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“Living the Liturgy: Words of Institution”
1 Corinthians 11:23-25


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Maundy Thursday—April 21, 2011

“This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Some years ago Terese and I made out our Last Will and Testament and established a Living Trust to benefit our children if we should die.  “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when he was betrayed,” the night before his death, also made his Last Will and Testament and established a spiritual Living Trust for us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

“This cup is the new testament in my blood.”  That doesn’t refer to the fact that this event took place in the second section of the Bible, but it refers to the fact the Holy Communion is Christ’s own Last Will and Testament, testifying to his love for us.  In our society today we ratify a covenant or contract with a simple signature.  In ancient times a covenant, or “testament,” was ratified by some action, often the sacrifice of an animal. 

We heard in this evening’s Old Testament Reading how in the ancient Passover the old covenant, the promise that someday the Messiah would come, was ratified by the sacrifice of a lamb.  This old covenant was superseded by the new covenant, the Good News that the Messiah has come, in the person of Jesus Christ.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.” 

In Holy Communion, Jesus ratifies the new covenant of his love for us by giving us his own body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine.  As Paul says in this evening’s Epistle Reading, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”  So, the Sacrament of Holy Communion is like a signature signed in blood, Christ’s irrevocable signature on his Last Will and Testament, in which he wills to you the greatest inheritance possible: eternal life with him in heaven.  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father,” he says. “Take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you.”

The Living Trust that Terese and I established would take all the assets we have earned in our lifetimes and distribute the benefits to our children.  In the Living Trust of Holy Communion, Jesus distributes to us the spiritual benefits he earned by his life, death and resurrection.  “This is my body, which is given for you.. . . this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  That is the spiritual benefit you receive from the Lord in the Lord’s Supper: The forgiveness of sins he earned for you; the strengthening of your faith unto life everlasting.

Amen.

“Living the Liturgy: Pax Domini”
Matthew 5:23-24


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Maundy Thursday—April 21, 2011

Following the Words of Institution in the Liturgy, just before receiving Holy Communion, the minister and congregation exchange a greeting of peace, called the Pax Domini, Latin for “the peace of the Lord.”  “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”

You may recall that Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”  The Pax Domini is based on these words of our Lord.  Holy Communion is not only a testament from the Lord that we are at peace with him, it is also a testament among ourselves who partake of the Holy Supper together that we are at peace with one another. 

You may have been in other congregations where the members greet each other at this point in the service, perhaps with a handshake and by saying, “Peace be with you.”  In ancient times this was actually the “kiss of peace,” which is mentioned several times in the New Testament.  It seems unusual to us, but still today in the culture of the Middle East a kiss is a common form of greeting, much like a handshake in our culture.  The minister would come down from the altar and kiss a member of the congregation, saying “Peace be with you.”  This “kiss of peace” would then be passed around throughout the congregation, as a symbol that all were reconciled and at peace both with the minister and with one another. 

We have a fascinating record of the Liturgy from around 200 AD which records the vivid scene of the kiss of peace being passed around the congregation until it comes to someone who refuses to pass it on because he is not reconciled and at peace.  At that point the minister would leave the altar, go out into the congregation where the kiss of peace had stopped, and then and there a reconciliation would be worked out and the Holy Communion would not continue until everyone was at peace.

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”  When I, as a pastor, say, “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” I am really saying: “I am fully at peace with all of you.  I have no ill-will, no resentment, no grudges against any of you.”  And I really mean that, every time I say those words.  And when you respond with “Amen” or “And also with you,” you are saying: “We are at peace with you, our pastor; and also with each other in this fellowship.”  If you cannot sincerely say that, then you should not receive Holy Communion until you “go and be reconciled to your brother” as Jesus says.

Paul says in Colossians, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds together in perfect unity.”  Holy Communion is called the “love feast” in the New Testament because this eating and drinking together is a testament not only of God’s love and forgiveness toward us but of our love and forgiveness toward one another.  As we pray following Communion: “Strengthen us . . . in faith toward you and in fervent love toward one another.”

Amen.

“Living the Liturgy: Nunc Dimittis”
Luke 2:25-33


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Maundy Thursday—April 21, 2011

After receiving Holy Communion we sing the Nunc Dimittis, Latin for “now dismiss.”  “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.”  Those words were first spoken when Jesus was just a baby, by a man named Simeon, in the Temple at Jerusalem.  Luke tells us, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”  “The consolation of Israel” is another way of saying the Messiah, the promised Savior.  That is why Simeon was a “righteous” man; not because he was sinless or holy in and of himself, but because he had faith in the Messiah, he trusted God’s promise to send the Savior of the world. 

Luke doesn’t actually say that Simeon is as old man, but from these words we have the picture of an aged man who is approaching death.  Simeon has somehow received a special promise from the Lord that before he dies he will see the Lord’s Christ, before he dies the Messiah he trusts in will be born.

“Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus . . . Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.”  Moved by the Spirit, Simeon recognizes the baby Jesus as the consolation he has been waiting for, the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.

“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.’”  Simeon is saying that he is now ready to depart from this life; he is now ready, prepared, to die.  And why is Simeon ready to die?  “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”  Simeon is ready to die because the promised Savior has come.

That is also the significance of the Savior’s coming for you: Because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, you are prepared to die.  “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”  Emotionally, the thought of dying may still be full of trepidation for you, because death is something unknown, and it is natural for us humans to have a fear of the unknown.  But spiritually, you depart this life in peace, trusting the promises of Jesus: “Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live;” “In my Father’s house are many rooms; I am going there to prepare a place for you . . . I will come and take you to be with me”; “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”  That is why the song of Simeon occurs where it does in our Liturgy, immediately after receiving Holy Communion.  For, just as Simeon was prepared to die after taking Christ in his arms, you are spiritually prepared to die after receiving Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, an assurance from the Lord of your eternal salvation.

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”  Every time you sing those words after Communion, you are really saying, like Simeon: “Lord, now I am prepared to die, when you shall call me home.”

Amen.

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