May 2022 A.D.
Holy Thursday and Holy Communion
(This is my Maundy Thursday sermon. I run it here for those unable to make the service and for all of us to review and learn these key concepts well.)
I Cor. 11:23 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, 24 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.” 25 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.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 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. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (ESV)
As we just heard in First Corinthians, the Sacrament of the Altar is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink. Whether or not people believe that they are receiving the actually body and blood of Christ at His Table, doesn’t change the reality that they are. Many get this wrong and think the can commune in any denomination and it will be whatever they believe it to be—real presence or symbolic or something else. In confirmation, I always hand the kids a hymnal and say, “This is a hymnal. What if you believed this hymnal was an elephant, would it then be an elephant? No, it is what is regardless of your faith.” A person’s faith never determines what the Lord’s Supper is, Christ’s Word does. He says, “This is my body.” Churches like ours in the LCMS, Orthodox and Catholic ones—who say these words as given, have the body and blood of Christ on their altars. Churches who change the words or the meaning of them, like Baptists, Methodist and Presbyterians don’t have the body and blood and don’t have real communion. They just have bread because they don’t have the word—you only get bread even if you believe it to be Christ’s body. At our altar you get His body in bread even if you believe it to be bread only or symbolic. Faith doesn’t change the reality of Christ’s word. Because Christ is always really present in, with, and under bread and wine, in our church and churches that don’t depart from Scripture, the giving and receiving of the Sacrament of the Altar has been and always will be a very serious meal.
While a person’s faith doesn’t determine the reality of the Supper, a person’s faith is very important in receiving the body and blood of our Lord worthily. Our epistle lesson gives some stern warnings about communing unworthily. Those who communed unworthily in Corinth experienced weakness, illness, and some even death. Might this give us pause to not think only of viruses and the material world and realize there is a spiritual realm and God’s judgment. Therefore, distributing Jesus’ body and blood to people is a very serious responsibility for pastors, who Scripture calls the stewards of the mysteries (sacraments) of God. And eating the bread and drinking the cup is a serious matter for all who do. My responsibility is to not give commune to those I know shouldn’t. But for my active members in good standing—those who confess our common faith in word and deed– you have a responsibility to examine yourselves and hearts, which I can’t see.
Notice that on this Holy Thursday that Jesus only invited His disciples to commune, whom He had instructed for 3 years. He didn’t, for example, invite the 5,000 whom He had fed perishable food earlier in His ministry. The early Church continued this loving practice and would ask those not yet instructed in the faith to actually leave after the sermon and before the Service of the Sacrament. After the hearers left, the Church would then close the doors so that the doors were closed, hence the phrase Closed Communion. Churches that have the real presence LCMS, Rome and Orthodox all practice closed communion. Those who deny the real presence usually practice open communion. The preached Gospel is for everyone, the Sacrament of the Altar is not. Like the pharmacist who keeps powerful drugs under lock and key so someone doesn’t overdose, pastors and congregations protect our children not yet instructed, friends, and strangers from receiving the Supper unworthily and to their harm. Christ took catechesis and examination seriously, so did St. Paul, the early Church, and the Church today. Visitors who understand closed communion, aren’t offended if I don’t commune them. Those who get offend show that they don’t understand God’s Word, and so definitely shouldn’t receive communion to their judgment.
So, who is unworthy to commune? Obviously, rank unbelievers are not worthy and inviting them would be casting pearls before swine. Those who have not been instructed in the faith and who do not discern the body of Christ also shouldn’t commune. Those who have been instructed, but who persist in open and unrepentant sin shouldn’t commune, as long as they do no repent. This includes those living in sin, be it despising God’s Word by not coming often to the Divine Service, refusing to forgive someone, greed, sexual immorality, or drunkenness. This also includes the sin of false doctrine. Those in Christian denominations who deny the real presence, infant baptism, and the list goes on, are asked not to commune so they do not drink to their judgment. Also, those who worship other gods, like Masonic lodge members and all other world religions, shouldn’t commune. You can have two gods. Also, confirmed LCMS members who are not currently active communicant members of an LCMS congregation or a church in our fellowship. Just because you believed what we believe years ago doesn’t mean you do now. But what if they say that they still do? Well, do I go by what their words or deeds? Words are empty without fruits—without deeds. You believed at confirmation years ago that you would rather die than not be in church communing often—you obviously still don’t believe that—so I don’t know what you still believe and a longer conversation needs to happen so you don’t take it to your harm. Another group that shouldn’t commune is the unconscious or infants who can’t examine themselves—should seem obvious, but it happens out there.
We have identified some who are obviously unworthy of receiving Christ body and blood, but what about us—active members in good standing? Are you worthy to commune? I think it is at this point that there is confusion, even within Lutheran congregations. I think some think that they can prepare themselves well enough for communion some days, but not well enough others. This is also why some object to weekly communion, because they don’t think they can truly have enough time to prepare so often. Yet, can anyone of us really say that we think we are worthy to approach Holy God on any day? Just look back at your life yesterday, today, or any day? Have you entertained evil thoughts? Have you hurt someone with your mouth? Have you hands done things they shouldn’t and left undone what they should? Of course! We are 100% saint and 100% sinner until the day we die. This is why even as you walk up for communion your mind wanders. There isn’t one minute of our life or a breath that we take that we can say we are worthy on our own. We are never worthy and nothing we do could ever make us worthy. Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training, but they don’t make us worthy. We constantly rely on Christ’s mercy. As we just sang, “O, Lord, have mercy.”
Jesus doesn’t make you worthy – He declares that you are worthy for His sake. For a man to be worthy to approach Holy God, He must too be holy – without sin. That means for you to approach God worthily your sins must be taken away completely and you must keep the 10 Commandments perfectly. Christ was born of Mary and our sins and sorrows did carry. He carried all of your sins to the cross and paid for them all by His innocent suffering and death. Christ was covered with your unworthiness, your breaking of the Law, your evil thoughts, words, and deeds, all the while living a sinless worthy life for you. His thoughts were always pure. He was never drunk. His body and hands were always pure in your stead. Thy holy body into death was given, Life to win for us in heaven. No greater love than this to Thee could bind us; May this feast there of remind us. O Lords, have mercy. Lord, Thy kindness did so constrain Thee That Thy blood should bless and sustain me. All our debt Thou hast paid; Peace with God once more is made; O Lord, have mercy. It is Jesus Who covers you in baptism and declares you forgiven, righteous, and worthy. It is Jesus’ life and death that reestablishes peace between you and God. This exact same body and blood that was given and shed for you on the cross is given to you to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of all your sins. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Why should we remember and proclaim His death? First, so we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins. Only Christ, true God and man, could do that. Second, so we learn to be horrified by our sins, and to regard them as very serious. Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.
So, who receives the Sacrament worthily? That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.
What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently? First, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord. Second, his own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament? To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.
Apart from Christ you can do nothing, you are vulnerable, and you will wither up and die. Connected to the vine you are fine. Covered with Christ in Baptism and breaded to Him often in Communion you have nothing to fear. In Christ you are always worthy, your sins, the world, and devil can never change that. Amen. – Pastor
Share this Post
Share this Post