1 Corinthians 11:23-26
March 28, 2007
So we come now to the final section, or chief part of Luther’s Small Catechism. We’ve covered the Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Confession and now The Lord’s Supper.
Let’s admit right off the bat that it’s a little strange to be speaking of Holy Communion during a midweek Lenten service in which we are not receiving the Lord’s Supper. It would seem natural that we should not only talk about it, but also receive it. However we still have many opportunities to receive this gift. Every Sunday, on the Lord’s Day, we receive the body and blood of the Lord. In fact, a week from tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, on which we remember Christ’s institution of this sacrament. A solemn and holy day indeed.
So let’s take our time today to meditate on it carefully. We consider the Sacrament of the Altar today in light of our Catechism questions, and especially in view of Christ’s own words of institution – which are the main thing in this holy meal.
First, what is it? We Lutherans take Christ at his word. “This IS my body. This IS my blood.” And as simple as that sounds, it has tripped up many Christians for hundreds of years. Christ says it is, and so we believe it is His body and His blood. We don’t know how. We don’t try to explain how. But because our understanding is limited doesn’t mean Christ’s power or his word is. As he says, so it is. It’s always been that way.
He says, “let there be light”, and there is. He says, “Lazarus, come out” and he does. He says, “The Son of Man will rise on the third day” and he did, “just as he told you”. Jesus speaks the truth, and his word creates reality. So when he says, “This is my Body… This is my blood” these are no insignificant words. Those words mean something and those words DO something.
Do we believe his words? We should. But we don’t always. We put our own ideas before them. We try to make his word fit into our framework, rather than submitting our framework to his Word. We want our word to be the final word, rather than his. We take his words lightly – we take them for granted.
Ever since Adam and Eve took his first words of Law lightly – perhaps not believing, “in the day that you eat of it you shall die”. And thus by eating and not listening sin came into the world. But now by both hearing and eating and drinking do we receive the antidote to such sin. For God’s word creates a new reality in this Sacrament of the Altar.
The bread and wine are what he says they are, by the power of his word that says it. We are what he says we are – according to His law – we are sinners who stand condemned by our actions. But according to His gospel, we are forgiven, clean and new. We are righteous and holy. We are alive and will live forever. Because his words have said so.
This is all understood by Luther when he asks the question, “Where is this written?” He then quotes those words of Jesus as drawn from Matthew, Mark, Luke and St. Paul.
But this sacrament is not just Christ’s body and blood. It’s Christ’s body and blood given and shed FOR YOU.
It’s not his body and blood to be put in a box for safekeeping. It’s not his body and blood given for God’s benefit and pleasure. It’s not his body and blood given as a testimony against us or to accuse us by his perfect example of love which we will never live up to. It’s his body and blood given FOR YOU – for the forgiveness of your sins. There’s the benefit.
Holy Communion is so misunderstood by so many. Some Christians think of it as a sacrifice we offer to God, when it is a sacrament Christ offers to us. It’s not a good work that earns you a thing, but it is a good gift that gives you all good things (for where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation).
Some Christians think of the Supper as a memorial meal or some sort of symbol. But it is not simply a reminder of inner spiritual truth. This holy meal actually does something – it is given for a purpose – and that purpose is for the forgiveness of your sins. So that, “whoever believes these words has exactly what they say, forgiveness of sins”.
A Christian once told me, “Pastor, I won’t be going to communion this week. I’ve been particularly naughty all week and I just don’t think I deserve it”. What? For this very reason you SHOULD be at the rail, receiving the forgiveness Christ won at the cross. None of us deserve such a gift, but all of us need it. Those of us who feel and know our sin acutely need it all the more. Otherwise, it’s like saying, “I’m too sick to take my medicine – the only medicine that will heal my disease”.
And so Luther suggests we should be “worthy” and “prepared”. I’ve often said that the worthiness here mentioned is not one of righteousness but of appropriateness. Perhaps worthy isn’t even the best English word. The point is that for some the sacrament is a great benefit and gain, and for others, it can actually be a harm.
There are those who should not partake. Those who don’t believe what Jesus says, “This is my body. This is my blood” should not receive it. Those who don’t believe it does what he says, “for the forgiveness of your sins”, should not receive it. For if they treat this precious gift as anything less than it is, they sin against the very body and blood of Christ, and trample a precious jewel. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul warns sternly against inappropriate reception of Christ’s body and blood, and says some can even “drink judgment on themselves” by communing unworthily, May this never be us, O Lord!
For those who believe in the Words of Christ – those who recognize his body and blood, seeing this holy meal for what it truly is – and who know that his body and blood are for us and are for the forgiveness of our sins – those are truly the ones who should be receiving and benefiting from this gift. May this always be us, O Lord!
What a blessing it is that God makes his word of promise available to us, not only in spoken and written, but also visible form. Just as Baptism attaches that word to simple water, so does Holy Communion see the Word along with simple bread and wine – and these humble, earthly vessels – everyday things – become vehicles for the grace of God. So we hear his word and read it, but we can also feel the water, and even taste the bread and wine. “O taste and see that the Lord is Good”. God’s miraculous blessings, won by Christ, given to us in such common forms.
It’s like Christ himself – who though he was Almighty God from eternity – humbled himself to become a man, in order to procure God’s blessings for mankind. He took on common, everyday, human flesh. He came not as a king, but a poor man, with no room at the inn and nowhere to lay his head. He had no great beauty that we should regard him. He was arrested as a common criminal, and hung to die a shameful death between two thieves. He didn’t even have his own grave. But in all this humility, shrouded by it and hidden behind it, was the very God of very God himself, working out our salvation.
Isn’t it just like Christ, then, to give himself, his body and blood, to us also in simple form? To take humble bread and wine, and through them offer rich, eternal, heavenly blessings untold? Communion with God himself and our fellow man. Forgiveness of ALL our sins. Eternal life. Power over sin for daily living. Assurance and peace. All these are ours when we receive the bread and wine, that is his body and blood. All this is ours when we believe and trust in his words of promise, “This is my body… This is my blood…. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.