The Last Meal - A Monster's Ball
You should view the events of this most holy night along the lines of criminal's last night on death row. Christ Jesus is less than 24 hours from a criminal's death pinned to a cross. All the tension, all the drama, all the pain of a condemned man's last meal is found in the upper room. People condemned to death have traditionally been given the chance to pick the menu for their last meal. In some places this is called by prison guards "The Monster's Ball." It's his last party; his last hurrah. Now don't you find it strange that a person convicted by the State for a horrendous crime should be allowed to pick whatever they want - shrimp, lobster, steak, filet mignon - for their last meal? Why should a monster have a ball on his last night? A more pressing question for us is why call Christ's last meal a monster's ball?
Because Christ is a monster. Christ is condemned to die for our sins. All along He has been telling His disciples that He must die. The word "must" has a divine necessity to it. The Law demands the blood of sinners. The Law doesn't just ask for suffering, sorrowing, or sighing but for bleeding and dying. When asked what's the punishment for worrying, the Law says death. When asked what's the punishment for misusing the name of the Lord, the Law says bleeding until dead. When asked what's the punishment for not being able to pay attention to a sermon, the Law says cut that person open so they bleed to death. When asked what's the punishment for your quiet greed, your passionate lusts, your secret lies the Law says, "Death, a bloody, bleeding, drop by bloody drop death."
Jesus is condemned to die for our sins; that makes Him the Monster. We must take seriously what the Scriptures reveal about this. Scripture says Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; it says He carried away the sins of the world; and that God made Him to be sin itself. From God the Father's view Jesus was an absolute monster. Why else did He turn away from Him on the cross? We get confused at this point. We know that the Father wanted Jesus to bear our sins. He was pleased that He did. So we think of the Father smiling at His Son for doing the difficult task He wanted Him to do, but we're forgetting the reality of what it means to be sin. In an earthly court does anyone smile upon the person who commits a crime against a child, or one guilty of a heinous crime? Don't people all but spit when they speak of such criminals? So before the holy, heavenly Father Jesus, guilty of all manner of sins, was abhorrent to Him.
Christ is the monster at this ball, and He knows it. Jesus has known all along what the future held for Him. He knew the hour approached when all the powers of darkness and all the minions of hell would attack, when all the sins of the world would be required one by one from Him. As the last meal opens Jesus says, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer."
What floods into my mind is memories of the night before I had to do Australian rappelling for the first time, the night before my first jump from an airplane, the night before the risky surgery that ended up taking my mother's life. Memories of these tense nights and a dozen more flood my mind. They weren't good nights. They weren't fun nights. The foreboding future casted a pall over everything. Yet, in none of my nights was I facing certain death. In none of my nights was I facing suffering to pay for sins. In none of my nights was I really facing a wrathful God demanding my blood for my sins. Jesus was.
What waited just hours ahead in the dark night for Jesus was betrayal, arrest, beating, whipping, crucifying, and hanging on a cross to die drip by drip. And Jesus knew this as sure as any death row inmate knows his last night. How did Jesus eat at all? You know many of the death row inmates I read about don't end up eating the last meal that they've chosen so carefully. I can see why.
In the monster's ball the food is prepared for the monster to eat and drink. In Jesus' monster's ball, the Monster prepares the food for us to eat and drink. All along He had told His disciples that He must suffer and die, not just die but suffer at the hands of the organized church. It's at this meal, this monster's ball, that He at last tells them why His body is going to be given over to mocking, beating, abusing, and crucifying. Only at this monster's ball are His disciples told why His blood is going to be shed. His body is being given and His blood is being shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
These Words, the Words of Institution, are important precious words. They in short summary explain why Jesus' Body will be crucified and His Blood will be poured out. That's why our Lutheran Confessions direct that these Words "be clearly and plainly spoken or sung publicly in the congregation." Before that in the Roman Catholic Church, they were whispered by the priest in Latin. This is where the expression of magicians, "hocus pocus," comes from. People in the Medieval Catholic Mass could barely hear the priest whispering in Latin "hoc est corpus" which is "This is My Body." So magicians began saying what they thought they heard "hocus pocus" when they performed magic tricks.
To Lutherans, the Words of Institution are a Testament, a Promise, a Proclamation. They're not a prayer asking God to do something. They're a declaration of what Jesus does in Holy Communion. He gives us His Body and His Blood, the very same Body and Blood that He first gave and shed on Calvary's cross. These Words of Institution tell us what's going on in this wonderful Sacrament. Ordinary Bread and Wine become the vehicle by which Christ comes to His people in Flesh and Blood for the forgiveness of their sins.
