Maundy Thursday Sermon
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
April 18, 2019
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
On the first Maundy Thursday, Jesus was betrayed into the hands of evil people who handed him over to the Romans to be crucified. Before he was betrayed, he washed his disciples’ feet. He taught us that true authority is exercised in humility. Today he is highly exalted. But he comes to us in a humble way. On the first Maundy Thursday, Jesus gave his church Holy Communion. In Holy Communion we commune with God.
Communion is when two or more are joined together to become one. In Holy Communion a threefold communion takes place. First, there is a communion of the elements of the Supper with Christ’s body and blood. The bread is Christ’s body. The wine is Christ’s blood. Second, there is a communion of the Christian and Christ. Third, there is a communion of the communicants at the altar.
As with all holy mysteries, we can confess what the mystery is, but we cannot understand how it is. How can God be three distinct persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – each person being God, and yet there is only one God? How can the Second Person of the Holy Trinity become a human being while remaining almighty God? We confess the that. We leave the how to God.
When we try to explain the how we end up denying the that. A body cannot be in more than one place at the same time. Your body cannot be here and in Billings at the same time. How can Christ’s body be in Sidney and in Billings at the same time? So then, when Jesus says, “This is my body,” he didn’t mean it literally. When St. Paul wrote that the bread is the communion of the body of Christ, he didn’t mean it literally.
But we don’t decide what we will believe by figuring out the how. We believe what is written in the Bible. The Bible says that the bread that is broken or distributed in the Lord’s Supper is the body of Christ. The Bible says that the wine that is blessed in the Lord’s Supper is the blood of Christ. We don’t know how. We cannot figure out how the bread can be the communion of Christ’s body or how the wine can be the communion of Christ’s blood. But we believe it because the Bible says so. There is a communion between the bread and Christ’s body. There is a communion between the wine and Christ’s blood. The Bible says so. That makes it so.
The second kind of communion in Holy Communion is the communion between the believers and Christ. Since the bread is Christ’s body and the wine is Christ’s blood, everyone who eats and drinks eats and drinks Christ’s body and blood. It is what it is. Faith doesn’t make the Lord’s Supper the Lord’s Supper. Christ does. His word does. His institution does. Whoever eats the bread eats Christ’s body regardless of what he believes. Whoever drinks the wine drinks Christ’s blood regardless of what he believes.
The mouth receives the body and blood. Faith receives the benefits of Christ’s body and blood. Jesus says of his body and blood, “Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus says, “Give for you.” Faith believes Jesus. Jesus says, “Shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Faith believes Jesus. Where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation.
In Holy Communion Christ communes with us and we commune with him. Communion isn’t close. We aren’t close to Jesus. We are one with him. We, being many, are one body. We are one with Christ. He is the head and we are the body. Eating and drinking his body and blood, trusting in his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, we commune with Jesus and are at one with him. Not just close. In communion with. One with.
We are also joined in Holy Communion to one another. Joined to Christ as his mystical body, we are joined to one another. St. Paul penned the words of our text for this evening to address the heretical practice popular among some in the Corinthian congregation and elsewhere of communing at pagan temples. You cannot join yourself to the altars of false gods. You cannot join yourself to the altars of false teachings.
The altar and the pulpit go together. When you commune at the altar you commune with the pulpit. We read in Acts 2:42, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” The bread that is broken is the communion of Christ’s body. The cup that is blessed is the communion of Christ’s blood. Those who participate in Holy Communion together are one body. They are one in the faith. They are joined together by the same gospel – the same doctrine. The gospel we preach by eating and drinking is the same gospel that is preached from the pulpit. We do not commune at churches where the public preaching and teaching is contrary to the Holy Scriptures.
Closed Communion is not an option for those who believe, teach, and confess the true gospel. We may not invite to Holy Communion those who commune at altars that teach a different doctrine. The word for different doctrine is heterodox. The word for sound doctrine is orthodox. We must distinguish between orthodox and heterodox if we respect God’s truth. Open Communion is a denial of the truth. It is to say that there is no difference between the true teaching and false teaching.
Let’s be specific. If we were to invite members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to commune at Trinity’s altar, we would be saying that it is alright to teach that women may be pastors, homosexual couples may marry each other, the Bible contains errors and contradictions, we evolved from the animals, and so forth. These teachings are heterodox. That is, they are a different teaching than the teaching of God’s Word. When we do not invite to Holy Communion those who commune at heterodox altars we are not standing in judgment of their faith. We are standing in judgment of the heterodox doctrine with which they regularly commune.
Whenever you commune at an altar you are confessing the doctrine of that church regardless of what you believe in your heart. Nobody but God can see your heart. We can recognize what is orthodox and what is heterodox. We confess the orthodox doctrine and reject the heterodox doctrine. To commune those who regularly commune at heterodox altars is not to show love toward them. Christian love tells them to leave the fellowship of the heterodox church.
To be orthodox does not mean you are without sin. We would not need Holy Communion if we were not sinners. Holy Communion makes us holy. Christ’s body and blood are holy. Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary could not have taken away our sin and this sacrament could not give us forgiveness of sins if his body and blood were not holy. But Christ is holy. His body and blood are holy. Holy Communion is holy. This holy sacrament is given to us sinners to make us holy.
We need it. God’s law examines us and reveals that we are full of sin. Our hearts are corrupt. Our desires are sinful. Our minds are dulled. We are unworthy to partake of Christ’s holy body and blood. But Jesus invites us. He invites sinners. He invites sinners who know that they are sinners. He invites sinners who are sorry for their sins and want to live holy lives. He invites those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Here is the body and blood that took away our sin on the cross. Here God communes with us and we with him. He who will come to judge the living and the dead, who knows everything there is to know about us, looks on us with his favor. He forgives us our sins. He joins himself to us and joins us to one another. This is the that of Holy Communion. The how we leave in God’s hands.
Rolf D. Preus