Monday, February 21, 2011

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, for the 7th Sunday after Epiphany, "The Lord's Supper 2"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Today is part two of our sermon teaching series on the Lord’s Supper. Last week I informed the congregation that in March, we’ll begin offering the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. I spoke about how Christ gave us the Supper and instructed us to do it often, in remembrance of Him, and how this gift of love for us is Jesus’ own body and blood. Last week I referred to this understanding of the Lord’s Supper as the “real presence” or “bodily presence” of Jesus. Today I will answer the question, “Is this Lutheran understanding of the “real presence” the Biblical one—that is to
say, the Christian one?”

That is the essential question—because by “the Lutheran understanding” of a particular teaching, whether the Lord’s Supper or otherwise—we don’t mean something new and unique and apart from Christianity. If it were, we certainly couldn’t call it a Christian or Biblical teaching. When we as Lutheran Christians talk about “what we as Lutheran’s believe,” or talk about the teachings of the “Lutheran faith”—we don’t mean a different faith from the Christian one, or that it’s more important to be a “Lutheran” than a Christian. But unfortunately the term “Christian” gets used so loosely and incorrectly that it can lose its meaning. It gets applied so loosely that virtually any person, any religious group, and any opinion might be called “Christian” without full consideration of what they believe, teach, and practice—and whether that agrees in any way with the Christian Bible. Opinions and practices that are quite contrary to the Bible might be held by those who still claim the label “Christian.” Of course the same can also happen to the term “Lutheran” or any other name. In its true definition, Christian should mean someone who believes in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, their Savior, and accepts all the teachings of the Christian faith.

So every single teaching needs to be examined against the Bible, no matter what denomination or confession of faith it comes from. So we approach the question this way: Is the Lutheran, the Roman Catholic, or the Methodist or the Pentecostal or the non-denominational, etc., understanding of the Lord’s Supper the true Biblical one? Or is something else? Be clear that I’m not at all suggesting that only Lutherans are Christians, or that there aren’t Christians in other church bodies. I’m not saying that at all. I fully expect that a person who calls themselves a Baptist Christian or a non-denominational Christian, etc., would believe that their church’s beliefs are a correct and appropriate expression of the Christian faith. I would expect that they would disagree with points that I believe as a Lutheran, and would also be willing to defend their beliefs and have them tested under the same light of Scripture as us.
We simply don’t all agree on certain teachings of the Bible, such as Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the meaning of grace, etc. And if there are two or three or more conflicting understandings of a particular teaching—they cannot all be true. They could all be wrong, but they can’t all be right. Some churches might be correct on most teachings, but could be wrong on several others. This is not to say that having all the correct beliefs and teachings makes one “more saved” than others. But that doesn’t free us from the responsibility to always be sure that everything we teach is fully in line with the inspired Word of God. So our original question: “Is the Lutheran understanding of the Supper the Biblical one?” is really the right question to ask.

Our teaching is laid out simply in the questions from the Catechism that you have printed in your bulletin. In those questions and answers you see the Lutheran understanding is that we receive in the Supper Jesus’ true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. The next question, number 288, is a very important one: “How does the Bible make it clear that these words are not picture language?” Without having time here to go into all the nuances of what various other churches understand about the Lord’s Supper, there are many who do understand Jesus’ words as just picture language. That when He says of the bread, “Take eat, this is my body” and of the cup “Drink of it all of you, this is my blood of the covenant”—that He doesn’t actually mean that we are eating His body and drinking His blood. That He meant the bread and wine were a picture of His body broken on the cross, and a picture of His blood poured out.

So in that non-Lutheran understanding, the bread and wine are merely symbols, and Jesus was only saying that they represented or symbolized His body and blood. So if you believe that symbolic interpretation, it follows that when you receive the Lord’s Supper, Jesus isn’t truly present in His body and blood. All you receive in hand and mouth is bread and wine, nothing more. Those who hold this understanding the Lord’s Supper might use the language of a memorial meal, or sign of what Jesus did, and maybe that it helps us to experience the “presence” of Jesus in our hearts. They might speak of a “spiritual presence” in your thoughts or faith, but mean that Christ’s body is truly far away in heaven—not at all physically in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. This general view, with perhaps some variations is held by the majority of Protestants, excluding the Lutherans. So at the risk of oversimplification, its generally true that Baptists, the Reformed, Methodists, non-denominational churches, many Episcopalians, and other Protestants hold to a more “symbolic view” of the Lord’s Supper.

