The Lord’s Supper – I

If Holy Baptism is our daily garment, the clothing we wear on our journey from the Red Sea of Baptism to the promised land of the Resurrection, then the Lord’s Supper our daily food. The new life that is born in Baptism, that is bathed daily in the Word of forgiveness, is also nourished by the Word and the Meal. Word and Sacrament, Sermon and Supper are the provisions of our pilgrimage as God’s people. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus is our daily food. Jesus is the bread of life. Eat of this bread and you will never go hungry. Believe in him and you will never thirst. Jesus is Living Bread come down from heaven as the manna did for Israel in the wilderness. Eat of this living, heavenly Manna, believing Jesus’ words, and you will have what what His words promise: life, eternal life.

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (John 6:54-55)

When Jesus first spoke those words in the synagogue at Capernaum, the people were scandalized. What sort of nonsense was this? Eating flesh and drinking blood! The Jews were offended. People left Him and wouldn’t follow Him anymore. They thought He was crazy or a blasphemer. Even the disciples were deeply disturbed by Jesus’ words. What could the Teacher possibly mean?

And then came that fateful night, the night of the Passover, the night Jesus was to be betrayed into death. An upper room had been prepared. The unleavened bread baked. The Passover Lamb had been sacrificed and roasted. Jesus sat at the head of the table with His Twelve, His Israel, His family. He took the large piece of unleavened flat bread that signaled the opening of the Passover meal. He gave thanks to His Father for the gifts. He broke it and handed the pieces to His disciples. Thus far theirs had been a Passover like any another Passover, recalling God’s grace to Israel when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt to freedom through the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts.

Then Jesus spoke. He spoke at a moment that called for no speaking. There were no words for the distribution of the bread in the Passover liturgy. What Jesus said at that moment had never before been said at a Passover meal. “Take, eat. This is my body, which is for you.” And again, after the supper, Jesus took the third chalice of wine called the “thanksgiving or blessing cup,” gave thanks and then said something that had never before been said at a Passover meal, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus was treating the Passover as though it were His own. It was. Jesus is the Lord. This is the Lord’s Passover.

With these words, Jesus put Himself into the Passover meal. With the bread, He gives His body as food – the body He received from His mother Mary. The body that was conceived in her through the Word spoken by the angel in the power of the Holy Spirit. The body that was wrapped in diapering cloths and laid in a manger. The body that was whipped and beaten, spit at and slapped. The body that was nailed to the cross, laid in the tomb, raised from the dead on the third day. “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Of course it is. His words declare it to be so, and His words are true. His body Jesus gives as bread to eat. This bread, in His hand, and in the disciples mouths, is His body.

With the cup, He gives His blood. With the wine, He gives His blood as drink. This is the blood of God’s Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. The cross is the doorpost of the world, and the blood of Jesus is the blood of the Passover Lamb. The medieval artists who depict a chalice at the foot of the cross and a stream of blood pouring into it from the wounded side of Jesus understood the force of Jesus’ words. The blood that was shed on Calvary’s cross is now our drink, our cup of thanksgiving, our eucharistic cup. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?” Of course it is. Jesus’ words declare it to be so, and His words are true. His blood, Jesus gives as wine to drink. This wine, in the Lord’s chalice, and in the disciples’ mouths, is His blood.

To eat and drink is to incorporate and absorb all the blessings and benefits of food and drink. When we eat and drink, our bodies absorb all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats contained in the food. The energy of the sunshine, the nutrients of the soil, the blessings of the rain, all are incorporated by our bodies through the act of eating. When we eat bread, we release and incorporate the energies and nutrients of the wheat. When we drink wine, we release and incorporate the energies and nutrients of the grape.

To eat and drink the Passover, was to incorporate all the blessings and benefits of God’s grace in the exodus. By eating and drinking this meal, and hearing the story of the exodus, all the blessings of the first night were brought home to you. You couldn’t go back to Egypt on the night that Israel walked to freedom through the blood of the Lamb, but the benefits of the exodus were delivered to you through the Passover meal. By eating and drinking the Passover, you were united with all of Israel and participated in Israel’s life and freedom. You couldn’t go to the exodus, but the gifts of the exodus could come to you in the Passover.

In the same way, by eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper, you participate in the life and freedom of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. He was offered up for our sins. Christ did His own exodus by being baptized, by suffering, dying and rising from the dead. His death and life He now gives as food and drink. His broken body is our living Bread. His poured out blood is our Wine. Where body and blood are separated, there is sacrifice. Christ was sacrificed once for all on the cross. We can’t go back to Calvary, but the blessings of Calvary can and do come to us. On the cross the forgiveness of sins was won for the entire world. There the Son of God gave His life for you. In the Supper, Jesus’ body and blood once offered on the cross for our sins, is now delivered and distributed to us as a Meal. Here the Son of God gives His life to you.

