Text: Matthew 26:17-30
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
A week or two ago we got a letter at our house from the government of Ontario, the wonderful letter that comes every couple of years inviting you to renew the registration on your vehicle if you would like to continue to drive that vehicle in the province of Ontario. It’s not much of an invitation really, more of a warning. Pay or else. But once you pay your rights and privileges as a driver in this province are renewed.
I think of our gospel reading tonight kind of as an invitation for renewal like that. Not an invitation to come pay money to the government to get them off your back, but an invitation to renew the covenant relationship that our God has made with us. As Jesus shares the Last Supper with His disciples He says these words: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” These are important words. With these words it is as if Jesus is taking many threads from the Old Testament and twisting them together to form a solid rope of New Testament good news of salvation.
The Old Testament is filled with covenants. God makes a covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with the people of Israel, with David, and many others. Old Testament covenants are promises and relationships that God established with people. Blood was involved in many of these covenants, so much so that for us 21st century North Americans it starts to sound kind of gross and uncomfortable. In the book of Exodus, when God made His covenant with the people of Israel, blood was involved. Our Epistle reading today talks about this. The portion of the letter to the Hebrews that we read says, “When every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses (when Moses had read to the people all of God’s commandments), he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all of the people saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.’”
To our sensibilities this sounds disturbing to say the least. The sprinkling with blood is a little over the top for us. But it is in this blood that God makes His covenant, His promise with the people of Israel. They will be His people and He will be their God.
A very similar thing is happening when Jesus eats the Passover with His disciples and takes bread, breaks it and says “This is my body” and then takes the cup and says, “This is my blood of the covenant.” Just as Moses sprinkled the blood of the covenant on the people back in the Old Testament, here Jesus passes around the cup of wine which in a mysterious, indescribable way also contains His own blood shed for us on the cross, in order to establish and renew His covenant with you and me.
And this covenant is much better than the one that Moses mediated in the Old Testament by sprinkling the blood of goats and calves on people. There are two reasons why this covenant is better. First of all, this covenant is not just made with the blood of some animal. This is the blood of the Son of God. This is the blood of the man who was born of a virgin, whose birth angels announced, who successfully resisted the devil in the wilderness, who healed the sick and raised the dead, who died on the cross for the sins of the world, and who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven in triumph. This is the blood of Christ, the Son of God, and it forms the most glorious covenant imaginable with us.
Secondly, this covenant is not just a onetime thing, it is a repeated action. Every time we come to the altar this covenant is renewed and made new. Every time we come Jesus gives us His body and blood again and makes the covenant with us all over again. That might seem kind of repetitive, but it is incredibly necessary. It is necessary to renew this covenant again and again, week by week, because we break this covenant at least that often.
Breaking covenants with God is one of the things that human beings like us do best. Right after Moses sprinkled the blood of the covenant on the people of Israel he went up onto Mount Sinai and was welcomed into the presence of the Lord. He stayed there for forty days and forty nights. Down below, at the base of the mountain, the people got restless. After a while they started to wonder if Moses was coming back. Maybe he died up there on the mountain. So, down below being somewhat impatient, the people concocted a plan. They would build a golden cow and worship it. Just like that, so soon after the blood of the covenant had been sprinkled on them, they had turned away and developed a god of their own. A god more to their liking than the Lord who saved them from slavery in Egypt.
In the same way, not long after Jesus shared the Passover with His disciples and gave them His blood of the covenant Judas, one of the twelve, would betray Him. And Peter, the most zealous and enthusiastic of the twelve, would deny that He even knew Jesus before the rooster crows that evening. How quickly they turn away from the covenant!
We ourselves are no better, we turn from the covenant just as quickly. We go out from the altar, into the world, and we make gods for ourselves. We make gods out of money, happiness, pleasure, possessions, prestige, reputation, and all kinds of other things. We go from here and we betray our Saviour by returning to lives of sin and falling into the same greedy habits that have become so comfortable to us. We go from here and we deny Jesus and pretend that we don’t know Him when we are surrounded by those who do not believe. How quickly we turn our backs on the covenant that God made with us here in the blood of Jesus!
But that is the true beauty of this covenant. It is renewed again and again and it is founded on the forgiveness of our sins. The blood of Christ poured out for us is poured out for the entire world to forgive the sins of the entire world. We who have turned our backs on the covenant and broken the covenant with our thoughts, words, and actions, are invited to come back to the altar and receive the gift of the blood of the covenant again for the forgiveness of our sins and the renewal of God’s promise to us. Each time the covenant is made new again, no history is remembered, no past is brought up, only the blood of Jesus shed for our sins. Nothing else matters.
As you come to communion tonight this is what Christ is doing, He is giving you His body and blood to renew His covenant with you. To make the covenant new and fresh again. To restore you as a child of God all over again. To make you clean and sinless all over again. Every time you come this happens again. There is no price for you to pay for this renewal, it has already been paid in full by Jesus.
“As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup,” the apostle Paul says, “you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” May we eat and drink this bread and cup as often as possible all the days of our lives so that this covenant may be renewed and made new in us to life everlasting. In Jesus name. Amen.