Look Three Ways

Back in November, while visiting family in Myrtle Beach, my husband and I attended a small Presbyterian church.  The week we were there, one of their Elders gave a short temple talk about communion.  He made the very valid point that we most often understand the Lord’s Supper as a time to reflect upon our relationship with God.  After all, Jesus told his disciples:

“Do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24

It’s appropriate to look up as we drink the bread and wine, giving thanks to the one who made us and saved us.

  I

He went on to explain that before partaking, it is also essential to look within ourselves.  The apostle Paul told the Corinthian church:

 “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself.”  1 Corinthians 11:28-29

Lutherans also consider this a necessary part of the communion service.  At our church, the Pastor reads a pretty detailed explanation of “what we should believe and do.”  (see Examine Yourself). So, this Elder concluded we should “look both ways” during communion — up and in.

That’s right as far as it goes.  However, I believe we actually need to look three ways– up, in and around.  The Lord’s Supper is a community event, which binds us not only to God, but to one another.  In the same chapter of Corinthians already referenced, Paul reprimands the congregation because they are communing without regard for the needs of their fellow members.

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.  For in eating, one goes ahead with his own meal.  One goes hungry, another gets drunk.”  1 Corinthians 11:20-21

Paul makes it clear that this meal involves the entire body, an experience which promotes unity with God and with each other.  We are not to simply satisfy ourselves.

“So then my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another … so that when you come together it will not be for judgement.” 1 Corinthians 11:33-34

When you come together at the table, examine yourself.  Look all three ways — up, down and around. It’s the sign of the cross.

For more about communion see:

Clarity about Communion

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 1

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 2

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 3

 

 

 

 

 

Clarity about Communion

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the LORD in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the LORD. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves”. 1 Corinthians 11: 27-29

Most Lutherans are familiar with this verse which tells us that we should “examine ourselves” before partaking of Holy Communion.  However, are we clear on what that means?  Some find it a bit scary.  Does it mean we must track down and confess every sin we’ve committed? Does it mean we should abstain if we’re not sure our heart is entirely in the right place?  It’s actually fairly simple.  In our congregation the Pastor reads this exhortation before the words of institution which clarifies the issue.

“Dear friends in Christ!  In order that you may receive this holy sacrament in a worthy manner it is necessary that you carefully consider what you must now believe and do.  From the words of Christ, ‘This is My body which is given for you’, ‘This is My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’, you should believe that Jesus Christ is Himself present with His Body and Blood, and the words declare.  From Christ’s words, ‘For the forgiveness of sins’, you should in the next place believe that Jesus Christ bestows upon you His Body and Blood to confirm to you the forgiveness of all your sins.  And finally, you should do as Christ commands you when He says:  ‘Take, eat’, ‘Drink of it all of you’, and ‘This do in remembrance of me.’

If you believe these words of Christ, and do as He has commanded, then you have properly examined yourselves and may rightly eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.”

In other words, to examine ourselves, we must understand that we are sinners and that Christ has given Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  We must understand that He is truly present in the Sacrament and that it is meant to be a reminder of the great gift we have received.  We should accept it thankfully and live accordingly.  Are we clear?

 

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 3

Now the important question for us to answer on this night concerns the Lord’s command that we do this eating and drinking until He returns. It is not stated as a suggestion but it is presented by Jesus as a new responsibility for His people. Some describe it as an ordinance or a law, but I find that somewhat troubling. It is ordinance in that we are told to do it, but it is so much more than that, for it is indeed a great gift of life for all who believe. Believers are told to commune, but in communing we receive that which strengthens us and prepares us to go forth into the world as living examples of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In a sense, the Sacrament is medicine for a sin sick soul.

All of us are physical creatures. We experience the world physically. If we burn ourselves it hurts. If we dive into a pool we become wet. If we walk out on a bright spring day we feel the sun on our faces and the breeze in our hair. We are not created to be simply minds carried about by bodies, but discreet from the body. God created mankind to be this way because this is how He wants us to be.

When I read about Jesus I have a mental experience of Jesus, sometimes even a soul experience of Jesus, but I do not have a physical experience of Jesus and His presence in my life and in the world. As important as Scripture is to our faith, and it would be hard to overstate how important it is, it cannot give us that physical experience we as physical beings crave and need. Let me give you a personal example. Our youngest granddaughter lives 500 miles away from us. We get to see pictures of her and even brief little “films” of her activities and that keeps us up to date on her growth. What we don’t often get is the opportunity to hold her or kiss her or even to change her diapers. Our general experience of Hailey is more in our minds than in our bodies. Anyone who has ever been separated from someone they love will understand why you want to hug and kiss that person the first chance you get.

