Sermon by: Robert Austell
Maundy Thursday – March 20, 2008
One of my favorite parts of going to the movies is getting to see the previews for upcoming movies. They get me excited about what’s coming, whether that’s the next summer blockbuster or more subtle offerings. Every now and then, you’ll see an early preview. I saw one of those a while back. The perspective of the camera was that of a person running desperately through the streets of New York City. It was clear that something big and scary was going on. But the preview only lasted for ten seconds, then the date of release flashed up and it was gone. I’ve heard it is from the creators of the TV show Lost. I imagine closer to the time we’ll see a more revealing trailer for the movie. I can’t wait to see what it is!
In many ways, tonight’s service is kind of like a trailer to a movie. Though the song asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord,” we were not literally there. We can think about it, imagine it, read about it, and believe in it; but we were not there. And yet, God has given us several “trailers” for those events, such that we are able to view and experience the events of Jesus’ passion almost as if we were there.
Sometimes, a movie will have more than one trailer. Such is the case tonight. There are at least three previews in tonight’s service by which you can get a sense of what happened, perhaps even experiencing those events in some way.
The “Seven Last Words”
One way we get to look at and experience Jesus’ suffering and death is through the Bible. It is the eyewitness account of those close to him, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit and preserved for us to read in faith. Tonight’s cantata takes the words of Scripture, particularly the last words Jesus spoke, sets them to music, and sings them to us that we might envision what happened and what Jesus experienced. The service will conclude with the cantata. Each of the seven words will begin with a short devotional thought on Jesus’ word and the events surrounding those words. Then, the choir and soloists will sing those same words of Christ set to music.
Listen closely to those words. Not only do we have an account of Jesus’ last hours on earth, we also have these windows into his thoughts and prayers. We hear his agony and his compassion; we hear his graciousness and his forsakenness. This is better than a movie trailer, for it will transport you into the midst of those last moments. Soak it in and listen with ears of faith.
A second preview of things to come is mentioned briefly in tonight’s text, in verse 15. Jesus and the disciples are gathered in a room to celebrate the Jewish Passover meal together. Passover had been (and still is) observed by faithful Jewish people ever since the original passing over in Egypt, when the Angel of Death passed over those households marked with lamb’s blood. Moses was leading God’s people out of slavery and into freedom. Passover was a memorial meal, to always remember God’s faithfulness. But it was also like that short, mysterious preview I mentioned. It hinted at a God who might once again deliver His people from slavery into freedom through bled shed and applied in faith. Note Passover there in the text – it is a preview of things to come.
The Last Supper
The Last Supper began as the Passover meal, but ended as something else. Jesus made clear what was once hazy. He connected the dots and made clear that God was indeed about to deliver His people again. He took the Passover bread and told his friends it was his body, broken for them. He took the Passover cup and told them that God had made a new covenant or promise with his blood.
Jesus also told his friends that this would be his last supper with them until all was fulfilled in Heaven. But he told them (and us) to share it among ourselves and to keep remembering what God had done, is doing, and will do. What we now call the Lord’s Supper is a special kind of preview. It reminds and shows us what God has already done – these are the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. It reminds and shows us of what God is doing – even now offering forgiveness through the faithfulness of Christ. And it reminds and shows us what God has in store – a feast together one day in His presence in Heaven.
When you come to this Table and share in this communion, it is also a preview of things to come. Soak it in; eat and drink in faith that God will meet you here. Amen.