Luther at the Diet of Worms

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 was a momentous milestone that commemorated Martin Luther sparking the Reformation through the posting of the 95 Theses on the castle church door on October 31, 1517, in Wittenberg, Germany. The impact of that event and its consequences were certainly not known at that time, but unfolded through the Reformation movement in the following years. We are following those events 500 years later and reflecting on the consequences and blessings.

Perhaps one of the most significant moments of the Reformation, and certain in Luther’s life, was his appearing before the Congress of the Holy Roman Empire, before counts and nobles, princes and electors, and the Holy Roman Emperor himself, the young Charles V. What Luther said at this moment would set the Reformation on an irreversible course against the forces of the pope and emperor. This was the moment of decision where Luther’s faith in God and his conviction that the Scriptures were the highest authority in the church would lay the foundation for the Reformation movement.

The imperial congress, called a Diet, was held in the city of Worms (pronounced “Vohrms”), one of most ancient cities in Germany. This is where we get the name of this event, called the Diet of Worms. It was a four month long gathering of the top levels of government in the Holy Roman Empire – nobles, knights, counts, and free cities called “The Estates” and the top rulers called “The Electors,” which included three archbishops and also the Prince Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, who was Luther’s protector.

The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, was from the Spanish line of the Hapsburg family, and was only 21 at the time. In fact, this was his first imperial diet, and all eyes were on the young emperor as he had to grapple with internal and external threats from France, from the pope, from the Muslim armies advancing into Europe, and now a theological dispute with a little German monk that threatened the unity that his empire needed precisely at this moment.

After Luther started the debate about indulgences in 1517, the discussions focused on the nature of the Gospel (saved by grace through faith alone – not by works) and the authority of the Scriptures (which Luther claimed were infallible, unlike popes and councils, which could err). As Luther promoted his ideas at the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518 and the Leipzig Debate with John Eck in 1519, his attacks against the church hierarchy over the abuses they tolerated and the false doctrine they promoted reached the ears of the archbishops and the pope himself. Luther’s key writings in 1520 (On the Freedom of a Christian, the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and Address to the Nobility of the German Nation) caused so much public antagonism to Rome that some feared a mass uprising. These writings were the last straw. Several church leaders in Germany made it their goal to squash the debates caused by Luther and reinforce the authority of the church. They succeeded in having Luther excommunicated by the pope in January, 1521. They pressed the emperor to ratify the pope’s decree with a civil injunction against Luther, showing the unity of church and state against heretics. This was to be taken up by the Diet in Worms.

In a strange twist of events, including a delicate dance of politics, piety, and diplomacy, the influence of Fredrick the Wise and Luther’s supporters managed to somehow change the course of the proceedings, so that rather than simply condemn Luther, he should be brought forward to give an opportunity to speak. Some thought this was playing with fire, as it might give the heretic an opportunity to further spread his teachings and foment the disgruntled public against Rome. Eventually, the emperor agreed to have Luther summoned to Worms, and sent his herald to personally fetch Luther from Wittenberg, about 325 miles away.

The herald reach Wittenberg on March 29, and on April 2, Luther set out in a covered wagon with his companions. Their journey to Worms in some ways felt like a death march, where Luther was following in the footsteps of other reformers like John Hus and John Wycliffe, who were condemned and burned. Would Luther go to the flames? He wrote to his friends that he was prepared to give his life for his faith and the cause of Christ. On the other hand, the journey was like a victory parade for a celebrity, and a march of triumph where Luther was greeted by throngs of people who had read his writings and felt like he was some sort of savior to the German people. He was resisting the vile Roman abuses in Germany and protecting the hearts and livelihood of the people. Luther was portrayed as a German Hercules, and pictures and prints appeared that represented violent aggression against the Roman church leaders. Some were moved by faith and piety, some were moved by patriotism and populism. Luther knew where his heart and faith were grounded – in God’s Word and the sake of the Gospel, and he felt that in some ways his journey to Worms was like Christ’s procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, with cheering crowds and a cross before him.

After journeying through towns and cities such as Leipzig, Weimar, Erfurt, Eisenach, and Frankfurt, Luther and his entourage entered Worms on April 16 to the sound of trumpets and crowds of several thousand. The pressure was on the Diet to deal with the Luther matter delicately. The dignitaries in Worms lined up to meet personally with Luther and give him encouragement.