At our Monster's Ball there is more than one monster. On His last night, at His last meal, Christ Jesus, the One made monstrous because of our sins, institutes a meal where He gives His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine to us monsters. Christ the one made a monster before God by our sins gives us, the real monsters, to eat and drink for forgiveness the very same Body and Blood He is about to give and shed on the cross.
If only we had mirrors which did for us what the portrait did for Doriann Gray. You'll remember that all the evil he did didn't show up on his body but on a portrait of himself. He remained young, glowing, innocent while his picture took on the age, ills, and evils he was guilty of. If only a mirror could show us what we really are. I'm not a kind, loving, faithful pastor, husband and father. No, I'm an unkind, self-loving, faithless monster. You're not sweet elderly folks but bitter monsters. You're not bright, devoted young people but dark, self-centered monsters. You're not dedicated, sacrificial middle aged men and women, but desecrated, stingy monsters.
You think not? You think I've gone overboard, don't you? Well, then don't come to Church tomorrow. If our sinfulness is not monstrous, if we are not monsters under a thin veneer of outward goodness then God the Father owes His Son an apology. If we don't deserve to be called monsters because of our sins, then Christ who went to the cross bearing them sure didn't deserve the monstrously horrible punishment He received at His Father's hands. Unless we see ourselves for the monsters we are under the judgement of God's Law, then Christ's suffering and death won't mean very much to us and this Meal left to us by Jesus will mean even less.
So the question I put before you this holy night is, "Will you dance at this Monster's Ball?" Many abhor the idea of eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Jesus. A large part of Christianity, notice they're still Christians, the Protestants, want no part of the Body and Blood of Jesus actually being present in the Lord's Supper. It is monstrous to them, and even to some Lutherans and Catholics, to think of eating body and drinking blood. It's ghoulish; it's something fit for cannibals and vampires not Christians.
Think back to the original Passover in Egypt. I'm quite sure the idea of painting the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their house struck some Israelites as ghoulish and monstrous. Those who had no faith in the command to paint the blood on their doorposts or those who had no faith in the promise that the angel of death would pass over homes so painted, didn't destroy the power of that blood. They only made if of no use to them because they didn't paint their doorposts. Likewise, those who don't eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ or those who take no comfort in them, get no power from them either. The power, the forgiveness, the life, the salvation is all there, but it's no good to unbelief.
However, notice what we confess about this in our Catechism. The Words "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins...along with the bodily eating and drinking are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: forgiveness of sins." The power of the Sacrament is in the Words. Even faith in the bare Words of Christ that He gave His Body and shed His Blood for your sins, brings the forgiveness of your sins. So even those unwilling to eat His Body and Drink His Blood in reality, still have forgiveness by faith in Christ dying on the cross.
But dear friends, Christ the Man who is God wants to dance through life with you. Those of you who are too young yet to have been instructed in the truth of Communion should long to be instructed so you can eat, drink and dance with the One who became a Monster and puts on this ball for you. You adults who haven't taken the time to be instructed in this Monster's Ball ought to make the time. He throws this party of His Body and Blood for you and for your forgiveness too. The Beast who really is Beauty itself longs to take you in His Flesh and Blood arms and whirl you about the dance floor of life.
I've often wondered what happens to that special meal when the condemned man can't eat it. If I were a prison guard, I don't think I could bring myself to eat it no matter how good it might me. It seems sacred, consecrated to a man who's going to die. Not so this Monster's Ball. Christ ordered this Meal, set this Table not for Him but for us. Not for Himself who is on the way to cross, but for us who stand beneath it. It's a Meal, a Party, a Ball where the One who became a Monster for our sakes returns to earth to dance with sinners. It's not a mere memorial where we remember what He did for us, but an actual, physical reuniting with Him who loved us enough to give up His Body and shed His Blood. It's a reuniting with the One who became a Monster for monsters He still loves.
In Roman Catholic theology the place where they display the Host for viewing is called a Monstrance. It's from the Latin for "show." Well, Jesus doesn't want to merely show you His Body and Blood. He wants you to eat and drink it, so that as St. Paul says, you might show forth His death until He comes. Yes, we eat His Body and drink His Blood to show that His death for sinners was not in vain. We get the message. He went to the cross as a Monster so that He might invite us, monsters though we be, to the Ball where He dances with us all the way into eternity. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Maundy Thursday (4-17-03), Lord's Supper III