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The Small Catechism, Part VI: The Sacrament of the Altar

 

For audio, see here.

 

First Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on last-supper2the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (NKJ)

Second Reading: Mark 14:22-25

22 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 23 Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. 25 “Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”” (NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

By way of introduction to this final Chief Part of Luther’s Small Catechism, Part VI: The Sacrament of the Altar, we find a similarity to Part IV of the Catechism concerning Holy Baptism.

As with Holy Baptism, as well as with The Sacrament of the Altar, Luther helpfully raises four questions, four questions that get right to the main thing of The Sacrament, its use and benefit.

Summarized, these four questions are as follows:

  1. What is it?
  2. What is its benefit?
  3. How can this do what it does?
  4. Who receives it worthily?

As we have touched on Holy Baptism previously, our focus here will be on The Sacrament of the Altar, also known as The Lord’s Supper and Holy Communion.

These various ways of referencing the Lord’s Meal draw attention to its significance.  They say something about what it is.

The Sacrament of the Altar, in its most verbal sense, indicates that it is a sacred act of God distributed from the Altar.

That word, “Sacrament,” however, carries with it more than the sacredness of the institution.

Accompanied with this “sacred act” is God’s institution, and the purpose and use of it being given, “for the forgiveness of sins.”

No insignificant thing is at all going on in The Sacrament of the Altar, by any means.

Also, with the reference, “The Lord’s Supper.”

As it is the Supper of the Lord, given by Him to do as He will, it is not ours to do with what we please.

I’ve heard some use this phrase in the sense that, “as the Lord’s Supper is the Lord’s, we should not deny any to partake, because it is the Lord’s Supper, not ours.”

The last part is true.  The Lord’s Supper is not ours.

Yet, the same Supper that is not ours, but the Lord’s, is the same Supper that Christ has given to the Church, not to do with as she pleases, but to be responsible with in its distribution as the Lord has so given.

Just as the doctor is given to aid and help, and not to harm and hurt, so also the church.

She is not given to harm or hurt, but to instruct, teach and lead with the very Word of God.

In doing so, the church will say yes to some and no to others, as recognized by their confession.

Do they agree and confess the Word of God here or do they not?

Are they catechized/instructed in the true faith?

Do they give voice with us in unity of that faith, including also of our corrupt sinful human nature, or do they not do so, believing something different, not only concerning the Holy Supper itself, but also of God’s doctrine as revealed in His Word?

These are questions for which the church expects an answer.

The church of God is not a mere assembly of like-minded people.

The church is an assembly of those who confess unity in doctrine according to the Word of God.

Everyone is thus welcome to join in hearing the Word.

But to receive “Holy Communion,” yet another reference to what we’re talking about, is not something that all should do, because it is Holy, of God, and true fellowship with Him.

The unrepentant, the hardened of heart against God and His Word, the unbelieving—these are not to commune because to do so brings judgment.

It is not a question of faith that determines whether the Lord’s Supper is the Body and Blood of Christ.

Just as in Holy Baptism, Holy Communion is what it is because God says it is.

My belief or unbelief doesn’t change the substance of the thing, just as the person or faith of the pastor doesn’t influence what it is or isn’t.

Your confidence here, as with all else having to do with the things of God, is not your faith, but the Word.

That’s it.

Just as Jesus says, so it is.

The Words of Institution clearly express this, where Jesus, giving bread, says, “This is my body,” and giving wine, says, “This is my blood.”

You get the one, you get the other.

Fallen, corrupt reason will deny this and say that it cannot be:

The bread must symbolize or only represent something else. It cannot be the body of Christ.

The wine must symbolize or only represent something else. It cannot be the blood of Christ.

With the Word of God, here and everywhere, the child of God does not go by fallen, corrupt reason.

To do so would be to go against that which is of God—to go by unbelief—to place oneself above God and His Word.

Being of God, we don’t raise ourselves above God and His ways, telling God what He should have meant or giving a meaning to the Word which God has not given.

Instead, being of God, we humble ourselves before Him, acknowledging God to be God, not disbelieving what we don’t understand, but entrusting ourselves to the very Word He has given, where, and only where, genuine confidence and everlasting surety reside.

