05 March 2008

"The A-B-Cs of Lent - Communion I"

“The A-B-Cs of Lent” – Communion I
1 Corinthians 10:14-17; Matthew 26:26-28; Small Catechism, Sacrament of the Altar, 1-2

In our “A-B-Cs of Lent” we’ve covered the “B” – Baptism, and last week we looked at the “A” – Absolution. Tonight we move on to the “C” – Communion.

We’ve heard how Holy Baptism is our daily garment. It clothes us on our journey from the Red Sea of our Baptism to the promised land of Resurrection. Holy Communion, then, is our daily food, our daily manna, along the journey. Baptism gives us new life in the Word-Made-Flesh. Absolution is our constant return to our Baptismal life. And Communion is our daily bread that sustains our life in the Lord of Life. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from our Lord’s mouth. Jesus is our daily food. He’s our bread of life. Eat of this bread, and you’ll never go hungry. Trust Him and His goodness, and you’ll never go thirsty. As manna came down from heaven for the Israelites, Jesus comes down from heaven to be our Living Bread. Eat of this living, heavenly Manna, believing His words, and you have what those words promise: eternal life, even now.

Jesus said: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (Jn. 6:54-55). He said these words after feeding over 5000 people and after walking on the water. But people wondered what sort of nonsense it was! Eating flesh and drinking blood? Yuck! The Jews were offended. People left Him and would not follow Him anymore. He must be crazy … or a blasphemer. Even His closest disciples were deeply disturbed by such words. What on earth could He possibly mean?

Then came that fateful night, the night of Passover, the night Jesus would be betrayed into death. An upper room had been prepared, the unleavened bread baked, the Passover Lamb sacrificed and roasted. Jesus sat at the head of the table, together with His Twelve, His family. He took the first unleavened flat bread and signaled the opening of the Passover meal. He gave thanks to His Father. He broke the bread and handed small pieces to His disciples. So far, it was just like any other Passover, recalling God’s grace to Israel when He brought them out of slavery, when He freed them through the doorposts covered with lambs’ blood.

But then, unexpectedly, Jesus spoke. And what He said had never been said before in the Passover liturgy. “Take, eat, this is My Body.” Then, after the supper, Jesus took the third chalice of wine—the one called “the cup of blessing.” Again, He gave thanks. And again, He said something never before heard in the Passover liturgy. “This is My blood of the covenant.” Jesus was treating the Passover meal as if it were His own! And it was! Since He is the Lord, it’s His Passover. When Jesus spoke these new words, He actually put Himself into the Passover meal.

With the bread, He gives His Body as food—the same Body conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, the same Body wrapped in diaper cloths and laid in a manger, the same Body that was whipped and beaten, spit on and slapped, the same Body that was nailed to a cross, laid in the tomb, and raised from the dead on the third day. “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Of course it is. Jesus’ own words say it is, and His words are true. Jesus gives His Body as bread to eat.

Also, with the wine, He gives His Blood as drink—the Blood of God’s Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. His cross is the doorpost of the world, and His Blood is the blood of our eternal Passover Lamb. Through the centuries artists have understood the force of Jesus’ words as they depict a chalice at the foot of the cross and a stream of blood flowing out of Jesus’ pierced side and into that chalice. That Blood shed on Calvary’s cross is now our drink of blessing, our cup of thanksgiving, our Eucharistic cup. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” Of course it is. Jesus’ own words say it is, and His words are true. Jesus gives His Blood as wine to drink.

When we eat and drink, we incorporate and absorb all the blessings and benefits of food and drink. Our bodies absorb the vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in the food. When we eat and drink, we incorporate into our bodies the energy of the sunshine, the nutrients of the soil, the blessings of the rain. 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.

So, when God’s people of old ate and drank the Passover, they incorporated all the blessings and benefits of God’s grace in the Exodus. When they ate and drank the meal and heard the story of the Exodus, all the blessings of that first night were brought home to them. They could not go back in time to Egypt on that night when Israel walked through the blood of lambs to freedom, but the benefits of the Exodus were delivered to them through the Passover meal. By eating and drinking the Passover, they were united with all of Israel and participated in Israel’s life and freedom. They couldn’t go back to the Exodus, but the gifts of the Exodus could come to them in the Passover.

