Posted on April 3rd, 2015
It is mere hours before His arrest. This is His last meal before His crucifixion, and Jesus knows it. What Jesus does at this time, therefore, must be the most important of all things that He could do.
The Lord’s Supper is the fulfillment of Ps. 23, “Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” The Supper is instituted, and always remains, in the context of betrayal: of enemies, thorns, clubs and spears, crosses, death. So what does Jesus do, facing this bitter end? He picks up the bread. Not just any bread – the bread of the Passover, by which God once delivered His people from their enemies.
And taking up the bread, Jesus gives thanks. How astounding is this! Before His greatest trial, before the most agonizing suffering, just as Jesus sees a close, trusted friend turn violently against Him, Jesus gives thanks. For what?
For everything. For bread. For creation. For the Passover. For the Father’s promises. For His friends. For His mother, and for Joseph. For the donkey and the palms, for the temple and the Psalms, for every good thing that God has given to man. Jesus is God, but it is as a man He does what man was meant to do: take up the gifts of God and receive them with thanksgiving.
That’s how we approach this Sacrament, and also how we approach the world, and our friends, and our work. The Supper is not something we do. It is received; a gift from the Lord. “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” Paul says. This meal is always our thanksgiving meal as we receive double from the Lord’s hand: both the created gifts of bread and wine, and the heavenly gifts of Christ’s body and blood, with salvation and life.
God’s Word teaches us that as we approach this great gift, we must do so with a serious and honest look at the many sins in our life. Eating and drinking unworthily will bring judgment on us.
“Examine yourself,” the Lord’s Word admonishes us, before eating and drinking this Sacrament. How are we to examine ourselves? You must compare your life—and not your words and actions only, but also your inner life, the thoughts and desires of your heart—you must compare these with the Ten Commandments. Have you been dissatisfied with what God has given you? Have you assumed the best about your neighbor? Have you wasted time and possessions, thereby stealing from God and others? Have you kept your body and eyes pure and treasured the gifts of intimacy as they were meant for holy marriage? Have you helped your neighbor in need? Have you honored the authorities God has placed over you? Have you treasured His Word as the greatest holy thing? Have you called upon Him in every trouble, and thanked Him for every good thing? Have you regarded God as the highest good, or have you measured everything by what pleases you?
Self-examination means being honest about who you really are, no excuses, no self-justification. Thus examining ourselves, we plead with God for grace and also say, “I want to do better; I want to be new and different.” Or, as David says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”
And then, coming to this Supper, we remember Jesus. The memory of Jesus at the supper is not an intellectual exercise, like a quiz show, recalling data. Remembering Jesus at His Supper is “to remember Christ’s benefits and to receive them by faith so that we are made alive through them” (Ap XXIV). In other words, remembering Jesus means remembering that He is merciful, that He is the one who said, “Come to Me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” You come remembering that you are baptized, and that the Father’s words about Jesus at His baptism now apply to you: “You are My beloved son, My beloved daughter; in you I am well-pleased.”
We come to the Supper confident that He means what He says: “This is My body, given for you; this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Are you a sinner? Then this Supper is for you.
The psalm tells us who God is and what He does: “The Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear Him” (Ps. 111.4f). If you have truly examined yourself, then you will rightly fear God. It is precisely for those who are afraid that He provides this food, a Food filled with grace and mercy.
What then makes you worthy to receive this Supper? The Lutheran Confessions say, “Terrified consciences are the ones worthy of it” (Ap XXIV). So examine yourself, look at yourself and be terrified. Then come and receive His comfort. Imitate your Lord Jesus as He prepared to die. Take up this bread, give thanks, and entrust yourself to the One who saves.