Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday


Maundy Thursday: The Taste Test[1]
March 28, 2013

Text: Amos 8:11-14 (ESV): “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it. In that day the lovely virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst. Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, “As your god lives, O Dan,” and, “As the Way of Beersheba lives,” they shall fall, and never rise again.’”
            As destructive as a famine of food and drink might be, imagine a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.  No Bible, no preachers, no Portals of Prayer or devotional material, no liturgy, no Sacraments, no holy Christian Church.  If a famine of food and drink brings physical death, a famine of hearing the words of the LORD brings spiritual death.  The Prophet Amos announces just such a catastrophe to the people of Israel in our text.  They had taken God’s Word for granted.  They figured that Word would always be there to turn to in a time of disaster.  And in this false sense of security they had rejected God’s Word, exploited the poor of the land, refused justice to the oppressed, cheated in business with dishonest scales, despised the Sabbath, and in gluttonous and drunken stupor, worshiped other gods.  Israel wanted nothing to do with God’s Word.  So God gave them what they wanted.  They didn’t know what they were missing until it was gone.  Search where they would, there was no Word of life.  Only the judgment, as the Assyrian army approached to conquer, kill, and lead into exile. 
            Martin Luther warned his beloved Germans of a similar famine of hearing the words of the LORD in the wake of the Reformation.  He compared the Gospel to a passing rain shower.  When it pours, it pours, but when it’s gone, it’s gone.  The quote is a bit long, but worth hearing in full.  He writes: “Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt.  Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today; certainly we read nothing of it in history.  If we let it slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague.  O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there!  For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been.  It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing.  Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the Turk.  Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope.  And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay.  Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can” (Quoted by Lessing, emphasis added).
            Reject God’s Word, take it for granted, receive it with ingratitude and contempt, and what do you suppose will happen?  We usually suppose nothing will happen, that everything will go on as it always has.  Not so, says Amos.  Not so, says the LORD God.  Eventually God will give us what we want.  He will shut His mouth and be silent.  And such a judgment is absolutely chilling.  The Holy Land was the birthplace of Christianity, and now Christians are a small and persecuted minority in that region.  Europe was synonymous with Christendom for centuries, and now secularism is the rule of the day.  And North America isn’t far behind Europe.  The Gospel shower has moved on to Africa and the global south where Christians still live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  Meanwhile, the mainline churches in our society have sold out to the world.  And what will become of confessional Lutheranism, including our dear Synod?  It remains to be seen.  Many Christians risk their lives to go to Church.  For us, it’s just one option among many, a thing to do, or not do.  Like a diet that consists exclusively of Cheetos, we fill ourselves up with so much junk from the unbelieving world that we don’t even realize we’re starving for God’s Word.  There’s not even a famine of His Word yet, and we’re starving for it!  God have mercy on us for our indifference, our ingratitude, our hardness of heart. 
            And He does.  Thank God, He does, in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  He feeds us.  Though we do not deserve it, He feeds us with Himself.  He feeds us with His Word, with the Gospel of life.  He feeds us with His death and resurrection for us.  He feeds us with the Supper He instituted on this night when He was betrayed, His body, given for you, His blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  What Jesus does for us in His suffering and death is to take our punishment upon Himself.  He suffers the famine of hearing the words of the LORD for us.  There, upon the cross, He cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).  And the silence from His Father is deafening.  But He suffers that silence so that we don’t have to.  The writer to the Hebrews says that He suffered in this way “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (2:9).  The famine of God’s Word creates a vacuum filled by the bitter delicacies of suffering and death.  Yes, our Lord “Jesus tasted the demonic delight called death, the soldiers’ spit, their cheap wine, sweat running down His cheeks along with His own blood… Jesus drank the cup of the Father’s wrath.  He drank every last drop.  And it killed Him.  Yet Jesus not only tasted death.  He swallowed him up, chewed him up, and spit him out!” (Lessing).  As St. Paul writes, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  “And this means that our famine and hunger has ended.  The feast is here!” (Lessing), the Feast of Jesus’ body and blood, under the bread and wine, given for us Christians to eat and to drink for our forgiveness and life.  Having drained the cup of God’s wrath, Jesus gives us another cup to drink, the cup of salvation, which we lift up with great joy and thanksgiving.  Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  Don’t let the devil and the world feed you anymore junk food!  Here the Lord Jesus gives you not only His preached Word, but also His sacramental Word, the fruit of His cross, a life-giving tree for all who trust in Him. 
            Yes, beloved, come to the Feast.  For here the Word made flesh gives His flesh, His body and blood, to you for the forgiveness of your sins.  Seize the Word and hold it fast while it is here.  No other food can give you what Jesus gives you in this Meal.  For this is but a foretaste of the Feast to come.  The substance of it is Jesus Himself and life in His presence for all eternity.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    


[1] The theme and many of the ideas for this sermon are from R. Reed Lessing, Restore the Roar! (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012).

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