Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
On the night of Holy Thursday, our Lord instituted something we call a sacrament. This word is not found in the Bible. Its original Latin meaning was a ceremony involving a vow or solemn commitment. For example, oath of obedience and fidelity taken by Roman soldiers on enlistment. The church has adopted this word and uses it to signify a rite instituted by the Lord by which God's grace and forgiveness come to man through the Word of God and external elements. There are only two sacraments according to this definition: Holy Communion and baptism.
The words of the institution of the Lord's Supper are found four times in the New Testament, Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-20. The fourth account is our epistle for today (1 Corinthians 11:23-32).
The Lutheran Church observes the sacrament as it was observed in the early church. We teach, believe and confess that Holy Communion is a sacrament, instituted by Christ, in which, in, with and under the bread and wine, all who receive it receive the body and blood of Christ. That the body and blood of Christ are truly present is clear from verses 27-29 of our epistle.
But the bread and wine are not transformed into the body and blood of Christ, as the Roman church teaches. Furthermore, saying that the Mass is a bloodless sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead denies what Christ did and what the Bible says. Lutherans insist that Christ made a single sacrifice for the sins of man when he was crucified for us. Just before Jesus died, he exclaimed, "It is finished" (John 19:30). His saving work was done.
Confessional Lutherans practice closed communion, which means that they communicate only with people who take verses 27-29 of our epistle seriously. Each communicant must examine himself thus: "Do I confess that I am a sinner? Do I confess that here I receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life in the sacrament? Do I confess what the Bible says about the person, the Word and the work of Jesus Christ? Do I believe that my salvation is only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ? Do I promise to amend my sinful life? Do I believe that in this Sacrament I truly receive the body and blood of Christ?" Saint Paul says so clearly.
Our gospel for today, the account of Holy Thursday according to Saint John, does not mention the institution of Holy Communion directly. However, there is a dialogue that illuminates the nature of the sacraments and Christian worship.
On the other hand, the washing of the disciples' feet in John's account is a symbol of holy baptism indicating what baptism grants, not another sacrament. Jesus interrupted his dinner to clean the feet of his disciples. Even if a guest had bathed before attending a banquet, his feet would still be dirty from road dust. The humblest of the slaves had to do the task of washing their feet. In this way, Jesus gave his disciples an example of the humble disposition of service and sacrifice that they needed in the preaching of his Word and the administration of the sacraments.
Because Christian worship is not something we do for God, but what God does for us. On the same night of Holy Thursday, Jesus was handed over to his enemies by Judas Iscariot, the traitor that Jesus named during dinner. The last stage of the humiliation of the Son of God was his death on the cross. But, death on the cross was turned into victory and at that moment the state of exaltation began. Jesus earned for us on the cross the forgiveness of our sins, but he delivers this forgiveness and promise of eternal life in the means of grace.
At first, Simon Peter did not understand that, so he did not want Jesus to wash them, because he did not want to see his teacher humble herself in that way. But, Jesus was teaching the necessity of baptism for all of his followers when he said to Peter, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." When Jesus said, "He who is washed needs only to wash his feet, for he is all clean" means that no one can be baptized twice.
In baptism, Jesus cleanses us from the guilt of original sin and our current sins. Also in baptism, the believer enters into the communion of saints and this act must not be repeated. But there is a sacrament that can be repeated, which is Holy Communion. To receive the sacrament is what you need to do for sins committed after baptism. We are saints of God by baptism, but we still have the sinful nature, even though sin has no dominion over us. Because when we fell into sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness.
If we understand the centrality of the Word and the sacraments in our worship, because the sacraments are visible elements linked to the Word, we can understand worship as something God does for us, as our Lord did everything for us on the cross. In the sacraments, grace is given personally to each one of us. In this, we have the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
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