Thursday, March 20, 2008

Psalm 116:12-19 - “Eucharist”

Maundy Thursday
(Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Thursday, March 20, 2008

(sung to the tune of “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart”)
Eucharist with a grateful heart, Eucharist to the Holy One. . .

Eucharist. The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, is also known as the Eucharist. And while it might not look like it, that song we just sang is about the Eucharist.

(sung)Eucharist with a grateful heart, Eucharist to the Holy One. . .

Eucharist is a Greek word which means “to give thanks,” so we could certainly switch the words of that song and insert “eucharist” every time it says, “Give thanks.”

The Lord’s Supper is known as the Eucharist, a Thanksgiving Meal. The name is taken from the fact that before Jesus gave the disciples the bread and before He gave them the wine, He gave thanks. Eucharist.

Which means that tonight, the night we commemorate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the first time that Jesus offered this sacrament to His people, when He gathered the disciples for the Passover meal but instead took them a leap ahead of anything they had ever experienced on Passover, this night when we remember that the Last Supper is when Jesus invited all believers to come to the table for the Lord’s Supper, tonight called Maundy Thursday, tonight could also be called Thanksgiving.

We give thanks tonight, because Jesus offered Himself as the Passover Lamb, a final and lasting sacrifice to cover the sins of the whole world. At the first Passover, families were saved by the blood of a lamb, one lamb per family, with blood on each of their doors. The first Passover was a one-time event, always to be commemorated, remembered, and celebrated, but there was only one night when the blood of lambs protected the people from the angel of death that swept through Egypt killing the first-born sons of the Egyptians so that Pharaoh the king would let the people of God go. That was one night in history, forever remembered because it tells us who our God is, one night always commemorated because it is good to give thanks to God for what He has done for His people, but it was one night.

So when the disciples gathered to eat the Passover meal with Jesus, giving thanks didn’t make it different. They celebrated, prayed, praised, and gave thanks. These were all of the normal reasons for the Passover meal. When Jesus took the bread, broke it, and gave thanks, the disciples wouldn’t have expected anything different than a ceremonial meal meant to help them remember that their God had saved His people and was still their only hope for salvation. When Jesus gave thanks, they may even have had the words of Psalm 116 on their lips—singing those words that we heard tonight.

What shall I render to the LORD
For all His benefits toward me?
I will take up the cup of salvation,
And call upon the name of the LORD.
I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And will call upon the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD
Now in the presence of all His people,
In the courts of the LORD’S house,
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!
(verses 12-13, 17-19, NKJV))

So it wasn’t in the giving thanks that made the meal any different, and in some ways, calling this meal the Eucharist doesn’t tell us how different this meal is.

What Jesus gave the disciples on that night, and what He has given all of us, is more than a thanksgiving meal, more than a turkey dinner meant to recall the Pilgrims and Indians. The Lord’s Supper is more than a reenactment, more than a repetition for the sake of remembrance, more than raising a toast to somebody who died, more than putting flowers and a wreath in the shoulder of the highway where someone died in an accident, more than a symbolic gesture to make us think of a spiritual truth, more than a memorial meal shared among friends and family.

The Lord’s Supper is more than that, because it is about God’s action, it is about what God is still doing through this meal.

What the disciples wouldn’t have realized when Jesus took the bread, broke it, and gave thanks, was that He was about to give them something more than a one-night in history memory. He was about to give them a life-eternal moment, a connection to God’s love, grace, and mercy, a visible, tangible way of knowing that their sins are completely forgiven and they have the promise of eternal life.

And He wasn’t just going to give them this gift at the Last Supper, a one-night in history event for those gathered in that Upper Room. No, He was giving them a life-eternal moment to share with all people, to share from generation to generation, to share so that it would come down through the ages and miles so that even a gathering of people in Brookfield, Wisconsin, would be able to experience the same life-giving meal.

And that means it’s much more than saying, “Cheers,” “Salut,” “Prosit,” and raising a glass to our dear brother Jesus. This Eucharist is Jesus offering Himself to us as the means, the way to eternal life. It’s the power of God for salvation.

So I’ve always preferred to call it the Lord’s Supper, to focus on the fact that Jesus invites us to eat and drink, Jesus gave His body and blood for us, Jesus laid down His life so that we could have life. I’ve always preferred to call it the Lord’s Supper. . .but Psalm 116, the appointed psalm for Maundy Thursday made me realize that I don’t give thanks during the Lord’s Supper nearly enough.

I mean, I truly believe that we teach the truth according to Scripture about what the Lord’s Supper is and why it gives us hope. I believe that it is the body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine. I believe it brings us the gifts of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. I believe it is about God’s action, not ours. I don’t think we are sacrificing Christ again, that He was sacrificed for all people, for all sins when He died on the cross. I believe the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, a visible, tangible way to connect us with God’s Word of forgiveness.