So how does that view square with the Bible? Does that view agree with the Bible better than the Lutheran one, that Jesus’ words be simply taken at face value? If you have a Bible with you, please open to 1 Corinthians 10:14-22. It’s also printed for you above the prayer requests on your bulletin insert. There Paul speaks about the Lord’s Supper in contrast to pagan feasts that were eaten to celebrate idols and false gods. Pay special attention to vs. 16 & 21. He says:
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

In verse 16 Paul says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” The word translated there as “participation” is sometimes translated “communion”—which is where we get the name “Holy Communion.” The original word in Greek is koinonia. It means to share in something, to participate in. Paul uses the words “drink” and “partake” in parallel with the meaning of koinonia in verses 16 & 21. So what is Paul saying we participate or commune with? When we drink, we participate or share in the blood of Christ. When we eat the bread, we participate in the body of Christ.

Which is that body of Christ and blood of Christ that we are speaking about? That is important to clarify because the Bible uses the word “the body (of Christ)” in two different ways, even here in this short passage. One way is to refer to the body of believers that make up the Christian church. It’s clear from context that this is what Paul means in verse 17: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” He says “we who are many are one body.” But the primary meaning of the “body of Christ” is of course the actual flesh and bones—the physical body—of Jesus that was born, lived, was crucified and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. In verse 16, Paul makes it clear that he’s speaking of Christ Himself and not the church, by saying that we are communing or participating in the “blood of Christ” and the “body of Christ.” Here he cannot mean the church, but Jesus’ actual body, because the blood of Christ is nowhere used as a description of the believers who make up the Christian church. It refers only and literally to the blood of Jesus Christ—the blood that coursed through His veins and bled on the cross. It’s this blood of Christ that we participate in when we drink the Cup. This passage alone should prove the Lutheran understanding of the Supper as the real presence is the Biblical one. But our minds rebel against this shocking truth, and seek ways to explain it away, like making it into picture language or a symbol.

But maybe instead of starting from the assumption that it’s impossible, we should consider this: could Jesus have made Himself any clearer if in fact He really wanted to convey the idea that one who receives the Lord’s Supper is truly receiving His body and blood for their forgiveness? Luther argued that the words are straightforward and clear, saying:

If these words are not clear, I do not know how to speak German. Would I not understand, if someone were to place a roll before me and say: “Take, eat, this is white bread?” Or again, “Take and drink, this is a glass of wine?” Therefore, when Christ says: “Take, eat, this is my body,” even a child will understand perfectly well that he is speaking of that which he is offering…These words are quite clear and explicit…For this reason we stick closely to the words and close our eyes and senses, because everyone knows what “this is my body” means, especially when he adds “given for you.” We know what Christ’s body is, namely that which was born of Mary, suffered, died, and rose again. (Luther, quoted in The Blessings of Weekly Communion, Wieting, 30).

Since the words are so plain, the first option must be to understand them literally. Jesus couldn’t have put it more simply if that’s what He wanted us to believe. His words call us to faith—because His body and blood are not able to be seen or recognized by our senses. As one Lutheran put it, “We believe that the bread is there on the evidence of the senses; we believe that Christ’s body is there on the evidence of the Word” (C.P. Krauth, quoted, Wieting, 26-27).

So by faith in the Word of Christ, we believe in His real, bodily presence. But still, someone might ask—what difference does it make? What difference does it make if someone believes in the real presence, instead of taking the symbolic view that Jesus is not really there? It makes all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between Jesus being absent from the Supper, with bread and wine that are mere symbols and cannot do or bring anything, and Jesus being present here among us, Himself the host serving us His own body and blood for our forgiveness and to unite us in fellowship with Him. Without His presence, bread and wine are nothing more than that, and can convey no spiritual blessing. But with His presence, it is a sacrament—a holy mystery that brings us God’s forgiveness—and where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

Our Lutheran view of the Supper is the Biblical one because it fits the words of Christ and Paul, and it explains its blessings most simply. It shows the source of great comfort and peace that the sacrament brings. It simply believes the real presence on the basis of Jesus’ words, without attempting to explain the “how” with philosophy, or explaining it away with rationalism. It recognizes the Biblical truth that the reason the sacrament gives such great blessings is because of Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice for our sins on the cross, and that He is present here offering us His gifts—not because a priest or pastor is “re-sacrificing” Jesus’ body and blood as the Roman Catholic church teaches.

