We Are Able

In a normal year, this is the time of year we hear about various reenactments of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Churches and other organizations will reenact the events of Holy Week to help make them real for people.

When I hear about these reenactments I am always interested to see how they show show things like Jesus hanging on the cross and Jesus being whipped, Jesus bleeding.

The most famous reenactment of Jesus’ suffering and death takes place in the town of Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany. They have been reenacting Jesus’ passion once every ten years for the past 380 years.

While these reenactments make Jesus’ passion real there is a better way to make his suffering, death and resurrection real. What I’m talking about are the sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

On his way to Jerusalem Jesus kept talking about his upcoming death and resurrection: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. [34] And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

The disciples were oblivious to what Jesus was talking about. Matthew tells us that Peter, under the influence of Satan, took Jesus aside and tried to convince him not to go through with it.

Then James and John approach Jesus. They, too, don’t have a clue. They ask for seats of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. They figure its fine to have Jesus on the throne in the middle but they want to be the ones right next to him, on his right and on his left.

This makes the other disciples angry, probably because they didn’t think of it first. They were probably just as eager to be honored more than their fellow disciples.

Jesus’ answer is a clear reference to Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

He doesn’t ask, are you able to be betrayed, arrested, condemned, mocked and crucified as I am going to be? Instead he says, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

The connection to the Sacraments is clear. As one scholar has put it, in a sense, the Sacraments and Jesus’ death on the cross are “co-dependent.”

If Jesus hadn’t atoned for our sins by his death on the cross the Sacraments would be empty religious ceremonies. Our whole faith would in fact be empty. The sacraments need Jesus’ death and resurrection to make them real.

But the atonement needs the sacraments too: Without the sacraments, Jesus’ death on the cross remains ancient history, more of an abstraction. In the sacraments Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins is actualized, Jesus’ death is made real.

Jesus’ death on the cross needs something real and physical to present itself to us on a regular basis, and that is exactly what the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper do. They are like a reenactment but since they have been instituted by God they are far more than just a reenactment.

Scripture confirms this very clearly.

For Holy Baptism there are the familiar words of Romans 6:

“We were therefore buried with Christ through Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, even so we also may live a new life. Baptism literally puts us into the atonement, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

For Holy Communion there are the words of Jesus instituting the sacrament: This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

There are also Paul’s words in I Cor. 11:26 “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Both Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper present Jesus’ death on the cross to us in real, present time.

When James and John come and ask Jesus about sitting on his left and right in his kingdom Jesus says, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

And they answered, “We are able.” But then, of course, they and all the other disciples completely abandoned Jesus when he was arrested, condemned and crucified. They were not able to go through what Jesus went through.

But through the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper we are able. We are most certainly united with Jesus in his death and resurrection.

Proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes is a good mission statement.

We proclaim the Lord’s death to a dying world. Those who are not connected to the death of Jesus through the sacraments will die eternally. So we need to keep proclaiming it.

There are many people out there for whom their history is not just an abstraction. The things that have happened to them in the past are very real to them. They think what they’ve done in the past disqualifies them from being forgiven. They think that what they’ve done in the past makes them unlovable.

They need to hear that Jesus’ death for them on the cross is not an abstraction but it is real. It really and truly forgives all their sins and gives them a fresh start every day. The Lord’s Supper and Holy Baptism are the best, God-given ways to make Jesus’ death and resurrection real to people.

And we proclaim his death until he comes. The phrase “until he comes,” of course reminds us that Jesus did not only die for us, he also rose from the dead. We would not proclaim his death if he was still dead.

And our risen and living Lord will someday return. When he returns the time for proclaiming will be all done. There will be no time to tell anyone anything. It will be Judgment Day and the eternal fate of all who ever lived will be revealed.

Jesus’s death on the cross and the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are co-dependent. If Jesus had not died for our sins the sacraments would just be empty ceremonies in fact our entire faith would be worthless. And if Jesus’ death is proclaimed without the sacraments it’s just abstract, ancient history. But combining Jesus’ death on the cross with the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper makes our atonement real more so than any reenactment. So we teach and proclaim both to a dying world until he comes.

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