April 9, 2009 A+D
Our Lord creates faith, and makes for Himself a people, by Holy Baptism. He absolves us, the baptized, in the Holy Absolution. He instructs and loves us, forgives us, through the preaching of His Word. He speaks to us through the Bible. And He listens as we open our hearts to Him in prayer. He then gives Himself to us in the Sacrament of the Altar. He enters into us that we would be brought into Him.
We misunderstand and misappropriate these gifts when we try to understand them separately or as avenues of grace rather than as grace itself. They belong together. When they are together, the Holy Communion becomes the obvious center. This is not because it is greater than the other gifts. It is because this where the Lord Incarnate, that is, the Lord in our Flesh, comes to us and enters our flesh in His Flesh. The Sacrament of the Altar is the lifeblood our Life in Christ.
The ceremonies of our worship service indicate something of this. We do not treat all Bible readings the same. We only stand for the reading of the Holy Gospel. That is because the Gospels contain the very words and actions of our Incarnate Lord, of God in the Flesh for us. We do not stand as a confession against the rest of the Bible. All of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is the inspired Word of God, the sole source and norm of all our doctrine in life. God speaks to us in all of it. We stand for the reading of the Gospel because we want to confess the significance and centrality of the Incarnation, of our God, the Man, who took up our Flesh to be a Sacrifice.
So also the Lord’s Supper takes the highest position, ceremonially and theologically, in the Service. It is like standing for the reading of the Gospel. It is not a confession against the other gifts. There is no contest to see which is the greatest in the Kingdom of God, prayer or Communion. The centrality of the Lord’s Supper does not lower or dismiss God’s other gifts. It simply recognizes and confesses the centrality of the Incarnation, of our God, the Man, in our Flesh to be a Sacrifice. This is how God has loved and saved us in the Son: He became a Man. This is the fulfillment of all prophecy, the culmination of history and creation. So the Holy Communion, where God comes to us in the Man-Flesh inherited from St. Mary, has more elaborate ceremonies than preaching or the reading of the Scriptures or of prayer. It is the central point and main event of our worship. All the other gifts, Baptism, Absolution, Prayer, Preaching, Hymn-singing, Holy Marriage, and such, circle around and lead to it or are drawn from it.
This is as it should be. For on the night in which He was betrayed, Our Lord instituted not merely a Sacrament, but the Church itself. What He gave to the apostles that night was His lifeblood and His legacy. He gave them Himself. He established a sacramental union with the Church. He left His Father and joined Himself, as one flesh, to His bride. He penetrates her in the Holy Communion. He gets inside His beloved. By that union, a simple foot washing becomes an act of incredible intimacy. He anointed the feet that would carry His Good News to ends of the earth. And they have brought it to you. It is the Apostles’ words, inspired by the Spirit, recorded in the Scriptures, which you have heard and therein known your Shepherd’s Voice. And you are bathed. You are Baptized. Now you will be fed.
*Our Lord Jesus Christ has had this specific mercy on us. For our benefit He became a Man and has fulfilled for us the whole will and law of God, and to deliver us took upon Himself our sin and the punishment we deserve. So that we may more confidently believe this and be strengthened in faith and holy living, that we would not be alone, He took bread, broke it, and gave it to His disciples and said, Take eat, this is My Body, which is given for you. It is as if He said, “I became a Man and all that I do and suffer is for you, for your good. As a pledge of this, I give you My body, My Flesh, God as a Man, to eat.” In the same way He took the cup and said, “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.” Again, it is as if He said, “I have taken all your sin and guilt into Myself and give Myself into death, shedding My blood to obtain grace and forgiveness of sins, for you. I give you that which I long forbid, which I now fulfill in pouring out My Life, for the Life is in the Blood. Drink My Blood. Take My Life. Be My Bride. For I have become a Man that I might not only give Myself to you but that I might also have you.”
Whoever eats this bread an drinks this cup, confidently believing this Word and Promise of Christ, dwells in Christ and Christ in him and has eternal life. Yes, dear Christians, this is our lifeblood in Christ, the center and source of our Faith.
* this part on is modified from the confessional address in the LSB Altar Book for Maundy Thursday, p. 507-8. If I wasn’t so lazy I’d go find this in Luther. I am fairly certain it is the Large Catechism but it could be his great confession.