On Wednesday in my adult Confirmation class, we were discussing the Lord’s Supper. One of the things we talked about was what we think about while receiving the Lord’s Supper. I said that I couldn’t speak to specific thoughts, but rather the general attitude. When we use Settings One and Two of the Divine Service we get to pray the Eucharistic Prayer during the Communion liturgy. I think they summarized our Lord’s Supper attitude perfectly in this one sentence: “With repentant joy we receive the salvation accomplished for us by the all-availing sacrifice of His Body and His Blood on the cross.” While it’s an oxymoron, it’s the paradox that is the Christian heart during the reception of the Sacrament.
On one hand, we’re repentant. We examine our lives and conduct. We have flash before our mind’s eye all our sin—our greed, our sharp tongue, our gossip, our lust, our laziness, our swindling, and everything else that we do that we know we shouldn’t. But at the same time we’re overjoyed. Why? Because as we are confronted with the mountain of our sin, we have placed in our mouths the Body and Blood which destroyed that sin, which forgives us for everything we have done and have left undone, and which strengthens us to do battle against the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. The burden is lifted. While we’re completely aware of what we have done, we’re completely aware of what Jesus Christ has done.
And as I reflected more on that after class, while I worked away on things for Holy Week, I realized that the Church’s attitude for this week is exactly the same. The Christian’s attitude during Holy Week is a strange one, to be sure. We heard St. Matthew’s Passion account just a bit ago. If you come back on Tuesday and Wednesday nights you’ll hear from St. Mark and St. Luke. St. John’s Passion marks Good Friday’s services. We are coming face-to-face with the price our sin cost. Every evil, damning thing you have done, the death-causing sin inherited from your first parents demanded beatings, mockery, thorns, anguish, nails, and spear thrusts. Sin requires the shedding of blood. Sin requires death. There’s no way around it.
So, our attitude is certainly repentant. Our liturgy becomes increasingly bare. The joyous alleluia has not echoed within these walls for 57 days. The angelic hymn of peace and goodwill toward men is silent. Now our crucifixes are veiled and our last ascription of praise, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit” is quiet as well. We learn by their omission that we are unworthy to have these things. Our sin does not merit praise or rejoicing. Our sin merits solitude and gloom.
But at the same time, this week is not an extended funeral. We’re not mourning Jesus’ abandonment by His friends, sham trials, scourging, and death as if we do not know the outcome. We know what happens. That’s why Grace will print bulletins for Easter. That’s why Diane is paging through drawers of music. That’s why Sheila is already arranging flowers in her mind. As much as there is repentance, there is joy as well, an overwhelming joy. We know the end of the story. And we have received the end of the story in Absolution, in Holy Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s death and resurrection are given to us repentant Christians. So we aren’t looking down with sad and wondering eyes. We’re looking on with eyes of repentant joy—sorry for our sin, but rejoicing in what has been given freely.
Both attitudes certainly have their place. It is good for us to feel the discomfort of the Law. It is good for us to hear the Passion accounts, to have our eyes filled with that image of blood and torn flesh and stumbling. Without those our flesh and its arrogance would take over and we would think that we could sin all we wanted. So as much as you think you already know the story and don’t need to hear it again, come this week. Hear the holy Evangelists. Hear of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and Jesus’ humility in washing His disciples’ feet. Come sing of the One who loves you so much that He made Himself nothing, was cursed, was forsaken by the Father. Come view what love truly looks like.
Come so the joy of Easter is that much sweeter. Come so when you sing alleluia again at the Vigil your heart and spirit are renewed with the strength to endure this life and its trials. Come so when you smell the lilies and hear the hymns you are prepared for the joys that await your senses in heaven. Come and receive the joy that knows no end, the promise that you have been given Christ’s death and await a resurrection like His.
Today in the Triumphal Entry Jesus revealed Himself how He wanted to be seen and remembered. As He was greeted with palm branches and shouts of Hosanna, He was seen riding in, lowly on a beast of burden. Those people who shouted His praises knew what they were saying. The crowd on Palm Sunday was the crowd of the faithful. They knew why Jesus had come to Jerusalem. He came to become their Salvation, to be the final Passover Lamb.
He comes the same way to you today. Jesus comes into your repentance to give you joy. He comes in to take your sin away, to take it to His cross and death, and to give you holiness in its place. This day, this week are all for you.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.