In the Upper Room
Luke 22: 19-20
Time after time in my life, the events, the holidays, the special achievements, have been marked by a meal—a time when friends, and family gather around a meal for fellowship. You probably have memories of your own, but I remember and eagerly anticipate the special recipe for stuffing reserved in my family for the Thanksgiving turkey.
I remember pfeffernusse and anise cookies and decorated ginger cookies, because these are related to our celebration of Christmas I remember punchkes only available on Shrove Tuesday, and corned beef and boiled cabbage because that is how we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. And I remember the simple food, but loving, caring, fellowship after the funeral of a loved one. Meal fellowship is a universal phenomenon. We seemingly mark our lives with these special times at table.
In Jesus time it was no different. As we travel down the corridor of time to visit the city of Jerusalem on that first Maundy Thursday night. We find countless homes aglow with candlelight and eager faces gathered around the festive tables. This is the Eve of Passover, the great High Feast of Judaism. We shall approach a certain house and make bold to mount the stairs to an Upper Room where thirteen men are gathered to keep the feast.
The table was set. On hand were the matzoth, or unleavened bread, red wine mixed with water, probably five kinds of herbs, arranged in bunches called sops, to be dipped into a bowl or salt water. The couches were arranged around the table. It remained only for Peter and John to obtain money from Treasurer Judas to purchase a small lamb, to take it to the temple, kill and dress it, put it on a spit, and prepare it. “When the hour had come, Jesus reclined at the table, and the twelve apostles with Him” (Luke 22:14).
The Pascha was a liturgical meal for the Jews; a meal of remembrance of Israel’s deliverance and of a gracious God who chose them as his beloved people. The liturgy proceeded somewhat lengthily, interspersed with prayers, blessings, the reading of scripture and finally concluded with the singing of psalms. By this time the paschal lamb was thoroughly roasted, and the Passover meal could begin.
When my wife and I were first married, we found our selves torn between two families with stable, strong holiday traditions. We call it our “Road Warrior” years, because we found ourselves going from one in-law to the other over the holidays, spending a great amount of time traveling and the day following recuperating. It took awhile, be we did realize that we had become a family in our own right, and that we would need to begin traditions of our own, and that they would take the place of our separate traditions.
On this night, Jesus too, would establish this new tradition for the family of God. In Jerusalem, in this upper room an epoch, which started 1500 years before, was, on this night, coming to a close. The old covenant between God and His chosen people, signified by the blood of the paschal lamb, was now to be superseded by the new covenant between God and the individual, and would be based on the blood of Jesus Christ the Mediator. The Passover was to give place to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus began His public ministry with a sacrament, Baptism, and He brought the days of His humiliation to a close with a sacrament, Holy Communion. Maundy Thursday is the anniversary of the institution of the that blessed sacrament.
The tone of our service this evening will be different than the other services of Lent. The violet paraments give way to white and the mood of the hymns will turn from contemplation to honor and praise. Maundy Thursday is lifted out of the solemnity of Lent, for this is the anniversary of the institution of Christ’s holy Eucharist – His special giving of thanks.
Let’s look at just what this New Testament Sacrament is. The Lord’s Supper is a divine institution. It is not a rite ordained by the church but a sacrament instituted by Christ. It is not something that may be viewed with indifference, but a divine ordinance that the Christian is bound to heed. He has no choice in the matter. He cannot say, “I will” or “I will not” go to Holy Communion, for the Lord’s loving call is: “This do.”
Accordingly, the early church made much of the Lord’s Supper. In the book of Acts we read: “They continued steadfastly… in breaking of bread, and in prayer” (Acts 2: 42). In fact, the members of the early church celebrated the sacrament every time they gathered for worship, which in the days of the apostles was almost every day.
Our Lutheran Church recognizes the significance of the Lord’s Supper. Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession states: “forasmuch as the Mass is such a giving of the Sacrament, we hold one communion every holy day, and if any desire the Sacrament, also on other days, when it is given to such as ask for it.”