As God who became incarnate, Jesus understood this as well as you and I do. And He knew how important it would be for us to be refreshed and strengthened by His true presence as we face the adversities of life and the persecutions large and small that can confront a true follower of the Risen Lord. So He instituted this Sacrament where He truly comes to us and where we truly experience Him in the most intimate way imaginable. When we receive the elements of the Sacrament we are deeply and personally and physically engaged with God. Trying to explain this is fruitless, but accepting the words, “This is my Body given for you”, “This is my blood shed for many for the forgiveness of sins”, is the pearl of great price for us. It is a taste of what heaven will be like.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us that at the heart of God’s restoration of His people there would be a new covenant that would be grounded in a new relationship of knowing God and in the forgiving and forgetting of our sins. This is the promise kept, this is the Word fulfilled each time we come to the chancel rail and take a wafer and a tiny bit of wine.

Maundy Thursday is sometimes called Holy Thursday. It is indeed, friends, it is indeed. Amen.

For parts one and two see:

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 1

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 2

 

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 2

For centuries Christians have disputed amongst themselves the meaning of the new sacramental meal. Different theories of what Jesus meant with the words He used that night, those phrases we have come to call the Words of Institution. Some, as far as I know only Roman Catholics, teach transubstantiation. In other words, the bread and wine literally become the Body and Blood of Jesus and they remain that once it has happened. Therefore , unused wafers and wine, once consecrated, can be “adored” by believers for they are now considered to be permanently the true divine Body and the true divine Blood. On the other hand, those who follow the teachings of the Reformer Huldrich Zwingli say that the Communion meal is simply a remembrance of the Lord’s sacrifice for us, a physical reminder of His love displayed. Christ could not be physically present, these folks argue because He ascended bodily and has chosen to be in the Body for eternity and a physical body cannot be in more than one place at a time.

Those we call Calvinists try to split the difference, contending that Christ is truly present in the Sacrament, it is not simply an act of remembrance, but His presence is spiritual and not physical. The Holy Spirit comes into each believer as he or she receives the elements while Christ remains in heaven while non-believers would receive only bread and wine. And then there are Lutherans—don’t you know we’re out there by ourselves. We utterly reject the transubstantiation argument of Catholics because it is obvious that we still have bread and wine no matter what is said over them. But Christ said that the bread was His Body and the wine His blood, without any restrictions attached so we accept what He says as truth and speak of His Body and His Blood as being somehow under the elements. We truly receive what Christ promised and we’re willing to let it go at that. There is an urge in all of us to try to explain everything so it makes sense to us, but we can’t always do that when it comes to things divine. Faithfulness does not require a complete understanding of those mysteries that are understood by God alone. For believers it is enough to simply accept Jesus’ words as Truth and not try to parse them out so our feeble minds can somehow grasp divine meaning. As it has been said, if I could understand God and His ways completely—I would be God.

These disagreements are not going to go away until Jesus comes again. However, what we believe, teach and confess about the Sacrament does not determine our salvation. So we should remember to be generous to those brothers and sisters with whom we disagree, but neither should we ignore something so fundamentally important to our faith as the Holy Supper. Nor should we try to play down what we believe in order to have earthly fellowship, for to go against conscience is ultimately destructive of our faith.

For part one see:

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 1

More to come …..

God’s Victory Through the Sacrament of Communion, part 1

This is my husband’s sermon for Maundy Thursday.  Because of the coronavirus, the congregation could not gather, but it is also posted on our church website.  I think it does a good job of explaining the different beliefs about this sacrament, and how it is a crucial component of God’s plan for victory over evil.

I think nothing has seemed so strange to me as writing a Maundy Thursday sermon knowing that the sacrament of Holy Communion will not take place that night. Nor will we strip the chancel area in preparation for a Good Friday service. It is, however, important for us not to forget these times at this most important part of the Church year. We are people of faith, faith in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of the living God who bore our punishment for our sinfulness and freed us all from the power of sin, death and the devil. Satan no doubt thinks he has won some sort of battle here by emptying sanctuaries around the world this paschal season, but he is not only a liar, he is a fool for, while the Lord is present in His sanctuary, so He is present in the hearts and minds of His chosen people. This week is the week of Christus Victor, the victorious Messiah, victorious over all that is wrong with creation, all that has been distorted by sin.

We see part of the Lord’s victory here in the 26th chapter of Matthew beginning at the 26th verse.

The Lord and His closest disciples are assembled in the upper room for a final meal together. Jesus has spoken of it as the Passover meal, but it is a day earlier than the calendar denotes Passover because, by the time most Jews were eating Passover, Jesus would be in the tomb. The Passover meal has many discrete parts because it is not only a time of eating but of learning and re-learning about God’s rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Each part of the meal was a discreet learning experience. Jesus starts something new that night. He establishes another meal to replace the Passover, one that is meant to teach and re-teach believers over the centuries like the Passover meal, but with a great difference between the two celebrations. The Passover meal looked back in remembrance alone, it is intellectual and maybe spiritual. God is spoken of but not present physically because He was, at that time, not yet incarnated, He had not taken on the body of a man. In Christ Jesus, however, God had become like us, He had walked among us, living like us except without sin. And He was going to stay with us in a new way, a way both physical and spiritual. And so the new meal of the faithful must be both physical and spiritual.

