St. Peter Lutheran Church
1 Corinthians 11:23-32
April 13, 2017
“The Blood of the Covenant”
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. 5 He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
(Gradual/ Tract for Maundy Thursday: Psalm 111:4-5)
“Karl, wilt thou have Angela, here present, to be thy wedded wife? Wilt thou love, honor, and cherish her, and keep with her this bond of wedlock holy and unbroken till death you do part? If so, declare it before God and these witnesses by saying, I will.”
Angela, wilt thou have Karl, here present, to be thy wedded husband? Wilt thou love, honor, cherish, and obey him, and keep with him this bond of wedlock holy and unbroken till death you do part? If so, declare it before God and these witnesses by saying, I will.
I Karl, in the presence of God and this assembly, take thee, Angela, to be my wedded wife, and plight thee my troth in every duty, not to part from thee, till death us do part.
I Angela, in the presence of God and this assembly, take thee, Karl, to be my wedded husband, and plight thee my troth in every duty, not to part from thee, till death us do part.
Those words are not the exact words that we said when we were married. They are from the old version of the hymnal. You may have said them when you were married.
What do we call those words? Vows. They are oaths taken before God by which we enter into marriage, into a relationship with this other person. We ask God to witness our solemn promises, whether we keep them or not. On other occasions we make different kinds of vows.
The people of old had a term for this kind of promise before God and the new relationship established by that promise. They called it “a covenant.” (How covenants were entered: witnesses, solemn pledges before God (maybe with a visible or written monument to the pledge). An animal’s blood would be shed to seal the covenant, often. And there was often a meal between the two parties, signifying fellowship, peace. The two would become like brothers, bound by blood.
People entered covenants out of need for assurance. People cannot be trusted simply to keep their word. We know that too well. In fact, people cannot even be trusted, many times, to keep the pledges they make before God. Marriage vows are broken. So are the vows we make at Baptism and confirmation. Pastors take vows before God when they are ordained. None of these vows can be lived up to perfectly by any sinful human being. Yet often people disregard them entirely; and then these institutions of God are no longer held in high regard.
In the Bible, however, the true God does a remarkable thing—He enters into covenant. He makes a covenant with Noah after the flood; He covenants with Abraham, promising that He will be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s descendants, and that He will bring blessing—that is, salvation—to the whole earth through one of Abraham’s seed, or offspring.
He also enters into a covenant with the children of Israel. He causes Pharaoh to let them go that they may worship the Lord by slaying the firstborn of every household in Egypt, but passing over the houses of the Israelites. He brings them through the Red Sea, utterly destroying their enemies, and brings them to a divine service at Mt. Sinai, where He appears in fire on top of the mountain and speaks the ten commandments to them. Then Moses told them the rest of God’s commandments—the terms of His covenant. The people agreed to obey God as His covenant people. Then, it tells us in Exodus 24, Moses slaughtered and offered oxen as offerings to God. He took the blood in bowls, threw half of it against the altar. Then he read the book of the covenant to the people, and once again they said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient (Ex. 24:7). And Moses took the remaining half of the blood and threw it on the people—about a million of them—and said, “Behold, the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex. 24: 8)
Then, the book of Exodus tells us, that Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons went up on Mt. Sinai, where God was, along with 70 elders of Israel, the leaders of the people. And they saw the God of Israel. There was under His feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And He did not lay His hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank (Ex. 24:10-11).
Do you see how this works?
God takes the people out of slavery with great power. He proposes to enter a relationship with them where He will be their God, and they will obey Him and keep His commandments. Then blood is shed and first splashed on the altar, which signifies that God is in. Then, when the people agree to the covenant, the blood is splashed on them. They are in.
The blood means God and the people of Israel are bound together. They are one blood. But if one party breaks the covenant, the blood signifies that they should die like the oxen whose blood was shed.
Think of how amazing it is that God would enter this kind of relationship with His creatures! To make Himself a party in an agreement like this, as though it were possible for Him to lie and be punished for breaking His covenant!
Inside of this covenant there is peace between God and sinful human beings. The leaders of Israel see God and eat and drink in His presence, like you eat at the table of a relative or a friend.
However, this peace didn’t last long, because what Israel vowed to do, it did not do. When Moses went up on the mountain for 40 days to speak with God and then return and tell the people of Israel what God said, the Israelites became anxious and lost patience. Since the prophet of God didn’t return, they decided they needed new gods to lead them to a land where they could settle down.
