“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when 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 also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning 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. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Today is this special evening when we again meditate upon the greatest mystery that is given to us – on the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, the Holy Meal, the Eucharist, or as the Church has called it since early centuries – the medicine of eternal life.
And because this is the greatest mystery entrusted to the Church, the life giving and purifying presence of the holy God with us and in us, it is good to reflect on it as often as we can. At least once a year. This evening we’ll reflect on what Paul wrote in his letter to Christians in Corinth.
There is something intriguing in what he wrote. Did you notice it? Sure, there are many intriguing things, but in the very beginning of our today’s reading we heard: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…”
Can you see what is so intriguing in these words? Let’s think, when did Paul begin his ministry? Was he one of Jesus disciples? No! Was he one of the twelve apostles? No! In fact, he became a Christian only a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
How did then he received all these instructions from the Lord? It is described in Acts by Luke and Paul himself describes it in his letters that he had revelations from Jesus not just once, but several times.
Do you see where it leads us? To the importance of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus’ Himself revealed to Paul the Gospel (Gal 1:12) that he was to proclaim to the Gentiles. And He also instructed Paul regarding the Lord’s Supper. It was that important; for the Lord’s Supper is the Gospel given to us to eat and drink.
Remember I said that the Lord’s Supper since the first centuries was called the medicine of eternal life. I assume we all have had some experience with taking different medicine. We know how this is done.
A doctor who prescribes you a particular medicine, gives you also instructions how you should use it. Why do they do it? For to benefit from any medicine you need to know how to use it. Otherwise it can do you more harm than good. The same is also true when we talk about this medicine of eternal life.
This evening I want to reflect of three questions that can help us to appreciate the Holy Communion even more and to receive it for our benefit. First, whose Supper is it, second, who can receive it, and third, how should we receive it.
Whose Meal is it, who can receive it, and how to receive it. First, whose Supper is it? Whatever sad it may sound, but unfortunately many churches somewhere along the way have lost the Biblical teaching that in the Lord’s Supper our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself is present sacramentally in bread and wine.
For many the Lord’s Supper has become a meal of fellowship where they simply remember what Jesus did for us. They don’t believe that Jesus Christ Himself is actually present in bread and wine to share with us His holiness.
Once someone loses the Biblical teaching about the Lord’s Supper, the meal itself ceases to be the Lord’s Meal. It becomes something that congregation does. It becomes a meal which a certain congregation serves to its members. Not more.
Our first question was – whose Supper is it? And the answer from the Scriptures is – it is our Lord’s Supper. This is important – it is not our Supper, it is not a supper that a congregation puts on for its members or guests, it is not something that a pastor serves to those who happen to be present, none of this.
It is the Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the host. That’s His feast and He is the One who invites us, who has prepared this Meal for us, and who serves us this the most precious food, His body and blood under elements of bread and wine.
Think about it! If that was our supper, or if it was a supper of your pastor, how would we make bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood. What should we do to ensure that the eternal Son of God Himself is present in bread and wine?
There is nothing we could do. If it was our supper, then it would be only bread and wine as it is many churches, who have lost this the most precious gift of God. But because it is God’s holy Meal, where Jesus Christ Himself is our host, we receive what He has prepared and promised.
How does He do it? The same way the Triune God does everything. By His Word. Remember, in the beginning God said “be fruitful and multiply”. He said it just once, but the power of His Word enables all living beings and us humans to do what He commanded.
The same is true about the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said it only once, when He instituted His holy Meal that “this is my body, this is my blood, do this in remembrance of me”, but because it was the holy God Himself who said these words, they create what He commands. “This is my body, this is my blood.”
We can’t give anyone the power to multiply, and the same way we can’t make bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood. Only the true host of His holy Meal, the Son of God, Jesus Christ can do it.
It is His Meal, His Supper and you are His guests, privileged to be invited by the Lord Himself to receive this medicine of eternal life. Now, because it is Jesus’ Supper, we cannot receive it on our terms, but only on His terms, if we want to receive it for our benefit.
Paul warned that those who receive the Lord’s Supper in unworthy manner receive judgement to themselves. This is such a serious warning. Paul wrote that those who received it in unworthy manner had become weak, ill and even had died.
How can we then receive it in worthily manner? How can we receive the Lord’s Supper according to Jesus’ instructions? Here we come to the second and the third questions. Who can receive the Holy Communion, and how to receive it?
Remember we have often spoken that we live in two kinds of relationships – with our God and with one another. The same distinction is helpful when we think about the Holy Communion.