But I’m afraid that if we let it, we may get ourselves into a trap sometimes of coming to the Lord’s Supper because of what we get out of it. . .never pausing to see that the Lord’s Supper is also a celebration, a memorial, a remembrance of who our Lord is. It’s a thanksgiving meal, it’s the Eucharist, where we turn our hearts to the Lord, rejoicing in what He has done for us, giving Him all the glory, honor, and praise that we can muster, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify His glorious name, evermore praising the Lord.

Psalm 116 verse 17 says, “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving,” or putting it another way: “I will offer to You a song of thanksgiving.” As one scholar says, “Thanksgiving in the Old Testament is word and act, song and sacrifice, address to God and proclamation to others, performed by an individual but in the presence of other people, lifting up the experience of a human being but only to point to the God who has redeemed, bearing witness to the salvation of a single individual…but calling for thanksgiving by a chorus…. It is thanks, confession, and praise all wrapped up in a single reality,” (Miller, 197-198).

That’s the deep, wide dimension of what it means to give thanks to the Lord; it’s the song of thanksgiving that is ringing out through the whole Lord’s Supper—the Preparation, the Prayers, the Words of Institution, serving the meal, singing the hymns, receiving the dismissal and peace, the Thanksgiving Song, and the Thanksgiving Prayer. There’s a song of thanksgiving running through every part of the Lord’s Supper.

“Thanksgiving…is word and act.” We give thanks to the Lord in the words of our prayers during the Eucharist, but our actions also show our thankfulness—coming to receive what He has given, kneeling before Him, taking the bread and wine, the body and blood with honor and respect for the Lord.

“Thanksgiving is…song and sacrifice.” We sing His praises, but we also make sacrifices to Him. Not animal sacrifices like the Old Testament, and not a repeat of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but as you worship and take the Lord’s Supper, you are giving thanks to the Lord by your sacrifice of time, sacrifice of offerings, sacrifice of a part of your lives that you set apart for the work of the Lord, and the sacrifice of pride, laying down your pride and humbling yourself before God and admitting that you need His forgiveness. That sacrifice is a song of thanksgiving to the Lord.

“Thanksgiving is…address to God and proclamation to others.” You’re coming before the Lord, the Lord’s Supper is about you at the feet of Jesus, but it’s also a way of confessing before others, showing people that you believe in the body and blood of Christ, believe in the Lord, and come to His table to be forgiven and receive salvation.

“Thanksgiving is…performed by an individual…but calling for thanksgiving by a chorus.” We each come forward to receive the body and blood, but we support one another through singing hymns and anthems and saying prayers. We give thanks to the Lord for the salvation He has given all of the people around us.

“Thanksgiving is…lifting up the experience of a human being but only to point to the God who has redeemed.” Yes, when we come to the Lord’s Supper, we are laying our sins before God, believing that we need His grace, and experiencing His mercy, but it doesn’t point to ourselves. It points to our God, it points to who God is. We don’t leave here saying how wonderful we are because we took Communion; we go out giving thanks for our wonderful God who has saved us by this meal.

“Thanksgiving… is thanks, confession, and praise all wrapped up in a single reality.” The Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion is thanks, confession, and praise all wrapped up in a single meal. We give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One who is far above our sinfulness, we give Him praise for the body and blood of Christ which is given to us for our salvation.

And that’s why this meal can be called the Eucharist; that’s why this night could be called Thanksgiving, because when Psalm 116 says, “What shall I give to the LORD for all His benefits toward me?.... I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving,” when it says this, it’s not turning this into something about our actions, it’s not undoing our theology which stresses that the Lord’s Supper is all about what God has done, what God gives us. This song of thanksgiving doesn’t undo all of that, because the song of thanksgiving, what we sing by word and act, song and sacrifice, what we offer to the Lord is a response to what He has done. The words we say, the songs we sing, the actions we take, they’re all about giving thanks, but they’re all pointing to what the Lord has done. We wouldn’t have a song of thanksgiving to sing if the Lord didn’t take action.

The Eucharist is a thanksgiving meal beyond any memorial, commemorative, ceremonial meal that we can imagine. A commemorative meal is only powerful as far as it causes us to remember something in the past; the power of the meal is in the memory; the power comes from our action in the commemoration.

The Eucharist is far beyond that, because while we are giving thanks, the meal continues to work its power, the meal continues the power that’s always been there, the meal continues to offer what was offered on that first night, the meal continues to give us the body and blood of our Lord in a mysterious way, the meal continues to grant us forgiveness, life, and salvation.

We’re not conjuring up thankfulness for the past; we’re continually being prompted to give thanks through the entire meal because God is still here, God is still giving, God is still working His power, so that even when you think the meal is completed, it continues to feed and nourish your soul.

So don’t be afraid to give thanks tonight, don’t be afraid to be singing, “Eucharist with a grateful heart,” because your song of thankfulness isn’t your focus. It is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who takes the bread, breaks it, gives thanks and says, “Take eat, this is My body.” It is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who takes the cup, give thanks, and says, “Take drink, this is My blood.” As you give thanks, He gives thanks. As you give thanks, He gives you His body and blood. As you give thanks, He gives forgiveness. As you give thanks, He saves. We celebrate, commemorate, remember, and experience His action in this Eucharist tonight.