The Banquet of the Blessed
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today's Gospel reading from Luke 14, Jesus uses a parable about a great banquet to teach us about people either receiving or rejecting the eternal Kingdom of God. While there isn't a one-to-one correspondence between the banquet in the parable and the Lord's Supper, nonetheless we should recognize the Holy Communion as a banquet of the blessed, since it is a participation in God's Kingdom here in time and it is a foretaste of the feast to come. So today's sermon is a catechetical one, focused on this Holy Supper.
"What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine." There is an elegant simplicity and straightforwardness to the Small Catechism explanation, but it is rejected by the Reformed denominations—that is, any denomination not confessional Lutheran, Catholic, or Orthodox.
Of course, the Reformed do have human reason, senses, and science on their side. Our reason cannot comprehend how bread and wine could also be body and blood; our senses can't taste, smell, or feel anything but plain bread and wine; and science can put the consecrated element under an electron microscope and tell you the Communion bread and wine are just that alone.
So the Reformed agree with reason, senses, and science rather than the simple truth of Christ's Word. The Consensus Tigurinus of 1549, a main Reformed confession of faith, says it "a perverse and impious superstition" to believe Jesus' Body and Blood are under the elements of this world (Hermann Sasse, Lonely Way, I, 427). The Thirty Nine Articles, the confession of all Episcopalians and most Anglicans, says, "[T]he means where the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith" (XXVIII), which means they don't believe the body and blood are really there and eaten with the mouth. The Methodists say the same thing in their Book of Discipline (Article XVIII). The Presbyterian confession says the Body and Blood are "spiritually present to the faith of believers" (Westminster Confession), but not really and physically present. The Baptist confession also says the body and blood are "spiritually present to the faith of believers" (1689 London Confession, 7). Liberal Lutherans in Communion with churches who deny the Body and Blood of Jesus are present also forfeit the Real Presence.
So there are many people who identify themselves as Christians but deny the truth that comes from the lips of Christ Himself at the Last Supper, "This is My body, This is My blood." Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are calling Jesus a liar.
On the other hand, as Lutherans who believe in the clarity and truthfulness of God's Word, the Holy Scriptures, we simply let the word 'is' retain its natural sense: is means is. The bread in the Lord's Supper is the body of Jesus Christ; the wine is the blood of Jesus Christ. This is why we add the adjectives "true" or "very" to body and blood, as in, "the true body of Jesus" or "the very blood of Christ." This emphasizes that we don't want to play word games, but simply confess Christ's truth.
Lutherans call a spade a spade and aren't afraid to face head-on the apparent unbelievablity of such a claim. All of God's mysteries are unbelievable if we do not have the Holy Spirit to produce faith in us, but by the power of the Holy Spirit we are enabled to believe, teach, and confess God's saving mysteries. Besides, is the Real Presence of Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper really more "unbelievable" than the doctrines of the Trinity or of the Incarnation, that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but only one God, and that God the Son is not only God but also a Man, Jesus? These are deep mysteries that our minds cannot understand, but this does not destroy their reality and truthfulness. The same is true of the Sacrament of the Altar.
The Lord's Supper comes from the Lord Jesus, "Yahweh" Jesus, God in the flesh. The same one who said, "Let there be light" and there was light, He is the one who said, "Take, eat, this is My body…do this." He is the source of our doctrine of the Lord's Supper, and His Words alone can bring about the presence of His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. It is not our consumption of the bread and wine that make it the true body and blood of Jesus, but rather it is the Word of the Lord God Himself that accomplishes this miracle. And St. Paul ratifies this miraculous Real Presence of Christ's body and blood in 1 Corinthians: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ?" "The bread that we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ?" That's what the Sacrament is!
And Jesus instituted this Sacrament to be done often, using His Words, and remembering His death and resurrection. He gave us this meal on the night when He was betrayed—the night He gave His last will and testament to His disciples. That night was a time to focus on reality. Everything He said at the Last Supper was of utmost and lasting importance, and His last will and testament was given in His blood: "this cup is the new testament in My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins."
