Today continues a sermon series on the Christian Questions with their Answers. We read from page 329 in the hymnal, questions fourteen through eighteen. Please read the answers to the questions. …
Last time we heard how the Words of Institution direct us to discern the body of Jesus under the bread and His blood under the wine. The Words of Jesus are the heart and center of the “Christian Questions with Their Answers.” They are the touchstone by which you examine yourself in preparation for the Supper.
Today there is also this: In the Supper, we eat and drink in remembrance of our Lord. Saint Paul explains this phrase by saying, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” So this is not merely a matter of recalling Christ to our memory. The Supper is not an exercise in mental recall. Instead, it is a proclamation of His death.
Well, what does that mean? We can add in what Paul said, that the Supper is a participation or communion in the Body and Blood of the Lord. When you participate in something, it is not something not present. If I say I participated in Mardi Gras in Louisiana, but I was actually in Stevensville, then I am a liar. Likewise, to commune with something means to achieve a oneness. Two persons or things are brought together, not separated. Thus the Supper is not about remembering something distant, either in time or in space.
In other words, the Body and Blood of Christ, given into death for us, is present in the Supper. By confessing this presence, we proclaim the One who died and gave these gifts to us. So we also proclaim that Christ alone gave Himself into death for the sins of the world. Being risen and sitting at the right hand of God, filling all things for the sake of His Church, He is able to give His Body and Blood to all men for forgiveness. This is the core of the Gospel itself.
Why should we remember and proclaim His death? We could simply answer that we remember and proclaim because we are commanded to, and that is correct. But Luther adds these other reasons for our benefit, and he is not wrong either. First, so that we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins. Only Christ, true God and man, could do that. Second, so we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and to regard them as very serious. Third, so that we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.
I have already addressed the first point, although it is worth repeating that we do not appease God in any way for our sins. Only Christ could do that.
The second point is an often, I think, overlooked point in our LCMS. We should be horrified by our sins. Commonly we may fall into the kind of thinking that says, “I have sins, to be sure, but Christ has died for them. Therefore, my sins are not serious any more.” That is wrong. Yes, our sins are atoned for by the precious Blood of our Lord. But that does not mean that they are not very serious, even horrifying. It also does not mean that we should not simply ignore them or give them little thought. As Christians, we must constantly fight against sin and struggle to do good works. We do not do this for salvation. Yet how could we not fight as hard as we can to do what is right? How could we not want to be pleasing in deed as well as by faith? To be sure, the Holy Spirit is working in and with us in this struggle. But part of His work is also to convict us of sin, which includes hating our own sins and fighting against them. Our sins are not tiny blemishes. They are horrifying. Our actions are nasty and unclean and require constant repentance on our part.
Eating and drinking the Body and Blood helps us see how horrifying our sins are. If Christ, the holy, only-begotten Son of God had to die for our sins, shedding infinitely valuable Blood to atone for them, then our sins are most heinous indeed.
The third reason is that we should find hope and comfort in Christ alone. As a Christian, we may be deluded into thinking that we have our lives under control. We may think that we are doing pretty good. But the Sacrament is provided for people whose lives are a mess. It is for people who do not have the strength to go on without the help of Christ. It is for sinners who have no hope if the Lord did not provide it. We should learn to believe that we are such people.
We are also taught that Christ died for us out of His great love for His Father and for us, to save us, and in the Supper distributes all His saving benefits. As we witness and participate in this proclamation of the death of Christ, we begin to see how vast His love is. It is not only love for us, which is emphasized often enough. But also it is love for His Father. His Father wanted His Son to go and become the Savior of mankind. The Son obeyed His Father, not out of a slavish compulsion, but freely out of the perfect love the Son has for His Father. In the Sacrament, we see this vast love, glimpsed in and with the Body and Blood He gave in great agony to purchase our salvation. We frail sinners need to be constantly reminded of this incredible love.
Finally, we also learn to love God and our neighbor in this Sacrament. As we pray after receiving it, we implore Him of His mercy that He would strengthen us in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another. Specifically, we pray that He would strengthen us through the salutary gift which is the Sacrament of the Altar. We also pray that He would rule our hearts and minds by His Holy Spirit, that we may be enabled constantly to serve Him. Of course, if we serve Him then we will also serve our neighbor.
The power of the Holy Spirit’s working comes through the Gospel that we eat and drink. Although the Spirit also works through the Law to both convict us of sin and to guide us in good works, we are strengthened as sons of God through the Sacrament to give freely of ourselves, as Christ freely gave of Himself. Out of gratitude to Him, and following His example, we are able to make the Law of God our delight and joy. Without the Gospel, obedience can only be slavery. But since we are sons of God in Christ, then we obey freely, in the image of Christ, as the Holy Spirit renews us in the image of our Redeemer.
God grant this for us through the same Son and Spirit. Amen.
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