Summary: It is hard to understand how Jesus' body and blood is present with the bread and wine of Holy Communion but it shouldn't be difficult to believe - not when you consider who came up with Holy Communion...
“Why do I have to sweep?”
“Because I said so.”
If little sister has spoken the “Because I said so,” you might as well be a train that’s about to run over and flatten a penny. There’s no chance you’re going to submit to her authority is there? But if the “Because I said so” came from Dad’s lips, you’re a train that has just run out of track. You can argue that it’s really little sister’s turn to sweep but if Dad insists you do it, you have no option but to obey or risk becoming a trainwreck. Dad’s because-I-said-so authority trumps all objections.
Over the last four weeks we have been studying the sacrament of Holy Communion and have learned that with the bread and wine Jesus gives us his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. We’ve also learned how many Christians object to this truth. They ask, “How can eating and drinking bread and wine do such great things?” In answer the 16th Century reformer, Martin Luther, wrote: “It is certainly not the eating and drinking that does such things, but the words, ‘given’ and ‘poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins’…” Perhaps we could paraphrase Luther’s response like this: we know that in Holy Communion we receive Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of sins…because I AM said so. When the Son of God speaks, who are we to argue with him? Why would we want to argue with him? That’s the point our sermon text makes this morning. Listen now to the words of Hebrews 10:19-23. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
The author of our text was writing to Jewish Christians who were thinking of leaving the Christian faith to go back to Old Testament-ordained rituals. But that’s like wishing you could go back to the days of family travel by covered wagon instead of zipping around the country in the climate-controlled comfort of a minivan. Spending a week to get down to Calgary might be kind of fun in summer but not in the dead of winter – especially when your grandchildren expect frequent visits! No, I don’t suppose any of us would trade our cars and vans for horse-drawn wagons.
And so it was shortsighted of these Jewish Christians to want to leave Jesus and go back to Old Testament rituals – even if they were dramatic. Take the Day of Atonement for example. On this day the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept (though by New Testament times the Ark had been lost). The Holy of Holies was a cube-like room in the temple that God called both his footstool and throne on earth. No one but the High Priest was allowed to enter this room and he could only do so once year and only after having sacrificed a bull for his own sins. But compare that with the kind of access to God our text says Christians now enjoy: “…we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Hebrews 10:19, 20).
In Old Testament times it was only the High Priest who could stand in God’s inner sanctuary. Now anyone may approach God in his throne room. We get there “through the curtain, that is, [Christ’s] body.” Just as there was only one way for the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies – through a curtain in the tabernacle, so there is only one way to approach God – through Jesus. Heaven isn’t a nightclub you can sneak into through the back door. No, you have to go through the front door, past a bouncer who is checking I.D.s.
What does this all have to do with Holy Communion? With the bread of Holy Communion we receive the body of Christ, which our text just pointed out is the way to God. As I’ve said in previous sermons, that bit of Communion bread doesn’t seem like much. It’s small and virtually tasteless. But receiving that wafer is like getting a backstage pass. While you might not eat a backstage pass you would hang it around your neck to show security that you not only have the right to get into the club but also to go backstage and talk with the performers. And so when we eat the bread of Communion we’re taking Jesus’ body into our body. We hold him over our heart as visible, tangible proof that we belong in God’s inner sanctuary.