How Can Bodily Eating and Drinking Do Such Great Things? Wednesday after Oculi, 2015
Wednesday after Oculi
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Catechism: “How can eating and drinking do such great things?”
March 11, 2015
The Passion History for today recounts Jesus’ trial before the high priest. Jesus’ trial is not a fair one. The priests and elders have already decided what they want the outcome of the trial to be. They want Jesus condemned to death. So they bring in false witnesses to testify against Him. But they don’t realize that in their efforts to kill Jesus they are bringing about the fulfillment of the very word and teaching that so offended them.
Jesus preached the forgiveness of sins. He proclaimed forgiveness of sins to the sinners the leaders of the Jews had written off—the lowest of the low, the tax collectors and prostitutes. By handing Jesus over to death the leaders were causing Jesus’ word to come true. By His death and the shedding of His blood on the cross Jesus would bring about forgiveness and justification for the lowest of the low, the chief of sinners. Even for Peter who denied Him and Judas who betrayed Him. By His death Jesus would earn forgiveness for the whole human race. The forgiveness He preached would be sealed by His blood.
Forgiveness of sins was the substance of Jesus’ preaching. He didn’t come to earth to proclaim a new set of laws, rules, or regulations for people to fulfill. He came to proclaim that God was freely forgiving sins. It was not an incidental part of His preaching but the very heart and center of it.
Forgiveness of sins is at the heart of Jesus’ preaching and it is the reason why we can’t allow the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper to be lost or denied. Jesus instituted His supper so that we might have the forgiveness of sins. When people deny that the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood, they take away a means through which Jesus grants the forgiveness of sins to poor, miserable sinners.
That’s what is at stake in today’s question from the catechism: “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?” The question is a perfectly rational one from a certain perspective. We have said that when a person eats and drinks the bread and wine of the Sacrament with faith in the words of Jesus, that person receives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. But skeptics ask, “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? How can an earthly, bodily function like eating and drinking give the spiritual and eternal blessing of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life?” Deniers of the Sacrament criticize us, saying that we are claiming that we earn forgiveness and eternal life by an earthly work—eating and drinking.
But of course, as the catechism answers, we don’t say that. “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these 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.’”
In other words it is not the physical eating and drinking that does the forgiveness of sins. It is the words of Jesus Chris that attach the forgiveness of sins to the bread and wine of the Sacrament. For His words declare the bread to be not merely bread, but His body, given for us, and the wine to be His blood, shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. It’s not the bodily eating and drinking that works the forgiveness of sins. The bodily eating and drinking done in faith in Jesus’ words receives what Jesus promises in the Sacrament. It’s Jesus words that make the bread and wine His body and blood and attach to them the forgiveness of sins. Our faith, worked by the Holy Spirit, simply receives Jesus’ promise. We eat and drink with our mouths what is given, but our souls at the same time receive and eat the words of Jesus that say, “This is for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Our mouths eat the body and blood of Jesus and at the same time our souls receive life from His words: “This body and blood is for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Jesus won forgiveness for us by His death on the cross. That’s where forgiveness of sins was accomplished. But Jesus’ cross is not where we go to receive the forgiveness of sins. We can’t go back and touch the cross where Jesus died. Even if we could that wouldn’t give us the forgiveness of sins. What gives us the forgiveness of sins is the proclamation that Jesus died for us and our sins are forgiven. We receive the forgiveness of sins when we believe that Word of God.
That word of God is exactly the Word that He proclaims to us in the Sacrament of the Altar. He says, “This is my body, which is given for you; this is my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” By His word He takes what was given and shed for us on the cross and puts it into the bread and wine and distributes it to us.
If you could go back to the cross where Jesus died and thrust Your hand into His pierced side or let His warm blood drip on you, this would not give you the forgiveness of sins. But when Jesus proclaims His death for the forgiveness of your sins, that does give the forgiveness of sins. And when Jesus puts His very body and blood into your mouth, saying, “Take, eat; take, drink”—that gives the forgiveness of sins. We have the Lord’s own words declaring it in the institution of the Supper.
So when someone asks you, “How can bread and wine save you?” or “How can you believe you’re saved just because you ate and drank some bread and wine,” you answer: it’s not eating and drinking that saves me, but Jesus’ word. His words declare that this bread and cup are not ordinary bread and wine, but His body and blood. His words declare that they were given and shed for me for the forgiveness of my sins. So I know I am saved not because of my work of eating and drinking, but because of His Word that tells me this is His body and blood for my forgiveness.
The Sacrament gives us great joy and confidence that our sins are forgiven. For we receive in it not mere reminders of Christ’s body and blood given and shed long ago, but the very body and blood of Jesus, together with His Word promising that when we eat and drink them we receive the forgiveness of sins.
For Your consoling supper, Lord,
Be praised throughout all ages!
Preserve it, for in ev’ry place
The world against it rages.
Grant that this sacrament may be
A blessed comfort unto me
When living and when dying. (LSB 622 st. 8)
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria