Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!" And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD.
And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!" So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."
Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank.
Sermon for Maundy Thursday 4/04/23
A Meal for the Wounded
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Moses has just finished reading the covenant and the laws God had given to Moses to guide the people of Israel. That is where our text begins. Then they perform the sacrifices and burn the offerings and gather the blood of the sacrificed bulls. Moses pours half of the blood – or sprinkles it – on the altar. Then he reads the covenant to the people once again, and when they pledge themselves to it, he sprinkles them with the other half of the blood from the sacrifices. Now the people have made a covenant with God, and signed it with blood. They are sprinkled with one half of the blood and God is sprinkled with the other half, by the sprinkling of His altar. That blood binds them together.
Now Moses and the seventy elders of Israel climb the mountain to meet with God. None may approach God as Moses may, but seventy of the elders climb half-way up the mountain and see the God of Israel. What did they see? Only they know. They appear to have seen a human shape. He appears to have walked in air as if on the ground. If I had to wager a guess, I would guess that what they beheld was a pre-incarnate Christ - they saw Jesus, only they saw Him before He was born.
God told Moses that no one could see Him and live – but that was about seeing Him as He is in all His glory. God didn't show them what they could not see. Our text says that He did not stretch out His hand against them. So, they saw what He wanted them to see, and since what they were seeing was the God of Israel, I think that they may have had a preview of Jesus.
Then they ate and drank. Eating and drinking together is always the highest form of fellowship and communion, both socially and religiously, so naturally, they were eating and drinking in the presence of the Lord - if not with Him. I cannot tell by the text if God ate and drank too. This is, nonetheless, a fellowship with God unlike anything ever before in History since Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden, and not seen again until we come to the Lord's Supper. What did they eat and what did they drink? The Bible doesn't say, but I am almost certain that it would have included, at least, bread and wine. They were the first to eat like this, and their meal-fellowship with God foreshadows the meal we share tonight and with which we commemorate especially the giving of this holy Supper by our Lord on the same night in which He, Jesus, was betrayed. This meal on the altar tonight is a meal for the wounded.
That is our theme, going along with the Lenten series, He was wounded for our transgressions. Perhaps Moses and the elders ate of the meat which they had sacrificed and burned to devote it to God, in accord with all that the Lord had taught them already. But the meal was not necessarily a big one. They ate and they drank and it was a ceremonial meal, establishing fellowship with God. They were no longer being led by what they did not know or what they did not understand. They were now in a covenant with God, and had seen God. He had rescued them, and established His covenant of love, and blessing, and protection, and providence with them as with no other people on earth! They had been covered in the blood of the covenant, and now, as if to seal the deal, they partook of the covenant meal.
From that day forward, the covenant meal would be the Passover Seder. They would eat the lamb, the bitter herbs, the bread of haste, and remember God's gracious choice and mighty help. And they would drink the wine of the Passover to remind them that God is good, for life is good, and God provides even the wine to drink.
When God sent forth the true Passover Lamb, to end the reign of death, He established once again that meal with Him and in His presence. He did things in the same order, too. He provided the salvation, then He gave us the meal. Our meal is a meal of fellowship with one another and with God. How could it fail to be a meal of fellowship with God when what we eat is His body and what we drink is His blood?
We face the blood issue, too. Just as they were sprinkled with the blood so long ago, binding them to their Lord, we have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. We don't get spattered, as did the first Israelites on that day, but then again, most of ancient Israel were not present there on that day to be spattered either. We receive that blood hidden, by the will of Jesus Christ, in, with, and under the form of the wine which we drink. Our "sprinkling" comes in Baptism, where God cleanses us of our sins and adopts us into His family. What greater fellowship can there be than the fellowship of family?
Only the seventy were allowed to come and eat and drink in the presence of the Lord on that day. Most of Israel did not, and yet they were counted as present in the representation of the seventy. Yet today, everyone that believes and confesses Christ, and enters into this new fellowship with Him, partakes of this holy Supper. And we know what this Supper accomplishes, because Jesus tells us. It is for the forgiveness of sins. The same God, a similar meal, and the same hope – of salvation from heaven.
Just what we need, which is why our Lord provides us this Supper. We are the wounded, troubled by sin and the sorrows and pains of life. Here Jesus comes to us to serve us with forgiveness and hope and strength. They called their supper the Passover, because that is what happened on the night they were remembering. The angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites, whose doorposts were covered in the blood of the lamb.
We call this the Lord's Supper. Because He established it, because it is His body and His blood we eat and we drink, and because no one can serve this Supper but Christ. He alone has the power to bring into reality the sacramental elements of the holy Meal promised in His words of institution. So, even though it appears that I distribute it, I only do so by his authority and at His behest. It is actually Jesus serving us with this medicine of immortality which works in us to strengthen us and bring us finally to life everlasting and – at the last – to the resurrection of our bodies from the grave.
We call this meal Holy Communion, for it is holy, and in it and through it we commune with God and with one another. The old term was "communicate". By this Supper we "communicate" with one another that we share this salvation, this faith, and these blessings. We receive – communicated by God – the body and blood, the forgiveness and strength and life.
Some call this meal the Eucharist - meaning thanksgiving. It is called that because Jesus gave thanks before He distributed the elements of the meal, and because we receive it with thanksgiving. Some call this the Sacrament of the Altar, because it is served at the altar – and it is a sacrament, a sacred act of God accomplished among us. Others call this the Lord's Table. It is the Lord's, and it is served from the table - the altar - of the Lord. Call it what you will, this is the gospel made visible and tangible and taste-able. Taste and see that the Lord is good! We are, like the seventy elders of old, invited to dine with God. Only it is not Moses, but Jesus Christ Himself who invites us and leads us to the Supper.
Once again, God is bound to us by blood, and by His promises. This time it is not the blood of cattle, sprinkled on the worshiper, but the blood of the very Son of God, poured out for us, and served to us along with His body, to eat and to drink and to mark us as his own and to bring to us the gifts of life and salvation, for as Luther correctly observed in the Catechism, "where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation."
This is the meal for the wounded, to make us whole.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Friday, April 07, 2023
A Meal For the Wounded