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The mystery of the Mass

1 Corinthians 11:23-32

Pastor David Ernst

Maundy Thursday
Epiphany Lutheran Mission of La Caramuca  
Barinas, Venezuela

Play MP3 of this sermon

Thu, Apr 13, 2017 

Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

This is the night our Lord was bertrayed. The story of Holy Thursday is a long story. First, Jesus ate with his disciples for the last time, then they all went to the garden of Gethsemane, but Jesus prayed alone while the disciples slept. The soldiers came, and Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. St. Peter leaped to defend him with a sword, but the Lord forbade him, saying this is my mission. They took Jesus before the court of the religious leaders of the Jews, afterward Pontius Pilate. Pilate sent Jesus to King Herod to be tried by Herod; however, Herod sent Pilate again for His sentence.

Why these games? St. John tells us when the religious leaders of the Jews heard of the revival of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, they began to plan the death of Jesus (John 11:53). They knew the Word of God and Old Testament evidence that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God, but they rejected this word and did not believe in Jesus. So, when Jesus told them, "I am the Son of David," they could only understand that as His intention to raise an army against the Romans to restore the kingdom of David and Solomon. With the account of what happened to Lazarus, His followers would believe that if they fell in the struggle against the Romans, Jesus had the power to resurrect them. However, because the religious leaders did not believe that Jesus had this power, they thought that the Romans would crush their rebellion. Therefore, it would be better for the people if one man died. That is to say, this was their justification for their hatred that grew from unbelief.

But, the religious leaders did not have the authority to condemn Jesus to death. The practice of the Romans was, after the conquest of a people, to leave their national leaders as puppets of the empire. The Sanhedrin, the council of priests and others, was entrusted with religious matterss in which the Romans had no interest. At that time Herod had authority over many civil matters in Judea and Galilee, but as Roman governor, only Pontius Pilate had the authority to condemn Jesus to death. To avoid controversy, Dilate sent Jesus to Herod, but Herod did not want to get involved either. The rest of the story belongs to Good Friday.

Now I want to focus on the institution of the sacrament. The history of Holy Week is linked to the celebration of the Passover of the Jews. In our reading of the Old Testament (Exodus 12: 1-14), we read of the institution of the Passover. Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. But, Jesus changed the custom. He shared in the Last Supper the unleavened bread and the cup of blessing with His disciples, but they received instead of the flesh of the lamb without blemish, the body and blood of Christ in and with the bread and wine.

In the time of the Exodus, the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites because of the blood of a lamb and they did not lose their firstborn. During Holy Week, the only-begotten Son of God was sacrificed as the Passover Lamb. Because of the blood of Christ, eternal death passes over us and we have the promise of eternal life and a feast in the heavens that will last forever.

And we not only remember the sacrifice of Christ at the sacrament, but also receive the same gift of the body and blood of Christ in, with and under bread and wine. Because Jesus not only said, "Do this in remembrance of me", also, "This is my body" and "This is my blood". The text has no other meaning. Our Lord did not say, "this bread symbolizes my body" or "this wine symbolizes my blood," but "This is."

This is part of the mystery of the Incarnation. How could the Son of God be made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, and grew up as an ordinary man? Furthermore, how can the body and blood of Christ be present at each and every altar when He is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty? This is a mystery that we must treat with reverence and humility.

"Mass" is a word derived from Latin, which means "dismissall". In the first centuries of the church, after the readings, the preaching and the prayers, the pastor dismissed all those who were not communicant members and only the communicants were present to receive the sacrament. Such was their reverence for the mystery. The practice was changed because of many rumors and false stories about what occurred at the sacrament and the doors opened to the public.

Today in the Lutheran Church we keep this mystery. We celebrate this year 500 years of the Reformation, in which the monk and priest Martin Luther began cleansing the church of false doctrines that has grown up in the Roman church. Like Luther, we reject the concept of the sacrament, that is, the Mass, as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins. We need not list all our sins and do penance for each one before receiving the body and blood of Christ. We need only approach the Lord's table with humility and the desire for God's forgiveness. Christ did penance for us on the cross, so His body and blood e not sacrificed again, but is offered as a gift for us, for the nourishment of faith. At the time of the Reformation, the church of Rome said that Lutherans despised the mass because we rejected the mass as a propitiatory sacrifice. The Reformers replied in the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession that it was not so. Article XXIV of the Apology states: "To begin with, we want to emphasize once again that we do not abolish the Mass but rather preserve and defend it scrupulously. Because we celebrate mass every Sunday and on other feast days, and the sacrament is administered to those who wish to receive it, after having been examined and absolved. The customary public ceremonies, the order of the lessons and prayers, the garments, and the like are preserved.

The church at that time had the sacrament to an extent, but the Word of God was forgotten. The whole service was celebrated in Latin, a language that many people did not understand. In addition, the priest stood before the altar and intoned the words of institution in a low voice. Now I pronounce the words of institution aloud facing the congregation for all to understand. At that time, the upper classes understood Latin, but ordinary people did not.

So, says the Apology, "Our adversaries dwell on the use of the Latin language in the mass, and make it work with beautiful but inept words, yet how does it benefit the unlearned hearer, if he tries to hear the faith of the church in a Mass that he does not understand. It is evident that they imagine that the mere act of hearing is already a service, which takes effect even if the understanding is lacking. We do not want to make hateful comments about it, but we leave these things to the reader's judgment. We only mention them to warn you in passing that there are also lessons and prayers in Latin among us. But since ceremonies are to be observed as such for men to learn the Scripture, so that, admonished by the Word of God, they come to have faith and fear, and pray also, for these are the ends of ceremonies, we preserve the Latin language for the sake of those who learn and understand Latin, and we intermingle hymns in German so that the Christian people in general have something to learn, and something that awakens their faith and their fear of God.

The point is everyone must understand the Word of God and what occurs in worship in their own language. Contrary to superstition, the consecrated host has no magical powers and serves no purpose other than the use that the Lord has commanded. Therefore, we avoid the worship of visible elements apart than the sacrament. On the other hand, many of the evangelical churches emphasize the preaching of the Word apart from the sacraments. The sacraments are not the means of grace that the Lord has given us, but rather ordinances that we must observe to satisfy the will of God. So, people do not have the assurance of what God has done for us, of what God has done for me. In the Lutheran Church, we maintain the centrality and balance of both the Word and the sacraments. Our ministry is the ministry of the Word and the sacraments.

As the Apology says, the ministers of the church should offer the sacrament every Sunday and on other feast days. It is not mandatory for each member to receive the sacrament each time it is offered. Perhaps someone has a sin that weighs on their heart and has not had the opportunity to confess it privately to the pastor. Or perhaps there is something between you and your brother and you have not had the opportunity to reconcile before Sunday. However, for the nourishment and growth of faith, a believer must receive the sacrament frequently.

In our gospel for today (John 6: 28-37), the Lord says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, Moses did not give you bread from heaven; But my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who came down from heaven and gives life to the world. " The sacrament is our spiritual food and drink in our journey in the desert. It is a gift to the broken heart, those who have examined and acquitted. In this we have peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.

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