“I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the 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’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
Before you eat anything, it’s good to ask the question, and have it answered for you: “What is this?” Maybe there’s even a related question: “Who made it?” There can be more to it than merely what meets your eye. Good food prepared by an unsanitary chef can make you sick. Good food may be rendered unsafe by your condition: a peanut allergy, lactose or gluten intolerance…
As sinners, we are subject to a much more profound and pervasive frailty. In answer to it, Christ gives us His Supper and His good teaching about it. So that we might receive it for blessing, benefit, and joy rather than for judgment, Dr. Luther has us ask in the Catechism, What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
That takes us to the Upper Room. Christ presents Himself as a testator of a will (or, of His Last Will and Testament) in the hours before He goes to His death for you. Later, Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 presents himself as a good executor of Christ’s will and a good teacher for us about what Christ instituted—which no one should dare change now that Christ has died. The teaching is vital because here our senses can’t be trusted.
You see, the weakness and suffering we’re about to see in Jesus are all ours. It comes upon Him because He’s entered into our flesh and into His Office as our Savior. Nevertheless, He’s still the Lord. He can do anything. And He means what He says.
In Holy Communion what we see and taste is common bread and grape wine. But Jesus adds His almighty Word to these common ordinary things: “This is My body – This is the new testament in My blood” (I Corinthians 11).
What is this? Luther puts this so clearly in the Catechism, it can hardly be bettered: “The Sacrament of the Altar 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.”
As for who made it, this is Christ’s work and all His doing. As His beneficiary, just listen to His words and see what He has done for you and what He has left to you through His death. It proves a connection between who’s doing it and what it accomplishes. If we make the Lord’s Supper merely a memorial, we do it and it accomplishes nothing. If we make it a mystical sacrifice to pay for sin, it’s still a work of man. Thank God, that’s not it.
But there’s one Christ with one flesh-and-blood body of His that He gave once for all. In Him, all sins are forgiven and our full ransom is paid. Here you may only receive, and He only feeds, bestows, and forgives. That is what it is. Thanks be to God!
Reverend Aaron Hamilton
Concordia Lutheran Church
Eau Claire, WI