So,

[Luther’s Small Catechism, VI. The Sacrament of the Altar]

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. (SC, Question 1)

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” shows 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. (SC, Question 2)

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? 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.” (SC, Question 3)

Who receives this sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But 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. (SC, Question 4)

SC & LC.jpgIn conclusion, we hear from Luther on Christ’s Testament:

20 …Now we come to its (the Sacrament’s) power and benefit, the purpose for which the sacrament was really instituted, for it is most necessary that we know what we should seek and obtain there.

21 This is plainly evident from the words… “This is my body and blood, given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

22 In other words, we go to the sacrament because we receive there a great treasure, through and in which we obtain the forgiveness of sins. Why? Because the words are there through which this is imparted! Christ bids me eat and drink in order that the sacrament may be mine and may be a source of blessing to me as a sure pledge and sign—indeed, as the very gift he has provided for me against my sins, death, and all evils.

23 Therefore, it is appropriately called the food of the soul since it nourishes and strengthens the new man. While it is true that through Baptism we are first born anew, our human flesh and blood have not lost their old skin. There are so many hindrances and temptations of the devil and the world that we often grow weary and faint, at times even stumble.

24 The Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh and strengthen itself and not weaken in the struggle but grow continually stronger.

25 For the new life should be one that continually develops and progresses.

26 Meanwhile it must suffer much opposition. The devil is a furious enemy; when he sees that we resist him and attack the old man, and when he cannot rout us by force, he sneaks and skulks about everywhere, trying all kinds of tricks, and does not stop until he has finally worn us out so that we either renounce our faith or yield hand and foot and become indifferent or impatient.

27 For such times, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment.

28 Here again our clever spirits contort themselves with their great learning and wisdom, bellowing and blustering, “How can bread and wine forgive sins or strengthen faith?” Yet they know that we do not claim this of bread and wine—since in itself bread is bread—but of that bread and wine which are Christ’s body and blood and with which the words are coupled. These and no other, we say, are the treasure through which forgiveness is obtained.

29 This treasure is conveyed and communicated to us in no other way than through the words, “given and poured out for you.” Here you have both truths, that it is Christ’s body and blood and that these are yours as your treasure and gift.

30 Christ’s body can never be an unfruitful, vain thing, impotent and useless. Yet, however great the treasure may be in itself, it must be comprehended in the Word and offered to us through the Word, otherwise we could never know of it or seek it.

31 Therefore it is absurd to say that Christ’s body and blood are not given and poured out for us in the Lord’s Supper and hence that we cannot have forgiveness of sins in the sacrament. Although the work was accomplished and forgiveness of sins was acquired on the cross, yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word. (Tappert, LC ¶ 20-31). Amen.

LSB7

“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.”

(Lutheran Service Book 622, “Lord Jesus Christ, You Have Prepared,” v8)

 

For audio, see here.

 

 

Hold Fast…

 

“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13, NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

How easy it is to be distracted from the things of God to the things of men, to neglect the One thing needful, and to take for granted God’s grace and favor!

St. Paul, writing to Timothy, writes the words above (2 Timothy 1:13), because, as he indicates in v15, “all those in Asia have turned away from me.”  In other words, “those in Asia” ceased listening to Paul and stopped following the words that Paul preached.

Though many do the same thing concerning the very Word of our Lord, and though many view such diversion from the truth as of little significance, for the Christian, the Word of God has more than importance.  The Word of God is life (John 6:63, 68; 2 Timothy 3:15-17), and directs towards Christ Jesus.  The Law shows us our sin.  The Gospel shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ.   Only Christ saves from sin and hell.  The believer believes this, and desires, seeks, and strives to remain in this faith.

The text from this past Sunday speaks about the challenges of being a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:25-35).  “Holding fast” is such a challenge, for we, of ourselves, are not strong enough to do so.  We are sinners.  But “holding fast the pattern of sound words” is continuing to believe in the Jesus who saves and not in our strength that falters.

God gives strength to remain “in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” by means of His Word and Sacraments.  God has not forsaken you.  Rather, He continues to call you, preaching His Word of forgiveness and salvation through the death of His Son.  So hear, and hold fast to, Christ, who holds you even more strongly (Philippians 3:12).

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, direct us ever to Your Holy Word which gives life, that we live and not doubt, nor reject Your forgiveness and mercy won for us on the cross.  Keep us fast to you, that we live confidently in and by Your grace alone.  Amen.

