Five (Lenten) Meditations on the Lord’s Supper
This article from Pastor Riley's Blog (03/24/2015) Orginally appeared on Theologia Crucis. An audio version can be found on that site.Lord’s Supper.
What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.
In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. Baptism is how we are born into the Church. In Baptism we were made children of God. God watered, worded, and Spirited the old you into a new you. The Lord’s Supper is the renewing of the new you. After he is born, a baby needs to eat. In the same way, Christians who have been born again in Baptism need to be fed. God feeds us by giving His gifts. When the new you is renewed it happens when God speaks to you. Renewal comes through His Word as its preached by the pastor, and put together with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus promises to be with us with His word and with His body and His blood. No need to go looking for Him anywhere else. You won’t find Him anywhere else. When God says “This is my body… This is my blood,” He means it. Just like when He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Or when He said to Israel, “You are my people and I am your God,” that was that. In the same way when He says, “This is my body… This is my blood,” it happens. He joins His people in their eating and drinking, to give Himself to them.
How can He do this? How can Jesus be with us in the bread and wine? Because He said so. And since He’s God, whatever He says is true. He can’t lie. It doesn’t matter that we can’t explain how it happens. He promised. And since He promised to be with us, we can be sure that He is. God always keeps His promise. So when He says, “This is my body… This is my blood,” you can be sure He means it and He’s telling the truth.
When God comes to us in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus renews us in the gifts. The gifts He gave us in our Baptism: forgiveness of all our sins, rescue from death and the devil, and forever-life…
In His Supper, Jesus doesn’t add anything to what we received in Baptism or what we receive when the pastor absolves us by Jesus’ command and with Jesus’ authority. But God does renew the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation in us with His body and His blood.
The old you that doesn’t love God and doesn’t love your neighbors doesn’t give up fighting just because you’re baptized. The old you fights. You try to take back what you lost at your baptism – the freedom to be selfish, to go it alone, to always get your way, and owe nothing to nobody. And so you continue to hate God and hate your neighbor, and think only about yourself… That’s what we mean when we confess “I am by nature sinful…” But Christ doesn’t take away the gifts of our Baptism because we fight against Him. Instead, He comes in His Supper to promise us and comfort us that the gifts God gave us at Baptism are still gifts, and they’re still for us. He is our Heavenly Father and we are His beloved children. He forgives us. He will raise us from the dead. That is what it means to be “new” when you are re-newed. God makes you new again. Every time you come to the Lord’s Supper, and every time you eat and drink His body and His blood, and hear the Words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” you can be sure that Christ is making the new you new.
Lord’s Supper, Meditation 2
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?
These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
God takes us back to our Baptism in His Supper. But Christ also takes us ahead to the future. He gives us “a foretaste of the feast to come,” as we sing in the Liturgy. It’s like a spoonful of cookie dough. The cookie dough is a foretaste of the cookies to come.
In the same way, the Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the Supper to come. When the final victory has been won, when sin and death are no more, Christ will feast with us forever, and we will feast with Him. In the Supper now, we get a taste, a spoonful of what the new day will be when we are set down at His table.
But how can what we do here, kneeling at this rail to receive ordinary bread and wine, give these gifts? This is the question of the old Adam. There’s hardly anything the old you likes better than dressing up in a nice shirt and pants and pretending to be more special than other people. “Bread,” you say… “You call these silly little white wafers Christ’s body? I know that if you want to be a special kind of Christian you’ve got to work at it. You’ve got to make yourself special, spiritual, holy, and forget about playing silly games, like pretending this little white wafer is Christ’s body. And wine… people get drunk on that stuff. Don’t give me this hocus-pocus about Jesus being present in a tiny little sip of wine that pastor or one of the elders bought at the liquor store.”
But just like it isn’t water that makes Baptism, it’s not the eating and drinking or the bread and wine that makes it the Lord’s Supper. Instead, it’s Christ’s own words and His promise that He will be with us, in the eating and drinking that make it the Lord’s Supper.
Christ’s promise, along with the eating and drinking, is the main thing in the sacrament. Just like Baptism, Christ wants to make sure that His promise comes to us in the most personal and intimate way. So He speaks the words – “This is my body, given into death for your sins.” “This cup is the New Testament in my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” He speaks and He puts His words in something we can see, touch, taste, roll around on our tongue, and swallow. When we hear His words and eat and drink we can be sure He is actually with us. True body. True blood. The whole of God with nothing of Himself held back from us.
Martin Luther used the word “testament” – the best translation of the Greek word that is sometimes translated “covenant.” The reason is, a testament is a will. The last will and testament… that a person writes down to arrange for who will receive his stuff after his death. Jesus’ last will and testament for us is the “New Testament in His blood.” We are to receive after His death His forgiveness, life, and salvation. And best of all, He willed that we receive them freely and personally.
So what is the benefit of receiving this eating and drinking? The Lord’s Supper is a promise and a gift. We can be certain because it’s God who does the promising and gifting. God is in the bread and wine. Over and over again in the Lord’s Supper, as Jesus speaks His words of forgiveness to you He brings you back to your Baptism, makes the new you new again, starts you fresh again every day… and He opens the way to the new day. In His Supper, Christ breaks down the walls between us and Him, and between us and our neighbors. That is the benefit of eating and drinking… no more guilt, no more worries, just forgiveness and salvation. In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN.
Lord’s Supper, Meditation 3
How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?
Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, 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.”
How can eating bread and drinking wine make you a new you and open up the future? If we recall the Catechism’s explanation of Baptism that will help us:
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.
