The Lord’s Supper – A Matter of Life and Death

Sermon for Holy Thursday based on 1 Corinthians 10:16–17; 11:17–32

Dear children of God who have come to be fed: grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

One of the sad realities of Christendom is that we do not all agree when it comes to the Sacrament of the Altar. Sometimes there seem to be as many views on the Lord’s Supper as there are church bodies. What if this issue could have been settled already in the Early Church, so that all Christians would be in agreement now? What would it have taken, so that everything that we need to know about the Lord’s Supper would be crystal clear, with no possible inaccuracies? What would have needed to happen so that there would be absolutely no doubts?

Well, first, we would want to have an eyewitness who was there when Christ instituted His Supper. But no, let’s say two eyewitnesses in order to establish the truth for legal purposes [Dt. 17:6, 19:5, Mt. 18:16]. Just for good measure, because of the weakness of our faith, let’s double the legal requirement and say that we would want four eyewitnesses that were present at the institution. Then let’s still multiply that by three and desire twelve eyewitnesses, of which at least four would give us, in writing, the truth of the Lord’s Supper. If the written reports of the four were not accurate, then the other eyewitnesses could respond and set the record straight.

Next, we would want the institution to take place in a somber setting – perhaps the day Jesus knew He would be arrested to be crucified. Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables (Mt. 13:34) but to His disciples He taught plainly the secrets of the kingdom of God (Mt. 13:11), so we would want this institution away from the crowds, only with His disciples.

We would also want what Jesus said to be something that must be taken literally, such as a last will and testament, so there would be no doubt concerning the meaning of the words. The will would come into effect upon Christ’s death [Heb. 9:16 – 17], and would be binding and unchangeable, since no one can change or annul the will of someone after their death [Gal. 3:15].

Also, we would want Jesus to have used the simplest of words to ensure that they cannot be misunderstood. Maybe if He just said, “Take eat; this is my body [Mt. 26:26],” and “Drink… this is my blood [Mt. 26:27 – 28].” With this, He would make clear that it is His true body that is eaten and His true blood which is drunk in words so simple a child can understand them. And further, if He would connect this Supper to His covenant, which is a testament that cannot be broken or changed, and then say the reason for this covenant – “the forgiveness of sins [Mt. 26:28].”

And still, just for good measure for the doubters and those slow of heart to believe, if the apostle who wrote thirteen of the Epistles in the New Testament would have, after Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension, written confirming that this is how the disciples and the Early Church understood the words of Christ. And finally, if another New Testament author, perhaps the writer to the Hebrews, in connection to Christ being a guarantor of the better covenant, would write, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind [Heb. 7:21b – 22].” With all of this, what more could we ask for? How is it possible that it could have been made clearer?

I hope you are starting to see the picture here, that all of this is indeed true. We do have four eyewitness testimonies and Christ’s clearest of words regarding His Supper. Matthew, Peter [recorded in the Gospel written with Mark his interpreter], Luke, and John were all eyewitnesses of the institution, and they all write concerning the Lord’s Supper [even though John doesn’t specifically mention the institution]. This issue was settled by Christ, and the Early Church believed and held onto His words as demonstrated by St. Paul’s writings. Jesus says that it is His will or testament. No one can change or annul the will of someone after their death [Gal. 3:15]. There is no way anyone can change the Lord’s Supper into something Jesus did not institute. It is His true body and blood we receive.

Since we receive the true body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, how should we approach the altar? St Paul writes that we should examine ourselves and recognize the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament so that we do not eat and drink judgment on ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28-29). This is why we practice closed communion. We recognize what the Lord’s Supper is.

In a way, the Lord’s Supper can be compared to a powerful medicine. The pharmacist doesn’t just give it to anyone. If taken in the wrong way, the powerful medicine can harm the patient. If the patient doesn’t know what it is and pops it like he does tic-tacs, he will die. It is important that the illness is recognized, the medicine is prescribed, and then that the medicine is taken properly. No principled pharmacist gives out such a medicine willy-nilly to just anyone who shows up. But this isn’t because the pharmacist is on a power trip, but because he wants to protect those who do not know what they are receiving. He wants everyone to receive the medicine for their benefit, not their harm.

It is possible to receive the Lord’s Supper to your harm. Those who are not repentant over their sins receive the body and blood of Christ unworthily. Those who do not recognize the real presence of Christ’s body and blood eat and drink to their judgment. This is not what we want for anyone. For those who are living in a sinful situation that is against God’s will, we want those people to turn from their sin and receive forgiveness instead of receiving the Lord’s Supper unworthily. For those who do not believe Jesus’ words “This is my body” and “This is my blood”, we want those people to be taught first what the Sacrament of the Altar is instead of eating and drinking to their judgment. Paul says that unworthy eating and drinking is why many of the Corinthians were weak and ill, and why some had died (1 Cor. 11:30). Unworthy eating and drinking is eternally serious.

Pastors are stewards of the mysteries of Christ, and it is required that we be found faithful [1 Cor. 4:1 – 2]. We want to ensure that no one eats and drinks to their judgment. But we cannot examine your hearts. This is why we have confirmation. You are taught the truth of God’s Word, and the truth of the Sacrament of the Altar. And then you confess whether or not you believe it. Based on your confession, you are admitted to the Lord’s Supper. This also puts the responsibility on you to examine yourself and what you believe. It puts the responsibility on you to examine yourself if you repent of your sins and seek to amend your sinful life with God’s help. It puts the responsibility on you to confess what you believe the Lord’s Supper is.

Even though it is possible to eat and drink unworthily, Christ did not institute the Supper to scare or frighten us. As He Himself said, He instituted it to give us forgiveness of sins. That is why we cling to the absolute certainty of the Sacrament that Jesus instituted and do not change what He has given us. We dare not change anything in His last will and testament. We dare not change anything or we will introduce uncertainty. We hold to what Jesus gave us so we have the certainty of the forgiveness of sins. We hold to what Jesus gave us so we have the certainty of eternal life, because the Lord’s Supper is the medicine of immortality.

How often do you want this medicine of immortality? How often do you want the forgiveness of sins? How often do you want the strengthening of your faith? We should desire it often. Jesus Himself said, “As often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

If you struggle with your sins; if you feel weak and in need of strength; if you’re tired of your battle with sin, then I have wonderful news for you: the Lord’s Supper is for you! Jesus gave us the Supper specifically to strengthen us in our faith and give us forgiveness of our sins. The Lord’s Supper is for the hungry soul; the soul that needs forgiveness; the soul that needs strength in the battle against sin. Jesus specifically said the purpose of the Supper – “the forgiveness of sins [Mt. 26:28].” In His Supper, Jesus personally distributes to you the forgiveness of sins He earned by His death on the cross. Jesus died for your sins on the cross, and He gives that forgiveness to you in the Sacrament of the Altar.

So let us cling to the clear words of Jesus concerning the Supper that He instituted and let us gather to receive the gift of forgiveness often. Jesus left us His last will and testament for our good. He instituted it to give us the certainty of the forgiveness of sins. So come receive what Jesus here gives you. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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