Holy Thursday April 14, 2022
“A New Covenant” Jeremiah 31:31-34
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
You know what a covenant is, right? It is an agreement. A contract. A promise. Marriage is a covenant with another person. We have covenants or contacts with others when we’re involved in some type of business transaction. Covenants often are legal documents that involves money or property. We have an elaborate legal system with lawyers and judges and the law when someone doesn’t honor a contract. A covenant means something. Your honor, your word, and your reputation are all connected to a covenant.
Tonight, on the evening when we recognize the institution of the Lord’s Supper, it all has to do with this promise, this contract, this covenant that Jesus has made with all people for all time. Over 600 years before the Lord’s Supper was instituted the promise of a New Covenant was made. Here are the words that Jeremiah records from God’s very lips:
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
When Jesus, in the New Testament, raises the third cup at the Seder meal, the Passover meal, which is called fittingly, “The Cup of Redemption”, He would connect what was spoken in Jeremiah 31 with what He was doing on that night and what would happen on Good Friday and on the day of resurrection. “After supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20) In the Revelation of John we are told about the old and the new in our eternity, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new.’” (Revelation 21:5)
The Old Covenant was given by God but it was not His final word. His final word was found in Jesus, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. The writer in the Book of Hebrews spends some time contrasting the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. Hebrews 7:27 says, “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices, day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” Listen to this word in Hebrews 10, “Day after day the priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:11-14)
Tonight, it is all about New Covenant, a new promise, a new agreement. Jesus raises the chalice and speaks that this in the new covenant in His blood. Isn’t that something? All of us who struggle with our old ways and the sins that would devour us, come to receive a gift from Jesus that would make us new!!
Jesus contrasts the Old Covenant with the New when He speaks these words, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)
I believe that the strength of the Lutheran faith is found in believing God’s Word even when we can’t fully understand it. Can any of you understand how we can receive the elements of bread and wine but that they are much more than what we can see? In those elements we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Every-once-in-a-while someone will notice the four letters that we put up in the narthex and also in the Columbarium, the four letters VDMA. They were the letters chosen by Luther and the early Reformers to signify the strength of the Reformation. VDMA, the Latin phrase, “Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum” – “The word of the Lord remains forever.” It is taken from I Peter 1:25. The New Covenant says that this meal is literally the body and blood of Christ and though we can’t understand it, it is true. God’s Word that stands forever has spoken. In Luke 7 the New Covenant brought to us by Jesus was recognized by the centurion, a Gentile in charge of 100 soldiers, who had one of his servants who was very ill, one that he dearly loved. This man sent for Jesus to solve the illness. But He knew the strength of God’s word wasn’t just when Jesus was present physically to do His work, so he told Jesus, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Luke 7:6b-7) Jesus spoke the word. The servant was healed at that moment.
New Covenant. The old has gone and the new has come. Believe in the miracle of His divine real presence in this meal. And believe what it brings – full, complete, eternal forgiveness. God says of the New Covenant, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Pastor Reed Lessing writes about this wonderful truth that God in His kind mercy doesn’t remember our sins. “Jesus says, I don’t remember your sins. You don’t have to either. You don’t have to live in the past, rehash the past, or be bound to the past.” Lessing goes on, “Sometimes we say, ‘I don’t feel forgiven.’ We’re emotional creatures. We have feelings. Feelings are fine. Feelings are good. But feelings aren’t facts. Do you want the facts? ‘The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’. (Mark 2:10) All sin. Every kind of sin. Small sin and big sin. Your sin. My sin. Everyone’s sin. F-O-R-E-V-E-R.” (Overcoming Life’s Sorrows, Pages 227-228)
Today we celebrate a New Covenant. We relish that we are a new creation. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come!” That is what Jesus is doing for us today. Amen!!