Summary: This is part of the series through Martin Luther's Small Catechism. Lutheran view of Holy Communion explained
In Jesus Holy Name October 28, 2018 Series: Luther’s Small Catechism Redeemer
Text Matthew 26:26b-28
“Thinking the Things of God”
Holy Communion: Come as you Are
On this Sunday of the Reformation we have come to our final topic in our series of messages through Martin Luther’s Small Catechism . Holy Communion. Few events in the history of the Christian Church have dramatically impacted the course of western culture and civilization more than the Theological Reformation in the 16th century.
Let me take you back in time for a moment. It’s October 1528. The air is cool. The leaves have turned. Final crops are being harvest with horse and wagon. There is often rain blowing in from the North Sea across the German landscape. The Reformation, which began 11 years before is spreading throughout Europe. Martin Luther has already translated the bible into the German language. He has written liturgies and hymns for the congregations. Now it was time for him to visit congregations in Saxony to assess their spiritual health.
Luther was horrified. He wrote: “Mercy! Dear God, what great misery I beheld!” In his Preface to The Small Catechism he wrote: “The common person, especially in the villages, has no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine. And unfortunately, many pastors are completely unable and unqualified to teach… Yet, everyone says they are Christians, have been baptized, and receive the holy Sacraments, even though they cannot even recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed or the Ten Commandments.” Something has to be done.
In the late fall of 1528 he writes the Small Catechism. In April 1529 he writes the Large Catechism for Pastors. By October 1529 he has been asked to discuss with Ulrich Zwingli of the Swiss Reformation, various theological positions of the Reformation. Philip of Hesse wanted bring together if possible the theological positions of the Lutheran Reformation and the Swiss Reformation.
Luther along with others travel to the Marburg Castle. For days the Protestant leaders, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli and others discussed various Protestant doctrines. They agreed on most theological doctrines but failed to negotiate their respective differences concerning the Lord’s Supper. It was
called The Marburg Colloquy of 1529.
Lutheran and Reformed branches of Christian faith can still trace one of our key differences back to this meeting. For Luther, the Supper was to be understood as the real presence of Christ’s body and blood “in, with, and under” the visible elements of bread and wine. It is a mystery of faith. For Luther it was an issue of faith. If Jesus said it: “It was true.”
For Luther it was not any different than the Creation of the world. When God “spoke” the seas were filled with fish. When God “spoke” the skies were will filled with birds. The “Word” of God made it so. Therefore if Jesus said He is present in, with and under the bread and wine… for the forgiveness of sins. Then it was true.
Though it is beyond human reasoning it remains possible for God to be both omnipresent and local in the bread and wine in every congregation at the same time. If you cannot wrap your mind around that theological truth then you must find way to change the words of Jesus.
For Zwingli, on the other hand, the resurrected body of Jesus simply could not be one place (in heaven at the right hand of God) and every place at the same time. Instead, Christ’s body, because it belongs to the human portion of Christ, must remain in one location—at the right hand of God. Zwingli felt that Luther’s interpretation of “This is my body” was far too literalistic and wooden. He preferred instead to read Christ’s words as allegorical and figurative.
In effect, for Zwingli the Holy Communion was symbolic of the Last Supper. And so they left Marburg in disagreement over the understanding of Holy Communion.
Kris Camealy, a Roman Catholic author and photographer wrote: “I believe in the power and mystery of the Eucharist.. I believe in the reality of my own experiences and the weight I have felt soul deep as I have bent and kneeled at the rail with my hands outstretched and open, like a beggar that I am.”
Jesus said: “Come as you are. Sometimes I think I need a basin near the altar to
wash my hands first, like Lady Macbeth rubbing furiously to erase the stains of her sin. But Jesus calls us to come stained, so He can wash us. I can do nothing else. I come …. As I am. Desperate in need of grace. Rather than a basin, it’s a chalice that I find at the altar.”
I agree “In those moments bent at the rail, I am reminded of God’s covenant of forgiveness, acceptance and mercy. His promises are renewed in the bread and wine. I come away satisfied with the mystery. I don’t need to know how it happens, only to remember that it does. In the classic Latin phrase of the Reformation….sola gratia. Grace alone. We are saved. We are forgiven. Not by our intentions, good wishes, exemplary deeds, right thinking. We are saved and forgiven by God’s grace… offered in Jesus Christ purchased on the cross.”