By Paul Koch –
How is this night unlike all other nights? It is a significant night to be sure, but just what is it that makes it so important? Well, for starters, this night marks the initiation of the great events of our Lord’s passion. If you were to say that our Lord’s story is one that points ultimately to his death and resurrection on Easter morning, then this night is the moment when things begin to hone down and become focused. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that this night is what everything has been leading up to. Everything from our Lord’s birth in the little town of Bethlehem, to his Baptism in the Jordan River, to his transfiguration before his disciples, all of it has been driving towards this night.
Tonight, we might rightly focus on the betrayal of the Son of Man. For this is the night on which our Lord was betrayed. We remember how our Lord entered into the garden that night and was so overcome with grief and turmoil that he looked as if he were dying. He knew that everything was coming to this grand conclusion, and while his disciples slept away, he poured out his heart and said to his Father, “Not my will but yours be done.” And then rousing his slumbering brothers, he alerted them to the presence of the betrayer, one of their own, Judas. There he was, entering into the garden with armed men like they were coming to ambush a dangerous thief. And he had the audacity to betray Jesus with a kiss to signal that it was him they were to seize.
But before the betrayal, before the events in the garden that would speed our Lord off to the High Priest and ultimately to Pilate and to his death on the hill called Golgotha, there was a meal. A meal that was unique and transformative. The meal that they participated in earlier was the celebration of the Passover, the meal of remembrance of God’s great act of deliverance from the slavery of the Egyptians. A meal that reminded them not only that God delivered them in the past but that he also would not forsake them in the future. But in the hands of our Lord, this powerful meal becomes something more. It becomes that giving of his gifts. “Take, eat; this is my body,” he says, “Take, drink; this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
This is what this night is all about. It’s about the forgiveness of sins and the necessity of the shedding of blood. God delivered his people out of their slavery with the shedding of blood, the blood of the lamb upon their doorpost and the blood of the firstborn to break the heart of Pharaoh. And as God establishes his presence in their midst, he cleanses his children by the shedding of blood. Instructed by God they had built the Tabernacle where God would come out of the Holy of Holies and meet his people at the altar where they made their sacrifices and so received the holiness of God. There in the blood of bulls, goats, and sheep they could be cleansed, and God declared them to be clean in his presence. By the blood, they could enter into the holiness of God. By the blood, their sins were atoned for. But that blood, the blood of animals, pales in comparison to the blood of Christ.
Christ’s blood is pure; it is without blemish or stain. It is the blood of one who was born without sin, who faced up to the temptations of the devil and did not falter. It is the blood of one who was faithful to the will of his Father at every single turn—faithful in thoughts, words, and deeds. And not only was he perfect; he took up sins that did not belong to him. He stood in the waters of the Jordan and repented of your sins, of your failings, of your turning away from God. He willingly stood between you and the wrath of God and declared that you are his brothers and sisters, that all that he has shall be yours and all that is yours he willingly has taken upon himself.
What makes this night unlike any other? Our Lord gives a gift unlike any other!
Scripture declares that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22), and on this night that blood is provided for you. That faithful pure and holy blood will not only be shed on the cross for your salvation; it is also given to you, given for the forgiveness of sins every time you gather around the meal he has prepared. Every time you come together with your brothers and sisters in Christ and receive this holy food, you proclaim the gift of the shedding of the blood. Every time you eat the body and drink the blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, you receive not just cleansing of sins but also a purified conscience from dead work so that you might serve the living God.
This gift is transformative. It actually changes you. In the gift of his body and blood, you move from dead works that can never save into a new relationship with the Father where you can actually serve him as his children. To feed upon his gifts as you confess that you are sinners, that you cannot redeem yourself, that you on your own would remain enemies of God, is to receive his gift in an overflowing cup of blessings. In the gifts of Christ, you are forgiven. There is forgiveness in the blood. You are forgiven all your sins. You are not partially forgiven. You are not told that you need to do this, that, or the other to make it all work. No, you are forgiven by his works alone.
This gift is why this night is unlike any other, and this gift is given freely for you.