Ash Wednesday: "Liturgical"
Week 2: "catholic"
Week 3: "evangelical"
Week 4: "orthodox"
Week 5: "confessional"
Week 6: "apostolic"
Holy Thursday: "Sacramental"
Good Friday: "Cruciform"
Easter Sunday: "The One Holy Church"
John 13:1-15, 34-35
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
It is the Thursday of holy week. It is Our Lord’s last night on earth before He will face the cross, and there He goes as always doing earthly things that have a heavenly point. His disciples as usual miss the point. He washes their feet, and yet He’s talking about something else. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward [after My resurrection] you will understand.” Peter realizes how ridiculous this is for your master, your teacher, to act like the lowest servant in the house by washing your feet. He tries to safeguard His Lord’s dignity, saying, “You shall never wash my feet. You are more important than this.” But Our Lord responds, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Clearly, this is not just about foot washing. Our Lord is talking about the cleanness of your sins forgiven. Those who hang on to their sins, who do not yield them to the Lord, who will not be served by Him, washed by Him, are unclean. They have no part in Him. For He is a sponge which sucks not only your sin but you yourself into Him through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. You are part of Him. Part of His body. Part of the Church. For the Church is sacramental.
And we know what else our Lord gave the disciples that night: the new covenant in His blood. For having been grafted into Him they need the antirejection drugs of His life blood to stay transplanted into Him, alive in Him, and part of Him. Our Lord gives that in His Supper where He causes His blood and His DNA to pump through your arteries as your own body digests Him and makes Him part of you. He is in you just as you are part of Him. In this way the Sacrament of the Altar is the beating heart of the Church. It is your life imparting the life blood of Christ to the members of His body.
This is what we mean by “the Church is sacramental.” The Church only exists and continues to live because of these sacraments. Sure everything in the Church comes back to Jesus and His death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, but that death would do nothing for you if not given to you in a way that you could point to with exactness, with specificity, with sureness and know that you had it! For we can not go back to the cross. It exists on ly in our minds eye. We can not go to the foot of the cross, except through the Sacraments which impart to us what the cross accomplished: the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation!
That is what Lutherans have always confessed when they speak of the sacraments. They deliver the cross into you. Not just in some spiritual, unseen way, but specifically into your very body. On your head, in your mouth, in your ears, and through those outward passageways into your heart.
But what is a sacrament? The word itself means a “holy thing” or “mystery.” The mystery of godliness is imparted through these holy things. And nothing is holy apart from God. Thus, God must command something in order for it to be holy. So, the Sacraments are those ceremonies, actions, objects commanded to be done by Our Lord through which He promises to impart His cross and its forgiveness. Thus, we find two sacraments in the New Testament. 1) The Sacrament of Water and the Word where water is applied to a person with the words “in name of Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.” There, at that moment you are crucified with Christ, buried, dead, and a new man of faith is raised up in you. That’s what happens spiritually through this wonderful outward action. Where there is this action according to His command, and there is faith that hopes in and clings to His promise given in that action, even if it be ever so weakly, there is salvation.
2) The other sacrament is the Sacrament of Altar where bread and wine connected with the Words He gave the Church through the apostles impart the fruit of His cross: His body broken for you, His blood shed for you. Since this sacrament gives you His body and blood broken and shed on the cross Lutheran altars always had crucifix on them till the last century or so. Lutherans were the only ones who did that. Roman Catholic churches may have crucifixes all over the place, but not specifically on the altar. But in Lutheran Church see it specifically on altar. For it is from the altar that the benefits of the cross are given to you. We have a remnant of that practice in our empty cross hanging above our altar.
But Jesus also has also commanded a third way in which His cross is given to people. It is not connected with any physical object or action, but merely with Words spoken by the ones He sent to do this. He commanded His apostles to forgive sins on His behalf, in His stead. “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, if you do not forgive their sins they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23; Matthew 16:19; 18:18) We call this Holy Absolution. Some have been tempted to call it the Sacrament of Sound Waves.
Nonetheless, tonight, Holy Thursday, is the day Our Lord instituted His Supper. This amazing sacrament plants His cross square in your flesh by giving His body and blood to you in your mouth. This night He gave us the Church and started the Church’s heart beating with His blood. For the Church is sacramental. Apart from those three means by which Our Lord gives salvation there is no Church. Without them the Church can not be found. For they create and sustain the Church. When these things are administered according to His command there the Church is. When they are not, you may find individuals who are united to Him, who are part of His Body, but you do not find His Church gathered, for without His Sacraments according to His command the Church is not to be found, for the Church is Sacramental. These marks are how you know Her here on earth. For they create and sustain Her, for they are her heart, her firstlove, for they give us Jesus Himself.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON