She had a tattoo. There, on the upper part of her back, just over her shoulder blade. At times, it looked more like a scar than a tattoo. It was only one color. She had it done before tattoos were fashionable. And her tattoo, dark blue scratches making the shape of a crown had been done in a back alley garage at the risk of infection and scarring. She didn’t know which was worse, the tattoo or what she did to get it. You see, there were many men, boys she should say, as well as petty crimes which made her worthy of bearing the scar and being part of a gang.
Only that was years ago and in an entirely different city. That was before night school and a promotion, before her relocation and a husband and a family. And now, now she sits at the Christian Education Committee meeting and they are asking her to offer an opinion about kids and the streets. One member already removed her child from Sunday School saying, “If you’re going to bring kids from gangs into this program, then don’t expect my child to stay around. Why do you think I bring my kids here? I want to give them a good upbringing.” And as the meeting continued on, she thought to herself, “If you only knew. If you only knew where I’ve come from and what I’ve done, you wouldn’t even be asking my opinion! You certainly wouldn’t be sitting here with me.” Tonight, her world became a little smaller and all she could think was, “If you only knew.”
We all have moments like this, don’t we? Moments when our world gets a little bit smaller. Oh, there may not be a tattoo to mark you past, and your moment may have happened in an entirely different social setting, but we still all carry the scars from the things we have done. Then, in a moment, our world becomes smaller as we find ourselves surrounded by people who don’t know what we’ve done. We are intensely aware that we are alone. Alone with our scars. We’ve had a failed marriage or a broken vow. We’re a recovering alcoholic. In the fear of an unwanted pregnancy, a child was aborted. We have a parent we haven’t spoken to for over a year. We’ve fought with our children for so long that we don’t even know where to start. Sin disrupts the lives of God’s people and leaves behind its scar. Then, when we gather, we are aware of how radically different it would all be if the people around us only knew. Our back tenses up, a polite smile masks our face, and we open our mouth, all the while thinking … “If you only knew where I’ve come from, what I’ve said, what I’ve done … you wouldn’t even be talking to me. If you only knew.”
Tonight, tonight is Maundy Thursday, Holy Thursday. It a time when we remember our Lord’s Last Supper and celebrate this precious sacrament. As we do this, we gather in the presence of God … who does know. We draw near to worship a God who knows all about us. As you mediate upon our Lord’s Passion and come to receive His body and blood this evening, my prayer for you is that you experience the wonder that God knows and that at this table there is a place of forgiveness for you.
In Luke’s account of the Last Supper, he is very clear to let us know that Jesus knew about Judas. Like a movie where you see one person and then another and then both of them together, Luke joins Jesus and Judas in this account. First Luke points to Judas. Luke tells us that the Feast of the Passover is approaching and Judas goes to meet with the rulers to betray Jesus. This was the Passover preparation of Judas, betraying his Lord.
Then Luke points to Jesus. He tells us the day of Passover has come and Jesus sends Peter and John to locate the room where He will eat this final meal. This was the Passover preparation of Jesus, preparing a table for His disciples.
Then Luke brings Jesus and Judas together. Luke tells us that the hour of Passover has come. We have moved from the preparations to the hour of the feast. Luke sets before us Jesus and Judas and the Passover table. And it is here where Luke tells us that Judas is in the presence of a God who knows. At the table, Jesus says, “the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table” (Luke 22:21). In other words, Jesus says, “I know, Judas. I know.”
And how do the disciples react to this knowledge? They had an argument. They argued amongst themselves about which one of them it was. Here, at the end of a religious celebration, the disciples are involved in an argument about sin. Typical, right? Most rumors in churches rise out of similar questions. Someone talks about an unnamed member who did something and everyone wonders, “Who is it? Who’s he talking about?” Someone says, “I would like to pray for someone here who is having marital problems” and the questions and the gossip about who is having issues begins. Soon, the spiritual work of God is set aside and everyone is digging around in each other’s closets looking for the certainty of sin that is present. So Luke shows us disciples who no longer are looking to Jesus but are looking among themselves. And that’s what happens. In the shadow of wrongdoing, we become engrossed in seeking out the certainty of sin.
But not Jesus. Not Jesus. And this is what is so amazing about this Last Supper. Jesus knows about the evil. Yet Jesus begins the meal by talking about His suffering. He closes the meal by talking about His betrayal. In the face of certain evil, Jesus does not try keep Judas from running away. He doesn’t turn his disciples against Judas, and Jesus doesn’t run to another city in fear. In the face of certain evil, Jesus does the certain work of God.
Yes, one will betray him and another will deny him and all will fall away … but in the midst of all that is wrong and weak and evil about human flesh … there remains one thing that is true … God is alive. His love is certain. And this night, this night the kingdom of God is coming into the world. In the face of certain evil, Jesus offers certain forgiveness. “This is my body given for you … This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (22:19-20).
The freeing of Israel from slavery, that’s what the Jewish people remembered in the Passover. Tonight though, Jesus calls His disciples to remember him. He is their freedom. In him is the new covenant. In him is eternal love. In him, sin, death, and the power of the devil are destroyed. In his body, he will bear the punishment of our sins on the cross. With his blood, he will claim us as his own so that the angel of death will put away his sword. In this body and blood of Jesus are eternal forgiveness, and as often as we eat this body and drink this cup, we proclaim the benefits of the Lord’s death for all people to come.
There, at this Last Supper, we see the gracious work of God among His disciples. Here, in the Lord’s Supper tonight, we see the gracious work of God among us. Yes, we come tonight with scars, with parts of our lives that we’d rather not remember. There are things we have done that make us say, “Pastor, if you only knew.” For some of you, I do. For others, I don’t. But for all us, me included, God knows. God sees and knows, and tonight we confess to him the certainty of our sin.
But tonight, God comes and proclaims to you the certainty of your salvation. In the death of His son, God has forgiven you of your sin. In his body and blood, Jesus comes tonight to assure you of the certainty of his love. Here, at this table, you are no longer known as a sinner … you are known and acknowledged as a precious child of God. Tonight, God prepares a place for you at his table. A place of forgiveness. Here is a place to experience the wonder that happens when God knows all about you.
It’s hard to express the beauty of this wonder. An artist once tried to capture it in a painting that would be used on an altar. Around 1500 there was a monastery church of the Order of St Anthony. There Matthais Grunewald created what is now known as the Isenheim Altarpiece. It is a carved shrine with two painted wings that open and close over a main painting, much like the doors on a cabinet. There are two views for which this altarpiece is remembered. When the wings are closed, the altarpiece shows the crucifixion. It’s a gruesome view. Christ is hanging on the cross; his body is discolored by a greenish hue. His wounds of torn flesh are covering a starved, boney looking body.
When the wings are opened, there is a radically different view. There is a painting of the resurrection. Christ bursts forth from the tomb in an explosion of color. His hands are raised in blessing. Behind him, in orange and startling yellow, a sun rises against a brilliant blue sky. His body is wrapped in swirls of clothing: yellow, white, red, and blue garments. Most amazingly though, the artist has placed rubies in Jesus’ hands, feet, and side. The wounds of Jesus have been transformed. They are precious jewels that shine with the brilliance of the resurrection. In that simple act, the artist has captured the wonder of this night. Christ’s body will bear scars. These scars come from a punishment we will never know. But after his resurrection, these scars stay with him. Only they are jewels, for they tell the world of a perfect love.
Tonight, we have a Savior who invites us with wounded hands to his table. With these wounds, he continually reminds us of a love that our God will never forget. These scars are the marks of a God who truly knows his creatures, knows their suffering, their sin, and the punishment of their death. But these scars are also on the hands of a risen Savior. He carries these with him after death. They speak of his perfect love.
So, you see your scars. You wonder what would happen “if anyone really knew.” Well, know this … God does know. But because of the death and resurrection of his Son, God knows you in love. It’s for this reason that Jesus invites you to his table tonight. A place of forgiveness. Here, he comes to feed you, to forgive you, to cover your scars with his wounded hands … to cover you with the wonder of his love. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.