It is a sign of spiritual strength and growth when a congregation demonstrates its appreciation of this sweet legacy which Christ has given His church on earth. The pnmary need of the church, in order to enjoy healthy spiritual growth, is not better business methods or the latest program in church work, important though these might be. The church, if it is to go forward, must return to such fundamental things as “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39); “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17); “Ask for the Holy Spirit” (Luke 11:13); “Make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19); “Love one another” (Romans 13: 8); and “This do in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). A congregation will prosper, as has often times been said before, when the members spend more time in the Upper Room than in the supper room. This is as it should be, because the Sacrament of the Altar is a divine institution ordained by the Lord Christ.
In the second place, the Lord’s Supper is a feast of remembrance, a memorial rite. There is no question about that. The Lord said, “This do in remembrance of Me.” And the One who speaks these words is the Christ who after that first Maundy Thursday and Good Friday rose from the ashes of seeming defeat; who stood forth on Easter as the victor over sin, death, and the power of the devil. This is the Christ who calls Himself “Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8).
Surely, our Lord remembered the eternal counsel and will of God. He remembered the first prophecy of a Savior spoken in the Garden of Eden. He remembered the promises given to the patriarchs of the infant world. He remembered the prophecies spoken by men of old. He remembered the miserable state into which sin had plunged man, and in His tender compassion He remembered to leave the foot of the throne for the top of the cross.
Our Lord remembered to do and to die for His people, and now He tells us: “This do in remembrance of Me.”
There are many things that we remember about Him, but particularly do we remember His peculiar death. We remember, as we eat His body and drink His blood in the Holy Sacrament, that He took the burden of our sin upon Himself, carried it to Golgatha, suffered all God’s wrath over sin, endured all the punishment, went into very hell for us when he was forsaken by God. We remember, as we eat and drink, that by raising our Christ from the dead on the third day, God declared Him to be the Son of God with power. The new covenant was negotiated, written, signed and sealed by God who declared on that First Easter “The new testament forged in the innocent death of My Son, is now in force.”
We remember, that according to the terms of the new covenant, God credits us with everything Jesus did. If only we believe in Him and accept Him as Savior and Lord, we have this unlimited credit.On the credit side He writes perfect fulfillment of the Law, perfect obedience to God’s will and wish in every detail; full atonement for every sin; payment in full for every debt; suffering of all punishment. Surely, the Lord’s Supper is a feast of remembrance. Christ remembered, and we remember.
Thirdly, Holy Communion is specifically a sacrament. Like the Gospel of forgiveness in Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace. It imparts the forgiveness of sins. Holy Communion does not belong to that body of doctrine in the Bible called Law; it belongs to that body of doctrine called Gospel. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is not something we do for Christ; it is something Christ does for us. It Is not a sacrifice we make, or an offering we bring, but a gift of grace he imparts. It is therefore a most blessed sacrament, because of the heavenly blessings it gives.
The Lord’s Supper is the pearl and jewel of God’s love to man, a seal of his covenant with the individual. The Lord’s Supper is a dynamic, a power in the spiritual life of Christians. It strengthens our faith, increases our love, it makes us patient under trials and testing, and it deepens our hope in life everlasting.
God’s Word tells us that the Lord’s Supper is an antidote against sin, that it is a means of grace, offering, conveying, and sealing us in the grace that Christ has merited. We know, too that the Lord’s Supper gives a vital sense of the nearness, concreteness, and reality of God as nothing else on earth can; that it is the closest communion into which we, as mortals, can enter with our Lord; that it is the Holy of Holies of spiritual fellowship.
The Lord’s Supper is such a wondrous means of grace because the Lord is there. He is sacramentally present. He sups with us, and we sup with Him. And so I bid you, come to the feast for the Savior bids you to come. He has spread the table for you. You shall be his guest and receive spiritual refreshment for your soul.
Through this blessed sacrament Christ shall continue to nurture you until you are ready to enter the Upper Chamber, far above all worlds, where He shall feed you with the eternal manna and give you to drink of the wine of gladness forevermore.
Let us pray:
We do not presume to come to Your Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy even to gather the crumbs under Your Table. But You are the Lord whose property it is to have mercy, and You have bid us to come as chosen guest at Your Supper. Grant us, therefore, so to eat the body of Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood that we may be cleansed and our sin washed away in His precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us. Amen