The next day, April 17, Luther was brought into the hall before the assembled diet. He had to be escorted through back doors and passageways because of the crowds outside. As a monk, Luther had not been exposed to such worldly pomp and circumstance. He looked all around the hall and even smiled and waved at people he recognized, and was consequently scolded by the imperial marshal. Luther was not accustomed to the ways of the courts and nobility. As soon as Charles saw Luther, he said “He will not make a heretic out of me.”

Luther’s books were in a pile in the middle of the room, and Luther was asked if he would recant what he had written. He replied that the writings were indeed his own, but since they contained matters of faith and the Word of God, he asked to respond the next day. Luther’s opponents had reluctantly conceded to Luther even appearing, and they resisted any efforts to let Luther speak or explain his position. There was to be no debate. Confirming the pope’s condemnation and excommunication of Luther was their top priority. Yet the pressure on the emperor intensified as the proceedings went on. The request was granted and Luther was able to appear the next day on April 18.

The proceedings were always spoken in German and then repeated in Latin. Luther was asked the same question as the day before – if the books were his and if he would recant what he wrote. Luther was more prepared this time, and with greater confidence addressed the assembly. He said that his books fell into three categories. The first were Christian writings about faith and the Gospel which everyone agreed were good and godly. These he could not recant. The second category were writings against the abuses and tyranny by the pope and canon law against the German people. To recant these would be to allow the tyranny and godlessness against the German nation to continue. Many of the nobles in the room agreed wholeheartedly. The third category contained writings against persons or individuals who had attacked him or were defending the abuses. Here, Luther gave his sole concession that he may have spoken too harshly against them. However, since these writings also contained the word of God and the teaching of the Gospel, he could not recant these either.

Pressed one more time to answer clearly, Luther replied in a quiet voice, first in German, then in Latin.

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I can do no other. Here I stand. May God help me. Amen.”

The phrase “I can do no other, here I stand,” was included in the first printed reports of the Diet, but was not included in the handwritten notes. This is why sometimes they are included in the quote and other times relegated to a footnote as an interpolation. Regardless, Luther made the appeal once again to the Scriptures as the highest authority in the church, along with the claim that popes and councils could error. This is what ultimately got Luther into the biggest trouble – undermining the divine authority of councils and pope and placing it firmly in the Scriptures alone. The trajectory of the Lutheran Reformation would continue on the path of sola Scriptura – Scripture alone.
 

After Luther was escorted from the chamber, he felt a great relief, and told his supporters, “I’ve come through!” Luther had emerged on the stage of world history, and everyone was solidifying their opinions of this man and the movement. The estates discussed the matter with the emperor on April 19 and 20. They were greatly concerned about public uprisings and took a softer stance than the emperor and church officials. On April 22 they were given three days to try and resolve the matter with Luther. A committee from the estates met with Luther. While the estates tried to focus on Luther’s attitude and behavior, Luther called for a council to settle the doctrinal disputes on the basis of Scripture. All the points of the previous days were repeated and no solution could be reached. Luther asked for safe protection from the emperor and the opportunity to defend his teachings on the basis of Scripture. Any way forward, for Luther, must recognize the sole authority of the Scriptures.

On April 25, Luther was officially informed that the emperor, as protector of the church, would be taking action against him, and that he had 21 days to safely return home before the promise of protection ended. Luther was forbidden to preach, write, or stir up the people in any other way. Luther’s opponents would use the time to officially publicize the proceedings against Luther and make their case against him. The Edict of Worms, condemning Luther as a heretic, would be dated May 8 and published May 25. Luther shook the hands of the officials, and thanked the estates and the emperor for hearing him, and complained only that his case was not addressed on the basis of the Scriptures. Again, the word was paramount.

Luther set out from Worms with his companions on April 26 and retraced his steps on the journey to Wittenberg. After his stay in Eisenach, on May 4, Luther and two companions were traveling to visit friends nearby when they were ambushed by men on horseback with crossbows. Luther was thrown into a wagon and kidnapped by these men, and whisked away. The plot had been put in place by Luther’s friends who took Luther secretly to the Warburg Castle, near Eisenach, where Luther would remain in hiding for over 10 months in absolute secrecy. This was to ensure Luther’s safety and see how things would unfold after the events in Worms. From the confines of the Wartburg, with many wondering if Luther was dead or alive, Luther would continue the work of reforming the church until March, 1522, translating the New Testament into German, and spending time in prayer and writing. Subsequent events will be commemorated in future 500 year anniversaries.

