Text: Exodus 12:1-14
The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever.Exodus 12:13-14, English Standard Version
Our Lord accompanied the institution of the Passover meal with these words. The Passover is the name we give to the night of the final plague of Egypt: the death of the firstborn. With that plague, Pharaoh’s hand would be compelled to expel the children of Israel from Egypt, an event the Passover meal celebrates. The Passover meal was both a celebration and participation in that event. It also foreshadowed the feast we celebrate tonight.
On Holy Thursday, we remember that our Lord was betrayed into the hands of sinful men for us. On Thursday night, our Lord was betrayed and given a sham trial. In the early hours of Friday morning, He was delivered up to Pontius Pilate, who had Him crucified. Today is also the day that our Lord instituted His Supper. In His final hours with His disciples, He gave them a meal whereby they (and we) would receive the fruits of His cross. In the Passover, the Lord gave His people a meal to celebrate their deliverance from slavery. In the Lord’s Supper, we receive a meal that is deliverance from the slavery of sin.
The Passover meal is something we don’t talk about too much. This is partly because, outside of Exodus 12, the Bible speaks very little about it. The earliest accounts of how a Passover meal (what we now know as a seder meal) would go don’t come until well after Jesus. We know that Jesus celebrated the Passover; we don’t know what that looked like. The bigger reason, however, is that the Passover is one of those things in the Old Testament which are fulfilled in Christ. The Passover, along with the sacrifices and the observance of the Sabbath, pointed ahead to Christ and is fulfilled in His passion. The early Church recognized this and it’s why we don’t celebrate the Passover. Still, it is important for us to know what the Passover is.
The Exodus happened in about 1446 B.C. For 400 years leading up to that point, God’s people lived in slavery in Egypt. They went there, initially, because of a famine. The Lord blessed His people in Egypt and they prospered there. In time, kings of Egypt up rose up who knew neither Joseph nor the Lord, and they subjected the Hebrews to harsh slavery. God’s people cried out to Him for deliverance and He heard their cry. The Lord sent Moses and his brother Aaron to speak to Pharaoh, but when Pharaoh refused to listen and release God’s people, the Lord sent upon Egypt nine plagues. These plagues greatly afflicted the unbelieving Egyptians, but Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened against God. And so the time came for the final plague: the death of the firstborn.
As we heard, the Lord instructed His people to take a year old male lamb, one without blemish – in other words, a perfect one – and slaughter it. They were then to take its blood and mark the doorposts outside their house. That evening, they were to remain inside and eat the lamb together with their family. When the Lord came through Egypt that night, He would see the blood on the door and know that His children were inside; He would pass over them. Those who did not believe didn’t mark their doors, and God punished them with the death of their firstborn males – both man and animal. The result of this plague was that Israel was delivered from slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh’s hand was forced to release them. Every year afterwards, Israel was to commemorate that night by continuing to slaughter and eat a male lamb. In the Passover meal, the children of Israel celebrated their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
On the night our Lord celebrated His last Passover, He did something different. In the midst of the meal He took bread and gave it to His disciples saying, “This is My body.” After they had eaten supper, He gave them wine saying, “This is My blood.” With these words, Jesus instituted a new meal to be celebrated by His followers forever. He instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar. Unlike the Passover, this meal is not just a memorial feast, but an actual deliverance itself.
We believe from the witness of the Holy Spirit through Evangelists Sts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke and through St. Paul that in the Lord’s Supper we receive not just bread and wine, but with them the true body and blood of our Lord Christ. We take this from Christ’s clear words, “This is.” We also hear St. Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians that the bread we break is a participation in the body of Christ and the cup we bless a communion in His blood. Paul also admonishes the congregation that those who misuse the Supper sin against the body and blood of Christ. We are not cannibals, however, as some have accused both Christians and Lutheran Christians of being. We simply believe that since Jesus is God, He is able to give us His body to eat and His blood to drink with the bread and wine in a way unknown to us. We call this the sacramental union.
For what reason did Christ give us this meal? The Passover meal was a celebration of a past event – the Lord delivering His people from slavery in Egypt. The Lord’s Supper, however, is not a celebration of a past event but, in fact, is a means by which the Lord gives deliverance from the slavery of sin and death. When Jesus gave us His Supper He said, “This is My body…this is My blood which is poured out…for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt. 26:26, 28) From these words, we believe that in the Lord’s Supper Christ, gives us His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. As the Catechism says, where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation.
The Lord’s Supper is a means by which our Lord delivers us from slavery to sin and death. As with Baptism, the Supper is a means by which the fruits of Christ’s cross are distributed to us. It is one thing for Christ to have paid for our sins on the cross, it is another to apply that payment to us. We confess this evening that we are sinners. We were born in sin, enslaved to it. Thankfully, our Lord’s grace is greater than our sinfulness, and He gives us forgiveness over and over and over again: through the Word, in our Baptism, in the Absolution, and – we confess tonight – in the Supper. The Passover meal was given to celebrate God’s deliverance of His people from slavery. The Lord’s Supper is given to be our deliverance from sin, death, and the devil. It takes the forgiveness Christ won and applies it to us. Thanks be to God.