Given and Shed for You (Sacrament of the Altar)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I spent a lot of time with my Catechism students for the past month or so emphasizing just how important are the Words of Institution. The words are straightforward, really. “This is my body.” “This is my blood.” “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” “Do this.” What did He mean? He meant that the bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Altar is His body and blood. It’s simple. It’s only not simple when one refuses to take Jesus at His Word. When one tinkers with the Word of God, errors and heresies emerge. The lesser error is that of the Roman Church. They refuse to believe that the bread and wine are present in the Lord’s Supper. At least they believe that Jesus is present in the Sacrament of the Altar. Yet they still deny the Word of Jesus. But the worse error is that of all those who refuse to believe the word “is,” those who teach that the bread and wine represent or symbolize the body and blood of Jesus.
Luther, of course, makes plain what we believe, teach, and confess concerning this holy Meal: “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.” Simply put, we believe what Jesus says. We take Jesus at His Word. Just as we trust the Word of God in the water of Baptism to mark us as children of God, Just as we trust the Word of God in Holy Absolution to apply the forgiveness of sins to us, in the same way we believe and trust that Jesus is present in and under the bread and wine when the Word of God is spoken by the men Christ has called to stand in His stead.
That also means we trust that Word of God when Jesus tells us that His body and blood are “given” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” There were some in Corinth who saw the Lord’s Supper to be something other than what Jesus said it was: the gift of His body and blood given to sinners to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins. They had transformed the Lord’s Supper into their own party. No longer were the body and blood of Jesus being confessed as the gifts that they are. No longer were these gifts at the center of the congregation’s life. There was eating and drinking, but the Corinthians were no longer coming together to eat and drink of the Lord’s Supper.
Paul does not offer yet another interpretation of the Sacrament which we should consider alongside the other interpretations. Paul does not, like so many in the Church today, consider it a matter of indifference as to what one believes and confesses regarding the Lord’s Supper. Instead Paul says, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
In the Sacrament you are given the body and blood of Jesus. The very body that was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary to bear your sins and suffer your death is given into your mouth. The very blood He shed to redeem you is the means of forgiveness which flows into your bodies. The body and blood of Jesus proclaim to you the complete forgiveness of all your sins, and as you eat and drink at the Lord’s Table you confess Jesus Christ to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. You may bring no contradiction of Jesus and His words to His altar.
This Sacrament does not depend on you. It does not depend on your belief of what you receive. It does not depend on your own reason or strength. What you receive does not change based on what you think or feel about it. The Sacrament depends on the Lord Jesus, who established it on the night in which He was betrayed. It depends on Him and the Words He speaks to make it what it is, and to make it give what He says it gives. It is not your faith which makes a Sacrament. All who come to the altar receive Christ’s body and blood, whether they believe it or not. And it is Christ’s body and blood, which means it cannot be anything less or any less special than the body and blood of Christ, no matter how often you receive it—once a year, once a quarter, once a month, once a week, or every day.
There is only one way to worthily eat and drink of the Lord’s Supper, and that is with faith in words of Him who is the Host and Founder of the feast. Luther’s Catechism says it well: “He is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’” Thanks be to God, for the Holy Spirit, which you receive in Holy Baptism, gives you the faith to believe His Word. That way, when Jesus says, “Do this,” you may receive this blessed gift in a worthy manner. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.