Jesus’ Body and Blood for Your Body and Blood
Rev. Kurt Lantz Holy Thursday Sacrament of the Altar
April 01, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
On this infamous night to which we make reference every Sunday and at every celebration of the Lord’s Supper, “on the night when He was betrayed,” our Lord instituted a most blessed Sacrament, a remembrance, a means of grace, the New Testament, which gives forgiveness and everlasting salvation. As it is a remembrance of His Passion, so it is right and salutary that we remember. And as it is a means of salvation, so it is right and salutary that we look to it for salvation when we are threatened by death.
The Catechism is a guidebook for the Christian life at all times, but especially in times when our life is threatened, such as this time of pandemic. It should not surprise us that the Catechism contains not only one part on the Sacrament of the Altar, but that the whole of the Catechism aims toward the gift of salvation given to us through this blessed mystery. The final section of the Catechism organizes the entire book for us, leading us on a journey from the Ten Commandments in which we discover our sins, to the Apostles’ Creed in which God reveals the blessed Gospel of our salvation in Jesus Christ, and brings us to the very altar steps where the body and blood of Jesus given for us on the cross are given to us in bread and wine for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
As we have at our midweek services throughout this season of Lent, let us tonight recite together from the Catechism as we contemplate particularly the threat to our life and salvation that afflicts us at this present time.
What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
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.
Where is this written?
The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?
These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament 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.
If, in this Sacrament, life and salvation are given as we confess, indeed as God’s Word testifies, why do we find ourselves hesitant, wary, reluctant to come to the Lord’s Supper at a time when we are threatened with death? That’s the big question, isn’t it? I think we have to be honest with ourselves and confront our reluctance to receive this Sacrament as the Lord has instituted it and for the very purpose for which He instituted it. Do we fear the slightest possibility of viral infection more than we trust His most solemn promise given as He was about to give His own life into death so that we might live eternally?
Is it safe to come to Holy Communion in time of plague or pestilence? Or, shall we say, is it less safe? Is there increased risk? I think we have to say, “Yes,” but not for the reasons that might immediately suggest themselves to us.
St. Paul warned of many people becoming ill and some of them dying when He wrote about the Lord’s Supper to the Christians in Corinth. There was a risk to their physical health and he boldly warned them about it. But it wasn’t a risk posed by the transmission of a virus through sharing one bread and one cup. It was a physical consequence as a result of their failure to believe that in this Sacrament the Lord Jesus is present and gives to all who eat and drink, His very body and blood. “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30).
The Christian Church throughout the world has been threatened in Holy Communion throughout the time of this viral outbreak, but not by the virus itself; by the false belief and distrust of the very words of Jesus, the failure to take to heart and believe what He Himself said, what St. Paul passed on word for word to the Christian churches throughout the world, what we continue to hear at every celebration of the Lord’s Supper and what is recorded in our Catechism for us to ponder especially in times when death threatens to be spread by means of physical contact.
When the emergency orders first came out in response to the current pandemic pastors and church leaders were stumbling, not so much over how to conduct the Service of the Word, but how to conduct the Service of the Sacrament. Many innovative measures were suggested, from individually pre-packaged bits of bread and wine, to having people use their own bread and wine in the safety of their own home with the pastor speaking the words over the internet. I hope no one has been doing that while watching our live stream. Some churches have gone to using special tongs to distribute the bread, having dipped it in the wine, or cleansing vessels with 151 proof rum in between each communicant. All of these precautionary measures hearken back to the introduction of individual communion cups many years ago in place of everyone receiving from the one cup as the institution accounts record and as St. Paul stresses in chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians.
What are we to do? Do we ignore advice from public health officials? I don’t think I have to spell it out that public health inspectors would still have a big problem with the way that we celebrate Holy Communion now even after the modifications we have made to allow for social distancing and not speaking within 2m of each other. In fact, if followed to the letter, the advice of public health officials is tantamount to banning this holy sacrament altogether, although they have not been bold enough to come out and say so. They have been content that the vast majority of Christian churches have been taking the viral outbreak seriously and have made many many alterations to their previous practices in order to minimize the risk of transmission at every church service. Yet, for a while we banned ourselves as we were struggling to understand this virus.