That was the problem with the Old Covenant made at Sinai. There was really nothing wrong with the covenant. There was something wrong with the people of Israel. At the heart of the covenant God made was the ten commandments, and at the heart of the ten commandments is the first commandment: You shall have no other gods. The people of Israel couldn’t even keep this covenanant in an external way for a month. As soon as they became afraid, or desired other things, they started setting up festivals to other gods. They did not “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
Israel wasn’t unique. All the pagan nations of the earth—our ancestors—worshipped false gods.
What they did in a formal way, we do in our hearts. We are anxious and afraid of other people and what they will say and do more than we fear God; we desire other things, we love other things more than we love God. And we trust what we can see, what we can feel, not the Lord and His Word.
Because Israel was like this, God promised a “new covenant.”
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 1 Cor. 11: 25
God is faithful to His covenant, even when Israel is unfaithful. He goes beyond the covenant in faithfulness.
Remember how Moses threw half of the blood on the altar and half on the people, and how it meant that whoever broke the covenant would die? That is the way it works with God’s Law. “The soul that sins shall die”—Ez. 18. But God is never unfaithful—we are.
Yet Jesus here makes a new covenant. Lutherans prefer to use the term testament. That is because the greek word used here usually refers to a “last will and testament”. But also because a testament simply gives—it does not ask the person it gives to do something in return.
Jesus says, This cup is the New Testament in My Blood. My blood. Not your blood. In the covenant between Israel and YHWH, all the transgressions were on the part of unfaithful Israel. They were the ones who should have had their blood shed.
Yet Jesus says His blood—God’s blood—was being shed. Yes, because God was taking on the transgressions of His covenant committed by His people. So that they might be in His presence and eat and drink eternally, and the Lord would be at peace with them and be their God.
That is what follows tonight. When we see the altar stripped bare and naked and the chancel become desolate, we see a picture of what should happen to us sinners. Instead, it happened to Jesus for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. That is why He is stripped, beaten, mocked, nailed to the cross, forsaken by God. To “forgive your iniquity”, so that your “sin will be remembered no more.”
That is why it is a New Testament. It is not like the old, which we broke and could not keep in the flesh. It is new. The requirements of this testament are all met by Jesus. You simply receive it.
But how do I receive it? How do I know it applies to me? How do I know God forgives me? He declares it to you in preaching; He throws the blood of the covenant on You, making You one blood with Him. He douses you in it in Baptism.
But how do I know it still applies to me, when I have sinned and turned away from Jesus after I was baptized? He absolves you at the altar tonight, by name.
Then He gives you this bread to eat, and this cup to drink; His body, which is for you, given to agony, pain, and death on the cross.
His blood, the blood of the New Testament, that seals this new relationship with God. Jesus doesn’t say, This cup symbolizes the New Testament in my blood; He says, This cup is the new Testament in my blood.
It is the blood that brings about this new relationship with God where He forgives our sins and remembers our iniquity no more. No more! Never! He never remembers it. He remembers instead the suffering of His Son for you, who bore your guilt.
He writes His law on your heart from within instead of banging it on you from without, so that you keep it willingly. He makes you know Him. The Israelites ran away from Him at Sinai, but through the blood of Jesus’ testament you know Him and want to know Him.
As often as we eat and drink this body and blood of Jesus, we proclaim His death for us.
It is a serious thing to receive it unworthily—results in death and condemnation.
What is worthiness? Not to do…since we are not capable of doing what merits communion with God. To receive. That is, to eat and drink, believing Christ’s Words: “My body, given for you. My blood shed for you.” This is what Jesus left us in the night He was betrayed– a remembrance of His own death for the ungodly. The very blood of the testament, that makes peace with God for us, given with the wine to drink.
Reformation: not a partial sacrifice to God. Not our act of remembering—how piously we receive it. It is Jesus’ testament, His pledge before dying. It is the assurance that His sufferings are for us, and they avail before God to bring us peace with Him; He “remembers our sins no more.”
Instead: “He remembers His covenant forever”—the forgiveness of sins won by the suffering of His Son.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
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
St. Peter Lutheran Church
1 Corinthians 11:23-32 (John 13)
April 5, 2012 (evening)
“Lift up your hearts!”
