Maundy Thursday Sermon
The Lamb of God Who Has Mercy on Us
(Exodus 12:1–7; 1 Corinthians 5:7b)
Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and the Lamb of God Jesus Christ, Amen!
We continue with our Lenten series revolving around the hymn O Lamm Gottes- “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy,” and tonight we arrive at the final line: “Have mercy on us, O Jesus” (LSB 434). And so we consider the Lamb of God who has mercy on us.
Mercy, not exactly a household word is it? It sounds a little peculiar in everyday speech, such as in “Mercy me!” It sounds like something your old-fashioned eccentric aunt might use as an exclamation.
But as words go, it receives precious little use outside of the Church. Here we use it all the time. “Lord, have mercy upon us, Christ mercy upon us” that’s our prayer in the liturgy, which echoes the blind men who sought their sight in Matthew 9. We, too, seek sight, but our blindness is a matter of the heart, which is clouded and scarred by sin. Yet that very cry for mercy at the beginning of our worship shows we recognize that we are waiting for the One who is capable of addressing our deepest need. Mercy: the tender loving-kindness of God who comes among us to dispense His healing and life.
“Lord, have mercy upon us,” we pray. It’s simultaneously prayer and praise, acclamation and petition. With these words we welcome Him and pray for His gracious help. The final line of our Lenten hymn: Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world; have mercy on us, O Jesus.
“Lord,” we call Him and rightly so. For He is our Lord because we belong to Him, purchased by His blood, ransomed and redeemed out of the kingdom of darkness and brought into His wondrous light. We have been restored and renewed by love.
We are in the right place tonight to be in the presence of Jesus, for He comes to us in both Word and Sacrament. We have come to the right place to receive His mercy, since He has plenty of it to give. He gives it to you His beloved Church in an extraordinary way this Holy Night. Tonight we honor the night Jesus founded the Sacrament of the Altar, in which He feeds us His broken body and gives us His shed blood to drink.
This, then, is the night of our deliverance, the beginning of our three-day journey with Jesus from His arrest in the garden, to Pilate’s judgment hall, then to Golgotha, through His cross and His death, and finally to His glorious resurrection. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Day—it sounds like four days, but by biblical reckoning it is only three. The Jews begin each new day at the setting of the sun, and anything that happens after sundown is part of the next day. By that calculation, then, it is a three-day journey we commence this Maundy Thursday evening. And it all started with a meal.
We have heard the words so often we can almost recite them in our sleep: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you’ ” (LSB, p. 162).
In a few minutes you will once again approach the altar; once again you will receive with your mouth the very Bread of heaven. Under this earthly bread and wine blessed, you will eat and drink the flesh and blood of Jesus. And when you do that, you will be following Jesus’ last will and testament: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). In this Sacrament, the Lamb of God has left us a memorial of His mercy.
It’s a memorial different than any other. Visit a cemetery and you’ll find elaborate headstones and monuments to celebrate those who died. But they are all memorials to the dead. The Lord Jesus is the Lamb who once was slain but now lives forever. And the memorial He instituted is not a monument nor a headstone, but a meal. In this eating and drinking we actively recall, recite, rehearse and relive His saving mercy.
“What good is that?” you may ask. “Jesus, give me something I can use. Jesus, I could use some pointers on how to get along in this world. Jesus, I could use some advice on how to be happy and successful. Jesus, I could use some instructions on how to find my way through the confusion and turmoil, since my life has become a mess. But mercy, come on, what good is that?” But you see - that’s our problem. God sends us His gifts and we keep trying to mark them: “return to sender”—or we try to take them back and exchange them for something we like.
But there is nothing better than mercy. In His mercy God opens up His heart to the world, sending forth His pure and holy Lamb to be slaughtered in our place. This is mercy in action. As a result of His mercy, you and I do not receive the penalty we deserve; instead, God’s own Son took it upon Himself. That substitutionary gift of Jesus and His death is at the heart of the New Testament Meal, the Sacrament of the Altar, the remembrance of God’s mercy to end all other remembrances.