We ought to take to heart the words and promises of Jesus more than we do the media releases and public health advice and the statements from various levels of government. For, ultimately, it is the words of Jesus that have to be our guide for every step in life, and especially as concerns the means that He Himself instituted in order to give us life and salvation.
The benefits of His redeeming sacrifice are boldly declared in the words of Jesus Himself, and those are summarized for us in the Catechism. He took the bread and broke it and gave it to them saying, “Take, eat; this is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” He took the cup and when He had given thanks He gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this is My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
There is little dispute that He wants us to do this, and not stop doing this when we are threatened by the very things that this Sacrament is given to address. So, lets not stop doing it. Come and receive what He gives in order to impart to you life and salvation.
Is it important for us to do it in the particular manner in which He did it when He instituted it? At some level we have to say “yes”, or we can no longer be sure that we are doing what He has given us to do. So we make sure that we keep Jesus’ words of institution. We make sure that we keep the same elements and use bread and wine, the things to which He attached His promises. We likely don’t use the same kind of cup that He used, although it was one cup that was shared by them all. St. Paul makes a point of that, telling us that it is our participation in the blood of Christ to make us all one with Him and with each other.
People are scared and worried. The scientific community does not have this virus all figured out, or any number of other communicable diseases either, for that matter. They have given advice about distancing and wearing masks, and we are following it, not because we are afraid of them shutting us down, but because we trust that they know what they are talking about in terms of viral spread through social interaction.
But we also believe that Jesus knew what He was talking about. In fact, we believe His Word is infallible, that He knows all things, that He has divine knowledge, divine wisdom, and divine love for us. We believe He also spoke through the apostles, like St. Paul, who passed on the words of Jesus and His institution of the Lord’s Supper.
The Catechism reminds each and every one of us of what Jesus says in His Word about the Sacrament that He instituted. This is for the forgiveness of sins, and so this is the gift of life and salvation. The only threat to you receiving that gift is not from viral transmission, but from not discerning that the crucified and risen body of Christ is truly present in this Sacrament to rescue you from the very thing that frightens you.
Of course public health officials are going to have problems with any shared meal in a time such as this. They are especially going to have problems with a shared cup. It only makes sense from a public health standpoint. But in the institution of this Sacrament Jesus did not direct us to look at it from the standpoint of public health. He directed us to look at it from the standpoint of His death and resurrection for the life of the world. He directed us to look at it from the standpoint of undoing all the damage that sin has done to body and soul.
The threat of sickness and death in the Lord’s Supper is not from viral transmission. It is from not discerning the body, losing faith in the words and promises of the loving Lord who gave this gift to you as He gave His life for you. Whatever you do, place your faith in the words of your Saviour, “This is My body given for you... This is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” In this Sacrament we have forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation as the words and promises of God declare. That is what our Catechism reminds us and why it is such an important guidebook to us as we live our lives in the face of fear and death and sin and misbelief.
It is the final section of the Catechism, the Christian Questions with their answers, that lead us from the knowledge of our sin in the Ten Commandments to our participation in the Lord’s Supper and why we simply cannot go without it, especially when our lives are threatened. Let us recite together:
19. What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?
First, both the command and promise of Christ the Lord.
Second, his own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given.
20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this:
first, he should touch his body to see of he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.
In those passages the Scriptures say that the flesh wars against the Spirit. Your bodily desires, concerns, and fears will contradict what God reveals to you in His Word by His Holy Spirit.
Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.
In those passages the Scriptures say that the world has no love for God or His people. The world is not concerned about your faith or your eternal salvation and will not only disregard it, but actively work to snuff it out.
Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.
You are probably well enough familiar with what the Scriptures say about the devil. Although we often forget that he is at work through situations like the one in which we now live.
The Sacrament of the Altar was given to you by Jesus for just such a time as this, when you are threatened with death, when fear rises in an attempt to quench the precious promises of Jesus. That was the case for the disciples with whom He shared the first Lord’s Supper. They were threatened by death of a different sort, but their fear also overshadowed the promises that Jesus made to them on that night.
It wasn’t until after He rose victorious from the dead, that they realized how precious this gift of a Sacrament was for them. And so they celebrated it as they gathered together on the Lord’s Day, and Christians have continued to gather to receive it every Lord’s Day, and to run to it whenever they have been threatened with death or become fearful in any way. It is given for our comfort. It is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for you, for this very hour.