As we remember Luther’s confession of Christ before the Diet of Worms, and his commitment to the authority of the Scriptures and the pure teaching of the Gospel, we see how God uses moments in history to guide and direct His church, using sinful human beings like Luther, yet filling them with the power of the Holy Spirit and the word of God. As Lutheran Christians, we recommit ourselves to the authority of the Scriptures as the word of God, to the proclamation of the pure Gospel, repenting of and reforming abuses in the church, and taking our stand against any worldly power that might threaten the Gospel. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10:18, “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” In each generation of disciples, there are certain men and women who have the opportunity to take their stand on the word of God, and speak before worldly authorities to profess Christ and the authority of God’s Word. May the Lord strengthen us as His witnesses, as we share the Gospel with all nations and take our stand on the Word of God. May God help us. Amen!
 
By Pastor Bill Wangelin, Our Savior Lutheran Church and School, Lansing, MI
 

For further reading and sources:

Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1977

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther His Road to Reformation 1483-1521, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1985

James Kittelson, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2003

Eric Metaxis, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, Viking, New York, 2017

Frederick Nohl, Martin Luther: Biography of a Reformer, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 2003

www.lutheranreformation.org

www.lcms.org/here-i-stand-sunday



Sacramental Union and Handling of the Elements

The Sacrament of the Altar. The Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist. The blessing of all blessings that the Lord Jesus Christ has given to His Church. Throughout our Lenten journey through the Paschal Mystery, the sermons on Sunday have been focused on this particular Sacrament. So far the posts on this blog have also been prepared in regard to a more in-depth study of the Lord’s Supper. Here are the questions we will now consider:  1) When does the sacramental union of the Body and Blood of Christ with the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist begin? 2) How should we handle the elements used in the Sacrament?

While it might seem obvious, it’s important to note that our Lutheran Confession admit only the fourfold account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25) as the only source for the doctrine of the sacramental union. Now, the tenses of the verbs used in each Scriptural account does not render it possible to arrive at a conclusive answer to the question of the exact moment.

Two weighty doctors of the Lutheran Church provide insightful declarations that no dogmatic answer to this question can be given.  Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) writes: “[Christian simplicity] is not gravely concerned about the moments in which the Body of Christ begins or ceases to be present, but just as the mode of the presence defies research, so also it declares that these questions about the moment of the presence are unanswerable.”  Johann Wilhelm Baier (1647-1695) similarly asserts: “[It is] not necessary to define the moment of time in which the Body and the Blood of Christ begin to be sacramentally united with the bread and the wine.”

Martin Luther and his supporters (ourselves as well, as we are the inheritors of the faithful doctrine of the Lord’s Supper) rightly held that the sacramental union of Christ’s Body and Blood with the bread and wine  is accomplished in close temporal and causal connection with the recitation of the words of institution.

Throughout his writings, Martin Luther insisted that after the words of institution were spoken, by the power of God’s Word, the true presence of Christ’s Body and Blood had been united to the bread and wine. Particularly interesting writings include his 1520 On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, where Luther affirmed that the Body and Blood of Christ were present at the time of the elevation—when the pastor raises the host and the chalice after the words of institution. Luther’s catechism sermon on the Holy Eucharist (September 25, 1528) describes the Body of Christ as clothing itself with the bread when the Word is added to the elements.

While we cannot definitively state the exact moment that Christ’s true Body and Blood are present in the Sacrament, we do know that after the words of institution are spoken, and before the elements are placed into our mouth, Christ truly is present. Article X of the Augsburg Confession asserts that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present in the Lord’s Supper under the form of the bread and wine and that they are distributed to and received by all the communicants. The assertion that Article X of the Augsburg Confession implies that the Body and Blood of Christ are present “in the hands of the administrant as well in the mouth of the communicant” was endorsed by the 22 LCMS participants (including C. F. W. Walther) in the second assembly of the Free Evangelical Lutheran Conference, Pittsburgh, PA, Oct. 28 to Nov. 4, 1857.

How then should we handle the elements used in the Lord’s Supper? With supreme reverence and care! For we know that the true presence of our Lord Jesus Christ is present! Here is a story that helps to shed some light on this topic. In 1542 at St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg, Martin Luther and Johannes Bugenhagen were celebrating the Lord’s Supper with the parish. A woman communicant accidentally bumped against the chalice as she was kneeling down so that some of its contents spilled upon her clothing. Luther and Bugenhagen assisted in wiping off the woman’s jacket. After the celebration Luther had the affected portion of the lining of the jacket cut out and burned, along with the wood that he had shaved from the part of the choir stall upon which the contents of the chalice had likewise been splashed. In 1530, Luther had a host which had been placed into the mouth of a dying parishioner burned because the individual died before he could swallow.

