To eat and to drink with God is the highest form of fellowship that we can have. Table fellowship with God is the ultimate fellowship. It is to come into His presence with thanksgiving, to be welcomed at His table, to eat His food and drink His wine, to be guests in His house. People pay hundreds of thousands of dollars just to have a cup of coffee and a danish with the president or a round of golf with a high ranking congressman. But table fellowship with God is free, a gift of His grace, purchased with the blood of God’s Lamb, His Son Jesus poured out on the cross.
The Lord’s Supper is the Lamb’s High Feast. It is the Feast of feasts, a meal in which our Lord Himself is the cook, the servant, and the meal itself. His Body and His Blood, given under bread and wine. The Lamb of God roasted on the cross in the fire of God’s wrath against our sin and His burning love for sinners, here is our Food and Drink. He gives us His body and blood with His very words, spoken through His minister, “given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.” Christ is speaking to you, Christ is feeding you, Christ is your food. This is table fellowship with God in the most complete way. Never before had God so dined with His people as in this meal.
The Lord’s Supper is a feast that takes up and fulfills all the great feasts of the Old Testament. We remember Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders of Israel on Sinai, of whom the Scriptures say, “they behold God, and ate and drank.” And the annual passover meal of roasted lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread. The heavenly gifts of manna and quail in the wilderness. And the communion sacrifices at the tabernacle and temple in which a penitent ate of the sacrifice in the presence of the priest. And the miraculous meal of bread and water that took Elijah 40 days across the Sinai desert.
The Lord’s Supper takes up and fulfills all the new testament feasts as well. We recall Jesus’ feeding of the four thousand and on another occasion five thousand. And His love for eating and drinking with the tax collector and the Pharisee, the prostitutes and the religious. It seems that Jesus never turned down a dinner invitation, so that he quickly got the reputation as a “glutton and a drunkard” among those who notice such things. We recall the Emmaus road on the Day of Resurrection, when Jesus appeared to two of His disciples walking on the road. He preached a sermon to them from the Scriptures and revealed himself in the breaking of the bread.
For nearly two thousand years thereafter, the church has devoted herself to the preached Word and the Sacrament, to the apostle’s teaching and table fellowship. Sermon and Supper were so much the rhythm of the first day, the Day of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, that for over 1500 years it would have been unheard to have the Lord’s Day without a Lord’s Supper. Sermon and Supper were one whole thing, not to be divided. It was the radical reformation, not the Lutheran Reformation, that broke table fellowship with the Lord and made the ongoing feast of God into an occasional thing, three or at most four times a year, instead of the weekly gift that it had been since Pentecost.
This meal of Christ’s Body and Blood, given with His words, is His ongoing feast. It continues through the centuries. It will continue through the turn of a second millennium. Yet it remains one unchanging meal – one loaf and one cup. Oh, the outward forms may have changed a bit. We have little glasses, they had a cup. We have little stamped wafers of bread, they had a single flat loaf. And yet for all the outward differences, we still eat the same Lamb as did the Twelve on the night Jesus was betrayed. We drink the same Blood as they did. There is but one Christ, one Sacrifice, one Supper. That means that when we kneel at the altar, we are eating the very same meal as did St. Paul, Peter, John, Ignatius, Augustine, Ambrose, Athanasius, Cyprian, St. John Chrysostom, Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, Gerhardt, Walther, Loehe, Reu, to name but a few of the countless crowd that have dined at the Lord’s Table and are now numbered among the whole company of heaven.
There are two great comforts in this. First, it is a comfort that so many have preceded us at this Supper of the Lord. They were sinners just as we are. They felt the grief and shame of what they had done. They wanted relief from the Law and assurance that Christ was with them to the end to raise them and give them eternal life. They found that comfort and assurance in the Sacrament and they have directed us there as well. We are in great company at this table.
Second, though many things may change, and changes seem to be coming almost daily in this computer-driven world, yet two things remain very much the same – our sin, and the Body and Blood of Christ that deliver the forgiveness of sins to us. We daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment from God. We do all sorts of things daily against God and our neighbor, and most of it passes off as “just another day at the office.” Words are said that shouldn’t be said. Deeds are done that shouldn’t be done. Thoughts and desires well up that deny God and His lordship over our lives. Our sinful nature within us continues to its will against God’s will. Our sin doesn’t change. We are the same sorts of sinners as those who lived in the first century at the time of Christ or those who lived at the time of Moses. Our sin is the same – the poison fruit of Adam’s rebellion that made us God’s competitors instead of His obedient creatures.
The solution to our sin is the same as it always has been – the Word made flesh nailed to the tree for our sins. Jesus Christ crucified and raised. He is the only solution to our sin. His Body broken for us is real Food, filled with life. His blood shed for us is real Drink, filled with forgiveness. His words make these things ours and deliver their saving benefits to faith, “for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.”
This ongoing meal of Christ is God’s answer to our Laodicean lukewarmedness. You will recall the church at Laodicea, one of the seven churches to which St. John addressed the Revelation as their bishop. Laodicea’s faith had grown lukewarm in her rich complacency, just like the water the came out of the city’s faucets. The congregation was neither refreshingly cold nor steaming hot, just lukewarm and lazy, fit for nothing but mouthwash. It was the way many of the churches have become, or the way many of us have become in our personal faith life. It is said that there are three kinds of churches today: high and crazy, broad and hazy, or low and lazy.
How to wake up a sleeping giant like Laodicea? Bang on the door and invite to the Supper, that’s how. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Jesus wants to have table fellowship with lukewarm Laodicea, to put a square meal into her, to energize her and bring her back to life again. He wants to eat with them, and He wants them to eat with Him. Table fellowship.