Baptism isn’t just water poured over your head, and the Lord’s Supper isn’t just eating bread and drinking wine. It is eating and drinking God’s Word that He speaks into the bread and wine – the Word of God who speaks Himself into the bread and wine – and through God’s Word all the gifts come to us.
“Given and shed for you,” Jesus says. FOR YOU. Hearing these words with the eating and drinking you can be certain that Christ is at work. That’s how Christ renews the new you, giving you faith in Him and intense love for each other. He gives you faith. He gives you love. When you hear the words “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” that’s Him clearing away everything that keeps Him from giving you the gifts and everything that keeps you from receiving the gifts that are meant FOR YOU.
When you hear the words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” you can be certain Christ is right there FOR YOU. His words and the eating and drinking give you faith to trust His body and His blood are there under the bread and wine, because He says so. It also makes you sure that His promises are meant specifically FOR YOU.
In this way, Jesus has made certain that His promises are given to you again and again. He brings you back to your Baptism. He renews the new you. And as He forgives you, He opens the way to the new day. Now you can look forward to tomorrow, and the next day, with certain hope. That’s what eating His body and drinking His blood does: they are Christ’s future-opening gift. His down payment on your being raised from the dead. In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN.
Lord’s Supper, Meditation 4
Who receives this sacrament worthily?
Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.
In this last question in the Small Catechism’s explanation of the Lord’s Supper, Luther goes after a question that bothers a lot of people: “When is a person rightly prepared to receive the Sacrament?” Answer: “Fasting and other outward preparations serve a good purpose. But that person is well prepared and worthy who believes these words, ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.'”
But anyone who does not believe these words, or doubts them, is neither prepared or worthy. Why? Because the words ‘for you’ require a believing heart.
In the past, many Lutheran congregations stressed proper preparation for the Lord’s Supper. Many people didn’t dare come to the Lord’s Table because they were afraid they were unworthy to receive Christ’s body and Christ’s blood. When this happened, the devil won a terrible victory, because they were cut off from the very source of their strength and comfort.
In more recent years, the devil has sprung another trap. Pointing at all the people he caught with his first trap, the tempter pushes us into the second trap, saying,”Don’t worry about being worthy, just go to the Supper and forget about it.” When the trap shuts people end up going to Communion once a year, once a month, or every other week, but it means next to nothing to them.
But how do we avoid these traps? We can’t. That’s why God’s Spirit takes hold of us and leads us through them. How? He points us away from our attitude and toward the word and promises of Christ. “If we are faithless He is faithful,” writes St. Paul. God is reliable. God always keeps His word. So when questions come up about our faith or lack of faith, our worthiness or lack of worthiness, our attitude, good or bad, we don’t try to convince ourselves that we are prepared to go to the Lord’s Table. All we can do is cry out to Him, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” He will hear and answer us everytime. He will lead us away from the devil’s traps. He will guide us from our unbelief and hold us tight in faith. He will bring us to the Sacrament in hope. He will drive away the doubts and fears that confuse and worry us.
That is Christ’s gift to us. The way of Jesus is the way He uses to make us sure that He is with us. So it is a meal full of joy and thanksgiving, prepared and packed full, overflowing with Christ’s great gift to us: Himself. As long as He keeps giving, “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN.
Lord’s Supper Meditation 5
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
God is always with us. God never leaves us alone. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is always giving more and more. Nothing does he hold back. So then, why the Lord’s Supper? If God is always with us, always giving, why bother to give us the Lord’s Supper to eat and to drink?
God gives it FOR YOU. For each of us, for our in between times. As long as the new you is waiting for the old you to be finished off once for all we are in danger. This is why God wants to care for us in a way that we can’t miss. God wants to be sure that we are sure. God wants to be certain His promise is certain for us. So, in the Lord’s Supper, Christ gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink with the bread and the wine.
Christ takes ordinary bread and wine, ordinary earthly things, and uses them to give Himself to us. Completely to us. Nothing of Himself held back from us. “Here I am,” He says, “given FOR YOU.”
In this way, Christ picks up and makes us new again. He reassures us that His word of forgiveness means exactly what He says, and that it is directed toward each one of us. His promise that He puts into our mouths and pours down our throats. He does it this way so we can taste it, chew it, swallow it. “This is my body given FOR YOU,” He says. “This is my blood shed FOR YOU.” “Now you have Me and I have you.” “I am yours and you are Mine.”
In this way, Christ makes a congregation too. His promise is given with the bread and wine to each of us as His Spirit gathers us together in the communion of the saints. In Christ, your family, and friends, and neighbors that eat and drink the Lord’s Supper with you become your brothers and sisters. In this way Christ gives us a taste of what the end is going to be. Together-ed with Him. One family, one heavenly Father, one feast going on forever. This is what makes the Lord’s Supper such a great and precious gift.
The Lord’s Supper isn’t some invention designed to give us a dramatic way to remember Jesus. It is His Supper. His gift given to us. Himself given into us in the words and the eating and drinking.
“Do this,” Jesus said. “Do this in remembrance of me.” With this command, He tells us that He wants to be with us while we wait. Jesus is more than a memory. He is God, the Lord, the Word made flesh. He was there in the beginning, speaking all creation into existence. He is with us now speaking the new you into existence. He will come again to speak the dead to life, and gifting all believers with life eternal. His promise is trustworthy because He was the first to be raised from the dead. His promises are true from beginning to end, now and always. In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN.
- Published: 30 March 2015 30 March 2015
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