Preached by Rev. Rolf Preus, Thursday, April 6, 2023 at Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, Missouri.
1 Corinthians 11:26
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
When we think of the Lord’s Supper, we think of receiving. The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice we offer up to God. It is a sacrament, a gift that God graciously gives to us. We receive it. We receive with our mouths the body and the blood of Jesus. We receive with our faith the benefits of Christ’s body and blood: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We don’t go to the Lord’s Supper out of a legal obligation. We go to the Lord’s Supper because we need the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for us.
But there is more to our attendance at the Lord’s Supper than receiving. When we commune at the altar, we preach. We preach a sermon without saying a word. According to the inspired words of St. Paul, we “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” The word for “proclaim” here comes from the word for angel. Angels are messengers from God. They speak for God. Gabriel spoke from God to Mary to tell her she would give birth to God’s Son, the Savior. Whenever we eat the bread and drink the cup, we announce the death of the Lord Jesus.
There is no gospel, no forgiveness, no hope, no heaven, and no Christianity apart from the body and blood of Jesus Christ, given and shed for the remission of sins. The central teaching of the Christian religion is that God forgives us poor, lost, and condemned sinners freely by his grace, on account of the body and blood of Jesus given up for us on the cross, and that this forgiveness, dearly won but freely given, is received by us through faith alone. No human work could possibly merit God’s forgiveness. No human virtue could undo the vicious nature of our sins. The gospel of the forgiveness of sins is pure gift, earned, not by us, but by Christ, and given to us in our deepest need.
This we proclaim when we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus. We proclaim Christ’s death. We are confessing our faith. But we are not magnifying faith as some kind of spiritual virtue, as if being a person of faith gives one a special status. No, we are confessing the faith that clings to the death of Jesus. Only sinners who have earned death, which is sin’s wages, can trust in the death of Christ. Confronting our own sin and death is not a one-time event when we are born again. It is at the center of our lives all our lives. Repentance is a way of life for those who trust in the death of Christ.
Repentance entails a change of heart. Look at your life and examine your thoughts, words, and deeds in light of the Ten Commandments. What do you think of your sin? Do you want to continue in it? That bad habit, that sinful habit, that habit that holds you in its grasp – do you want to be set free from it? Do you want to love? Do you want to wash the feet of your fellow Christians, humbly serving them, covering their sins with forgiveness, and looking out for their interests above your own? Are you sorry for your pride and arrogance? Do you hate these sins that you have embraced, and want to be rid of them? Do you want to live a pure and humble life? Do your sins lie heavy on your conscience? Do you need spiritual strength?
Then run to Jesus. Find refuge in his wounds. Eat and drink his body and blood. Believe his words that the body you eat bore your sins on the cross and the blood you drink was shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. As you eat and drink you preach. You preach the central truth of the faith, that Jesus alone is our righteousness before God, that his blood washes us clean of all our sin, that his death is our life, and that we are forgiven of all our sin and justified before God through faith alone in the merits and mediation of Jesus.
Eat, drink, and preach. We preach together. We preach together the same sermon. It’s not my personal opinion or your personal experience or his personal perspective. It’s the pure gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection. We preach corporately. We all have our own personal faith, but in the preaching of this faith we always preach together. As the Apostle writes,
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.
Look at the communion we enjoy! There is the communion of the bread with Christ’s body and the wine with Christ’s blood. There is the communion of the Christian with Christ. There is the communion of the Christian with the Christian. As we commune together, we preach together. We preach the same gospel.
The very idea that we should invite to the altar those who don’t know what we believe, teach, and confess, and who do not confess the same doctrine with us is to rip the Sacrament away from Christ and his church and turn it into our own personal plaything. Advocates of open communion claim that this is the loving and evangelical practice. They are wrong. Open communion is an oxymoron, that is, a contradiction in terms. Communion means closed. There is a communion of the bread and the body. There is a communion of the wine and the blood. There is a communion of the Christians who receive the same gifts and confess the same faith. There is no communion of truth with error, of the gospel with works-righteousness, of the blood theology of the Bible with the humanistic theology of unbiblical liberalism. We preach together. We preach the same thing.
We preach the Lord’s death. St. Paul describes our preaching near the beginning of this Epistle where he writes, “We preach Christ crucified.” This is the heart of our faith. When Jesus gave his church a sacrament to be repeated over and over again until he comes to take his church home, he gave them the sacrament of his body and blood. He stilled the storm, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, fed thousands of people, demonstrating his almighty power. He instituted no sacrament by which we would remember these things. To remember him, he gave us the sacrament of his body and blood. To remember Jesus, we remember his death.
Dying is unnatural. God created us to live forever. God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, not the poison of death. Death is a strange and unnatural thing. It is a terrifying enemy. We die because we sin. Death is sin’s wages. Death is no blessing. It’s a curse. It’s the last enemy to be destroyed. And how? By Christ’s death! He died for our sins. He died bearing our sins. He died paying for our sins. He died tasting divine vengeance against our sins. His death buries our sins in the deepest part of the ocean. His death means we are forgiven. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His death was the once and for all sacrifice to take away all sin.
So, we preach it. We eat, drink, and preach. We preach what we are eating and drinking: his very body and blood. Not just symbols of his body and blood, but his real body and blood. We preach the effects of his body and blood: the forgiveness of our sins. We preach repentance and faith. We preach the new life. We preach the Bible. We preach the whole counsel of God because everything God teaches us in his holy Word is centered in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Here the Triune God is most perfectly revealed. Here the Bible is fulfilled. Here God’s law is most fiercely proclaimed. Here the gospel is most perfectly displayed. Here all human glory is exposed as useless and vain. Here love triumphs over hatred and life defeats death.
We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. We are living in the end times, the time between Christ’s death and resurrection and the time of his return to judge the living and the dead. During these end times we proclaim his death. As we receive the life his vicarious death provides, we preach this gospel to one another. We proclaim together.
Our lives are defined and formed by Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. Christ assumed the role of a servant to wash his disciples’ feet. He did not do so to establish a sacrament of foot washing, but to teach his disciples to humble themselves before one another. The Host of the Sacrament of the Altar is Jesus Christ who gives us to eat and to drink his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. It is from being forgiven that we can forgive. It is from trusting in Christ’s humble obedience all the way to the death of the cross that we can humble ourselves, confess our sins to one another, and live at peace.
It is both humbling and exalting to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ together. It is humbling. We need his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins because we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. It is exalting. By participating in this holy mystery, we are joined together with God himself in an intimate spiritual union. He who assumed our human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary here shares himself with us, gives himself to us, and chooses to live within us. Communion doesn’t end when the service is over. By faith we live in a mystical union with Christ wherever we go and whatever we do. Our Sunday preaching empowers our everyday living. As we pray in the hymn:
On my heart imprint thine image
Blessed Jesus, King of grace
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures
Have no power, thee, to efface.
Let the superscription be:
Jesus crucified for me
Is my life, my hope’s foundation
And my glory and salvation. Amen