+ Lenten Midweek Pulpit Exchange – 2013: Sacrament of the Altar +Text: Matthew 26:17-29
Topic: Catechism Question: “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?”
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
One of my favorite college professors was fond of saying: “Christ died for sinners…and you qualify.” That works two ways. The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. As in Adam all die. So in Christ all are made alive.
The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. We are both the sinner, starved and enticed by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh to eat all manner of poisonous, spiritual foods. And in this Sacrament, Christ feeds us his holy body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
The Lord’s Supper is for sinners…and you qualify.What is the benefit of such eating and drinking? Jesus’ Word answers: “Given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Luther directs us - not to himself - but to Christ, the giver and the gift of the Lord’s Supper. To His clear Word. “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. “Drink of it, all of you; this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Jesus’ Word and promise have both the simplicity that a preschooler can understand, believe and trust in; and yet a sublime depth that the adult and scholar alike can never fully exhaust their study of God’s Word.
Here, in the words [of Christ] you have two truths: that it is Christ’s body and blood, and that it is yours as a treasure and gift (Luther, LC, 24). Here, in the words of Christ – we have the whole Gospel.
Just as in Baptism – where the water is not plain water, but it is water included in God’s command and combined with His Word. So too, in the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine are not plain bread and wine, but are included in Christ’s command and combined with His Word and promise.
This Sacrament rests not on our holiness but upon Christ’s, not upon our word, but Christ’s Word. Luther uses that word, “benefit” intentionally. Jesus is the gift given in the Sacrament and the giver of the Sacrament. He is the host, cook, waiter, and meal.
However, our culture looks upon gift giving with suspicion: “What’d you do this time? What do you expect in return? What do I have to do now?” Our sinful flesh also despises gift giving. And in despising the gift, we reject the giver. Our sin is always as deep as the grave.
But Christ’s love and gift giving ways are deeper than your sin and death. The same flesh and blood sacrificed on the cross for you is the same flesh and blood given to you at the Lord’s Table. Free gift. Free salvation. Free forgiveness. “That’s outrageous,” we say! Yes. And what a blessed scandal it is. The Lord’s Supper is outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners.
Christ lives, suffers, bleeds, dies and rises all so that he can pour out the blood of this new covenant, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus means what He says. Jesus gives you what He promises.
This Sacrament is a bridge from the cross to the altar, from Jesus’ crucifixion to you, from the Passover Lamb who is sacrificed for us to the Lamb’s high feast. “Christ could have been given and crucified for us a thousand times, and all would have been for naught if the Word of God had not come and distributed it and given it to me as a gift and said, that it is for you, take it and have it for yourself” (Luther).
Two little words anchor Christ’s promise to His benefits: For you.
In this way, the Lord’s Supper is like the cross. Here, just as in Jesus’ death, we behold a blessed exchange, a sacred swap of cosmic proportions.
Christ takes your unbelief and gives you faith in His Word.
Christ takes your self-worship and gives you His self-sacrifice in Divine Service.
Christ takes your name: sinner and gives you his own: son, saint, and heir.
Christ takes you rebellion and gives you his obedience.
Christ takes your lust and gives you His fidelity.
Christ takes your gossiping tongue and gives you His Word of peace upon your lips.
Christ takes your envy and coveting and gives you His charity and compassion.
“It is as if a wolf devoured a sheep and the sheep were so powerful a food that it transformed the wolf and turned him into a sheep. So, when we eat Christ’s flesh physically and spiritually, the food is so powerful that it transforms us into itself and out of fleshly, sinful, mortal men makes spiritual, holy, living men” (Luther This is My Body, AE 37:101).
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?
To the sin-sick man, it is the medicine of immortality.
To the dead man, it is Living Bread from heaven.
To the poor beggar, it is a sacred treasure.
To the lonely, it is the communion of saints.
To the one attacked by the devil, it is a trusty shield and weapon.
To the hungry man, it is life-giving food for body and soul.
To the thirsty man, it is a cup of blessing overflowing with Jesus’ forgiveness.
To the faint and weak pilgrim, it is strength and sustenance for the journey.
To the man emptied of all self-righteousness, it is Christ’s righteousness that satisfies him with good things.
To Adam’s cursed descendants, it is the flesh and blood of Christ that redeems us from the curse.
To the troubled conscience, it is consolation and peace.
To the Church on earth, it is the pulsating heart of the Gospel where heaven comes to earth.In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is for you. His Word for you. His body and blood for you. His forgiveness for you. And where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation. For you.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.