1 Corinthians 11:23-25
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the same night in which He was betrayed, instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. What He did, He commanded us to do in remembrance of Him. So the Church has celebrated Holy Communion, The Lord̓s Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar, also known by some as the Eucharist ever since that time. But many times, people have celebrated without knowing what they were really doing. In order that we might "Do This" as Jesus has commanded, on this night of the celebration of this holy gift to the Church it seems appropriate to look again at what it is that Jesus did and does for us in this Sacrament.
We call this a Sacrament because it is a sacred act which God has instituted, which has visible elements and through which we receive forgiveness of sins. Others have called it a sacrifice, believing that Christ is sacrificed anew each time we celebrate this Supper. But Scriptures teach that Christ died once and for all. So this is no sacrifice, but a Sacrament, where God comes to us and presents us with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in and under and with the bread and the wine. It is intended to be eaten and drunk.
Some have called this a mere symbol, or a memorial meal, quoting the final words of our Lord on this, "In remembrance of Me." But Jesus also said "This is My Body," and "This is My blood," and, as Luther once wrote, we will not be rationalistic know-it-alls and tell Jesus what He must mean or that He did not choose His words correctly. No, because Jesus has said that here is His body and blood, and because He certainly has the power to do what He has promised, we will believe His Word. This Sacrament is the one place where you may hold the Lord's body in your finger-tips and know where He is. It is not to be worshiped or gawked at, however, but to be eaten, and the blood to be drunk for the forgiveness of sins, just as Jesus also said.
We call this "the Sacrament of the Altar", because we celebrate it around the Altar and from the Altar. We also call this "The Lord̓s Supper" because He gave it to us as the host, therefore it has become custom to speak of the bread and body of our Lord in the Sacrament as the host. It is called Supper, because the word "sup" originally meant only "to eat". This is the meal, a foretaste of the wedding feast of heaven, which our Lord has provided to be "supped" or eaten - a meal once celebrated at an hour some have called the supper hour. For those reasons we call this "the Lord̓s Supper."
This Sacrament has also been called Holy Communion or "communion," which means "fellowship," or "sharing," or "participation together", or koinonia. It is also a good name for this Sacrament, for here, in Word and Sacrament, we celebrate, we experience, and we see most clearly the true communion between God and man, and fellowship of those who believe - which is created by the Holy Spirit within us. "The cup of blessing which we bless," the Bible says, "is it not the participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" The word for participation is koinonia, or communion.
So all of the names are appropriate and fitting. "Eucharist" is usually not used among Lutherans. The word means "to give thanks". While we rejoice with great thanksgiving in this marvelous gift of God, to name this Sacrament for our response to it seems inappropriate. The focus is not to be on what we do, but on what God has done and delivers to us through Jesus Christ in this Sacrament.
And what is it that Jesus did that carries these wonderful names and the command "Do This"? He changed the highest celebration of the Children of Israel, the Passover, into something else, more wonderful. He chose the Passover for its significance. The angel of death passes over all who are covered in the blood of the true Pascal Lamb. In reality, the Passover was a foreshadowing of what Christ was going to accomplish in our redemption. We are marked as God's Children, our sins are forgiven, and we are set free from the bondage to sin and Satan and death. This celebration is our Passover.
But we do not eat a lamb, in memory or in symbol of a past act or a future hope. We eat the very flesh and drink the very blood of the Lamb of God sacrificed for us. When the Children of Israel offered a sacrifice, they were returned a portion to eat, evidence of the sacrifice completed for them, a seal of the blessings of God. We, too, receive that which sacrificed for us - evidence and seal of our forgiveness and salvation, won by the sacrifice of Him who is the Lamb of God.
After the Passover supper had been eaten, Jesus took some bread, gave thanks and broke it. The meal was done, and nothing was supposed to be eaten now, but Jesus did something new. The thanksgiving was probably the traditional thanksgiving, "Blessed are You, 0 Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." He passed this bread around the table, with each taking a piece and he said, "This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me."
It is interesting to note that a custom has since arisen among the Jews, called the Afikomen. The Afikomen is a piece of matzoh. Early in the modern Seder, three pieces of matzoh (which remind us Christians of the Trinity) are taken and set aside. The second piece is taken out of the middle and broken - just as our Lord was broken for us. The broken piece is placed in a bag and hidden - just as Christ was buried - while the other portion of the second piece is returned to the three piece grouping of matzoh. The hidden piece is the Afikomen (literally, the piece that comes after).
After the meal, the children seek the Afikomen. The finding of the Afikomen reminds us of the resurrection from the dead. When they find it each participant at the Passover Seder receives a little piece. Strangely enough, the Afikomen is eaten at the end of the meal, in memory of the Passover lamb. Just as they chose bread, Jesus chose the bread of the sacrament to remind us of the Passover Lamb slain for our sins, and to bring to us in sacramental mystery the very flesh of the Lamb.
In a Passover Seder, the next step is the third cup of wine - the Cup of Redemption. For the Jew it represents the blood of the Passover lamb which was painted on the doorposts and lintel of the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt. It is also called "the Cup of Blessing."
So Saint Paul calls it, saying, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation (a communion) in the blood of Christ?" Jesus took the Cup of Redemption, the symbol for the blood of the Passover lamb, and filled it with His own blood. It is no longer a symbol only, but a precious reality - the blood of the Lamb, slain for our sins.
Jesus took the Cup of Redemption and filled it with His redeeming blood, After the same manner, also, He took the cup when they had eaten, and when He had given thank He gave it to them. He may have used the traditional thanksgiving of the Seder, "Blessed are You, 0 LORD, Our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. Let us gratefully drink." Then He gave it to them saying, "Take this and drink of it, all of you. This cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of Me."
The Church, from the very beginning, understood that Jesus meant that this cup should be shared often. They understood, from the beginning, that it carried what it had purchased, forgiveness - for it was and is today the Cup of Blessing, the Cup of Redemption. The new idea, though it centuries old to us, that this cup should only come to us four times a year, or even just once or twice a month, is not found either in Scripture or the early Church.
The other new idea, that this meal is only a symbol, is hostile to Scripture and alien to the early Church. Scripture teaches us that this is a participation in the body and blood of Christ. The Institution tells us that it is the Passover made more real. It is the reality of which the Passover meal was but a foreshadowing. We cannot eat of the body of Christ, nor drink of His blood in this sacrament without remembering the need for this sacrifice, or the marvelous love and grace which brought about the payment for sins which we celebrate in each Communion celebration. And we cannot eat of this meal, or drink the cup without receiving what Jesus accomplished for us by His death on the cross, for we receive Him, and with Him all that He is and has for us.
Do this. Jesus meant that we should eat of the Afikomen, the one who comes at the end, the second Person of the Trinity, whose body was broken for us.
Do this. Jesus meant that we should drink of the cup of Blessing, the Cup of Redemption, filled with His own precious blood. Do this in remembrance of Me.
And so we say "Amen! Come Lord Jesus! Amen!"
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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