Fr. Brian, over at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church in Danvers, preached a phenomenal sermon last night at the Maundy Thursday service, such that I can’t help but summarize it here. The outline was so simple and the flow of it was so clear; it’s worth remembering. So here goes, based on the notes I took last night…
Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us. – I Cor. 5:7
Like a goose protecting his mate’s nest, or a human father shooing away an angry goose to protect his own 3-year-old son, God the Father demonstrates his protective love for his own children. When Pharaoh held Israel captive, God sent Moses to him with the demand “let my children, Israel, go, or I will kill your firstborn sons” (summarizing the tenth plague upon Egypt in Exodus 12). Two fathers were going head to head over the welfare of the children – God’s children were being abused, and so he moved to protect them.
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants is basically the same story: a father sends his son to collect his due, the son is killed, and the man punishes the tenants who did it.
This begs the question, then, what will God do to the world who killed His only begotten Son, Jesus? Judgement! As Revelation 16:4-7 describes it, The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel in charge of the waterssay,“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!”
How, then, do we escape this judgment? Just like in Exodus, we need a Passover.
It may be tempting to think of the Passover as something in which God is only a passive player – the angel of death “passes over” the houses protected by the blood of the sacrificed lamb. But in fact, when the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down (Exodus 12:23). It’s not a divine game of “Duck, Duck, Goose,” but God himself hovered over the homes with the blood, and he prevented the destroyer from killing the firstborn of the homes of His people.
How does this help us today? It tells us that we need God to “pass over us” – to protect us. Christ is our Passover, ironically, since he’s also the one whom we’re guilty of killing. But it works out beautifully, because the protection he offers is himself, his sinlessness.
As the Passover Lamb in the Old Covenant was eaten, so does Jesus’ body comprise our Passover feast. As the blood of the lamb was “painted” onto the doorposts and sprinkled onto the people by Moses, so is Jesus’ blood offered for drink – not as bloodguiltiness, but as a sharing or communion with him. The blood of the sacrifice marks God’s people as God’s people.
When Jesus instituted this sacrifice, he also told his disciples to do this “in remembrance” of him. Just like the “remembrances” or “memorials” in Old Covenant worship, this is an act primarily pointed toward God, not ourselves. God is the one who saw the blood on the doorposts, and prevented the destroyer from entering. In the same way, when God looks at His people today He sees Jesus in us, because we receive his body and blood into our very souls and bodies.
But then Jesus messed with the Jewish Passover liturgy. The cup that he blessed as his blood, “the cup of blessing,” was the cup #3 of 4 in the dinner. They sang some hymns (or psalms) after that third cup, as would be usual, but then they went out, seemingly skipping the fourth cup. But what did Jesus pray in the garden that evening? “Let this cup pass away from me!” It was the cup of suffering, of God’s wrath, which he yet had to drink. But finally, dying on the cross, he was ready to drink it. Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:28-30). Then and only then was the Passover finished: the Lamb had been sacrificed and the meal with its liturgy was completed.
All of this sacrifice is gathered up in the “remembrance” that Jesus mentioned when instructing this to be done in the New Covenant.
So the Passover wasn’t done until Jesus died. The traditional liturgy for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday reflect this: Maundy Thursday’s service technically doesn’t end. It takes a break, people go home and sleep, sure, but they come back on Good Friday to finish the story, finish the Passover, finish the liturgy. Since I’m typing this up on Good Friday, I could say “yesterday finishes today.”
Thus the words said at every celebration of Holy Eucharist, as Paul wrote in I Cor. 5:
Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast.