I mentioned in a sermon recently that Amy and I lived in Alexandria, VA during my vicarage – the 1997 to 1998 school year. During that time we saw and did everything in Washington, D.C. that we wanted to do. Since then our life has taken us on to St. Louis, Dallas, Chicago and now Marion.
We haven’t been back to Washington, D.C. in almost twenty years. That will probably change in the next couple of years. We have been waiting for our children to get old enough to appreciate the history and significance of Washington before going there. Now that Michael is in first grade and Timothy is in eighth grade, we are entering into the window of time when we will want to go.
When we go to Washington, it will be fun to share with our kids all of sights there as they experience them for the first time. There is, however, one sight that I am looking forward to seeing for the first time, and that is the National World War II Memorial.
The World War II Memorial didn’t exist when Amy and I lived in Alexandria. The Vietnam War Memorial existed because it had been completed in 1982. The Korean War Memorial existed because it had been completed in 1992. But the World War II Memorial didn’t exist because it was not completed until 2004.
When you stop and think about it, this is really stunning. After all this was an event of tremendous national sacrifice. Four hundred thousand Americans died in the war. Six hundred thousand Americans were wounded. Fighting and winning World War II in Europe and the Pacific was the greatest undertaking in the history of our nation.
World War II ended in 1945. And so in response to the sacrifice and significance of this event, the nation built a National Memorial in Washington, D.C. … in 2004. Fifty-nine years after the war ended the nation finally built a memorial. The United States waited so long, that ultimately one of the driving forces for getting it built was the fact that the veterans of the war were rapidly beginning to die because of age.
In the Old Testament lesson for Maundy Thursday we hear that Israel is supposed to do something as a memorial. They are to celebrate a Passover meal as a memorial – as a reminder – of how God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Yet there was to be no long delay before this memorial took place. Instead, they were to undertake this memorial one year from the event – and then at the same time every year in the future as they remembered God’s rescue.
In our text we hear about Yahweh’s instructions to Moses for the Passover. Jacob and his family had gone down to Egypt in order to join his son Joseph who was now second in charge of the country and was able to provide for the family in the midst of a famine. The nation of Israel grew and prospered during the time in Egypt. However the beginning of the book of Exodus tells us that eventually, “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” This king saw in the foreigners a potential threat to Egypt, and so he acted. He enslaved Israel and used them as forced labor.
The people suffered and cried out to God for help. And Exodus tells us, “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.”
Yahweh knew his people’s suffering and so he acted to rescue them and fulfill the promise he had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob about giving the land of Canaan to their descendants. He raised up Moses and sent him to Pharaoh with the message: “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.”
Pharaoh refused. And so Yahweh began a series of nine plagues upon the land of Egypt, while at the same time sparing the Israelites. Yet Pharaoh refused to allow Israel to leave.
Finally, the moment arrived when in the tenth plague Yahweh was going to deliver the decisive blow that would free Israel. In our text we hear how he commanded Israel to prepare a lamb for a meal. They were to roast it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They were to eat it, ready to go – with belt fastened, sandals on feet and staff in hand.
And in addition to the meal itself, they were to do one very unique thing. They were to take the blood of the lamb and put it on the two door posts and the lintel of their houses. They were to do this because as God says in our text, “It is the LORD's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 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.”
God was going to rescue them and the Passover meal was part of this rescue. Yet the meal itself was not to be a one-time thing. Instead we learn in our text, “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, you shall keep it as a feast.” Israel was to do this every year in order to remember God’s rescue. And it would serve another function as well. It would teach the generations to come. Just after our text Moses says, “And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”
God remembered his covenant. He rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. He gave Canaan to Israel – the promised land. But God had also promised Abraham, “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God had promised that through Abraham’s offspring he would provide blessing to all people. He promised a Savior – the offspring of Eve who would crush the serpent’s head.
At Christmas we celebrated how this One entered into the world. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary he was true God and true man. As true man, he was a faithful Jew who kept the Law – God’s Torah. But Jesus Christ had come to do more than just keep the law. He had come to fulfill it. He had come to bring all of God’s promises to their saving conclusion.
God had used the death of the Passover lambs as the means to mark his people and spare them. Their blood shed caused God’s wrath to pass over the Israelites. Yet that had prepared the way for and pointed forward to something even greater that God was going to do. Jesus Christ had come as the Lamb who would shed his blood to cause God’s wrath to pass over not just Israel, but all people of all times. As St. Paul told the Corinthians: “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.”
At that last supper with his disciples, Jesus took the Passover meal and transformed it into something far more. He made it his own meal. He transformed it into a meal in which he gives his true body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
Like the Passover, it is still a meal that causes God’s people to remember. Twice in our epistle lesson we learn that Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” In the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar Jesus gives us his body and blood, and in receiving this gift we remember that Jesus died on the cross for us and rose from the dead.
Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Do this,” as Martin Luther notes in the Large Catechism is a command. It is a command that you need for two reasons. First, the old Adam in you is inclined stray from receiving this gift. You are distracted by other things and you forget to focus your life upon Jesus. You lose sight of how much you need this gift and so, it becomes easy to think little of not being here to receive it.
And second, you need it because Satan works very hard to convince you that Christ’s forgiveness can’t possibly really be for you. After all, you have done awful things. You have used pornography. You have spoken terrible words to a family member or friend. You have acted in ways that hurt others.
Jesus Christ calls you back to his Sacrament again and again because it is his true body and blood given and shed for you. He leaves no doubt. He gives you the very price he paid to win you forgiveness – his body nailed to the cross and his blood poured out. And he puts it into your mouth. It is his true body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
And so you are able to go in peace. You can leave this place forgiven for what the old Adam has prompted you to do, and with the new man in you nourished by God’s grace to take up again the struggle against sin. You can leave forgiven and refreshed. It is something Jesus wants you to do - indeed, he commands you to do. He says “Do this in remembrance of me” so that you will never cease to hear the words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”