The Truth in Flesh and Blood

Greetings to you, in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen. The gospel reading for today begins with the same verse, 51 that ended our reading last week. Thus we have a continuation of the message and truth found last week. It is a reminder that God’s Word is a continuum, or continuing message. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” When I read this verses it makes me want to jump up and down. It is such an exciting message for all who receive Holy Communion and more. It also causes me to say, “See there it is…proof that Holy Communion is true Body and true Blood.” Then I settle down and remember that others will say, “Sure, but the words of institution end by saying, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.”’ This becomes their focus and now we have enough confusion or uncertainty that it is worth exploring further. This is, of course a Communion Service. There are times when I fear that we take this gift, this sacrament, this blessing as if it were just a routine thing. I know of good church members who decline to come to the altar sometimes because they do NOT want it to become routine…it is too important for that. I also take Communion Elements with me to hospital and shut-in visits. Recently after serving the Sacrament, a gentleman he was near tears. He said to me, “Pastor Communions makes me wonder how God could do such a wonderful thing for an old sinful fellow like me.” Recently, I spoke to a minister from another church here in Hermann. We were discussing the value and importance of the Sacraments and he was not convinced. He simply said that he could not abide with ‘you sacramentalists.” The name calling caught me a bit off guard, because he obviously considered that the end of the discussion and possibly even an insult. I, on the other hand, liked the label and thought it was an important distinction between his church and ours. I believe and teach that the Sacraments are VERY valuable to the life and faith of Christians. They are one of the Means of Grace, where we come to be certain to find Jesus Christ. So what is happening in this sacrament? We believe that great things happen when we receive Holy Communion. The Sixth Chief Part of Luther’s Small Catechism is called The Sacrament of the Altar. It is here that Luther spells out, using Scripture, our understanding of this seemingly simple act that we do. This is the section of the Catechism that gets the least attention in Confirmation Class, but it is very important. The lack of attention is due primarily to the fact that Pastors can and do teach about this portion throughout the rest of their ministries and the memory work has just about run out of gas by the time you get to this Chief Part. (Page 326-7 in your hymnal) “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?” This is the third question Luther asks in the Catechism. It is here that we clearly recognize that this sacred activity is far more than drinking a small amount of win and eating stale tasting bread. It is actually unleavened, but few 8th graders think it is tasty. “These words, ‘Given and shed for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Holy smokes, all that is in those elements? Oh, that is just the beginning. We must remember when we think about this mystery that there is one truth that always impacts the ceremonies and sacraments, our sacred acts of worship. That truth is that sin ALWAYS separates us from God. This means that if we cannot be forgiven, when we cannot take in the Lord’s Body and Blood without risking eternal harm. That is why receiving this meal for the forgiveness of sins is so important. “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?” “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘Forgiveness of sins.’” Reality is that we should be afraid of God. A God who is powerful enough to create all of His creation simply with His Word also can expect, even demand certain behavior from His creation. It takes no effort at all to recognize that we are sinful in an ever expanding fashion. Then, if He is powerful enough to create everything, with all its beauty and majesty, then He can also ‘uncreate’ if He is angered or hurt. We then deserve that ending and possible punishment. Thus, fear is an appropriate response. Even our reading from Proverbs says, “”The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” So we should not be surprised when we feel guilty or unworthy before God. That is true and scary at the same time. We are often in awe and wonder at the things that God has done. It does not matter whether we are considering creation, one of the events of the Bible, or the wonder of our lives; we see a whole lot of what God has revealed to us and are amazed. I know that many arguments about Holy Communion revolve around the Words of Institution – the ones that begin, “On the night in which He was betrayed…” But there are other readings, such as this one from John and the first letter to the church in Corinth that flesh out our understanding and make it clear and quite satisfying that we have heard God’s Word correctly. Here we are sinners before God, being invited to come to His table. Here we are unworthy of this honor and yet are being treated like the guest of honor. In the early years of the church there was a great deal of misunderstanding about The Way…the name of the early Christian Church. Because believers insisted that they were receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood…they were accused of being cannibals. This just mean that others viewed them as perverted spin-off of the Jewish faith. The Roman world, all of the world that was known at the time, did not understand Christianity. They had accepted the Jews as fiercely protective of their faith, but because Christians claimed that they lived under the fulfilment of the OT prophecies and promises…they were just a small sect. This was an important protection for the fledgling church. The Romans did not automatically accept other religions, so the connection to Judaism allowed them to exist. But not if they were cannibals. It is easy to find this laughable now – but not then. So the full meaning of Jesus’ words was very important. It is assuring to us that because we believe in this meal, this gift, this banquet, then we too will never be hungry or thirsty – in other words, we will be saved. The words He has spoken to us are spirit and life. Wow! What an exciting thought. God has given us these words so that we can hear them, know them, inwardly digest them and be His people. We accept His invitation to taste and see and we are welcomed at His table. Please accept this invitation…for it is just a foretaste of a greater feast to come for all believers. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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