We cling to the clear and simple words of Christ: “This is my body;” and “This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We cling to those words by faith, and so cling to the Lord of Life who was once crucified for our sins, but rose from the dead to give us life. We eat His body and drink His blood in the Supper, and so are assured that this forgiveness—this great salvation—was “given and shed for you.” One cannot get closer to God than this on this side of heaven. Believe it because of Christ’s words, and have the assurance that this forgiveness is brought personally to you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen. Next week will be Preschool Sunday, so I will preach on another topic, but we will resume our teaching series on the Lord’s Supper on March 6, Transfiguration Sunday. Then we will talk more about the spiritual blessings and benefits of the Lord’s Supper.

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Questions and Answers about the Lord’s Supper
287. What does Christ give us in this sacrament? In this sacrament Christ gives us His own true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Matt. 26:26, 28.
288. How does the Bible make it clear that these words of Christ are not picture language? Christ’s words in the Sacrament must be taken at face value especially because
A. these words are the words of a testament, and even an ordinary person’s last will and testament may not be changed once that person has died; 1 Cor. 11:25; Gal. 3:15. Note: Compare also Heb. 9:15-22
B. God’s Word clearly teaches that in the Sacrament the bread and wine are a communion or participation in the body and blood of Christ; 1 Cor. 10:16
C. God’s Word clearly teaches that those who misuse the Sacrament sin not against bread and wine but against Christ’s body and blood. 1 Cor. 11:27, 29.
289. What are the visible elements in the Sacrament? The visible elements are bread and wine. Matt. 26:26-27. Note: “The fruit of the vine” (Luke 22:18) in the Bible means wine, not grape juice. See also 1 Cor. 11:21
290. Do Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament replace the bread and wine, so that the bread and wine are no longer there? No, bread and wine remain in the Sacrament. 1 Cor. 11:26
291. How then are the bread and wine in the Sacrament the body and blood of Christ? The bread and wine in the Sacrament are Christ’s body and blood by sacramental union. By the power of His word, Christ gives His body and blood in, with, and under the consecrated (blessed) bread and wine. 1 Cor. 10:16.
292. Do all communicants receive the body and blood in the Sacrament, whether or not they believe? Yes, because the Sacrament depends on Christ’s word, not on our faith. 1 Cor. 11:27. Note: All communicants should receive both parts of the Sacrament, since Christ said, “Take and eat; this is my body….Drink from it, all of you” (Matt. 26:26-27)
293. Are the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament sacrificed again to God for the sins of the living and the dead? No, the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament are the one perfect sacrifice offered to God once and for all on the cross and are now distributed to us in the Sacrament together with all the blessings and benefits which this sacrifice has won for us. 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 10:14; Heb. 10:18. Note: We speak of the “Sacrament of the Altar” because an altar is a place of sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed His body and blood on the cross for the sins of the world once and for all. In the Sacrament of the Altar, He distributes this same body and blood until the end of time.
294. What does Christ command when He says, “This do in remembrance of Me?” Christ commands in these words that His Sacrament be celebrated in the church till the end of time as a living proclamation and distribution of His saving death and all its blessings. 1 Cor. 11:26.

From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986, 1991 Concordia Publishing House. Used with permission.


Michael said...


The book of John was written in the Greek Language. And when the author recorded things down - when he said you must eat my flesh - he used the Greek word "trogo."

Now in the Greek language, many words can be used for "eat". However, the word "trogo" was chosen; it's a very special word because it cannot be taken symbolically. When that word was chosen - when you trogo something, you actually gnaw on it. The definition is to aggressively or loudly munching, gnawing and chewing, as an animal would eat.

This cannot be taken symbolically, and the author chooses this word so that later on when people read this - it's not a soft word - it's meant to actually gnaw and to eat. It's very important; it cannot to be taken symbolically.

Josh Schneider said...

That's a very good point Michael. I do know there are debates even among Lutherans who affirm the bodily presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper, about whether or not John 6 is talking about the Lord's Supper or about faith. I, like you, am inclined to read John 6 as referring to the Lord's Supper, and find it difficult to see how you could avoid the connection. One thing that the Lutherans did emphasize about the John 6 passage, however one understood it, was that some people falsely accused Christians of cannibalism because of their understanding of the Lord's Supper. The Lutherans emphasized that we don't believe in a "Capernaitic-eating" of Christ (referring to the people of Capernaum in John 6 who misunderstood Jesus to be teaching cannibalism), but we do believe that the flesh and blood of Jesus are truly received in hand and mouth, in a divine mystery (sacrament).