What is the Benefit of This Eating and Drinking? Wednesday after Reminiscere, 2015
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Catechism: “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?”
March 4, 2015
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed fervently on the night He had instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. He told His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death,” and He asked them to stay awake and watch and pray with Him. As He prayed, His sweat poured on the ground mixed with blood and He was in agony. What was Jesus so afraid of? He prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” What was the cup Jesus’ Father had given Him to drink?
It was the cup of God’s wrath and judgment against all the sins of the world. The Father in heaven did not merely forget about all the sins of the world—Adam’s sin, yours and mine. He forgave it. But the forgiveness of our sins came at a cost. If we are not to be punished for our sins, someone else must pay the penalty for us. And that is what Jesus had begun to do. That was the cup He had begun to drink—the cup of God’s just judgment against all the sins of the world. It was the cup you and I had earned the right to drink. But Jesus received this cup and drank from it all the sufferings that followed—from His anguish in Gethsemane to His betrayal by Judas, from His false condemnation by the priests to His being handed over to Pilate, from His mockery, flogging, and crown of thorns to His crucifixion and death.
But Jesus has not given us this cup to drink, the cup of God’s judgment. He has given us a different cup. “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Last week we talked about what we receive in the bread and cup of the Lord; we receive from Him not simply bread and wine but the true body of Christ which was crucified and His true blood which was shed on the cross. This week we deal with the second question of the catechism on the sacrament of the altar: “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?”
What benefit, what blessing, do we get from eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood? Jesus tells us in the same words with which He instituted the sacrament: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The benefit of eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood is that we receive the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus is saying that in all that happened in His passion He was giving Himself utterly for us, handing Himself over for us, to earn for us the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins was neither easy nor cheap. It cost the body and blood of the innocent and righteous One. He gave Himself over when He agonized in Gethsemane. He gave Himself utterly, knowing His body would be bruised and torn and spit on and that his blood would be poured out for us. He knew all that was coming for Him. He knew that Judas the betrayer would soon come with his false kiss and that He would be led bound before the chief priests and elders. He knew that they would sentence Him to death. He knew that while He was being accused Peter would deny Him. He knew that the priests would hand Him over to the Roman governor Pilate. Pilate would have Him flogged with whips by His soldiers and then they would mock Him, putting a purple robe over His bloody shoulders and pressing down a wreath of thorns onto His head. Bloodied and put to shame He would be led out in front of the people and they would scream, “Crucify! Crucify!” Then Pilate would give Him over to their will. He would stumble with the weight of the cross on His lacerated back out to the hill of Calvary. Then they would stretch out His hands and feet on the timber and drive nails through them into the wood. They would lift Him up to hang naked, to bleed and to thirst between two highwaymen until He breathed His last and His heart was pierced with a spear.
All this Jesus knew when He said, “Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you.” And the benefit of this eating of Christ’s body and drinking His blood is that we receive what He was earning by His suffering—the forgiveness of sins. He had no sin of His own for which to make atonement. By His suffering He was paying the debt of our sins.
So when we eat Jesus’ body and drink His blood we receive forgiveness of sins. It’s not that we don’t have forgiveness of sins apart from the Lord’s Supper. We have forgiveness through Jesus’ body and blood constantly by faith in Him. We spiritually eat His body and drink His blood by faith at all times. But in the Sacrament He gives us His body and blood as a pledge that we can see and taste that we have the forgiveness of our sins.
Forgiveness of sins means that our sins are remitted. They are no longer reckoned to us. They are taken away. Instead of sin we have righteousness and purity before God. Instead of His wrath we have His good pleasure and friendship. This is what Jesus’ suffering and death brought about for us. This is what the shedding of His blood got for us—not further anger, but God’s satisfaction. Our sins—all of them—were paid for before God. This is what Christ pledges to us when He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. It is a pledge of God’s favor, a pledge of peace with God.
“Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Along with forgiveness of sins comes life and salvation. Jesus gives us life with His body and blood. Where sins are forgiven, there is no more death. In our sins, we are captives to death. We are sentenced to death by God. But in giving His body into pain and death and His blood to be spilled, Jesus removed the sentence of death from us. For us death is no longer the beginning of eternal death but the end of death and the entry into eternal life.
Life is given us in the sacrament; not only the pledge that we will have everlasting life when we die, but life itself is given to us now. The eternal life that Jesus died to give us is ours now. Baptized into Him our old Adam was crucified with Him and a new man—Christ in us—was born. That new man lives before God in righteousness and purity forever and begins to live now in this world doing the works of the Father, which are works of love according to the ten commandments. The body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament gives us the forgiveness of sins and at the same time strengthens the new life of Christ in us so that we become stronger in faith and more active in love.
Yes, Jesus gives us life in body as well as in soul in His body and blood. For where the soul is helped, the body is helped also. We should never look at the Sacrament as a poison from which we should run away, says Luther in the Large Catechism, but as a precious remedy that heals us in both soul and body. That’s why it is silly to worry about germs in receiving the Lord’s Supper. Jesus isn’t giving out disease and death in His body and blood, but rather the remedy for death and all its symptoms. He is giving us eternal life.
Finally, the benefit of eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood is salvation. The body and blood of Jesus saves us from the devil’s kingdom and from eternal death. Every evil that could harm us is stripped of its power by Jesus’ body and blood. The devil only has power to harm and condemn through sin. But through Jesus’ body and blood sin is taken out of the way. When we eat Jesus’ body and drink His blood we eat and drink not mere bread and wine but salvation from our sins and from Satan’s power to hurt us. No harm can come to us. Jesus pledges and gives this to us in His body and blood. The only pain that will come to us is that which the Lord who suffered for us deems profitable for our salvation. Those pains that drive us to repentance and to Jesus do not harm us but work for our good, because they strip away the old Adam that was crucified with Jesus in Baptism and help us to put on the new man, the glorious image of Christ that we will wear forever in heaven.
Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us as a free gift in the Sacrament of the Altar as we eat Jesus’ true body and drink His true blood. All of this is for you, Jesus says—my body and my blood, all I am and all I have. How could God have decided to show us such mercy?
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria