Maundy Thursday - Jesus the 'New Lamb'
‘This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.’
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
O Beauty ever ancient and ever new, late have I loved you!
Jesus Christ is ever ancient and ever new. He has revealed himself this week as fulfilling the Old Testament promises in his person. He is the new prophet, the new priest, the new light, the new deliverer and now, the new Lamb.
What do the scriptures tells us about the Lamb? That the Lamb was at the heart of the Passover. Our first reading from Exodus chapter 12 details clearly the essentials of the Jewish feast.
What was the Passover? It was the ‘day of remembrance’ – the festival observed ‘perpetually’, as we heard from Exodus, when the salvation of the Jews was remembered – but more than remembered – relived. Both Exodus and the Psalm tonight imply very definitively that this act was one of salvation. The Passover was the commemoration of deliverance. The deliverance from ages past; deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Deliverance from captivity. And, most of all, deliverance from death. In the story of the Exodus, the Lamb’s blood literally saved the people from death, from the avenging angel. That blood, poured out, as we heard in verse seven, was to be painted on the lintel of the house in the form of a cross as a sign of deliverance.
In other words, deliverance from sin and death was achieved through the offering of the Lamb.
Jesus is the new Lamb. The disciples would no doubt have remembered the words of John the Baptist that Jesus ‘is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world’ – things would crystalise tonight, as we hear, at the feast of the Lamb, Jesus transform the offering: he would become the Lamb. How?
Before we answer that question, Exodus makes clear to us the type of Lamb needed: ‘your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male’. In other words, the Lamb chosen for the sacrifice, to make present salvation once again, had to be pure – absolutely free from any defect, any impurity, any fault. And the Lamb had to be male. The Lamb would be offered in ‘thanksgiving’ for God’s deliverance.
Remember the acclamation: ‘Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’. What was Jesus? A male, who was pure, and faultless, who would be offered to God for the salvation of the world.
The connection is clear. But there’s more – what do the scriptures say? That the Lamb must be ‘eaten’. The Passover would be incomplete if the Lamb were not eaten. Eating was an absolute requirement.
Tonight, Jesus reveals himself as the new priest, offering a new sacrifice, but also as a victim – he is the victim of the sacrifice. How does Jesus do this? Why does he do it? He does it by instituting this new feast at the time of the Passover, in the context of the Passover. He says, ‘take eat’ – this is my body. The new Lamb’s body, Jesus’ body is broken for our salvation, just as the Lamb of the Passover had been broken for ancient salvation. The commandment is the same: ‘eat’.
In this moment, Jesus is deliberately taking the words and commandments of the Passover and making them his own. The old Passover Lamb which brought salvation is now replaced with the new Passover Lamb which brings salvation for eternity. A new time is here; Jesus says do this in remembrance of me’ do this in remembrance and a new covenant, a new deliverance from death will occur – through him.
We gather, in the darkness of the night, with Jesus, in the upper room, with the disciples, and do what he did. We do it, so that we might receive his salvation. We do it, as he commanded, as a ‘perpetual ordinance’ so that we might, as the second reading tells us ‘proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’.
This meal is a memorial of his death; a death that he will die tomorrow. Tomorrow, we will understand how this man’s body and blood redeems the world. For unlike the Passover Lamb, Jesus has not yet been sacrificed. He will be. He will die.
He will be slaughtered as the Passover Lamb was in the Temple to make salvation present for the people. Jesus will offer himself as the new priest he will be slaughtered as the new Lamb, the Lamb which is the new deliverer, who brings new light, who as a new prophet embodies God’s truth in his body. As the liturgy continues, we edge towards his arrest, and tomorrow his sacrifice his death – when he will be become the new Temple: ever ancient, ever new.