The continual tradition of the Lutheran Church has been to display great care and reverence to the elements used in the Lord’s Supper. At St. Mary’s Lutheran Church in Wittenberg—and wherever the Lutheran Reformers taught—the preferred practice for treatment of the remaining communion elements after the last parishioner communed was to have them consumed by the pastor(s) and elders. Luther and Bugenhagen explained that to avoid having hosts left over they counted out the hosts to match the number of communicants at each service.

So here we see the great and deliberate care that is taken when handling the elements used for the Sacrament of the Altar. We are careful and reverent because the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is present with the bread and the wine. People loved by God, when you come to altar and receive the host and the wine…you hold Jesus in your hands! There He is! Exactly where He has promised to be. And He delights to come to you in such a way to deliver to You forgiveness, unity with Him, His divine grace, and the promise of eternal life. You hold in your hands the most sacred and precious thing in all of the world! And you get to place that treasure of infinite worth into your own mouth!

In summary: As Lutherans we cannot assert less than that the true Body and Blood of Christ are truly and essentially present in the Eucharist and that with the consecrated bread and wine they are distributed to and received by all who use the Sacrament.

Any attempt at defining the precise moment at which the sacramental union begins—at consecration, at the beginning of distribution, or any point in between—must remain in the realm of theological opinion.

Finally, we must be sure to also handle the communion elements with the utmost care and reverence. Rejoicing in the great gift that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself delivers to us. May we all look forward to receiving this blessing of all blessings again soon!



The Lord’s Supper During A Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic that shut down Michigan in March, 2020, changed and challenged many church practices that most of us took for granted. One of the most significant impacts was on the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Christians have been celebrating the Lord’s Supper for 2,000 years, through plagues, pandemics, wars, and all sorts of calamities, so this is not a new challenge for Christians. It is new, however, to our generation, which has not had so many hurdles set up to receiving the Lord’s Supper in our lifetime. A greater understanding of health and cleanliness also makes our generation distinct in the ways we are challenged by the restrictions of pandemic ministry.

The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus Christ himself, when He celebrated it with His disciples and told them to “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) We receive in the bread and wine the very body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins and strengthening of faith, as well as the pledge of a resurrection life. The Lord’s Supper is something believers crave and hunger for, as it unites us with Jesus and each other. But what happens when a pandemic disrupts our regular reception of the sacrament?

During the stay-at-home orders, many Christians “fasted” from the Lord’s Supper, as did our congregation when we had only livestream services from March through June. Others have been worshipping online this entire year, due to health risks or other concerns. They plan to take the Lord’s Supper again once they have been fully vaccinated. Some have been in nursing homes or facilities where visitors have not been allowed. This past year, many Christians have gone the longest without the Lord’s Supper than ever before since their First Communion.

The book, Faith in the Shadow of a Pandemic (Corzine & Pless, CPH, 2020) treats the topic of the Lord’s Supper in an entire chapter. In it, they recall from the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper from Christ’s institution, and are discouraged from “making stuff up” when it comes to the sacrament. This had already happened in extreme ways during the Middle Ages, when medieval Christianity had a number of innovations regarding the sacrament. They had private masses, reservation of the host, Corpus Christi processions, and reserved the wine for the priests only. These and other inventions were discarded by the Lutheran Reformation, which focused on the words given in Scripture.

In the Smalcald Articles, one of the confessional writings, it states, “If some want to justify their position by saying that they want to commune themselves for the sake of their own devotion, they cannot be taken seriously. For if they seriously desire to commune, then they do so with certainty and in the best way by using the sacrament administered according to Christ’s institution. On the contrary, to commune oneself is a human notion, uncertain, unnecessary, and even forbidden. Such people also do not know what they are doing, because they are following a false human notion and innovation without the sanction of God’s Word. This it is not right (even if everything else were otherwise in order) to use the common sacrament of the church for one’s own devotional life and to play with it according to one’s own pleasure apart from God’s Word and outside the church community.” (SA II II 8-9, Kolb Wengert p. 302-303)

In so many areas of ministry, we have had to be innovative, creative, and flexible to bring God’s Word and fulfill the mission of the church. These, no doubt, have been used by the Spirit for fruitful ministry. However, in the area of the Lord’s Supper, we are much more cautious about making too many changes that would undermine the basic elements of consecration and distribution. Yet even in this, not all churches will be identical in this regard. We try to demonstrate charity and grace to fellow Lutherans who may have decided to make more significant alterations to their consecration and distribution of the Lord’s Supper. All of us were trying our best to adapt to the situation. However, as we move forward, thoughtful reflection and theological discussions will need to be had with a spirit of humility and trust as we seek a faithful way forward.

