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What The Apostle Received

March 20, 2024 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross

Topic: Holy Week

I Corinthians 11:23

We don't know whether or not Mark's Gospel was written at the time Paul wrote this letter. Even if Mark's was written, or sketched, Paul would not have had any opportunity to read it. So we have to ask ourselves, when Paul speaks of "what I received," how did he receive it? Paul quotes Jesus whom he never met; words which he could not have read anywhere. Rather, he must have heard those words. It seems obvious that he heard them during worship in the church of Antioch. There, Jewish and Gentile Christians mingled together. What sounds so mysterious to us would have had a more Jewish meaning for the Apostle. And what he received, he immediately passes on to us.

By the words that follow, Paul teaches us about the highest mystery of our holy faith, our Lord's sacred Eucharist. He had already thought of Jesus' death in terms of a sacrifice, but here he clearly presents it as a covenant sacrifice. So he quotes Jesus as saying, "the new covenant in my blood…" an expression which would call to mind Exodus 24. In that chapter Moses killed a dozen bulls, put the blood in a number of basins, then poured half upon the altar he had made, and sprinkled the other half on the people of Israel. As he did so, Moses proclaimed, Behold the blood of the covenant that Jehovah, your God, makes with you. God was binding Himself, that's why half the blood would be on the altar. He was also making promises to Israel, that's why the other half was sprinkled on the people. When Paul says the covenant is "in" Jesus' blood, we might translate it as "through my blood."

That is what Isaac Watts does for us in his great Communion hymn. He quotes Paul directly. The first four verses are a metrical version of the Words of Institution. The first verse makes direct mention of the Lord's betrayal:

'Twas on that dark, that doleful night
When powers of earth and hell arose
Against the Son of God's delight
And friends betrayed Him to His foes.

All accounts of this mystery agree that Jesus instituted Holy Communion shortly before His betrayal. The three Gospel accounts describe the holiday celebration, Jesus was doing this during a seder. Paul, writing primarily to Gentiles in Corinth, does not discuss the meal itself, but follows the account with for whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Watts versifies these words like this:

Do this, He said, till time shall end
In memory of your dying Friend.
Meet at my table and record
The love of your departed Lord.

If Jesus' death is a sacrifice, we must ask does God accept the sacrifice? Is there anything that corresponds to the altar of Exodus 24, something that binds God. Here we give a double answer - there is the cross, and there is the empty tomb. In Old Testament times God accepted the sacrifice by fire. But all such sacrifices were incomplete. Why? Because God would not allow the blood to be offered. It was shed, to be sure, but never offered. It had to be poured on the ground. The people could not eat it, nor could they burn it. On yom kippur blood was poured on the altar, but no sacrifice was burned with it. Jesus was making a better covenant. He was offering His blood, giving it to us to drink. But since He took His life back again, His blood is always available. Though poured out on Calvary, it is miraculously restored.

How do people benefit from Christ's sacrifice? In the Old Testament, the people took part by eating the meat. In the New Testament we have a risen Victim instead of a dead animal. Jesus offered His flesh once and for all, so that we might benefit from it today by eating His immortal body in the Host, while drinking His blood in the wine, which were put into the elements by His Word.

People ask, how can mere natural eating give spiritual benefits? The answer is, the same way natural eating of the apple gave man a curse. It was a very natural eating that brought about the Fall. It would have been a natural eating of the Tree of Life that would have made man unredeemable had God not put the cherub in front of it. Now we have in the Eucharist a natural eating of the fruit of the cross, the new Tree of Life, by which we take part in the sacrifice of Christ.

We gather to give thanks that the Spotless Lamb, Jesus Christ, became for us the eternal, perfect Sacrifice. We celebrate the feast as He commanded us. Let nothing be more important to us than the Passover of the New Covenant. Paul was happy to have received this, and to pass it on to us. That's what tradition is; we receive, and deliver what we received. Paul did it for us, we must do the same for our children and their children. Jesus means for all generations to the end of time to benefit from His Table. Watts, in his generation, did us such a favor by writing that hymn. In ours, we can teach it to our children. AMEN.