Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is not an option. It is the Savior’s will. He instituted it. He commanded it. He said, “Do this.” This night gets its name, “Maundy Thursday,” from the Latin word mandatum, “command.” In the Upper Room, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (Jn 13:34). It’s the night of our Lord’s commands: “Love”; “Do this.”
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ gift to His Church. He wants us to extend our hand to receive it. We disrespect Him, our Lord and Savior, when we turn away from His gift of love. It’s kind of like going to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. If we don’t show up, she is sure to ask us why we weren’t there: “I prepared the meal for you, but you didn’t come.” It’s Grandma’s meal, prepared just for us, and we turned away from it.
The big reason we go for Grandma’s meal, though, is not that we don’t want to offend her. We want to go. The food is great. In the same way, we want to come to our Lord’s Supper because the food is great.
Jesus said, “Do this.” He commands us to come so that He can serve us. Only if we come can He serve. We call our hour in the Lord’s house a “worship service” for just this reason. During this hour, He wants to serve us with this Sacrament to forgive our sin and hold us close in His love. He wants to build us up in His Spirit and send us on our way rejoicing, refreshed, and renewed in His grace.
For me as a pastor, it is a great comfort when the Sacrament is offered at the worship service. I know my sermon may not reach everyone’s needs. I know people’s minds may wander from the hymns and prayers and readings. But when the Sacrament is served, it is the Lord Himself who comes directly through the bread and wine. No human failing, including the preacher’s, gets in the way of Jesus’ special, personal touch. This is His moment with us, and we treasure it.
Jesus takes His Supper very seriously, and He asks us to take it seriously as well. Tonight we observe the night when He was betrayed, the night on which our Lord instituted His Supper for all time. We are gathered primarily to receive this Supper in His name. “Do this,” He says, and we come obediently and expectantly.
When we accept His invitation, we acknowledge that His gift of love is precious to us. If we ignore it, we reveal what place He has in our lives. Other things are more important. We don’t feel a need for His gift. We don’t believe it’s as important as He thinks it is.
I tell the young people in the First Communion class that the Sacrament is like getting a birthday party invitation from your best friend. What would that friend think if you ignored it? It’s his or her party, and you don’t care. Or it’s like getting an invitation to a meal from the governor or the president. Would you make room in your schedule for such an opportunity? What would he or she think if you just didn’t care?
The wonderful thing about our Lord is that He never stops inviting. He never stops offering. He never remembers past snubs. He just rejoices that the lost sheep is back in the fold, safe in His arms.
When we come, we proclaim to all our family members and friends and fellow church members that we want our Lord’s love and forgiveness. We leave home, and our neighbors see us. We perhaps talk about this experience at work and even at parties. As St. Paul goes on to say, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26).
What a privilege! What a joy! How we rejoice when each new child in our family or in our church family can join us in the blessing. How we rejoice when each unchurched friend eventually hears the Lord’s call and comes to His Table. Our heart leaps for joy as our Lord’s does when He sees His beloved children gather for His meal. It is an awesome moment.
Our Approach to the Altar Reflects These Attitudes
At the start of the service, we acknowledge our sins. We also have a brief moment of silence to examine our life. Now the climactic moment is coming when we actually receive the Savior’s grace into our bodies and souls. We stand, and our heart starts beating a bit faster. We will soon be at His Table, in His presence, receiving His gift. We approach the Lord’s Supper reverently and expectantly. As the ushers come down the aisle, we stop singing as they near our pew. We take a moment to pray. We walk up and respectfully exchange a bow with the officiant. We are bowing together to our gracious Lord. We are in His presence, gratefully acknowledging Him who in grace has called us to His feast.
We extend our hand and receive the bread and the wine, the very body and blood of our Lord. We remember that His body was broken and His blood was shed in payment for our sins. We are washed clean, from the inside out. We are renewed and strengthened by His love. We revel in this moment.
The pastor says words of dismissal. Some people cross themselves, recalling the other Sacrament, our Baptism, when we first received that sign and seal. We smile. We return to our pew and pray our thanksgiving. This is the moment we prepared for. We savor it.
It is the Lord’s Supper. We rejoice. Our Lord rejoices.
Sermon for Maundy Thursday by Rev. Herbert E. Hoefer. From Sermons for Lent and Easter: Selections from Concordia Pulpit Resources, pages 138–39 © 2008 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.