“Membership in the Christian Congregation”

St. Paul the apostle writes, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).

Times have not changed much.  Divisions abound in what is called Christendom today.  Some of the division does indeed have to do with personalities and individual conflict.  Others have to do with disagreement as to “how” something is to be done.  But the majority of conflict and division within visible Christendom has to do with doctrine, that is, the teaching.  Not all say the same thing.  This is important to note, for “not saying the same thing” indicates, not a joyous diversity, but a lamentable divide, a divide which cannot be reconciled unless doing the hard work of sitting down and hashing out the differences of content and substance.

If all churches within Christendom taught the same thing, all churches would be saying the same thing.  Then, it wouldn’t matter at all which church one attended, for they would be hearing the same Word, the same doctrine, and confessing the same Christ.

Unfortunately, such is not the case.  It seems like churches can’t even agree on what is divisive and what is not.  We don’t agree on what the chief article is, the use of the Sacraments, or the ‘way’ of doing church (Liturgical vs. ‘Contemporary’), just to name a few.  Yet, even with these disagreements, there is the overwhelming one—of Christ and His Word, the distinction between Law and Gospel, and salvation by God’s grace through faith alone (and the meaning of the all of these).

Such disunity demonstrates itself, not only in the doctrine between various congregations and church bodies, but also within the membership of a particular congregation itself.  American Christians generally have forgotten, it seems, the significance of membership in a congregation.  Some join and/or remain members of a congregation merely because of the ‘fellowship’ (not of doctrine, but of friends, family, etc.), on account of the school or programs and activities offered, or simply because that’s the only congregation that they’ve known.

Though these might be attractions and reasons for remaining a member of a certain congregation, clearly omitted from such consideration is that of doctrine.  In other words, what does the congregation believe, teach, and confess?  What does the pastor preach?  Is what the pastor preaches and what the congregation teaches and practices according to God’s Word?  If it is, that is THE reason to become a member and to remain a member of that congregation.  If it isn’t, that is reason to either try to bring about reform or to find a congregation where the preaching and teaching IS according to Holy Scripture and centered on Christ Jesus.

Contrary to what Frank Senn writes,[1] church can be the true Church.  The Lutheran Confessions (as in the Book of Concord, www.bookofconcord.org), and specifically Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, states, “1 It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. 2 For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. 3 It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places. 4 It is as Paul says in Eph. 4:4, 5, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

The true church consists of all who believe in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (according to the Bible, not according to the ‘church’ or individual interpretation).  Thus in the Third article of the Apostles’ Creed, Christians everywhere confess, “I believe in…the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.”

Of course, the reference here is to the unseen, or hidden, church, the body of all believers in Christ, that is, those still living, as well as of those who have already died, having faith in Jesus Christ.  Yet Article VII speaks of the Gospel preached and the holy sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion) administered.  This means the local congregation, not heaven, where these very things are going on and being given.

Thus, the true church is not only a possibility, but to be sought out.  Such true church preaches the Gospel in its purity and administers the holy sacraments according to the Gospel.  To infer as Senn does that such church is an impossibility is really to forfeit the true doctrine (if he ever claims that such exists), and to decry and denounce “gathering the faithful into a community of ‘pure doctrine’” as “sectarian strategy.”[2]

But what does the Lord say?  “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32) and, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me” (John 14:22-23).

Seeking to abide/remain/continue in Jesus’ Word and keeping that Word must not be a “sectarian strategy,” as Senn postulates, but must be what the Lord Himself desires of them that He calls His children and people.  To not do so, to seek something other than what the Lord says, is to go against God, and to seek not to be His people—a sure sign that one is in error and truly does not love God.


[1] Frank C. Senn, “Lutheran Identity and Denominational Loyalty,” Lutheran Forum, 44, no. 4  (Winter 2010): 56.  Senn writes, “I am under no illusion that my denomination is the one true holy catholic Church.  Precisely because of the reality of denominationalism no one denomination can make that claim.  Even the Roman Catholic church is but one denomination among others; it is not so ‘Catholic’ as to embrace in one fellowship all Christians and it is too ‘Roman’ for many.  No church can be the true Church, or even ‘a’ true church, because it lacks some quantity or quality of the notes of unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity that we confess in the Nicene Creed.”

[2] Ibid., 54.

Guide To Church Shopping

GuideToChurchShopping.pdf

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