Beloved members of Christ’s body, the Holy Church:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
On Christmas Eve the shepherds saw a great company of the heavenly host singing. “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace to men with whom He is well pleased!” Human beings heard the song of heaven, the joy of heaven, because heaven was being given to them. It was given in Jesus, God with us.
He was not with us simply in power and glory, the way He is everywhere, seeing everything. That is no comfort to us. It’s no comfort to a condemned criminal that the judge is with him in the room about to read his sentence. It’s small comfort that the doctor is with you when he tells you that there is nothing more that he can do for you. The doctor may care about you, but after all, he gets to home, kiss his wife, eat dinner, and play with his kids. He may feel sorry for you, but he is not going to die with you.
God is not with us like that—not simply to read a verdict, or to diagnose us, or to give us a prescription that we are not able to fill. The angelic song and the joy of heaven opened to the shepherds because God was with us as a baby bound in baby clothes. With us in our helplessness, sharing our weakness, sharing our poverty as He lay in a manger, sharing our pain in that He was born without a clean, private room, born among the overlooked and unprivileged. Human problems and human suffering are now God’s problems and suffering. God now shares the futility of human life under the curse. By the sweat of your face you shall eat your bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you shall return. That curse God pronounced on us He has taken as His own. That is why heaven opened up to the shepherds.
All throughout the year we sing the same song as the angels during the divine service. That is the liturgy’s way of saying that heaven is open to us too. Because God has come to us and is with us, we get to go into heaven and rejoice with the angels—today.
But we haven’t sung that song since Lent began. Why? Because we were trying to direct attention to why God is with us. Jesus explained this to the disciples repeatedly, but they didn’t understand Him. God is with us—yes; He is coming to bear our curse and lowliness—yes. But He will do this not by lifting us out of the curse, or showing us the way to walk out of it ourselves. He submits to our curse and makes it His own all the way to its bitter end; He has come to suffer, to be crushed and condemned, to die and be damned in our place. So to wake us up to this fact no Alleluias. No “Glory to God in the Highest.”
So now why do we sing “Glory to God in the Highest” again tonight? Isn’t the suffering of Jesus still to come? Yes. But on this night before He suffered Jesus wrapped up all that was to come in His Word and joined it with the bread and wine. And He says, “All my suffering and all my death I endure for your sake. It is for you.” All this Jesus pledges and offers to us when He says, This is my body. Do this in remembrance of me. This cup is the new testament in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.
Before all the pain, He gives us this meal so that we may have joy and salvation. In it He invites us to enter heaven and go before the face of the Father, to take our place with Him and to enter the joy of angels, archangels, and the whole host of heaven. We do this not by sight, but by faith, when we believe that our sins are forgiven because of the sacrifice He offered once on the cross.
We sing “it is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you…” Imagine if we lived that way! That would be heaven on earth.
For just that kind of thankfulness and joy Jesus instituted the sacrament of His body and blood. As you eat and drink, He wants your faith that your sins are forgiven to be nourished. And as your soul is nourished in this way, the new life of Christ within you is also strengthened.
Lift up your hearts! Your citizenship is in heaven. You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God; and when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, you will also appear with Him in His glory. Where this is believed, the fruits of the Holy Spirit also appear—love, patience, joy.
However, it also needs to be said that this Sacrament can be used in a way that does not give life and does not strengthen the soul.
We participate in the benefits of Jesus’ passion by faith—by faith alone. It is true that we have a share in Jesus’ death apart from faith. Though we did not spit on Him or nail Him to the cross, we have participated in the rebellion against God that demanded justice. But apart from faith, Jesus’ death does not benefit us, even though He made atonement for our sins.
In the same way, everyone who comes to the altar and eats the bread and drinks the cup receives the real and true body and blood of Jesus which was given and shed to take away the sins of the world. But apart from faith, the body and blood is not received for our blessing, but for judgment. Paul warns, For everyone who eats the bread and drinks the cup and does not discern the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. Because of this, many among you are weak and sick, and some sleep, that is, some have died!
Those who did not discern Jesus’ body during His life on earth—who did not recognize that Jesus was not a mere man, but true God in the flesh, or who fell from this faith—denied, betrayed, condemned, and killed Him. This was a grave sin. The Roman soldiers who abused Jesus’ body, pressing down the crown of thorns and causing the blood to run from His head, lashing Him with whips and causing the blood to stream, piercing His innocent hands, feet, heart—they committed blasphemy. They inflicted dishonor and suffering on the Holy temple of God—Jesus’ flesh.