 

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper at Our Savior Lutheran Church and School, Lansing, MI

 

Holy Communion at Our Savior is offered to members of our congregation and to those who have been instructed in the beliefs and practices of our congregation and the Lutheran Church regarding the Sacrament. The practices of our congregation flow from our beliefs regarding what is happening in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Decisions regarding the celebration of the Sacrament were made during long discussions between the pastor, pastoral care staff, church staff, and the elders of our Spiritual Life Team, under the supervision of the Board of Directors. A group of medical professionals from our congregation, including doctors, nurses, and a retired epidemiologist were consulted for medical guidance. Our goal was to follow CDC guidance and the health mandates of our state while still celebrating the Lord’s Supper according to our beliefs and practices. Our goal was to 1) celebrate the Lord’s Supper, 2) in ways that did not spread COVID-19, and 3) relied on CDC and state health mandates for guidance.

According to the Center for Disease Control at that time, touch was not a likely method for transmitting COVID-19. Transmission happens mainly through respiratory droplets breathed into the air, and mucous or saliva droplets spread through sneezing or touching one’s mouth, eyes, nose, etc. This made us focus on the three W’s that were consistent with the health measures that our school ministry had put in place – Wash your hands, Watch your distance, Wear your mask.

All Elders (and all communicants – everyone in worship actually) wash their hands thoroughly before worship and distributing the sacrament. Prior to distribution, pastors and elders use hand sanitizer to ensure our hands are clean before handling the wafers / host and the cups of wine. Masks are worn at all times by those distributing. Those communing may briefly remove their mask to receive the Sacrament. The brief time when communicants remove their mask to receive the sacrament is not a risk factor. We are confident that receiving Holy Communion with these health practices in place is not a source of transmission for COVID-19. The benefits of the Sacrament far outweigh any minute risk from being in person for worship or taking the Lord’s Supper.

The Common Cup is a concern in many people’s minds, and yet in the past it has not really been a source of transmission for colds or the flu. The alcohol in the wine reacting with the precious metals has long thought to mitigate germ transmission. The risk of catching something is very low, especially compared to the high transmission activities like shaking hands. However, since the invention of little individual cups, many people prefer that to the common cup because only the altar guild and pastor distributing touch the cups. The altar guild and the pastor/vicar use rigorous hand washing to ensure that their hands are clean. We are using the common cup only for consecration, and only the individual cups for distribution.

When approaching for Holy Communion, there are hash marks on the carpet of the center aisle. This is so households can keep 6 ft distance from each other while in line to come forward. They may stay together as a family/household while communing at each station.

When approaching the elder to receive the body of Christ, the communicant may remove their mask and lay their palm flat. The elder places the host into their hands and they then place it in their mouth.

When they move over to the wine station, the pastor/vicar sets out the number of individual cups of wine for that family and then steps back. They take the cups and drink the wine as the pastor speaks the words of distribution. There is a cup of white de-alcoholized wine on the tables for those who desire it. After receiving the blood of Christ, they put the empty cups in the baskets as you return to their seats.

We are confident that the distribution of the Lord’s Supper poses extremely low risk for transmission for COVID-19, and that we can receive the Sacrament joyfully, confidently, and in the fellowship of believers as Jesus gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Questions that still remain for the future practice of the Lord’s Supper are: 1) When will we use the rails to kneel for the Lord’s Supper? 2) When will we fill the baptismal font for people to touch on their way to the rail? 3) When will we use the common cup again? These are in addition to the questions about how long we will require masks, distancing, and hand washing and all the other mitigation efforts that have become the new normal. We pray for the Spirit’s continued wisdom and guidance as we move forward in faith, hope, and love.

In addition to in-person worship service and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as described above, our church staff also brings communion to people’s homes upon request, and to our shut-ins on a monthly basis. A special parking lot service on April 18 will provide yet another opportunity for people to receive the Lord’s Supper if they are not ready to participate at in-person services.

The disruption of these long-held practices forces us to revisit our beliefs and convictions about the Lord’s Supper and Jesus’ intention and institution of it. This can very well lead to a deeper appreciation for the Sacrament, and a renewed understanding of its place in the Christian life. That is the reason for our Sunday morning preaching series in Lent 2021 on various facets of the Lord’s Supper, and the ongoing invitation to gather at the table of the Lord. We pray that the Lord will continue to strengthen and bless our church as He feeds and sustains us, so that we may continue to be the body of Christ in the world.



