First Lesson: Exodus 12:21-30
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
Gospel Lesson: Mark 14:12-17, 22-26
Sermon Text: Luke 22:19-20
It is an easy mistake to make. A lot of people do it every year. At the end of May we have a national holiday. Sadly, many only focus on it being the unofficial start of summer. But it is a very important holiday – Memorial Day. Each year I hear a few radio and TV hosts make the mistake. They say something like this… “With grateful hearts, this Memorial Day we remember all those who served in the military.” Maybe you have heard this so often that you didn’t even catch the mistake. Anyone know what it is? Yes. Memorial Day isn’t about remembering those who served. That is what Veterans’ Day is for. Memorial Day is about showing appreciation for those who died during their service or after their service.
That isn’t a small distinction. On Veterans’ Day we thank those who served and show appreciation that they were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and forfeit their lives for our freedoms. On Memorial Day, we show respect and honor to those who did make that sacrifice, who did die to secure our freedoms. The two holidays have some things in common. But the one big thing that separates them is death. Veteran’s Day honors the living. Memorial Day honors the dead.
This Lenten season we’re celebrating a different holiday each time we gather. Which should we celebrate tonight – Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day? Jesus is a veteran in every sense of the word. He endured a lifelong battle more ferocious than any conflict that’s been fought on battlefields around the world. For 33 years, Satan threw everything he had at him to derail him from his saving mission. And this week – Holy Week – we focus on how difficult that battle was during his final days. Friends betrayed him. Disciples deserted him. His own people turned on him. The physical pain was immense. And through all of this, all he had to do was snap his fingers and it all would’ve ended. Maybe that was the greatest temptation of all – that he had to power to stop all this. But he kept up the fight. He never wavered or gave in. It is not an understatement to say that Jesus is the greatest veteran this world has ever known. So, should we celebrate Veteran’s Day tonight?
Or should we celebrate Memorial Day? Yes, Jesus fought. But to win that battle, he had to die. He needed to give his perfect life as payment for our imperfect ones. For parts of 3 days, his lifeless body rested in that tomb. He really, truly did die. His heart stopped. His lungs ceased drawing breath. His body assumed room temperature. So, should we celebrate Memorial Day, honoring the one who died for us? I’m guessing you have already realized the answer. Which one should we celebrate? Both. We honor the service of Jesus, the greatest veteran ever. And we honor the sacrifice that he made.
But if you think about it, we could celebrate both holidays every time we are in this place. Every Sunday, every midweek service, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, we focus on Jesus fighting for us, and giving his life on the cross to assure the victory. Why make such a point of that tonight – Maundy Thursday - the night Jesus instituted Communion? And it is the one service each year where, from start to finish, all the emphasis is on the Lord’s Supper. Why is it so important that we celebrate both Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day tonight? Why? If you take away either, tonight is absolutely pointless.
Let’s say we only celebrate Veterans’ Day. We remember Jesus fighting for us. We remember him going toe to toe with Satan in the wilderness, being tempted for 40 days, and coming away unscathed. We remember him turning tables of moneychangers over in the temple as zeal for his Father consumed him. We remember him speaking boldly, firmly, and lovingly in the face of opposition. And we, with joy, realize that not once in his entire life did he lose one of these battles.
What is so bad about that? That Jesus, the one I just described, can’t help us. He did not come as simply some example to show us how to fight. And he isn’t just “our guy” that we are proud of, the way we are proud of an athlete who always delivers the victory for our team. Yes, Jesus had to be a veteran. Yes, he had to fight and win. But more was needed.
We needed this veteran to die. The main reason Jesus came was to save us. Part of that was being the perfect veteran, winning every battle he fought. But in order to secure that victory, he had to die. Why? Because that was the price on our heads. To free us from the death sentence, he had to take it upon himself. A living Jesus, even a victorious, never lose a battle, Jesus cannot help us. In order to fully pay for our sins, Jesus had to give his life. Only a Jesus who fought and won, and only a Jesus who secured that victory by giving his life could do what we need him to do – save us.
But still, what does that have to do with Communion? If we fail to celebrate both holidays, the meal we’re about to enjoy means nothing. If Jesus was simply a fighter who never lost, that doesn’t help us at all. Our sins are still on our heads. And if Jesus’ died, but he wasn’t the perfect veteran we needed him to be, this meal cannot do what Jesus promises it will do – forgive our sins. Why not? A flawed, sinful Jesus can’t remove your sins anymore than I, a flawed sinner, could remove yours or you, a flawed sinner, could remove mine. He had to be the perfect fighter. He had to be the perfect sacrifice.
And thank God, he was and always will be both. And because he is, this meal can do what he promises it will do. In Communion, we celebrate both of those holidays in regard to our Savior. Communion is about Jesus giving us his very body and blood, the body nailed to the cross and the blood shed on that cross. In a miraculous, but very real way, that is exactly what we receive. We take Jesus at his word. “This is my body… this is my blood.” And what is the blessing of receiving this? What gift does this meal offer? Again, Jesus tells us in very clear words. This is for “the forgiveness of sins.”
A Jesus who lost some battles cannot offer us this forgiveness. And Jesus who didn’t die can’t do that either. But a Jesus who fought and won, a Jesus who by his death and resurrection proved his victory, can. And he does. When you come up here in a few moments, it is not some sins that will be forgiven. It isn’t a conditional forgiveness, a forgiveness that we have IF we are really good for the next two weeks. No. Whatever sins we bring up here with us, those are the sins that are forgiven. All of them. Ever single one. Jesus promised this. And every promise he makes, he keeps.
If we don’t celebrate Veteran’s Day tonight, and if we don’t also celebrate Memorial Day, Maundy Thursday is pointless. In fact, it would come across as weird and creepy. We gather in a dark church for a ritual involving eating someone’s body and drinking someone’s blood. But when we celebrate both holidays, that a veteran fought for us, and by giving his life and taking it back up again, he won – then we see the beauty of this evening. We know exactly who is was on that cross and exactly what he accomplished – our forgiveness – is precisely what he gives us in the meal we are about to enjoy.
So as you come forward, keep those holidays in mind. Honor the veteran who fought every battle you needed him to fight. Memorialize the one who gave his life to win the victory. And rejoice that the spoils of war are what he blesses you with now – his body and bloody for the forgiveness of every one of your sins. For such a gift, may we always remember, and may we always honor our Lord and King. Amen.