Who can receive refers more to our relationships with God, and how, more to our relationships with others. First, who can receive it? Paul mentions two things; we need to discern the body of Christ and to examine ourselves.
To discern the body of Christ means that we know what is this that we are about to receive. True body and true blood of Jesus Christ, the holy Son of God given to us to eat and drink with bread and wine.
‘Examine yourselves’ part means that we need to be conscious why we receive the Lord’s Supper. “Given for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.” It means that we need to understand that in the Lord’s Supper we eat and drink forgiveness and eternal life.
So who can receive the Lord’s Supper? Everyone who knows what is it, true body and true blood of Jesus Christ, the real presence of the holy God, and who repents of their sins and desires to receive God’s precious forgiveness.
It sounds strange, but we are truly worthy only when we realize that we are not worthy, that we are not perfect, that we are sinners who desperately need God’s grace and forgiveness.
Even more, if you are burdened by your sin, if Satan attacks you, if you desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit, if you long for God’s peace, if you need to strengthen your faith, then the Lord’s Supper is for you.
If you know that you are not worthy, but it is Jesus’ underserved grace that you desire, then the Lord’s Supper is for you. Remember, it is God’s medicine, it means that is for the sick, for the imperfect, for the sinners, for the burdened, for the weak. For all of us who need God’s healing and life giving presence.
All of this refers to our relationships with God. Now, our last question, how to receive it. And this one refers to our relationships with one another. We didn’t read it today, but Paul writes about it just a few lines earlier.
He rebukes Corinthians for their divisions, for their factions, for the fact that they are not united as Christians should be. The point is, whenever Christians come together to celebrate the Holy Communion, we need to do it in unity of faith.
When you come to the Communion this is where you confess with your actions that ‘I believe that what this church teaches is what the Bible teaches, I am united in my confession of faith with this church, I believe what they believe’.
For why would anyone go to a church that you know teaches contrary to the Word of God. This is why we don’t commune at altars of others churches. For no one can believe teachings that are contradictory.
For example, we can’t believe the we are saved by God’s grace and at the same time believe that we need to merit our salvation. We can’t believe that the Bible is God’s Word and at the same time believe that it actually isn’t.
Or we can’t believe that in the Holy Communion Jesus Christ Himself is present and we receive His body and blood with bread and wine, and at the same time believe that actually He is not here.
This is why Catholics commune at Catholic altars, and Orthodox at Orthodox altars and Lutheran at Lutheran altars, and so on. It is not only about what I as an individual believe or what the other person believes.
It is not about me and God, that’s sad invention of our age of ‘I, me, myself’. It is about unity of faith among all those who come to the Lord’s table. This’s a communal meal of fellow Christians, not someone’s dining alone.
This is a very practical and very serious matter. Unity in faith is what builds up any congregation and any church. Disagreements and arguments are what destroys any congregation and any church. We know it from our own experience. How sad it is when we need to avoid some issues where we know we are divided. It hurts.
Unity is what brings us closer, what gives us one mind and one heart, unity is what truly empowers us, what helps us to share the Gospel and to teach about Christ, it is what gives us joy and allows to celebrate our Christian fellowship. Divisions and arguments take all of this away. As most of us have experienced it.
We’ll do well and it will be a blessing for our congregation and for our spiritual well-being if we remember these three things. It is the Lord’s Supper. Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord is our host whenever we come to His table.
He is the One who serves us His holy and precious body and blood, which are given for the forgiveness of all our sins. He is the One who instructs us how to receive this medicine of eternal life.
We will receive it in worthily manner, if we know what it is, if we come to receive it with repentant hearts, knowing that even as we don’t deserve God’s grace, we desperately need it.
We will receive the Holy Communion for our blessing as congregation and as individuals, if we receive it in unity of faith, being united in what we believe as Christians in Evangelical Lutheran church.
As you see, knowing whose Supper it is, and knowing who can receive it and how to receive it puts certain responsibility on all of us, on pastors, on individual members and or us as congregations.
Pastors are to be faithful stewards of this God’s mystery, to teach about the blessings of the Lord’s Supper and about the Lord’s instructions how to receive it, we all are to teach and share it with others, with Christians from other churches and with those who are only coming closer to Christ.
The Lord’s Supper is the greatest mystery, it is the greatest gift that the Church has received from our Lord, and we are here to eat and drink its blessings, and we want to do it properly.
Come for everything is ready. Come and see that the Lord is good.