On the night Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper, the devil entered Judas Iscariot and Judas left to betray Jesus. That same night the devil oppressed all the disciples. Peter denied his Lord. All the disciples ran away from Him. The shepherd was struck. The sheep scattered. Now Jesus explicitly blames this on the devil. The devil always uses times of tension and pain to divide the flock, to scatter Christians, to make us think only of ourselves. Now, in our case, we are literally scattered. We can’t meet a hundred and fifty of us together at the same time as we’re used to. But if that were the only thing the devil has accomplished through this, it wouldn’t amount to much at all. We’re all still listening to the Word of God, hearing services and sermons online, reading our Bibles, praying. Many of us are still coming on Sundays or weekdays to receive the Supper. So in this the devil has failed. We may be scattered, but we still know our shepherd and hear His voice.
But that’s not the only thing the devil tempts. He’s also trying to divide us from each other in our thinking, in our judging of one another. Our media is abuzz right now with finding someone to blame, someone to criticize, and it’s so easy to do. And the devil will try it among us too. Lord deliver us from this evil. Some of us have continued to come to church in small groups. Some have decided for all sorts of different reasons to stay home during this pandemic. What does the devil do? He sees the difference, he sees the apparent division, and he wil attack. On the one side, he wants those still coming to church to judge the hearts of those staying home, as if they’re staying home because they don’t really want to be in church, or because they don’t really desire to take the body and blood of Christ for their forgiveness, or because they’re so terrified of death that they’d do anything, even stop coming to church, to avoid it. On the other side, the devil will attack and tempt those staying at home to judge those coming to church in small groups, as if they aren’t being careful or aren’t taking the virus seriously or aren’t being mindful of how pandemics spread and so aren’t loving their neighbors.
These kinds of thoughts are raging all over the country. The devil always uses a crisis to pit Christians against one another. God forbid him to do it here at Mount Hope. Knowledge puffs up, St. Paul says, but love builds up. The devil is a liar. He’s a divider. He hates us, he wants us miserable, and that’s why he tempts us to judge one another. There’s nothing more miserable than living life judging everyone. When Jesus says, “Judge not,” he’s talking precisely about judging the hearts of our fellow Christians. Don’t do it. It’s the devil’s game. We don’t play it.
We’re Christians. We love our Lord Jesus, because He has loved us and poured His blood out for us. Receiving His body and blood is our priceless treasure. I can’t imagine those staying at home are anything but heartbroken that they aren’t receiving Christ’s body and blood. They’re learning what the words that we sing so often mean, “Oft have I with sighs fast thronging thought upon this food with longing, in the battle well-nigh worsted, for this cup of life have thirsted, for the friend who here invites us, and to God Himself unites us.” It’s like the Israelites sang by the rivers of Babylon, in captivity far from Jerusalem and the Temple, wishing so much to be there, but they couldn’t, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget its skill!6 If I do not remember you, Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my highest joy.” Any time Christians have to be away from church, away from the sacrament, it grieves the Christian heart.
And it’s impossible for the Christian heart to judge another Christian for coming to receive the body and blood of Christ. If the devil tempts this way, points to the plague, says there can be no church whatsoever, no meeting of Christians to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, even if all precautions are taken and they’re meeting in small groups, then you should laugh at the devil. Who could believe such a ridiculous lie? As if God would want us to go to Walmart to get Wonderbread but would forbid us from coming to church to get the bread of life! As if one Christian could begrudge another Christian the body and blood of his Lord! No, devil, we have a different Spirit. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
But above all, it’s the Lord Jesus Himself and the Supper he gives us that beat down the devil’s lies and his attempts at bringing disunity. We are bound together in Him. In this Supper, not only do we receive forgiveness from our Lord Jesus, but we are joined one to another. We eat the same body, drink the same blood, we live as branches from the same vine, our life comes from the same source. We become one body, the Body of Christ.
This is the reason for the name Maundy Thursday – Maundy comes from the Latin for command. And the command our Lord Jesus gave the night He gave us this Supper is, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you love one another.” And it’s at times like this that we should especially be practicing this love. We all miss seeing one another together. We all miss kneeling together at the same altar. We all look forward to the time when we’ll kneel again together and receive together from our Lord’s hands what we all hunger and thirst for.
But until then let’s remind ourselves every single day that we are one body, that we are bound in love for one another. And it’s no fickle love. It’s no love that can be snapped by a virus or by economic uncertainty or destroyed by the devil’s lies. No, this is the love of our Lord Jesus, of our God and our Brother, who was not ashamed to call us friends, to lay down His life for us, to rescue us from the misery of judging one another and justifying ourselves and pretending we are holier than thou, the God who suffered to become our righteousness before God, who died to reconcile us to God and give us His Spirit, by whom we all cry out to the same God, “Abba, Father,” so that we can all sing, “His body and His blood I’ve tasted, in His blest Supper feast divine, now I will never be forsaken, for I am His and He is mine.”
And the devil loses. He loses. He divided the disciples on the night Jesus was betrayed. But Christ brought them back to Himself after crushing death and the devil under His feet and rising again. And the devil loses now. Because this Supper still unites us, even though we’re separated by distance, even though some wait to take it, it still unites us in love for one another, as we remember the great sacrifice and love our God poured out to give this Supper to us. God grant it for Jesus’ sake.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.