I believe that the Lord’s Supper is one of the three points to renewing and revitalizing the liturgical life of the church. Herman Sasse, the Lutheran historian and theologian, has pointed out that whenever the church takes seriously the Lord’s Supper, the church is renewed and grows. Sermon, supper, and prayer are the three pillars on which the liturgy of the Church born in Pentecost rested. Apostolic teaching, table fellowship in the Breaking of the Bread, and corporate prayer. Where these are going on, we can know with all assurance that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is present, that Christ is with her, and that the gifts of salvation are being given out, no matter how large or how small the number of believers that might be gathered there.
Before we conclude this sermon series on the sacraments, and our Lenten devotions, I would like to say a few words about personal preparation for this ongoing feast. This is not as much of an issue today as it was in Luther’s day. Then the people feared the Sacrament and tended to stay away from it, even though they came to church every Sunday to hear the Word. Today, many people come to the Sacrament without so much as a word of prayer, or even a thought about the seriousness of their sin or the greatness of the gifts they are about to receive.
The Small Catechism reminds us that “fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.” This was spoken to a people who were preoccupied with fasting and outward discipline of the body. We are quite the opposite. One of my catechumens, when we came to this question in the catechism, asked in all seriousness, “What’s fasting?”
We live in a culture that knows feast without fast, that sees Holy Communion as a personal right rather than a corporate privilege, that individualizes everything and expects things to be “my way” or no way. We have come to the point in American Lutheranism where people simply expect to be communed in every congregation they attend, as if the Church were a franchise operation like McDonalds and the local congregation was nothing more than outlet of the parent company. Gone are the days when Lutherans came to their pastor for conversation and confession prior to communion. Gone too is the linkage between pastor and communicant, and so gone also is any semblance of church discipline. Today if a pastor suggests to an unrepentant member that it would be best if that person refrain from the Lord’s Supper, that person simply goes running off to another congregation in the area and is received without any questions. I say this to our shame.
We recognize that he or she is worthy and well-prepared who has faith in the words of Christ, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But the way in which we approach the Lord’s table wars against this faith. Casual communion undermines faith in these words of Christ. I propose that we who consider ourselves confessional Lutherans take the lead and set an example for the whole church in our communion practice. That means three things:
First, that we commune prayerfully and preparedly. That we take some time on Saturday night or early Sunday morning to meditate on the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Supper section in the catechism, and the Christian Questions and their Answers which Dr. Luther wrote for people desiring to receive the sacrament. If your health permits, you may try fasting prior to coming to church. Remind your belly that man does not live by bread alone, but by the true and living Bread, our Lord Jesus Christ. I offer this as a suggestion, not a rule. And if you do it, keep it to yourself and the Lord and do not judge others.
Second, commune congregationally. Too often these days people commune willy-nilly, here one Sunday, there another Sunday. What does it matter? It’s as though the church were Macdonalds and each congregation a local franchise. The words “congregation” and “communion” go together. We congregate to have communion; we commune by congregating. When children are told to eat dinner with the family, it means their family, not just any family. I’m not speaking about being out of town or on vacation or visiting friends or family. When we are guests in other congregations, that’s an important sign of our ultimate unity in Christ as members of Christ’s body. But the word “church” is nothing but an abstract concept without a local, real, flesh and blood gathering of sweaty, smelly, baptized sinner-saints. Your congregation. Every Christian ought to have one.
Third, commune confessing your sins. Spend some quality time with the ten commandments and their meanings. Consider your own life, who you are and what you’ve done. Make use of those Wednesday and Saturday hours for private confession at the church. I would love to add even more hours in the week for confession, even perhaps daily, as our Lutheran forefathers did it. Come to the Supper with broken hearts and bent knees and empty hands. Do not come proud and arrogant, but humble and hungry. Come knowing the depth of your sin; and even more so, the greatness of your Savior. Come, with empty hands and empty hearts, ready to receive.
I believe that the smaller churches can make a big difference today at this crucial hour in the church. We may not have the numbers that impress or the resources that influence. We may be barely a bump on synodical statistical surveys. But we can be leaders and examples of a true sacramental piety and devotion that revels in Christ made Flesh for us. I believe that through renewal in the sacraments, God will once again reform His church that is ever in need of reformation, and will reverse this godless trend of church growthism and every other methodism in our day that threatens to turn the church into Amway and the Gospel into a form of entertainment. We can be an example to the whole church. We can show people what it means to be confessing Christians who believe that we are justified by God’s free grace through faith for Christ’s sake by means of the means of grace, means by which God visibly and audibly reveals His grace in Jesus – Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion.
God has put mighty and powerful tools at our disposal in the sacraments, weapons against the forces of evil – the devil, the world, our sinful nature, potent medicines to combat this cancer of Adam within us. He has given us Baptism, the washing of regeneration and rebirth by the Holy Spirit. He has given us Absolution, the authorized and spoken words of forgiveness from Christ to us. And He has given us the Lord’s Supper – His ongoing feast for the life of the world. Forgiveness, life, and salvation delivered to our doorstep.
Imagine a rich philanthropist standing out on Hacienda and Newton, handing out hundred dollar bills and your friend comes to you and tells you about it. Imagine refusing to go because he you didn’t believe him. The money remains just as real and valuable whether you go to receive it, or stay in bed and ignore the offer. The gift of God’s grace in Christ crucified is the same whether you come to the church or stay at home. The only difference is whether you live in the wealth of faith or the poverty of unbelief.
The gifts are here. “In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” What more could we possibly need?
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.