Maundy Thurday |Rev. Rolf Preus| 1 Corinthians 11:26-29| April 5, 2007
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. (1 Corinthians 11:26-29)
Jesus instituted only one sacrament that he intended for us Christians to celebrate over and over and over again. It is called the Lord’s Supper because the Lord Jesus gave it to us. It is called Holy Communion because in this Sacrament we commune with Christ’s body and blood. It is called the Eucharist because it is received by us with thanksgiving. The Catechism calls it the Sacrament of the Altar because in this holy sacrament the Lord Jesus gives us to eat and to drink the very same body and blood that He once and for all offered up to God on the altar of the cross.
The Lord’s Supper is the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. The bread that God gives us to eat is the body of Jesus. The wine that God gives us to drink is the blood of Jesus. When Christ died for us he once and for all offered up the sacrifice of his body and blood to God. He sacrificed himself to take away our sins. When Jesus gives us to eat and to drink of his body and blood today, he gives us the same forgiveness of sins that he gained for us by dying on the cross. On the cross is where the sacrifice was offered to God. At the Lord’s Supper is where the sacrament is offered to us. Jesus did not offer his life up to us on the cross. He offered his holy body and precious blood to God, as the redemption by which we would be set free from our sins. Jesus does not offer up his body and blood to God in the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus rose from the dead, God the Father accepted his death as payment in full for all of the sins of the whole world. There can never be another sacrifice to take away sin. Christ’s one holy sacrifice was fully sufficient. The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice offered to God. It is a sacrament of God’s grace given to us sinners in our need.
If Jesus had not instituted this sacrament we might have thought that there was something more important than the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. Since Jesus did institute this sacrament we know that Christ’s death for us to take away our sins is the most important topic of our faith. This is why Jesus wants us to proclaim his death. Every time we go to the Lord’s Supper we preach a gospel sermon by walking up, kneeling, and eating and drinking. As often as we eat the bread and drink the wine of this Supper we proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns to judge the living and the dead.
What does it mean to proclaim the Lord’s death? What should a sermon about Christ’s death include? First, we need to know why He died. He died for our sins. He died for liars, thieves, adulterers, and murderers. He died for children who show disrespect to their parents and despise the correction they receive. He died for men who bully their wives. He died for drunkards and drug addicts. He died for those who mock Christianity and the Christ we Christians confess. And he died for us when we fall into the same old sins that captured our affections last week, last, month, and last year. All this mass of sin is really one and the same. We may not claim we need forgiveness less than anyone else. Sin is sin. It pollutes the soul. It angers the holy God. It calls for punishment. We need to know what sin is, what it does to us, and why we cannot have fellowship with the holy God unless our sins are washed away. We need to know why Jesus had to die for our sins. We are sinners who deserve God’s punishment.
Second, we need to know who He is who died. He is our God and our brother. He is begotten of the Father from eternity and born of the Virgin Mary in time. The body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for us on the cross, and given to us to eat and to drink in the Lord’s Supper are the body and blood of the God-man. St. Paul encouraged the pastors in Ephesus “to feed the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) The death of a mere man could not take away our sins. Jesus is true God and true man.
Third, a sermon about the Lord’s death also must teach us what that death has actually accomplished for us. It really did take away our sins. The body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins have brought about the forgiveness of sins. It’s not as if Jesus offered up the sacrifice on the cross and God the Father rejected it. No, God raised his Son from the dead and thereby announced to the whole world that his death was accepted as full payment for all sins of all sinners. When we eat Christ’s body and drink his blood we are also receiving the forgiveness of our sins.
We need to examine ourselves before eating and drinking and we need to discern the body of Christ. Why is it so important that we confess that the true body and blood of Jesus are really present, distributed, and received in this holy sacrament? Because we need what this meal provides. We need Christ’s body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of all our sins.
Sincere Christian people who trust in the forgiveness of sins that Jesus gives us are often taught falsely concerning the Lord’s Supper. They are led to believe that the bread is merely bread and that the wine is merely wine. They don’t discern the Lord’s body in this sacrament. They think that Christ’s body is absent and that the sacramental elements only symbolize the absent body and blood. According to St. Paul, not discerning the Lord’s body involves the communicant in eating and drinking judgment to himself. He is dealing with sacred things but he is not prepared for it. The Lord’s Supper is what the Lord’s Supper is regardless of what the communicant believes. If a communicant thinks he is eating and drinking only bread and wine this won’t change the fact that he is eating and drinking Christ’s holy body and blood. To do so without discerning the Lord’s body is to eat to one’s own judgment.
This is one reason why the church should practice closed Communion. The church acts irresponsibly when those who cannot examine themselves and those who cannot discern the Lord’s body are invited to the Lord’s Supper. We don’t commune infants and little children who cannot examine themselves and confess their faith. We don’t commune those who belong to congregations that teach false doctrine. True teaching cannot be joined to false teaching. If a Christian thinks he can commune at a church of one confession one week and then commune at another church of another confession the next week he doesn’t know what he believes. He has no serious confession of his own. When you commune at an altar you are confessing that the teaching of that church is what you personally believe and confess. You are preaching with the preacher what he is preaching. So if you don’t know that a church teaches only the pure word of God then don’t commune at that church. If you commune with false teaching you become guilty of it.
Our text warns us about eating and drinking unworthily. What does it mean to be unworthy? Does it mean that you have committed very many and serious sins? No, it does not. Does it mean that you have failed to keep yourself spiritually pure? No, it does not. Does it mean that you have neglected God’s word? No, it does not. The worthy communicant is not the one who has succeeded in avoiding sin.
This is what we confess about worthiness to receive the Lord’s Supper in the words of Luther’s Small Catechism:
Who then receives this Sacrament worthily?
Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, “Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.” But he who does not believe these words, or doubts them, is unworthy and unprepared; for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.
It is a matter of faith. We are to believe in the words. The words of Jesus say that the body and blood that we eat and drink are the body and blood that were given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. Sinners who believe what these words say are worthy. They believe that they are sinners and that God would be just in condemning them to hell for their sins against him. But they trust in the mercy God gives in this sacrament. They trust that the body given and the blood shed was given and shed for them. It is not sin that makes someone unworthy. It is unbelief.
The Lord’s Supper is Christ’s gift to his church. It is not from the church to herself. It is from Christ to his church. It is a gift that belongs to all of the baptized. This means all. It is our custom not to give the Lord’s Supper to those who are not yet confirmed. Communicants need to examine themselves and discern the Lord’s body. However, there is nothing in the Bible about confirmation. Confirmation doesn’t entitle you to the Lord’s Supper. Baptism does. It is not that a little child has no right to receive the Lord’s Supper. It is rather a matter of responsible pastoral care not to give the body and blood of the Lord Jesus to those who are not prepared to receive it.
God’s love transcends our understanding. How God could love so deeply that he would bear our own sin against him is beyond our ken. The mystery of the Lord’s Supper is not nearly so difficult to understand as is the mystery of God’s love. God’s love is stronger than our sin. It draws all of our misery away from us and places it on Jesus who takes it away. So that we may know without any doubt at all that God forgives us and accepts us and guarantees eternal life to us God actually feeds our bodies with the body and the blood by which we are forgiven. The Lord’s Supper is a precious treasure. It is for sinners who repent of their sins and believe the words, “given and shed for you for the remission of sins.”
Rev. Rolf D. Preus