But what is still worse is when the Sacrament of the Altar is received in unbelief. Then it is not only the Son of God who is not recognized and who is condemned to death. But then, after He has died and gives us the priceless ransom that He paid to save us from eternal death—we trample it underfoot. We treat the priceless treasure that saves us as common, earthly food. We treat His holy ones who have been bought with His blood not as members of His flesh and bone, but as those whom we are free to judge and condemn.
God save us and forgive us for all the times we have come to His table and misused or despised His unspeakably great gift! May God have mercy on all pastors who have allowed His body and blood to be treated with contempt because of their negligence in their calling to teach and administer the Sacraments!
Since the consequences of misusing Christ’s body and blood are so grave, and since, on the other hand, those who receive it in faith are strengthened to partake of the joy and life of heaven while still in this valley of sorrows, may God grant us hearing hearts
So that we may lift up our hearts and learn to prepare to receive Jesus’ body and blood.
This preparation consists of two things:
- 1. Remembering the Lord’s catechesis (instruction)
- 2. Letting the light of Christ’s words test us and console us.
As great as this gift is that Jesus gives us in the Lord’s Supper, you would think that the church would be shining lights, overflowing with mercy and thankfulness. After all, if you receive Jesus’ body and blood, then you are saved! You are forgiven! Sin, death, and Satan cannot harm you!
But the sinful flesh within us and the devil outside of us are far more evil and crafty than we can comprehend. They conspire and work nonstop within the church so that those who have been washed in Baptism and made clean by the Gospel are drawn away. They work so that many in the church are present where Christ’s gifts are. They make it so that many hear the Gospel and receive the Sacrament, and yet resist it and do not receive it in faith. This creates havoc in the Church because we cannot tell who is a real Christian, struggling with weakness, and who is a hypocrite who trusts not in Christ but in the filthy rags of his own righteousness. In fact, we ourselves are quite capable of deceiving ourselves.
This was happening in the church at Corinth. The people still had the body and blood of Jesus, and yet the way they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper was a contradiction of its purpose. Christians at that time celebrated “agape feasts” alongside of the Divine Service. In addition to hearing the Word of God preached and receiving the Sacrament of the altar, they also celebrated a communal meal. Unfortunately the wisdom of the flesh and the ways of the world had gotten the upper hand and Jesus’ purpose in instituting the Supper was being covered up.
In the house in which the Corinthians worshipped, they followed the practice of the Roman world in which they lived. Honored guests sat at the head table; less honorable guests sat in outer rooms. Honored guests received the best food and wine; less honored guests received inferior food and drink or perhaps nothing.
This practice was really a contradiction of the Gospel. Because Christ our rich Lord does not play favorites and put the honorable or the rich at His table. Rather He came down to the lowest place so that the ungodly and unworthy would sit at the feast of the Kingdom of God.
In allowing this to happen, the Corinthians—many of them, at any rate—had forgotten why the Lord’s Supper was instituted. They were not discerning the body. If they had recognized that it was Jesus’ body and blood they were coming to receive, and that no one in the Church deserved to receive this heavenly food, they would not have exiled the poor and unimportant to the lower places. In fact, if they had recognized the Lord’s body and blood, given and shed for them, in the bread and wine, they would have honored the poor and lowly among them, since Jesus became poor for our sakes, and came to die without defending Himself for our sakes because He is “meek and lowly in heart.”
Worldly-mindedness constantly fights with the word of God in the Church. Our flesh and its thoughts are always at work to fight against the Gospel, assert our own righteousness, and exalt ourselves. And as this happens, the Gospel of Jesus is covered up. The Gospel may still be preached, but all sorts of stumbling blocks surround it so that people take offense. We see it among us too—in our tendency to divide into factions within our congregation and within the larger church. That tendency does not mean that we have fallen from faith in Christ, but it is a very serious threat nonetheless—to our salvation and to the salvation of others.
So what does Paul do to correct the abuse of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth? He did not simply let it go. Bad practice ultimately always leads to corruption of God’s Word, to false doctrine. Instead, He reminded them of what had been handed on to Him by the Lord and which He handed on to them. He reminded them of their catechesis!
What I received from the Lord I also handed over to you…Paul reminds them of Jesus’ words instituting the Lord’s Supper.