Oh, there had been other memorial meals before this one. The night that Jesus was betrayed He had gathered in that Upper Room with His disciples to commemorate the exodus of God’s people Israel from their slavery under Pharaoh. It was the Lord’s Passover. In our text we heard how God had given elaborate instructions to His people for the preparation of that feast. The entrée was lamb, but not any ordinary lamb—a lamb without blemish or defect.
Every time they ate that meal, the Israelites ate it in remembrance of the Lord and His mercy. It was a meal full of hope and promise, but that hope and that promise existed under the very threat of death. That first night in Egypt when God set His people free, it was in the midst of the coming danger. For the angel of death was passing over; in every household in Egypt the firstborn of man and beast would die, except where the blood of the lamb marked the door. At those houses the death passed over, sparing those within.
On the night of their deliverance, God’s people Israel ate that first Passover with mixed emotions: with gratitude and joy certainly, but also mixed with dread—for the angel of death was passing overhead. Imagine a banquet given in your honor but with live ammunition whizzing over your head. These people knew they had received mercy; they had been miraculously delivered from sure and certain death.
This, then, was Israel’s Passover, the Old Testament sacramental meal of deliverance. In that meal God’s people dined on the body of the very animal that gave them life by dying in their place. It was a communion of sorts—a communion in the body that died to save them.
In the Meal we eat this night there is a communion as well. But it is a communion of a living body, the body of the Lamb of God who has had mercy upon us. Jesus intervened to rescue us from slavery to sin, death and the devil. He took our place upon the cross, bearing our curse, giving His body and shedding His blood for the remission of our sins. Jesus is our Lamb without blemish or defect. He had no sins of His own but took upon Himself our sins so that He could die to bring down the ancient curse of death and end the Father’s wrath against all sin and us sinners. That body of His was the sin-offering. His blood is the sign and seal of our redemption. And when we eat the bread and drink the cup of this Supper, it is a communion in the body and blood of Christ, the Lamb.
As Israel once dined on the flesh that revealed God’s mercy and gave them life for death, so the Church continually dines on the flesh and blood that rescued us once and for all. St. Paul drives this home when He calls the Lord Jesus our “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7b). Those lambs who gave their lives as the antidote to death in Egypt were only a shadow of the real thing. At the cross, the true Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world. He gave His body and shed His blood as the ransom price for all.
And so at the Lord’s Table this night you are given yet again a front-row seat in the great drama that won our salvation. That old song asks “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” it’s a sweet thought, but the plain fact is that you weren’t there. But tonight the cross comes to you. While we cannot go to Jesus, He comes to us. First in our Baptism and again and again in His Holy Supper, the Lamb who shed His blood says to us, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” (LSB, p. 162, emphasis added). In this sacred Meal, He does more than ask us to remember Him. He Himself actively recalls and gives us once again the fruits of His love and all the benefits of His saving death as He says to us: “Take, eat; this is My body, which was given for you” (LSB, p. 162, emphasis added).
And with those words “for you” He bring us confidence and consolation in this hour. For God’s love is no shadowy abstraction, nor some warm fuzzy feeling. It’s concrete, it’s reality. Now sin, death, and hell have been overcome, since Christ, our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for you.
In this Supper the Lord of heaven and earth hands you His love on a platter. He doesn’t give you a symbol or emblem of His love but the true substance of His love, the very flesh once offered on the cross, the Lamb without blemish or spot freely laid down His life so that you might live. His is a love you can sink your teeth into in this Supper. His blood cleanses you from all sin as He gives you a drink of the cup of salvation.
Mercy! That is what we need, and that is what the Lamb of God brings us now in His Banquet that He spreads before us which we eat in His remembrance. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:26: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
So take heart this night. Death and destruction may loom and lurk on every side, but everything that troubles you and all that robs you of your joy is overcome tonight in this banquet feast of love. Now is vanquished sin and death and hell. Heaven intersects with earth at this altar, and in this eating and drinking we have a foretaste of the feast to come, the wedding banquet of the Lamb and His beloved bride who says: “Yes, I am coming soon,” to bring you to where I am. (Revelation 22:20).
To which we respond: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus, come, come quickly”.
Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world. Have mercy upon us and He has, In Jesus name, Amen and Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus now and forever more. Amen.