Maundy Thursday: “Why?”

My Maundy Thursday sermon this year. The more I take Holy Communion, the more I understand the reality of my faith.

Scripture reading: Exodus 12:1-14.
Sermon text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Our Christian identity does not consist solely of an intellectual assent to rationally explained doctrines based on logically induced and explainable precepts.

In other words, it’s not all in our heads.

That’s not to say that people haven’t tried to confine the faith to a mere intellectual construct. The entire New Testament includes reminders of the physical reality of Christianity. St. John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1); he later wrote in a letter, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1:1). St. John’s words reminded the early Christians of Jesus’ physical reality. The Virgin Mary really did give birth to Him; St. Joseph really reared Him; the disciples really touched Him.

The Romans really killed Him.

And He really rose from the dead.

The Church will focus on Jesus’ death tomorrow on Good Friday and on His resurrection on Easter Sunday. For Maundy Thursday, we find ourselves asking why, before His death, did Jesus give physical bread and physical wine to His disciples and say to them, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

First, God knows we often forget His blessings.

Look at the Old Testament reading from Exodus. “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast” (Exodus 12:14). God knew the Hebrews, like everyone else, would forget His blessings in times of trial and suffering, so He gave them a feast to remind them both of Egypt’s oppression and His deliverance.

How often do we forget God’s blessings when trials arise, when despair settles on us and blots the light from our lives? We forget that Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12). At this Table, the Light of the World dispels the darkness, reminding us that He has conquered sin and darkness for us.

Secondly, God knows we forget His grace.

I told New Hope Sunday morning that I approach the Table of the Lord with mixed emotions. The Table reminds me I deserve nothing from God but judgment and condemnation. As a sinner, I have no right to approach this table, much less to preside at its feast. I come here because, by grace, God invites me. I stand and preside at Holy Communion because, by grace, God has called me to serve His people. I will never deserve to approach this Table, but I come here confidently because of God’s grace. Every time I take Communion, I remember God’s grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Lastly, God knows how often our heads get in the way of living.

We walk outside to a beautiful morning, and we immediately think of something we need to do in the afternoon. We’re in the room with the love of our life, and instead of cherishing the one we love, we’re thinking of somewhere we’ll go or something we’ll do tomorrow. We hear good news, and our heads immediately wonder, “How long will it last?”

I freely admit I would probably live more joyously if I could switch off my brain every once in a while, or at least the parts that constantly look into a nonexistent future and refuse to focus on the joyous, blessed present.

The Greek civilization exalted intellectual pursuits to a level unseen by human history. Many Greek philosophies began with the premise that the physical body represented evil and the intellect represented all the good in creation. The Greeks really took the “it’s all in your head” philosophy to a new level.

To the Corinthians — Greeks to the core — St. Paul wrote these words:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. — 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

St. Paul reminded the Greeks in Corinth of physical bread and physical wine, given to physical men by a physical Christ.

I could give you a historical explanation of the practice of Holy Communion. I could write a paper (a dissertation, actually) on Holy Communion, including such facts as the early Church celebrated Holy Communion at every worship service and that someone, somewhere on earth has celebrated Holy Communion every single day since Passover in A.D. 33. I could tell you it would stun the early Christians to know we often meet and don’t celebrate Holy Communion.

Instead, I’ll tell you that this meal reminds us it’s not all in our heads. Humans didn’t contrive our faith as a story.

God created a physical world and called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). God gave us physical bodies to enjoy His creation and interact with it. We see the beauty of a sunrise, we smell the fragrance of the flowers, we hear the melody of the music around us, we touch the softness of skin and the texture of hair.

We worship with our bodies as well as our minds. We stand and sit throughout the service. We use our mouths to pray and sing. We close our eyes in prayer and open them to read music and words. We hear the word of God proclaimed so we can process it with our brains and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our souls.

When we celebrate Holy Communion, we take physical food and physical liquid into our mouths. We eat and drink, the very act that brought sin into the world in the first place, but the act by which we sustain our physical lives.

As we eat physical bread, we remember a Body broken by Roman whips and stretched out to die on a Roman cross.

As we drink the physical fruit of the vine, we remember Blood pouring from wounds inflicted for our sins and by which our sins are forgiven.

The first meal recorded in Scripture cost us immortality and life in the Garden of Eden.

The meal before us tonight reminds us that Christ promises eternal life to all who believe.

Tonight, I remind you that God has blessed you with eternal life through your faith in Christ.

Tonight, I remind you that, by grace, God invites you to this Table.

Tonight, I offer you bread and a cup, imploring you to remember we will live forever in a new heaven and a new earth, physical beings in a physical creation untouched by sin and death.

Tonight, I remind you.

Tonight, I invite you.

Christian, come and dine.