To be continued ……

The Agnus Dei

“Agnus Dei” is a Latin phrase which literally means, “lamb of God.”  If you are a Lutheran (or Catholic or Anglican) you will know that it is a liturgical prayer addressed to Christ, our Savior, the lamb who was sacrificed for us. It is based upon these words spoken by John the Baptist:

   “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  John 1:29

It has been included in the liturgy since the 12th century, and used in choral pieces by many famous composers.  In our church we sing it before Holy Communion.  These are the words:

“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us! Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us! Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace!”

The themes are forgiveness and sacrifice, appropriate as we approach the table of the Lord and remember His last supper with the disciples.

For more on the liturgy go to these posts:

Learning from the Liturgy

The Laity and Liturgy

Liturgy as Prayer

 

 

A Feast to Remember

Recently, in honor of Veteran’s Day, my husband and I were invited to dinner at a friends’ house.  There were a number of veterans there, and as we ate, they sat around the table telling stories about their time in the military.  There were funny stories and scary stories;  there were stories about the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Merchant Marines;  there were stories about the Vietnam War, World War II, Korea and Qatar.  All these men (and one woman) had a shared experience and it was good to have an opportunity to remember it together.

The ancient Israelites had a feast like this as well,  called Passover.  The Passover was a time to repeat and remember their experience as slaves in Egypt and how the Lord rescued them.  Even though the people celebrating the feast had not participated in the actual events, God wanted them to remember it as part of their personal history, part of their life as God’s people.

As Christians, we celebrate a regular feast as well.  Some name it The Lord’s Supper, others Holy Communion or the Mass, depending on the denomination.  We also come together to remember an experience from our history as a people, the night that Jesus last ate and drank with His disciples before His Crucifixion and Resurrection. For Lutherans, it is much more than just a symbol — it is Christ Himself, coming to us in His body and blood, what we call “the real presence.”  Here’s some of what Martin Luther says we receive in this feast:

“For here in the sacrament [Communion] you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God’s grace and Spirit with all his gifts, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils” (The Large Catechism — p. 98).

Luther said we should partake of this sacrament often.  Why would we want to miss out, simply to sleep in?  A feast is set for us.  A feast where we meet with Jesus and our fellow believers, to not only remember, but receive His blessings today.  It gives us strength and nourishment for daily living.  Don’t miss out — did you go to the feast this week?

Examine Yourself

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”  1 Corinthians 11: 27-29

See the source image

Lutherans take the sacrament of Holy Communion seriously.  We believe that the bread and wine remains physically bread and wine, however, Jesus is present “in, with and under” the physical elements. Participants should examine themselves to be sure they rightly understand and appreciate the great gift being received.  Of course, many might say, “what does it mean to examine oneself?  How do I do that?”  In our congregation,  the Pastor reads what is called an “Exhortation” before we commune which explains this.  I thought it might be helpful to non-Lutherans and Lutherans alike to print it here.

EXHORTATION

Dear friends in Christ!  In order that you may receive this holy Sacrament in a worthy manner, it is necessary that you carefully consider what you must now believe and do.  From the words of Christ,

“This is My body, which is given for you;”  “This is My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

You should believe that Jesus Christ is Himself present with His Body and Blood, as the words declare.  From Christ’s words, “For the forgiveness of sins,” you should in the next place, believe that Jesus Christ bestows upon you His Body and Blood to confirm to you the forgiveness of all your sins.  And finally, you should do as Christ commands you when He says,

“Take, eat;”  “Drink of it all of you;” and “This do in remembrance of me.”

If you believe these words of Christ, and do as He has commanded, then you have properly examined yourselves and may rightly eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.

You should, also, unite in giving thanks to Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for so great a gift, and should love one another with a pure heart, and thus, with the whole Christian Church, have comfort and joy in Christ our Lord.  To this end, may God the Father grant you His grace;  through the same, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen

Note:  The Exhortation Before Communion is taken from The Ambassador Hymnal for Lutheran Worship

This is the Feast #2

For those who are unfamiliar with this canticle which I mentioned in my last post, I thought I would post the music with lyrics.

The Greatest Bible Study

“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” Luke 24:32

This has always been one of my favorite passages of scripture, titled in my Bible, “On the Road to Emmaus.”  Two followers of Jesus meet him on the way to a village called Emmaus, shortly after the crucifixion. They do not recognize him and tell him how their teacher was crucified, and that some of the women in their company claimed that He had risen.  Jesus proceeds to lead them in the greatest Bible study of all time:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27

Finally he reveals himself to them at the evening meal, when he blesses and breaks the bread and gives it to them.  Wouldn’t you love to have an experience like that?  Well, guess what, you can.  We have the very words of Christ, recorded for us in the New Testament gospels;  we have the opportunity to meet with Him in the celebration of communion.  You can meet Him on the road of your own journey.  Ask Him to open your eyes;  do you feel your heart burning?

Image result for images on the road to emmaus