Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Psalm 92:4-5 Sermon
April 17, 2014
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
650 "Behold A Stranger At The Door"
163 "The Death Of Jesus Christ Our Lord"
306 "Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Hast Prepared"
553 "Abide With Me"
TEXT: “4 For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. 5 How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!”
I like watching the hands of people who are doing something. For example, it amazes me to watch a cooking show; the person or people who are preparing the food make it look so easy! They can chop an onion so neatly and they can do it in almost the blink of an eye.
I remember watching an older lady prepare apples. She could take her paring knife and peel that apple in one continuous motion so the peeling was one long spiral; and then cut it into pieces and drop them in salt water.
Perhaps it's just my frame of mind, but when I think of "serving hands," right away I think of food. Granted there are many other ways that hands serve the needs of people, and I have been the recipient of such service. I can't even begin to count the different ways that many hands served my needs when I was in hospital and in therapy.
There were the hands that did my operation, hands that assisted in that operation, and hands that took care of my other needs in the days and weeks following. And yes, there were those hands that prepared and brought me my meals.
Even though these people have hands that serve others, I don't think they would appreciate being called my servants. For some reason, that's just not a coveted title in today's society.
However, Jesus sees it a whole lot differently. If we look at Matthew chapter 20, verses 26-28, he tells us: "...But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
I don't think that this could be demonstrated any more clearly than it is tonight as we celebrate Maundy Thursday, the night that our Lord Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, or Holy Communion. Let's see what's happening here:
If we go to John chapter 13, the first 20 verses describe the whole situation of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples gathered there. We read from verses 4-8: "[Jesus] laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, do you wash my feet?' 7 Jesus answered him, 'What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.' 8 Peter said to him, 'You shall never wash my feet.' Jesus answered him, 'If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.'"
Foot washing was a rather menial task, something that only the lowliest of servants would do for the guests in someone's home. But this is what Jesus does. He clearly demonstrates that he came to serve our needs, and not his own. He comes to cleanse our souls, something that we could never do for ourselves. He serves us in love, which is a type of love that is so profound and deep that we could never adequately comprehend it.
As a servant, he takes up human flesh when he came to this earth, born of the virgin. He becomes the suffering servant of all mankind, to take the sins of the entire world upon himself. The forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation could only be obtained as Jesus becomes the servant of all, and humbles himself unto death on the cross. No mere human being could ever serve us in that manner, regardless of how dedicated or sincere they might be.
Wouldn't it have been awesome to have been in that upper room back then? We could have actually participated in the foot washing and that historic transitional Passover meal. We could have received the bread and wine directly from the serving hands of Jesus! We could have heard him speak the words, "Take and eat, this is my body given for you; take and drink, this is my blood poured out for you." What an awesome experience that would have been!
But wait a minute. We don't need to wish that we could turn back the clock. If we study what Jesus says in the words he speaks, he says: "This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." He is communicating a very important truth in these words.
In English, we tend to think of the words "in remembrance" in a different way than the Hebrew people did. We think of "remembrance" as bringing something to our conscious mind, like remembering a birthday or anniversary. Or we think of it in more simpler terms like remembering to lock our doors, or remembering to take out the trash on garbage day.
However, we have to define that word as the Jews would define it, which is the way Jesus would have defined it. When the Jews use that word, it literally means to take an event that has happened in the past, and to make it happen all over again as if it was happening for the first time. This is one of those areas where English translations don't adequately convey the meaning of, and the thought behind the original languages.
So what is happening here at our altar today, is exactly what happened in that upper room so long ago. The words Jesus spoke have the same power as the words we speak today. The hands that distribute the bread and wine are like the hands Jesus used to serve his disciples. And the meaning of the bread and wine actually being the true body and blood of Jesus in those earthly elements is no different today than it was then.
Through the power of God's Word and the promise of Jesus himself, we receive the same benefit as those disciples did. We receive the sign and seal of our forgiveness that Christ purchased for us through his body and blood. It becomes personal for each of us when Jesus says the words "for you." Jesus serves our needs out of nothing but love for us.
And now we have an invitation spoken by Jesus himself. We haven't earned a place at his table because we are more important or righteous than anybody else. Jesus invites us out of mercy and love. He invites us because he knows we need to be served by him; we need our sinful lives restored. We need our weak faith strengthened. We need to be in full communion with him.
So how do we prepare ourselves to come to this meal? We need to examine ourselves, which really isn't as complicated or involved as we might think. When we examine ourselves, we need to recognize our sinfulness and our lack of self-righteousness. We need to know that we can in no wise save ourselves or atone for our own sins. We come with our hands that have been separated by sin, yearning for the peace that can only come from Jesus.
Jesus the divine Master now becomes the servant as he offers us the most precious of all meals. And what a humbling experience that is! We are sinners who have been invited into the presence of our God.
The meal invitation Jesus gives is the meal of his own true body and blood, offered to sustain our spirit, to give us the strength that is needed to reaffirm our relationship with him, and to give us the certainty of the forgiveness he has purchased and won for us.
We know that bread and wine in and of itself is nothing but bread and wine. There's nothing magical about it. The power comes through the Word of God, and what he promises to do. Since our involvement is passive, we need to focus upon the promises of Christ and what he commands. God's Word is powerful, living, and active.
Jesus has invited us to his table with hands ready to serve. He shares with us the communion that exists between us and him as we gather at his table. We participate with him together with others in this one body and one blood. And it is in faith, the faith the Holy Spirit works within you and me, that we are able to lay claim to this meal that the Lord puts before us.
Jesus came with serving hands. He took upon himself the role of a servant, and he demonstrated this by washing the feet of his disciples. Jesus came to serve others, and not himself. He came to suffer and die in our place so we would be reconciled to God and spend eternity in heaven.
As we prepare to come to the Lord's table at our Saviour's invitation, there's a divine mystery here beyond all human comprehension. Therefore we keep the words of the hymn writer in mind: "Though reason cannot understand, yet faith this truth embraces; thy body Lord, is everywhere, at once in many places. How this can be I leave to thee, thy Word alone sufficeth me, I trust its truth unfailing." TLH 306:5