This is why catechesis is so important. It may seem at times like we’re drilling things over and over again that you learned already. But that’s because faith in Christ and spiritual maturity first requires that we be established in the “ABC’s” of God’s Word. First we learn the ten commandments, creed, Lord’s prayer by heart. First we learn simple bible stories and the outline of Christian doctrine. First we learn the words by heart; then we learn what it means; and then we learn how it applies to us and how we find comfort in it in tribulation.
So even though this is against what our flesh likes to do, we keep going back to the basics. Our flesh wants to be way up in heaven in deep things, but hates to do and learn simple things. And when our flesh gets its way, we stay spiritual weaklings and midgets because we haven’t gotten the basics yet.
This is why it is so important that from earliest childhood until death the simple things are before our eyes and on our lips constantly. The commandments, creed, Lord’s prayer. The catechism with “what does this mean.” Basic bible verses and bible stories. Hymns that teach doctrine and not just Christian songs that say little about who Jesus is and what He is done.
This is why I have tried so hard to impress upon you the importance of reading Scripture, praying, and learning the catechism every day—not just catechumens, but all of us. It’s not because I think you have never heard these things before. People in sports don’t drill constantly because they haven’t done these things before. They drill and drill and drill so that when it is do or die, it is not necessary to think about how this play works or how to do a layup—it is automatic.
And when temptation comes, when Satan attacks, when you are dying—that is not the time to be trying to learn the Word of God. That is the time when you need it to be part of you so that you are not trying to remember what it says, but so that you may be clinging to it for dear life.
So it is with preparation for the Lord’s supper. First we begin with the Lord’s teaching.
What is it? It is the true body and blood of Jesus.
Who is it for? It is for Christians to eat and drink.
Why does Jesus give it? “For the forgiveness of sins,” and along with the forgiveness of sins comes life and salvation—which means we are strengthened in faith and Christ and so strengthened to overcome sins and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit.
How is it to be received and celebrated? “In remembrance of Jesus.” Which means that we remember His death and the shedding of His blood, believing that He died for us. And since it is done in the Lord’s remembrance, it means that as we receive the body and blood of Jesus we also proclaim His death together until He comes again. We are proclaiming that we share in Jesus’ sacrifice, and so are at peace with Him and at peace with one another, that we are heirs of God who are waiting for Jesus to return so that we may share fully in the life and joy of heaven.
None of this is new information. But I would venture to say that all of us or nearly all would agree that we wish that we experienced this joy and life of heaven more. I think many of us wish that in church we felt more love and more joy. I think many of us wish that we were not so easily overcome by besetting sins—whether anger, fear, cursing, lust. We see that our life as a congregation is hampered by feuds and factions, and our witness to Christ to our city is hampered by it.
Why is this? Not because we have never heard the Gospel. But we rely on it too little and we rely on our own strength much. We are distracted by many things which may not be sinful in themselves, but which we allow to compete with the promises of Jesus. No man can serve two masters. Jesus doesn’t cast us out because idols tempt us or even take hold of our hearts. Yet to grow comfortable with them endangers us.
There is one thing needful. Man lives by it and not by bread alone. It is the word of the Lord. To listen to it and learn it is the first part of preparation for the Sacrament of the Altar. You have heard it and learned it, there is no doubt about that. But each day the old nature which wants to put other things ahead of God’s word must be drowned and crucified once again.
The second part of worthy preparation is meditation on the Word. This is where we sit still with the Word that we have heard in the past, and we allow ourselves to be searched by it, tested by it, and finally comforted by it.
How this works with the Lord’s teaching—what is it, who is it for, why was it given, how is it to be received.
Judgment in the Lord’s Supper
Evidence among us…spiritual weakness caused by rifts in the body of Christ.
Do not despair: ‘when we are judged we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned with the world.”
We come with no words in our mouth but only with our sins–no condemnation of others, no self-justification.
This leads to the comfort of the Sacrament–where we have no righteousness of our own but only the righteousness of God
This leads to fellowship…which only happens when we are able to be honest about our sins in front of one another. (1 John 1:7) Then instead of condemnation, we live as priests for one another. We exercise the keys, speaking the Gospel of God to one another, each according to his calling.
This leads to a good conscience looking toward the return of Christ and assurance of our place at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
God grant us to examine ourselves and so receive the body and blood of the Lord
To lift up our hearts
And to treasure Jesus’ death for our sins though we lose all other riches.