Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. During the Wednesdays in Lent, we have been hearing a sermon series titled The Miracles of Lent. Tonight that series continues with the miracle of Maundy Thursday, the miracle of Holy Communion. Calling the Lord’s Supper a miracle may seem like a stretch to many of us. After all, the Lord’s Supper is something that we celebrate every other week here at Epiphany, so regularly, in fact, that it may begin to feel “ho hum, hum drum” for some of you. We have a saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” We tend to be dismissive of things that appear common, such as the bread and wine in the Eucharist. We may be tempted to take them for granted or even as a matter of course.
Yet the Lord’s Supper is a tremendous miracle, no less so for our frequent celebration. Listen again to what God says about this remarkable meal in Luke 22:
“And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God….’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (Luke 22:14-16, 19-20, ESV).
Here is the miracle of Holy Communion: Our Lord Jesus gives us his very body and blood “in, with, and under” the common elements of bread and wine for the sake of the forgiveness of sins. (Aside: Now I recognize, of course, that Luke doesn’t use the forgiveness language, but in the parallel from Matthew’s Gospel, he clearly states, “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” [Matt. 26:28]. So even if Luke doesn’t mention it, Jesus still does).
The Lord’s Supper is a miracle because God takes bread and wine, fruit of the cursed ground, and gives them back to us as the true body and blood of his Son Jesus. By the power of God’s Word—“this is my body” and “this is my blood”—the bread and wine become exactly that: Jesus’ body and blood. And by our faith in those words and our eating and drinking, we receive what Christ promises: the forgiveness of sins, a fresh start, and a renewed relationship with our heavenly Father.
I realize that all of this can be a lot to take in and hard to understand. Many Christians doubt how the Real Presence of Christ can be here in the Sacrament of the Altar. Most Protestants, for instance, refuse to believe Jesus’ assertion that the bread and wine are his body and blood. They use the language of “sign” and say that the bread and wine are merely “symbols” of Jesus’ body and blood, but not the real thing. How, they ask, can Christ’s body be present in bread and wine if he is ascended into heaven? How can his flesh and blood be present in more than one place at a time? How can it be body and blood when it still tastes like bread and wine? And how can it give the forgiveness of sins? That just sounds silly or strange to many people.
Even one of my favorite children’s Bibles falls back on the language of symbolism and abandons the language of Scripture and words of Christ in order to try to make sense of a confusing miracle. The Jesus Storybook Bible, which is otherwise wonderful for pointing to Jesus in every Bible story, nevertheless fails hard when it comes to the Lord’s Supper. For in her rewriting of the Last Supper, the author writes, “My body is like this bread. It will break…. This cup of wine is like my blood. It will pour out.”
But that’s not what Jesus said! Jesus said, “This is my body…. This cup… is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20). Is, is, is! Jesus did NOT say that the bread and wine are symbols of his body and blood, that they represent his body and blood, or that they are “like” his body and blood. Jesus said they ARE his body and blood—and that makes all the difference!
If we give up the language of Jesus—his Words of Institution—we give up the miracle. We turn a miracle into mere remembrance and a gift into a given. That’s not right! True, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), but that is not all that he said. He said so much more! By the power of his Word, he turns bread and wine into his body and blood; and by the power of his Word, he offers them to us “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). The Lord’s Supper is not simply something we do for God to show that we’re Christians and we remember his sacrifice. The Lord’s Supper is something that God does for us and in us. For whether you call it the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, or the Sacrament of the Altar, the reality remains: it is a miracle! It’s a miracle not because of what we say or do or believe, but solely and simply because of what Jesus promises.
In the Small Catechism, that basic summary of Christian teaching, Martin Luther writes: “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? Certainly not just eating and drinking, but the words written here: ‘Give and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’… Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins’” (SC, The Sacrament of the Altar).
The bread is Jesus’ true body, broken and given for you on the cross. The wine is Jesus’ true blood, poured out for many—poured out for you!—for the forgiveness of sins.
Your readiness to receive this gift depends only on whether or not you believe what Jesus says about the Lord’s Supper and intend to amend your sinful life in response to his grace. It has nothing to do with your supposed worthiness or unworthy. In a very real sense, we are all unworthy because we are all sinners. But that’s also part of the miracle: that in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only perfect Person who ever lived, deigns to dine with sinners like us. The Lord’s Supper is a perfect meal for imperfect people, for in this miraculous meal, he gives real grace for real sinners.
Only those who deny the Real Presence or refuse to repent of their sins should wait; they are not yet ready to receive Jesus’ body and blood. In fact, the Bible teaches that it could actually be harmful to partake of Holy Communion without faith in Jesus’ words. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).
God loves you, and he does not want his spiritual medicine to become poison to your soul. If you do not yet share the same belief about the Lord’s Supper that we have here at Epiphany, please wait to celebrate until after you have more conversation and prayer with me.
However, if you believe in Jesus’ wonderful words: “This is my body…, this is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins…,” then come, and eat! Come, and drink! All is ready! The feast is prepared for you. As Martin Luther writes, “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’” (SC, Sacrament of the Altar). What an amazing miracle indeed! In the name of Jesus. Amen.