Today the Lord through Saint Paul teaches us about the Lord’s Supper.
He begins by pointing out the abuses that were going on at the Corinthian congregations, which we do well to avoid.
There were first of all divisions there. A congregation should come together as one around the Sacrament of the Altar. It is the Holy Communion, not disunion, nor an exercise in individualism. There is, of course, an individual aspect to the Supper, as each person receives the holy food and drink directly into his own individual mouth. Yet we also come together as the body of Christ. Each one should approach the altar rail with regard for the whole group, not only thinking about himself.
So factions should not occur. No one should be looking down upon another for whatever reason as we receive these gifts. For instance, if someone receives the Body of Christ directly into his mouth, he should not think that he is somehow better than the others who take it in their hand. If you say the word “Amen” as the minister says “The Blood of Christ,” that does not make you a better Christian (although it is a good confession of the presence of the Blood).
One way that the Church has confessed that there should be no divisions in the Sacrament is by using a single, common cup for the Supper. This was always meant to express the truth that we are not merely individuals at the altar rail, but we are a body together, where no divisions should be tolerated. As there is one cup, so we must be one.
Although the individual cups are therefore less appropriate in the Eucharist, it is nevertheless still the Blood of Christ in them. It is not a sin in itself to use them instead of the chalice. So users of one kind of cup should not look down upon the others.
The Corinthians were also treating the meal very casually. They seemed to combine Holy Communion with a love feast or agape meal. The sense of holiness and reverence that should have gone along with the eating of the Son of God’s Body and Blood was missing.
In recent memory, people treated the Supper more reverently than today. In general, our attitude has gone toward more casual worship. In dress, more people wear their best for a funeral than for the coming of the glorious Son of God in His Body and Blood. Although dressing up is not a command of God, nor its omission necessarily a sin, yet it can reflect a reverence or lack thereof toward the Holy Supper.
But we should keep our faith focused on this great mystery, and see beyond what our fleshly eyes can perceive. We should discern that no less than the Second Person of the Holy Trinity comes in this Sacrament in a way that He does not come anywhere else. We should recognize that here is Christ, so that to bow before Him is only what is due to the King of kings. We should treat this food as the greatest that is on earth, and hunger and thirst for it more and more.
How often does our flesh make us complacent! We sometimes feel that we can take it or leave it. When there is no Sacrament, do we miss it? Too often we do not act as if this truly is our Savior, come among us. Instead, we are likely to behave as if here is a nice, quaint tradition of the church – a cause for heartfelt emotions, to be sure; yet not the coming of the true God to men.
Against the inborn unbelief of our flesh, Christ says, “This is My Body broken for you. … This cup is the New Testament in My Blood.” May we hold those words to be true, not only in our mental agreement, but also in our actions. May we do the reverent things that are appropriate to the presence of the Most High God.
We should also do this in remembrance of Him. Here the phrase is ambiguous. Do we remember Him, or does He remember us? Both things are true. We should remember Him, that is, we are to proclaim and give thanks for His death in this Eucharist. Yet He also reaches down in mercy to His servants through this eating and drinking. He gives life and salvation here, along with the forgiveness we receive.
As we proclaim His death in the Lord’s Supper, we ask that He make our proclamation pure and unified. As the Sacrament is to be without division, so our proclamation should be the same. This Holy Communion should reflect that we are one in doctrine, without any false teaching disturbing the peace of our fellowship. In this way, the proclamation of His death will be clear and pure, not muddled, confused, or muted.
In our synod, it is not always so, nor in our congregation. To some extent, divisions are necessary, to reveal those who are approved, as Paul says. Yet we must not tolerate divisions, as if they do not matter. Every schism in faith and life and teaching must be addressed and dealt with, instead of winking at error as if it means nothing. So we pray the Lord to give us strength and resolution to meet each attack of satan in our midst, and to also give the peace of unity to our Missouri Synod once again.
On an individual level, may we not be shy to bring up differences in our own hearts. If we should find ourselves believing differently than the confession of this congregation, we should have the courage and honesty to work out those differences; or if that fails, to have the resolution to leave the congregation, rather than live out a lie.
We must be ready to humble ourselves before this Supper. Preparation and examination are not to be legalistic requirements. Yet they are healthful and helpful for right reception. We should not treat this Supper lightly, as if the things here meant little. If we do, we may find ourselves facing judgment, as many in the Corinthian congregation did. Some even died because they failed to discern the Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Likewise, if we no longer repent and trust in Christ, then receiving this holy Meal will be to our harm. If God struck down with fire those who approached His Old Testament Tabernacle irreverently, then how much more will He judge those who treat His Son’s Body and Blood as a light matter?
So let us examine ourselves before this holiest of gifts. We should search our hearts for repentance at our sins. Surely there is no end of those, and it should be no challenge to find examples in our life. It would also be good for us to attend private confession before the Sacrament, as the Lutheran fathers instructed.
We should also make sure that we are not living in a state of sin, or in danger of it. Such a person should not receive the Body and Blood, lest they come to believe that their sin does not matter, and think that they can continue as they are with no consequence. God forbid that we follow that path that leads toward death.
We should also search our heart to insure that we remain in a right understanding of this Sacrament, and for faith in the forgiveness won by Christ on Calvary. For that is the heart of the Lord’s Supper. Here is the Gospel eaten and drunk. Here is forgiveness given to humble sinners. Here is the holiest and best of foods, for what could be better than the Body and Blood of the Son of God?
So we should take this Altar very seriously, and yet should also approach with joy and desire to receive it. As we judge ourselves, we see nothing in us but sin, for which our need of the Sacrament is clearly revealed. On top of that, our Lord, out of love for us, tenderly invites us to eat this sacred Meal. So we should heed His instruction, not as a slave obeys his master, but as obeying one who knows what is best for us and desires our welfare.
And the Spirit keep you in faith to receive these precious gifts, and to guard you in this New Testament in His Blood, that you may not be judged with the world, but enter into life everlasting.
In His Name, with the Father and the Son, one God forever. Amen.
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