Friday, April 06, 2007

Prepared Host and Unprepared Guests (Luke 22:7-20)

In the name of Jesus
Dear Brothers and Sisters Washed and Fed by Christ:
The diagnosis of our age: an insatiable appetite for everything this very minute. From instant success to instant potatoes, we live on having what we want and having it right now. The world today wants to push a button or swipe a card or grab an item off the shelf and get on with it. What was quick ten years ago is cruel and unusual punishment today. Less than thirty years ago we use to turn on the television three or four minutes before the hour to give time for the television tube to warm up. Now our plasma screens are on standby mode 24/7 -- just waiting for us to flick the switch. Instant on. Instant readiness. Instant availability. And the consequences of our desire to have everything effortlessly within our grasp at a moment's notice? We have become a people that know much too little about proper preparation. We know less and less about get everything ready when it comes to our careers, our adulthood, our parenthood, our meals and our holidays. We have forgotten what's all involved in laying the groundwork as a family member, an employee, a citizen, a Christian. We are under constant temptation to trade in our garden hoe for a magic wand and an empty promise.
It may be an honest athlete, artisan, or musician who reminds us that things don't usually appear out of nowhere without some kind of preparation. Fame, talent, skill, accomplishment and achievement? Not without hard workouts; not without daily struggles and setbacks; not without countless hours of exercise and training and practice and callouses and sweat. Not without weeks and months and years of sacrifice.
The human disease of instant gratification that we all suffer under is, however, nothing new. Our first parents knew a little about trying to rub a lamp and get three instant wishes as they pushed aside trust in God's good and gracious will for a fast chance at having their needs met. And so the plague of instant gratification entered our very DNA. No one needs to train any of us to have it and have it now. It comes out of our fallen mouth and darkened mind and sinful heart naturally enough. Curved by sin into ourselves, we would rather take a chance on the lottery than putting bread on the table using the skills and energies to plan and plant, weed and water.
And this afternoon we look back on our lives and see our daily struggle to delay our own instant gratification for something greater down the road -- for us, for our families, for our society, for the next generations of Bible-believing, Christ-centered, Sacrament-receiving Christians.
No wonder why Advent is a season in the church year that fewer Christians are willing to observe; why more and more congregations want less and less to do with the reserved and seemingly restrictive nature of Lent. Forty days of preparation has been twisted into forty days of convincing ourselves we deserve the up-and-coming rewards of Easter. Times and seasons of preparation are dinosaurs among a people who have taken the lead of the Prodigal Son and cashed it all in for a chance at paradise now.
And so it was for the Twelve -- the twelve tribes. They wanted the promise without the accompanying preparation. They drooled over their inheritance of land and children and a name for themselves without being readied to receive it rightly. And so they grumbled in the wilderness right out of the gates, especially when it came to waiting for a warm bath followed by a grilled piece of meat. The result? Scripture reports that not many of them accepted God's appointed time of preparation. Too many died before they saw what was promised, fighting against a time, a season of training God had placed before them to get them into shape for the heavenly things to come.
Things didn't fare any better for the Twelve disciples. They desired the Passover meal before even having their feet properly washed. They clamored for the roasted lamb and the padded reclining couches, the premium wine and the opportunity to revel in their special status as the entourage of the One who would put the political and religious leaders in their place and, in the blink of an eye, usher in a new age of greatness and glory. In their rush to the table they had pushed aside proper preparation. They had brought their dust-coated feet and sin-stained souls to the table -- to the Passover table, for a meal commemorating God's saving work in Egypt after he had made everything ready.
Now Jesus looked upon this motley band of thick-headed and hard-hearted men more concerned at their place at the table than what Jesus was now settting before them. Even after three years of following, they continued to be spiritually out-of-shape. These were the same disciples who would only hours later quarrel about who deserved to first summon the genie and demand their wish granted. (Luke 22:24-27)
Yes, Jesus could have called the whole thing off that night in the upper room. He could have pulled the plug and sent them away from the table unwashed and unfed. Jesus had every right to say, "You have been with me so long and yet you still will not take the time to properly prepare for this most sacred night? Only those in Egypt who received my instructions, my words of preparation in faith were spared. But tonight, your hearts are pre-occupied with anticipation of what you believe lies just around the corner. Positions and power as princes in my Kingdom -- all without proper preparation. And what John said at the Jordan I now say to each of you. In repentance look to me and what I have made ready for you. Place your trust in what I am finally bringing to completion this night."
And how have we prepared for this Passover afternoon? How many corners have we tried to cut in anticipation of the glories of this year's Easter Sunday? Have we lived our spiritual life by the bell of the microwave oven? Have you and I taken the time for daily devotion to God's life-giving Word? Have you paused from the demands of this darkened world to allow God to prepare you for the heavenly things to come through his services and hymns and Word? Have you shut out the empty promises of the world to take to heart the faithful promises given to the twelve tribes of Israel in Egypt and the twelve disciples in the upper room? Have you truly disciplined yourself as a true disciple? Scripture's diagnosis: we have all failed to properly prepare and make ready for fellowship with God and the One he has sent. We too have been found attempting to sit down with our Maker and Redeemer with the dust of sin clinging not only to our skin but to our very soul. We are exposed as ill-prepared to receive what God has planned from before the foundations of the world. In the words of our corporate confession, we have examined ourselves according to God's holy Word and found in ourselves nothing but sin and death, from which we cannot set ourselves free. How can our fallen hearts prepare for such a night as this? What shall we contribute in the presence of God and his Anointed?
(Luke 22:7-13 ESV)
On Maundy Thursday we see even more clearly that through the entire history of salvation, only Jesus and his Father in heaven came ready to the table of salvation. Only they had prepared and made everything ready for our salvation -- even before the foundations of the world were set. The Gospel promise in the Garden, the saving of Noah by boat and bow, the sparing of Isaac and the baring of God's almighty hand at the Red Sea, David's psalms and Solomon's temple, the Word of the prophets, the return from exile -- all moved towards preparing the children of God for the fulfilment of his promises and the completion of our redemption -- beginning this night, around a table in an upper room. The prepared host and his empty-handed guests. That summarizes Jesus' entire ministry. "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with him!" was the charge laid against him by the religious leaders -- a charge that only faith can embrace.
And now on this last Thursday before his suffering and death, Jesus prepared the meal and prepared his guests in a way only he could. Taking a basin and water and binding himself to the towel that would take away their stains, Jesus washed his own. (John 13:1-17 ESV) These followers were not baptized into their own good intentions, they were washed into Christ and prepared to commune with him at his holy Table. In faith they accepted this washing and, trusting in his words, received this bread and wine, received this new covenant meal, from the hands of the One sent to complete it and fulfill it and give it its final meaning.
Jesus has prepared everything. The bread and wine, his very body and blood as the sacrifice that removes our sin and does what we are unable to do: prepare us for this life, our own death and eternal glories with him in heaven. Come, in faith receive him who prepared everything and gave everything for your salvation. Come to this feast of forgiveness and allow God's wrath over you to pass.
In the name of Christ, the Passover Lamb. Amen