The Sacrament of the Altar

Audio here.  [Also, for at least the Triduum, we will be putting video of the services on YouTube.  You can find (most of) the service for Maundy Thursday here, here, and here — we’ll figure this out eventually!  The bulletin is here.]

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“What is the Sacrament of the Altar? Answer: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink” (SC, Sacrament of the Altar, I). It doesn’t get any simpler than that. If we could engrave these words on our hearts, we would never forget or lose the Gospel. Christ’s Body and Blood, given and shed on the cross, for you. That is the Gospel. We hear it; we eat and drink it; we believe it. Why then is it so easy for our sinful flesh, the world, and the devil to introduce doubt into our minds about those words? The devil does what he always does; he asks, “Did God really say…?” Our flesh says, “That’s impossible.” The world mocks Christians who “eat their God.” But Christians wager everything on God being true, and every man a liar. If God becomes flesh in the womb of a Virgin; if that incarnate God is raised from the dead, crucified but alive forever; if He demonstrates that life by showing the disciples His wounds and speaking divine peace to them; if He shows them His hands and feet, and eats fish in their presence; if He appears to Paul and Stephen, glorified at the right hand of God’s Power; then why would we question this word that He gives first to His chosen Twelve, and through them to us? Paul delivers to the Corinthians only what He first received. There is never any attempt, by any apostle of Jesus Christ, to explain away Jesus’ words or make them mean something other than what He says. It is not a metaphor; it is not a symbol of an absent reality; it is nothing but the very Body and Blood of Jesus, born of the Virgin, crucified, resurrected, ascended, and glorified. There is no other Jesus than the Son of God made flesh; therefore, there is no God with whom we can commune other than the one that was made flesh. Through Him alone we share in the communion of the Holy Trinity; through Him alone we share in the communion of all Christ’s saints, throughout time and space.

The Sacrament of the Altar can only be such a communion if it is actually the Body and Blood of Jesus. If it is simply bread and wine, then it is nothing more than our attempt to create a feeling, or a community, or an imagined memory. Eating bread and drinking wine in a church don’t do any more spiritually for you than eating bread and drinking wine at home. But this Supper is not just bodily eating and drinking, like anyone might do; the food we ordinarily eat cannot forgive sins, or give eternal life, or save us. So it is not the eating and drinking alone that do those great things, “but the words written here: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins’” (SC, The Sacrament of the Altar, IV).

So we will bind ourselves to the clear and simple words of Jesus, in spite of the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh. We will close our ears to any words trying to make Jesus’ words other or less than what they say. Why will we do this? Because we are loveless, or cold, or because we love “doctrine more than people”? No: simply because there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved, than the one Name at which every knee will bow and which every tongue will confess: Jesus, our Lord, God’s own Son in the flesh, anointed by the Holy Spirit. That Jesus, crucified and resurrected, has given to believing hearts great and glorious gifts, beyond what we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands. And yet, even so, by faith we confess with Simeon that we have seen the salvation of our God, we have held our redemption in our hands, and we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. In this feast of mercy we will trust, because it is nothing but Jesus, crucified and risen for us, His entire Body given and eaten; His entire Blood shed and drunk. He is the source of our life, and the summit of our Christian life in this world. And so, as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes in His full glory and we see Him face to face.

“Why should we remember and proclaim His death [in this way]? First, so we may learn 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 we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved” (SC, Christian Questions with their Answers). We need this as often as we have the opportunity, first because of the command of the Lord to “do this” and second because of the promise he gives in these words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Because we always sin, we always need the medicine (Ambrose). If we do not feel that need, we should see if we still have flesh and blood and realize that sin clings to our flesh until we die; we should look around to see if we are still in the world, and realize that the world is full of sin and temptation and trouble; and we should recall that the devil is certainly still around with his lying and murdering, and we need the refuge of our Lord, who overcame sin, death, and the devil.

Because we know who we are in ourselves, that we remain for now in the world, assaulted by the devil; and because we know who Christ is for us, our confession remains the same as Christ’s true Church throughout history, in heaven and on earth: “I believe, I believe, I believe and will confess until my last breath that this is Thy Body which Thou tookest upon Thyself in the womb of the…blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, and which, out of unfeigned love, Thou gavest unto death for us. Thou hast given it for the forgiveness of sins and for the everlasting salvation of those who receive it. This I believe to be most certainly true” (Wilhelm Loehe’s Liturgy for Christian Congregations of the Lutheran Faith, 44).

So, beloved brothers and sisters of Christ our Lord, “draw near and take the body of the Lord, and drink the holy blood for you outpoured; offered was He for greatest and for least, Himself the victim and Himself the priest” (LSB 637:1). “O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see, may what we thirst for soon our portion be: to gaze on Thee unveiled and see Thy face, the vision of Thy glory, and Thy grace” (LSB 640:5). Even, O Lord, as You come to us now in this Sacrament, come quickly and restore all things.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/16/16

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