The same holds true for the Holy Communion. By eating and drinking the Communion meal, you participate in the life and freedom of Christ’s death and resurrection. “Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor. 5:7). He was offered up for our sins. Jesus walked His own exodus by being baptized, by suffering, and by dying and rising from the dead. Now He gives His death and life for our food and drink. His broken body is our living Bread. His spilled blood is our Wine of gladness. We cannot go back to Calvary, but the blessings of Calvary can and do come to us. On the cross forgiveness of sins and life eternal were won for the whole world. In the Supper, Jesus’ Body and Blood, once offered on the cross for our sins, are now delivered and given to us as a Meal. Here the Son of God gives His life to you.

You’ve heard the phrase: “You are what you eat.” Normally, it’s 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. Actually, what you eat becomes what you are. The food you eat becomes your own muscles and skin, blood and bones. However, the Lord’s food in His Supper is different. It’s a heavenly and miraculous food. With this Meal, you actually do become what you eat. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” We eat the Body of Christ, we drink His Blood, we hear His words, “Given and shed for you,” and we do become what we eat—the body of Christ! And there’s no greater union we can have with Christ and with our fellow believers in Christ! We kneel together at His Table, we eat His Supper, and He makes us one in Himself.

In Jesus’ Supper there is forgiveness, life, and salvation. When we eat and drink His Body and Blood, trusting His words, these things are released—forgiveness for our many sins, life eternal even now, and salvation from sin and death. We like to search for the perfect foods to cure our ills, the foods that give us energy, vitality, and health. We run after the latest food kicks. We pop the vitamins and minerals. We down the latest health potions and energy drinks. We shell out hard-earned money for the latest diet fads. Why? Because we hope to reverse the ravages of death in us, or at least stall them for a while. However, in the Lord’s Supper, our gracious Savior gives us the very food we’ve been looking for. It costs us nothing, and it’s food for eternal life. In the Large Catechism Luther called it, “a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body.” Christ Jesus puts His very Body and Blood into us. Think of what that means. It means He goes with us, in all of life, even to the grave, because He will never abandon His own Body and Blood.

You know, it’s a strange thing. Most people would never think of skipping a meal, or neglecting their daily dose of vitamin supplements. But for some strange reason those same people will go weeks, months, even years at a time without eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ. Luther was truly amazed to see that when people were no longer forced to go to the Lord’s Supper, they no longer did go. He would be even more amazed today. We let silly, foolish, and trivial things stand between us and the Lord’s life-giving food—the music, the length of the service, the style of the worship, the building, personality conflicts, etc. If I told you that this food could cure cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, or whatever else ails you, would it matter much if we served it on fine china with classical music or on paper plates with hip hop? 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?

Many of our problems in church life today come because we do not wholeheartedly believe our Lord when He says, “My Body, given for you; My Blood shed for you.” Everything else pales by comparison. Just think of what many people will endure for great food prepared by a world-class chef—long lines, bad parking, crowded seating, surly waiters, bad lighting, noisy rooms. But if the food is really good, hey, it’s worth it, right? Ah, but if we gave as many excuses for not eating our daily food as we give for not eating the Lord’s Supper, we’d starve to death inside a month.

We need to revive our appetite for the fruits of the cross, our hunger and thirst for Jesus’ righteousness that comes to us in the Lord’s Supper.

That’s why Luther gave us three appetite stimulants in the Small Catechism. First, if you don’t think you need the Sacrament, touch your body to see if you still have flesh and blood. When you discover that you do, then believe words like this: “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:18-19). Also believe words like this: “The works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-20). Second, if you think you don’t need the Sacrament, look around you a bit, and see if you’re still in the world. If you have any doubts, ask your neighbors; they’ll tell you. Remember that in the world you’ll have no shortage of sins, temptations, and troubles to trip you up. The world will hate you and persecute you. It will give you false teachers and try to persuade you that you’re simply nuts for believing in Jesus and living in His life. Third, if you think you don’t need the Sacrament, know that you certainly have the devil hanging around your neck, putting you in a lethal full nelson and not allowing you to have peace with God or within. He truly does prowl around “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

So, see if you still have flesh and blood, look around to see if you’re still in the world, and know that the devil is always on the prowl. But even more, recall the great price that the Son of God paid to make you His own. He gave His very Body and Blood on the cross. Also recall the words with which He gives His benefits and blessing 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’s the Lord’s Passover, and it’s your Communion with Him. Amen.

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