer? Perhaps “offer” is too strong a word, but there is an attitude which qualifies us to receive God’s offer properly. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Communion is a meal. When you are invited to a meal you are expected to have an appetite for what is offered. In the Holy Eucharist, the righteousness of God is being offered. Now how can one have an appetite for that righteousness? It is what David calls, “a broken and contrite heart.” Men cannot purchase God’s mercy. The Son of God has purchased it for us. His mercy is free, over-flowing, engulfing us like a tidal wave. But when it comes up against a soul that is self-satisfied, content with its sins, too proud to eat and drink the offerings of charity, then it flows around instead of flowing through. When the heart is broken and contrite the appetite for righteousness is there. The mercy flows in and cleanses it, giving it life. Beware the haughty spirit that says, “Lord, you will never wash my feet.” The wave of mercy will lap around that heart for a while, but the day is coming when that tide will ebb, leaving the hard hearts stranded on the dry beach of eternity.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Who among us could stand in God’s presence by any merit of his own? We sin every day. We look for easy ways out of things, talk about our neighbors, waste time, try to get something for nothing, and treat the image of God in others with disrespect. All of those are direct assaults upon the throne of God, which earn the wages of death. If He treated us as we deserve we would all be condemned. Not only are we not what we ought to be, we don’t even desire to be what we ought to be. We let our faith grow too weak. All of this made the cross of Jesus so terrible, but Jesus went through with it to give this forgiveness to you. To say that you cannot be contrite is to say you haven’t earned God’s wrath many times over. But to be grieved by the sin you cannot defeat is indeed to hunger and thirst after righteousness. The Body and Blood of Jesus is the food that feeds that hunger and quenches that thirst.
As important as contrition is, one more thing is needed, that is trust. While it is true that you are not worthy to offer any sacrifice to God, it is also true that Jesus was worthy and did offer it. The Lamb of God, pure and holy, was indeed slain. That was God’s love at work. In the Holy Eucharist He bends down to you, embraces you, and clutches you to Himself. The Sacrament of the Altar is tangible evidence that God has planned and carried out your salvation. Now He wants you to go beyond being sorry and contrite. He wants you to be able to say, “Nevertheless I am clean, with Jesus I may ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place. I am clothed in the garment of His righteousness. The Holy Spirit lives within me. Eternal life is my Savior’s gift to me. He will not let me down.” AMEN.