17Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
20When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
30And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:17–30)
These Words of Christ in which He instituted the sacred meal are the very Words of our Lord on the night that He was betrayed. On that night, Jesus held what is called the ‘Last Supper’ with His disciples. But that ‘Last Supper’ is not ‘Last’ for us. Our Lord says, As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).
The meal in which we partake of Christ’s very body and blood is a proclamation of the Lord’s death till He comes again in His glory. It is a meal of remembrance. It is also a meal in which the Lord Himself distributes what only He Himself gives. Though the eyes see one thing, the ears hear another. We see bread and wine, but the Lord says that more is going on than meets the eye. The Lord would have us believe what He says. This is how one eats and drinks the true body and blood of our Lord worthily, by faith in the very Words that the Lord speaks.
Though your eyes and reason say something different, believe what God speaks in His Word, and His promises are yours, even the forgiveness of all your sins. You might not understand it, but that’s ok. The Lord would not have you to understand it. He would have you believe it, not according to your eyes, but according to His Word. This is where true confidence and lasting peace are found. This is where we hear the words, given and shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of sins.
In the Lord’s Supper, in the meal offered for your salvation, our Lord Jesus gives His body and blood. By these, God really remits all your sins. Think not, ‘how can this be’? Believe rather that because the Lord says it, it must be so. What He offers and what He gives is your salvation.
As one before has said, “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.” (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, ‘Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily?’)
We partake of the Lord’s Supper on the basis of God’s Holy Word, having faith in that and not in ourselves. True faith is not just going through the motions. It is not simply doing things because everyone else is doing them. True faith is of the heart and takes God at His Word, seeing there His Son, for us, not only in Word, but in bread and wine and body and blood. To not believe the Words of the Lord as they are is unbelief. To believe is belief. To those who do believe, God offers the promise of life and salvation.
It is for this reason that the Lord’s Supper is offered in our churches, offered and not forced. We cannot coerce anyone to believe. We do not force anyone to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. The Lord does not give it to burden consciences. He gives it to comfort and to gladden the heart. He gives it that you know that you are forgiven according to His Word.
Jesus says, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Even as the Lord gives rest in His Gospel, so also does our Lord give rest in the Lord’s Supper. In the Lord’s Supper, the Lord gives you this rest for your weary soul. Here, He provides and nourishes you unto eternal life. Here, He strengthens and preserves you to life everlasting. He forgives your sin and gives Himself FOR YOU.
If you feel or think that you are not worthy to receive the holy things of God, know that true worthiness does not consist in you. Your sincerity of confession or the sorrow of your heart is not the basis for going to the Lord’s Supper. What is the basis for eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table is not you, but the Lord’s Word.
If you are waiting to feel worthy, you never will. Believe His Word. Though you know yourself to be unworthy, this supper is prepared for you, not because of your own righteousness, but because here the Lord gives you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, ‘What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?’).
Christ’s words are to be taken as they are. Many add to them or take away from them. But this is not the right way. What we cannot understand, we leave in God’s hands. There, we are safe. Anything else is going too far. Sticking to the words of our Lord, we are on solid ground.
Christ gave bread and said, This is My body. Christ gave wine and said, This is My blood. He could not be more clear than that, saying what He means and meaning what He says. If this Word is not enough, St. Paul also says, The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)
What the Bible gives in one place will also be supported in another. All interpretations of Holy Scripture therefore that contradict what Scripture says are against Scripture and not Christian. The inconsistencies that abound in Christendom are the result of not everyone being faithful to the Lord’s Word. True unity doesn’t consist in ‘agreeing to disagree’ or in ‘tolerating different opinions’ when it comes to the things of God. It consists in this, believing what God says and confessing the same. Because all churches do not say the same thing concerning the things of God, there is not true unity.
Because we are not united in the faith, we are not able to express true unity. If we were, then we could commune at the Lord’s table with others, and they with us. As it is, all do not agree with reference to what God says in His Word. This is the problem. We cannot express Christian fellowship where there is none. To do so would be to deny Christ and His Word.
For this reason, our churches and the Christian church throughout her history has practiced ‘close or closed communion’. This is not the unloving practicing of welcoming all to the table, regardless of creed and confession. It is the loving practice of clearly proclaiming Christ and Him crucified to a confused world, declaring that Christ and His Word does matter, and that Christ’s body and blood, truly and really present with the bread and wine, are given for life and salvation.
This we believe and this we confess. The Lord offers the Sacrament of the Altar for our salvation. Here, God gives the forgiveness of sins. It is not the bodily eating and drinking that does this, but the words here written, “‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins’; which words, besides the bodily eating and drinking, are the chief thing in the Sacrament; and he that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins” (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, ‘How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?’).
To the Lord’s Words we cling. It is here and in what He gives that you find rest for your soul and the promise of eternal life. Hear it often. Receive it plenty. Amen.