July 2020: Preparing for the Feast
Friends in Christ,
This month is exciting for many reasons! Natalie and I have our anniversary on July 5th. My birthday is July 10th. That day is also Leah’s baptismal birthday, which is far more important! As a church this month is significant because we are returning to the table for Holy Communion. We have not had communion together as a church since March!
Holy Communion is vital to the life of the church, it is where we receive the presence of Christ in a real physical way. It is not something we do lightly. This is a gift of Christ for the church to forgive us our sins, unite us together in heart and mind, and must be received faithfully.
Since it has been a while, I thought it prudent to share with you two short readings to refresh our understanding on the Lord’s Supper. First, take a look at the classic words from Luther in the Small Catechism. Secondly, consider Rev. Jeff Cloetter’s concise explanation on Communion found in his book, Loved and Sent. Please, Read through it carefully in preparation for our celebration of the Lord’s Supper!
Precaution is required, especially considering that many of us are at risk of contracting COVID-19. We have shown an amazing capacity to adapt to our current circumstances and that will continue to proclaim the Gospel in Word and deed.
Stick with us! We are all in this together! God is good!
Preparing for the Feast,
Luther’s Small Catechism on The Sacrament of the Altar
As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household
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.
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.”
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.
In cultures around the world, meals indicate a personal intimacy between friends or family. We generally don’t dine with strangers. The dinner table is for those closest to us. A feast is about more than food. It’s about relationships.
A meal is central to Christian life and practice. Also known as the Eucharist (“ thanksgiving”) or communion (“ unity” or “union”), the Lord’s Supper is the meal instituted by Jesus the night before he was crucified. From that night on, communion has been just that, an intimate communion with Jesus. Jesus’ last supper is recorded in three of the four Gospels (Matt. 26: 26–29; Mark 14: 22–25; Luke 22: 14–23). It was the celebration of the Passover, a meal repeated by the Israelites since they were freed from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 12). The meal drew upon the imagery of blood and sacrifice for forgiveness and deliverance of God’s people.
Jesus built on this history and imagery by boldly inserting himself as the center of the meal. “This is my body,” he claimed with broken bread in hand. “This is my blood,” he declared with the wine. In doing so, he proclaimed himself the sacrifice offered for the sake of his friends. He dies so they live. He takes on the wrath so they can go free.
What does the meal mean for us today? If we take Jesus’ words seriously, the meal is more than an empty ritual or sentimental reenactment of an ancient ceremony. We describe communion as the real presence of Christ. In a real and mysterious way, Jesus is present in the bread and wine.
“This is my body.” “This is my blood.” It was a somber context in which Jesus spoke these words. The mood was heavy. This wasn’t the time for jokes or riddles. The context demands we take Jesus’ words seriously and literally. So we believe that in an incomprehensible manner, his body and blood are present.
Jesus stated the purpose of this meal when he said that it is “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26: 28). We are at the table as an expression of our restored relationship. We are not two parties divorced by an ugly feud. The offended party (God) has forgiven the offender (us). In case we ever forget our standing with him, he welcomes us to the table. The means of reconciliation are none other than flesh and blood.
In the Lord’s Supper, our communion is not only with Jesus. Our connection is also with the community. The feast is a unification with family, our brothers and sisters in Christ (I Corinthians 10: 17). Though many in number and diverse in background, Jesus is our common bond. His invitation brings us to the same table.
Over the centuries, the sacraments have become sources of controversy and division. They have been subject to over-explanation and sterile doctrinal statements. And they have been reduced to ritualistic traditions, motions to go through. Amid the confusion, it’s important to return to the simple center. Augustine wrote, “A sacrament is where God’s love is made visible.” Baptism and communion are about Jesus and his people. Here, in tangible ways, we see that we are loved.”
— Loved and Sent: How Two Words Define Who You Are and Why You Matter by Jeff Cloeter, pages 98-100