Q: Is it possibly saying too much when our synodical catechism (under #314) states, ‘Those who neglect the Lord’s Supper sin greatly against the Lord…’?”
A: In your accompanying remarks you raise the concern that we may be guilty of making a law where God has not done so. You suggest that the neglect of partaking of Holy Communion should not be viewed on the same par as the neglect of hearing God’s Word proclaimed.
As you are aware, three verses are given in support of this statement in our synod’s Explanation of Luther s Small Catechism (1981 edition): Luke 22:19, Matthew 11:28 and Hebrews 10:25. The Luke 22 passage, where Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” refers directly to our Lord’s instituting words in the Holy Supper. Here we have the Lord’s own command, an “evangelical command” if you will, to receive his very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
In his Large Catechism, Dr. Luther wrote concerning these words of Christ: “These are bidding and commanding words by which all who would be Christians are enjoined to partake of this Sacrament. Therefore, whoever would be a disciple of Christ, with whom He here speaks, must also consider and observe this, not from compulsion, being forced by men, but in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to please him. However, if you say: ‘But the wards are added, “As oft as you do it”; there he compels no one, but leaves it to our free choice,’ answer: That is true, yet it is not written that we should never do so. Yea just because he speaks the words, ‘As oft as you do it,’ it is nevertheless implied that we should do it often. . .” (Concordia Triglotta, 763, par. 45)
The confessional Lutheran Church has always held baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be Means of Grace alongside the Word of the Gospel, all of which have been, given to convey the remission of sins from Christ’s redemptive work to our needy souls. If neglect of the Word of the Gospel is to be considered a sin, then it follows that neglect of the Sacraments is likewise a sin. The Sacraments are visible forms of the same Gospel which have been entrusted to Christ’s Church for our use and blessing. Therefore, all passages pertinent to the neglect of the Word also apply to the neglect of the Sacraments.
Now surely there is forgiveness also for the sin of neglecting the Lord’s Supper. But with this forgiveness we are moved to pray, “Lord, I love your Gospel of grace in Word and Sacrament; help me to overcome my tendency to neglect these Means of Grace.” As Prof. J. B. Madson once said, “Our unbelief is overcome and our faith nurtured and strengthened only by the Lord’s appointed Means of Grace, and the Lord’s Supper is definitely one of these. To the extent that we partake of it in faith, to that extent we reap the intended blessing from it; to the extent that we neglect it, we rob ourselves of great and necessary comfort.