You have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” It ordinarily is not true. People who eat carrots do not become carrots. People who eat pork, do not become pigs. People who eat chickens, do not become chickens. Ordinary, what you eat becomes what you are. The food you eat becomes bone and blood and muscle and skin.

But the food of the Lord’s Supper is a different kind of food entirely. It is extraordinary, heavenly, miraculous food. With this food, you really are “what you eat.” “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17). We eat the body of Christ, we drink His blood, hearing His words “given and shed for you,” and we become what we eat – the body of Christ! There is no greater union that we can have with Christ and with one another as believers in Christ, than kneel together at His table and eat His Supper.

In His Supper, there is forgiveness, life, and salvation. These are what is released when we eat His body and drink His blood trusting in His words – the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation from sin and death. We seem always to be in search of the perfect food, the food that will cure our ills, the food that will give us energy and vitality and health. We run after the latest food kicks – oat bran and olive oil, to name but two. We pop vitamins and minerals, we down elixirs and potions, we shell out hard earned money for the latest diet fads, all in the hope of reversing the ravages of death at work in us, or at least stalling it for a while. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us the very food we’ve been looking for. It is food for eternal life. The Large Catechism calls it, “a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body.” Christ puts His very body and blood into us. Think of what that means. It means that He goes with us, even to the grave, because He will never abandon His own body and blood.

It’s a strange thing, that people who would not think of skipping a meal, or neglecting their daily dosage of vitamin supplements, think nothing of going weeks, months, or even years at a time without eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ. Luther was amazed to find that when people no longer had to go the Lord’s Supper, they no longer did. He would be even more amazed today. We let foolish and trivial things stand between us and this life-giving food – the music, the length of the service, the style of worship, the building, personality conflicts. If I told you that this food could cure cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and whatever ails you, would it matter much to you if we served it on china with classical music or on paper plates with country? If you believed that this Supper delivered resurrection from the dead and eternal life, would you let anything get in the way of your eating and drinking?

I believe that many of the problems that we have in church life today are because we do not wholeheartedly believe our Lord when He says, “My body given for you; my blood shed for you.” Everything else simply pales by comparison. Think of what most people will put up for great food – long lines, bad parking, crowded seating, surly waiters, bad lighting, noisy conditions. But if the food is good, hey, it’s worth it, isn’t it? If we had as many excuses for not eating our daily food as we have for not eating the Lord’s Supper, we’d starve to death within a month.

We need to revive our appetite for the fruits of the cross, our hunger and thirst for righteousness that come to us in the Lord’s Supper. Luther noted three appetite stimulants for those who feel no hunger or thirst.

Examine yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror of the Ten Commandments. See how things are going within your heart. If you are indeed truly pure and upright, if you have no sin, if you feel no guilt and shame, if you have kept every point of God’s holy Law perfectly, then you don’t need to come to the Lord’s Supper. You also have no need for Christ, and He has no need for you. But if you see your sin and your brokenness, if death is smiling back at you in the mirror, if you are weighed down and heavy with guilt, if you are ashamed of the things you have done in public, where everyone sees, and in secret where no one but God sees, then by all means, go to the Supper for refreshment, as Jesus invites, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Second, look around you a bit. Check to see if you are still in the world. If you’re not sure, check with the neighbors. They’ll be able to tell you. If you are still in the world, then you are in a wilderness, a war zone. There will be no lack of sin and temptation all around you. Try to reflect the love of Christ into the world and see what happens. You will quickly discover that the prince of this world, the devil, is prowling about and raging. His time is short, and He knows it. You never know what misery and misfortune he can suddenly bring you. You never know from what side you will be attacked. You shouldn’t have to look far to see that the enemy is all around us as well as in us. Were it not for Christ, we wouldn’t be safe for a single moment. We need all the help and strength we can get. Only a fool goes into battle without eating.

Third, cling to the Scriptures. Luther says that if you truly do not feel any sin and do not see the evil around you in the world, which is most unlikely, then take your hand, stick it in your shirt and check to see if you are made of flesh. And if you find that you are made of flesh, then turn immediate to St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians where you can read that the works of the flesh are “adultery, immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, murder, drunkenness, carousing, etc.” St. Paul says, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwells no good thing.” And if the apostle can say that about himself, we dare not pretend to be any holier or better. It is something to be feared, when we no longer feel our sins or the pressures of the Law bearing down on our conscience. It means that we are so utterly dead in sin that we no longer hear God’s Word or fear His judgment. That gives us something to say to those who say, “I don’t feel a need to go to church.” As Luther put it, “The less you feel your sins and infirmities, the more reason you have to go to the Sacrament and seek a remedy.”

Examine yourself, look around you, cling to the Scriptures. Even more, recall the great price that the Son of God paid to make you His own, by giving His body and blood on the cross, and the words with which He gives these gifts to you – “Take, eat, this is my body given for you; take, drink, this is my blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” It is the Lord’s Passover. Amen.

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