What are we here to receive tonight? What is Christ Jesus offering to us? What do we receive from His gracious hand?
On this holy night, our Lord instituted His Holy Supper. This is no minor or casual meal. It is a serious and profound gift of God to His Church. We do well to learn and to ponder upon the mystery and the blessing of this sacred Meal.
This Meal is the true holy Meal and the true worship, unlike all other meals and man-made worship. All other foods, all other ceremonies, and all other pagan practices are hollow imitations. They serve an empty plate and an empty cup because their meals and worship accomplish nothing before God. Our cup, on the other hand, is filled to overflowing with grace.
When heathen nations ate the sacrifices to their gods, they hoped to receive the strength of the gods, but they did not. When revelers threw wild parties, as they do even today, indulging in every sinful pleasure with reckless abandon, they hoped to somehow escape the drudgery of this mortal coil and experience a perfect life of bliss, but they did not. When any false religion offered up some sacrifice, they hoped to appease their god, but they did not.
All those things that the pagans have grasped at yet failed to hold, we have them in the Meal Christ gives. We have the true power of God in Christ His Son. We escape mortality by the salvation of our God. Our God is appeased for us, fully and for all time. He is not appeased because we have done the right things or followed the right rituals. No, it is through the Body and Blood of Christ.
We participate in the only true sacrifice, the Cross, when we eat and drink the Lamb given for us. This is the true worship of God - to receive in faith the gifts He presents to us.
This Meal is reality, not an illusion. It is not simply a matter of pious feelings. It is not mere symbolism. It is not an abstraction, but instead this Meal is a concrete reality. Indeed, it is the only reality that truly matters, since here is salvation and life.
Here there is far more than a wafer of bread and a sip of wine. If that is all that is here, what is to be gained by eating and drinking?
On the contrary, how wonderful is this Meal in which we eat and drink Christ's Body and Blood. He does not merely give us a communion in a disembodied spirit. He does not merely command us to cast our minds into the clouds with our heavenly thoughts. Instead, He descends to us and feeds us Himself. We touch and we taste God, who is greater than all things. There is no higher reality to be grasped. This is it: the Supper of God.
In this Meal we receive the forgiveness of sins as a reality, not as a future promise or a future possibility, or an offer yet to be received. Those who eat by faith are eating forgiveness. We drink remission of sins. For this is the communion in the Body and Blood of Christ. Where this union with Christ is, there is also forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Dr. Luther wrote: "Christ is a person who gives Himself for you, so that it is impossible for sin, death, hell and satan to stand before Him, not to mention that they should gain a victory over the Divine Majesty. ... You have all power that God Himself has; that is, we become one bread...with Christ, our Lord, so that we enter into the fellowship of His treasures, and He into the fellowship of our misfortune. For here His innocence and my sins, my weakness and His strength are thrust together, and all thus become one."
This is the Food that Christ gives His Church. He does not give it to those outside. If they dare eat it, they do not receive benefit, but harm. Christ did not fling abroad His holy Meal to the crowds, but He gave it secretly to the Disciples in the Upper Room. The crowds were not invited.
This holy Food is for holy people. We are, of course, not holy in ourselves, but through the Gospel; by grace, through faith, on account of Christ. We dare not approach this communion rail on our own merits, but repentant and humble, on our knees.
Consider how blessed we are to come to this Meal. We worms and brood of vipers do not deserve to approach this most exclusive Meal, but to be exterminated. We are so unclean that even our righteous deeds are like bloody, filthy rags. But through God's mercy, we, even we, are privileged to be invited.
Not only that, but as we are joined together in communion with Christ, so also we are joined with one another. As Dr. Luther wrote: "When I receive the Sacrament, then Christ receives me and consumes me also, and devours me and my sins, and I enjoy His righteousness. Thus His godliness and riches swallow up my sins and misery, so that afterwards I am nothing but righteousness, and nothing but riches. Just so is it also among us, we all become one bread ... and eat one another. You know when we make bread all the grains of wheat are crushed and ground, so that each grain becomes the flour of the others, they are then mixed together so that we see in a sack of flour all the grains joined together. ... The same way is it when we make wine, each grape mixes its juice with the juice of the other grapes, and each loses its form, so that there comes from it one drink. So should it also be with us."
As Dr. Luther said, it is not by works of love that we are joined together. That is the way that it seems best to our senses, that we cooperate together in good works, and our love will be the glue that joins us as one. Indeed, living together in love is a good thing. But how much greater is the love of God than our love! How easily our love fails when we grow weak. God neither fails nor grows weak. His grace is constant to us, to join us together.
Indeed, He who is love binds us. Who is the Christ whose Body and Blood we eat and drink? He is very God of very God; God who is love. So we eat and drink pure love. When we eat and drink Him, we are knit together more closely than any earthly tie can bind.
Tonight we drink from one cup, as a reminder that we are joined as one by Christ. You may not feel the oneness. There may be someone with whom you feel out of harmony. When you experience that disunity with a brother in the Church, go to him and work it out quickly. Sacrifice, if need be, in order to be restored with your brother. For we who are one loaf and one cup ought to never act as if we were separate and divided. The mystical union in the Supper moves us to live our lives in that unity. As St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Since we are one in the Supper, let us be one in our words and deeds.
By ourselves, we are unable to meet that challenge. But we have mighty tools to aid us. We have holy absolution, by which the offenses that divide us are forgiven. We have the holy Word of God. We have the Supper of Christ, our Lord and God, to unite us and strengthen us. Let us hunger and thirst after this holy Food. Let us receive it in faith, recognizing Christ's true Body and Blood and proclaiming His death till He comes. Let us approach in repentant sorrow over our sinfulness, but leave in joy and contentment, satisfied by the only Meal that gives eternal life.
To the one true God who serves us His Meal, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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