Of course there are some places in the Bible where God does use symbolic or metaphorical language, but that night at the Last Supper wasn't one of them. There are no signals from Jesus that He was using similes or metaphors or parables or proverbs. Instead, in His Words Jesus spoke literal truth, giving us His Last Will and Testament (which of course, cannot be altered once it is put into effect by the death of the One who made it, and people don't put figurative language in your last will and testament, either). So we cannot dodge the words Jesus uses, nor should we want to. His words in the Supper and His very body and blood in the bread and wine are His gifts to us. In the Sacrament Jesus delivers the salvation that He earned for us on Mt. Calvary. He takes His body given into death on the cross and feeds it to us with the bread, and He takes the blood that He shed on the cross and pours it into our mouths with the wine, for the forgiveness of our sins. And the only appropriate way to receive a gift is through faith and with thanksgiving, not with doubt and denial.
But the devil, the world, and our own sinful reason tempt us to doubt and deny the Sacrament. They tempt us to call Jesus a liar. We face a trial similar to Peter waiting out in the courtyard while Jesus appeared before Caiaphas and the council. When the people came to him and asked if he was a follower of Jesus. But Peter denied his Lord three times: "I do not know this man of whom you speak!" he said. Peter denied that He knew the Jesus who indeed is the Son of the Blessed, God the Son in flesh and blood, who stood before the Jewish council, accused by false witnesses and condemned as deserving death. Peter denied that He knew the Man whose flesh was spit on and struck by the Roman soldiers. Peter denied that he knew the Man whose blood poured forth from the lashes of those soldiers. Peter denied that he knew the Man who had just hours before at the Last Supper said, "Take, eat…this is My body, given for you…Take, drink…this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins."
We would like to think that if we were Peter, we would have gladly acknowledged Jesus and then gone up with Him to suffering and to death. But imagine for a minute what you would do if confessing Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper and attending the Sacrament subjected you to persecution. What if it were a capital offense? What would you do then? Would you willingly face suffering and death for Christ and His Words, or would you say, "Well, gee, I'll just keep believing in Jesus in my heart, but I'll just let this whole Lord's Supper thing go by the wayside. It's not really necessary."
But consider what Jesus said "Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). Or think about the vows we make at Confirmation, or when we join this congregation. The pastor asks, "Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord's Supper faithfully…Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church, and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?" And we respond, "I do, by the grace of God."
But if we reject the Sacrament of the Altar by never using it, or if we doubt the truthfulness of those precious Words of Jesus, or if our lips deny that His true body and true blood are given in the Sacrament, then are we not like Peter, denying our Lord? Are we not then breaking our vows to God? Are we not then showing that we are ashamed of Christ and His Words? If we think, "Oh, the Lord's Supper isn't that big of a deal. You can still be a Christian and willfully avoid participating in the Sacrament. You can still be a Christian and intentionally deny the body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament—all that matters is believing in Jesus, not believing in His body and blood"—aren't all of those actions and attitudes various forms of being ashamed of Christ and His Words, of denying Him and His Words?
Jesus says that anyone who is ashamed of Him and His words will face shame on the Last Day, at the Judgment. So if Christ has truly said the Words, "This is My Body…This is My Blood" then to deny those Words is to place yourself under His judgment. Indeed, St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:29, "Anyone who eats and drinks [the Lord's Supper] without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself."
When Peter recognized that he had denied his Lord, He broke down and wept out of sorrow for his faithlessness; he was contrite for his sins. So also we should be heartily sorry for our doubts and denials of our Lord and His Word, our many sins against Jesus of thought, word, and deed. But Peter's contrition wasn't enough to reconcile him to Jesus, and our sorrow over our sins can't get us right with God, either. Only Christ's forgiveness can do that.
After Jesus had gone up to the cross to sacrifice His body and pour out His blood for the sins of Peter, for you, for me, for all people, He came to Peter and the other apostles and said, "Peace be with you," and He showed them His pierced hands, and the hole in His side from which water and blood had flowed; these wounds spoke to them the peace that comes from full forgiveness of sins and everlasting life in Jesus Christ crucified. Later on Jesus came specifically to Peter and restored him to office; Jesus gave him personal assurance that He was no longer angry with Peter, but fully reconciled.
Likewise, in the Lord's Supper, Jesus comes to you with His very body and blood to give you the divine peace of sins forgiven. He comes to you personally—in your very own mouth!—to give you full assurance that He is no longer angry with you for your sins, but you are fully reconciled with God and a partaker of eternal life. Then you are ready to depart in peace, according to Christ's Word, as we sing in the Nunc Dimittis. How blessed are we to partake of this banquet of the blessed, and "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God," Christ's Kingdom which has no end. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting..