Summary: The last sermon in the Lenten Catechesis series, this sermon focuses on the sacrament of Holy Communion.
One of the things I discovered very quickly in my earlier years as a parish pastor is the joy that Pastors have, and the special relationship that they develop with homebound members of the congregation. In many cases, these dear older saints are people who because of their advanced age and lack of mobility, will never be able to hear a sermon from me unless someone brings them an audio or video recording, or as their memory fades, when they see me, think that I am the pastor of their youth who baptized and confirmed them, sometimes in a language other than English. Yet, they look forward to my coming to see them because of something that we share at the end of each visit: the sacrament of Holy Communion. Of all the things that these people can look forward to, why is it that this is so special to them?
That is a good question to ask as we take some time to review this last part of Luther’s Small Catechism. Up to this point, we’ve reviewed the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, the sacrament of Holy Baptism, and last week, the Office of the Keys, or Confession and Absolution. In each case, we’ve reviewed in a nutshell the basics of what we as Christians believe, teach, and confess what God’s Word says about who He is, what He expects of us, who Jesus is and what He has come into the world to do, the fact that He has claimed us as His own and promises to give us forgiveness of our sins and eternal life, and that we are assured through His Word time and again of our forgiveness through Jesus Christ. All of this brings us to tonight’s topic. The Lord’s Supper.
I refer to it as such because it is helpful for us to remember who’se supper this is. In our reading from 1 Corinthians, St. Paul is addressing the congregation at Corinth. And if there was ever a church that was having a whole lot of trouble, it was the Corinthians, and as you read this letter, you quickly see that Paul has a lot of teaching to do in this letter to remind them of who they truly follow, Jesus Christ. And by the time we get to tonight’s text, we learn that they are having some problems with their celebration of Holy Communion. It appears that the Corinthians had completely forgotten that this is the Lord’s Supper, in fact, Paul tells them point blank in the verses that precede our reading: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No I will not.” (v. 20-22)
In these times, churches would have been gathering in people’s homes and celebrations of the Lord’s Supper would have had a meal prior to the service itself. It appears that the wealthy were off in one room, eating the finest food, while the others were forced to eat in another room, likely not enjoying the feast the wealthy were having. Instead of uniting the Corinthian congregation together as one body in Christ, they were separating themselves based on their social class. Thus, they were completely missing the entire point of what the Lord’s Supper was to be about.
Which is in giving them instructions on how the sacrament was to be observed, Paul begins by making it very clear. Listen again: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that he 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.” Paul says very clearly, “This isn’t my supper. This isn’t your supper. If you want the benefits that go along with it, this is what it is.” And Paul summarizes Jesus’ own words, spoken by Him and recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We learn that the Lord’s Supper is bread and wine, which He says are His body and blood, given and shed for us, for the forgiveness of sins. We are also told to do so “often”.
So from the Word of God, we quickly learn that this is a meal for repentant sinners. For those who seek to be reminded in a real, personal way that Jesus has given His body and shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins and so that we may have eternal life with Him. It sounds simple enough. And it builds on each of the parts of the catechism we’ve reviewed this Lenten season.