Welcome to our service on this Maundy Thursday! It’s a real blessing when Christ’s family gathers around the Lord’s table for the meal he’s prepared for us.
Congratulations to those young people who received their first Communion here tonight. Some parts of this message are meant for you---but the rest of you can listen in!
When you went to the First Communion class last Sunday, you learned all about why this meal is so important to us. It’s not so big a deal from a physical standpoint. Your stomach probably isn’t full from that little bit of bread and wine is it? Communion is just a little bit of physical food, but it’s a spiritual feast for us. In class you learned that when we share Communion, that Jesus is with us in a very real way. It’s not just that we’re thinking about him, but that when we eat the bread and drink the wine, that in a spiritual way he is in us. And as he comes to be in us and with us, he brings his love, his forgiveness, his promise of heaven someday, and many other blessings.
And Communion is a way we experience these blessings, not just in words, but in things like bread and wine that we can touch and taste and see. There are so many amazing things about Communion and what it does for us.
And one of the amazing things is who Jesus invites to his meal.
Look at what it says in our bulletin----“Communion at Christ Lutheran is open to all who confess Christ as their Lord and Savior and wish to come with an open and repentant heart.”
“Repentant” means that there’s something wrong that we have to ask God to help us with. Do any of us have something wrong that we need God’s help with? (raise hand) I sure do!
There are many things in all of us that we need to repent for----which means we turn away from whatever it is, and we turn toward God. All people always have lots to repent for. Even Jesus’ closest followers.
Do you think Jesus 12 disciples had things to ask God’s help with? Peter sure did.
Let’s listen to Peter tell us why he needed to repent.
VIDEO “40 Days With Jesus #7 Peter’s Denial”
Peter---He had been so sure when he told Jesus that “even if everyone else turns away from you, I never will!” So sure that he would never deny that he knew Jesus. Peter said to Jesus---
Luke 22:33 “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
But Jesus knew better---
Luke 22:34 “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
And that’s what happened. We heard Peter tell about it. He was scared. He and the other disciples ran off when Jesus was arrested. They didn’t want to be arrested too.
But Peter couldn’t stay away. He did more than most of the other disciples. Peter followed Jesus---but from a distance.
Peter waited out in the courtyard where a group of people were staying warm by a fire.
Luke 22:56-57 “A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But (Peter) denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
Luke 22:58 “A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied.”
A little later a third person said---
Luke 22:59-60 “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!---Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.’
On the video Peter said it was the most blood curdling sound he had ever heard.
Luke 22:61-62 “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.”
By the way---this painful story about Peter---who went on to become one of the greatest leaders of the Christian Church---tells us a tremendous amount about the truthfulness of the Bible. They didn’t try to cover up what Peter did. But with humility they told the story just as it happened---a story all of us can learn from.
Unfortunately, after Peter’s denials, things only got worse for Jesus.
Let me just stop here a minute and say---the first thing you need to know is that’s not all that happened---is it? Jesus did die on the cross. But then God raised Jesus from the dead!
It’s really hard to hear about Jesus being treated like a criminal, suffering and dying. But it teaches us something really important. There will times in our lives when we have to face sadness and even death. But just like with Jesus, those things are not the end. Because just like Jesus was raised back to life, God renews our lives and carries us through our sadness. God gives us happiness and joy again. And because of faith in Jesus he even promises us life after death.
That night for Peter, things looked as dark as they could be. But with God, darkness is never the end. Though there are times it can seem that way.
That’s why Jesus prayed to the Father for his people in John 17---
John 17:15-20 “(Father) My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”
Jesus prayed this prayer on the night before he died. In the middle of all that he was facing, he prayed for others, for his disciples. He prayed for you and me. Why? Because he knows that just like he was facing a dark time, sooner or later, we do too.
Jesus prayed for those who were eating the Passover meal with him, when he transformed it into our Holy Communion. He even prayed for Judas who was going out to betray him. He prayed for Peter. Jesus prayed for you and me. Because we’re not so different from Peter.
Peter’s denial forces us to admit the many ways we deny Jesus. The times in public that we have played down the fact that we are a Christian. The times we have the opening to say something about our faith and stop, because we fear we won’t say the right thing. The times when someone attacks the Lord and we don’t speak up.
Or the less obvious moments when the enemy tries to disguise the attack. “Go ahead—nobody will ever know you did it!” “Take it—they’ve got more than they need!” “Just change the numbers to make it say what you want---they can’t tell.”
Whenever we give in to one of those temptations, we deny Jesus.
We have good intentions when we start, but then things get hard and we start to look for the easy way, the temptation to shortcuts. And like Peter we find ourselves denying the one who is the source of every good thing in our lives. Judas betrayed Jesus. The other disciples ran for their lives. And Peter followed after Jesus’ arrest----but ended up renouncing Jesus---who was left without a friend in the hands of enemies.
It seemed like it was over for Peter. He let Jesus down and the next few days would get much worse.
You know, with books and movies I don’t like to know the ending ahead of time. But in this case, I’m glad I know the end. Because all the bad stuff Jesus has to go through is temporary. He rises above it all on Easter Day! I hope you don’t mind me giving away the ending.
But what about Peter? Did Jesus ignore him? Did Jesus punish him? No---- In John 21 after Jesus was raised to life, we hear Jesus ask Peter 3 times if he loves him and if he is ready to take care of Jesus’ people. It’s a resounding response to Peter’s 3 denials. Jesus shows Peter great love and forgiveness and restores Peter to the role of disciple. Nothing could separate Peter from the love of Jesus—not even publicly denying his teacher, his friend and his Lord!
And that’s the message here for you and me. No matter how we have denied Jesus—no matter how we have broken his trust, his law, his way of life, there is nothing that is beyond the forgiveness of Christ. That’s the message of the meal from Jesus that we enjoyed here tonight. Some of you enjoyed that meal for the first time here tonight. Some of you have enjoyed it many times before. And it is always a powerful sign of the forgiveness and new life that Jesus offers to people like Peter, you and me.
Every time we come together to Holy Communion, it points us to the truth that even when things seem the darkest, Easter will soon be here!