Benefits of the Lord’s Supper

Greetings, people loved by God!

Welcome to the beginning of the Our Savior Lutheran blog. Pastor Wangelin and I (Vicar Heinze) will be using this blogsite first for a group of posts about the Lord’s Supper. These posts will be coming out along with our sermon series: Hungry Hearts, for Lent 2021.

Before we can dig into many of the topics we will be discussing in regard to the Lord’s Supper, it’s important for us to have a solid foundation of what the Lord’s Supper is and what the benefits of the Sacrament.

The Lord’s Supper goes by many names, both in Scripture and by the Church: The Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist, the breaking of the bread, etc. I have often heard the Sacrament of the Altar referred to as an “it” or “thing.” But it is much more a “Who.” In the Sacrament, we encounter Christ Himself. This is how the Small Catechism says the head of the home should teach the family about this great reality in a simple way:

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.

Where is this written?

The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write: Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”
 

In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

As we read these words, we discover how simple they are; yet they are also very profound. Through these words, Jesus Christ Himself tells us exactly what He gives to us in the Sacrament and exactly why He gives it. Luther’s Small Catechism calls what He gives us “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and the word “true” here is essential for any discussion on the Lord’s Supper. That words eliminates any attempt or ability to worm out of what Jesus actually says: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you” and “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.” He tells us it is His body, and it is the body given for us. Think about that! The same body and blood that was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary! The same body that was crucified and nailed to the cross! The same blood that stained the wood, that poured from His wounds, that wiped out the sin of the world!

One of the most well-known Scripture accounts is Jesus’ teaching to become like little children, for they are known for believing what they are told. And when we come to the discussion of the Lord’s Supper, guess what…it’s time for each of us to become like little children again. In the Sacrament we are presented with an unfathomable mystery by Jesus Himself, yet an overwhelmingly delightful mystery. In the Lord’s Supper, it is Jesus Himself who takes His own body and blood that was used to win our salvation and gives them to us to deliver that salvation into us. Jesus holds it out to us, as the catechism says, “under the bread and wine” and tells us to eat and drink it.

As Christians throughout the history of the Church have considered the Lord’s Supper, and the truth of what God is doing there, they have often constructed incredible music on the topic. Our Lutheran Service Book is filled of beautiful hymns contemplating the Lord’s Supper (see hymns 617-43). One of the best is this hymn by Henry Eyster Jacobs:
 

Lord Jesus Christ, we humbly pray

That we may feast on You today;

Beneath these forms of bread and wine

Enrich us with Your grace divine.
 

Give us, who share this wondrous food,

Your body broken and Your blood,

The grateful peace of sins forgiven,

The certain joys of heirs of heav’n.
 

By faith Your Word has made us bold

To seize the gift of love retold;

All that You are we here receive,

And all we are to You we give.

                                                            — LSB 623:1-3

Do you see that as you read these words? Do you hear it as you sing them? Look and see how we confess that when we go to receive the Lord’s Supper, we do not receive an “it” but a “Him’! This hymn clearly states our confession that in the Sacrament we actually feast on Christ, His body and blood beneath bread and wine!

But why did Christ give us this gift and command us to “do it” “often” “in remembrance of” Him? The Small Catechism turns to that next:

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?

These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”

Jesus’ words here, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” proclaim the foundational reason why He gives His body and blood to us in the Sacrament. We must make note that sometimes Christians have been confused in regard to an important distinction: the difference between how salvation was won and how salvation is bestowed. Obviously, there is absolutely no question that the salvation of the world was accomplished by Jesus Christ as He sacrificed Himself once-and-for-all on the cross.

However, if the salvation of the world was accomplished by Jesus on the cross two-thousand years ago, how is that salvation accessible to us now in the present day? Some of our Protestant friends like to sing a hymn that says: “There is power, power, wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb.” We’d agree. There is! But we’d also ask: “And where can I find that blood?” In the Lord’s Supper, at His Altar, the Crucified and Risen Savior gives the salvation that He won by His once-for-all sacrifice on the cross.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was offered only one time; however, in the Lord’s Supper, our same Living Lord comes to us every time with the very body and blood that were the ransom price of our bodies and souls; through them, He gives us His forgiveness. And, “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Where the Son of God comes to you in love, gives you forgiveness, and pours into you His divine life, there you also discover salvation. Salvation is communion with the Father through the Holy Spirit.