The spoken Word of Christ is essential to understanding the central place of the Lord’s Supper in the liturgy of the church. Rather than the Supper being something we do, it is what the risen Christ comes to do among His gathered people. God’s Word teaches that in the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine are participation (communion) in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor 10:16). Those who misuse the Sacrament sin against the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor 11:27,29). According to Jesus’ words, the bread is His body. These words are not parabolic or metaphorical use of language. “Is” means “is.” The giving of His body with the bread is just as real as the giving of His body into death on the cross.
The same is true for the blood. Neither the cup (wine) is imaginary nor is the blood. The “blood of the New Testament” in Matthew and Mark is identical to the “new testament of the blood” in Luke and Paul. That which we drink in the Supper is the shed blood of Christ, and the shed blood is the New Covenant. The king gives this covenant to His subjects. The king offers, and the king provides. The Lord’s Supper is a pure gift. Everything depends on Jesus’ Word instituting the Sacrament. They are the words of life and salvation so that whoever believes in them has all his sins forgiven through that faith.
There is, of course, no more faithful or trustworthy interpreter of the words of Jesus Christ than the Lord Christ himself, who best understands his words and heart and intention and is best qualified from the standpoint of wisdom and intelligence to explain them. In the institution of his last will and testament and of his abiding covenant and union, he uses no flowery language but the most appropriate, simple, indubitable, and clear words, just as he does in all the articles of faith…
52 Therefore also all three evangelists, Matthew (26:26), Mark (14:22), and Luke (22:19), as well as St. Paul who received the same information after Christ’s ascension (1 Cor. 11:25), unanimously and with the same words and syllables repeat these simple, clear, certain, and truthful words of Christ, “This is my body,” and apply them in one and the same matter to the blessed and proffered bread without any interpretation and change (Lutheran Confessions, FC SD VII, 50-52).
The words are clear. “When Christ says, ‘Take, eat, this is my body,’ even a child will understand perfectly well that he is speaking of that which He is offering…” (Luther) His presence in the Supper does not depend on our faith, our reason, or our understanding. All who receive the Sacrament commune on the body and blood of Jesus, whether or not they believe. When the living Christ comes into the midst of His gathered congregation today, and names or calls “This is My body” and “This is My blood,” it is not a matter that human speculation can change. The Word instituting the Sacrament is the same Word that said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. But not all receive the forgiveness, life, and salvation offered there, for only through faith can we receive the blessings offered.
The Lord’s Supper is a gift of life and love to be received, not a requirement to be fulfilled. What Jesus gave to His church in the Supper is the inviting and absolving Gospel. Therefore, it was celebrated daily Apostles and then weekly by the church. In Acts 2:42 records, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” The “breaking of the bread” was the very means by which the Holy Spirit continued to bring Christ to the baptized at Pentecost. God fed the new life by His Supper that He had gifted them with Holy Baptism. The same form is found later in Acts with the Apostle Paul delivering teaching and those “gathered together to break bread” (Acts 20:7).
Around AD 55, about two decades after the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, Paul wrote, “I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you” (1 Cor 11:23), referring to the Supper. Paul confesses that the gift Jesus gave in the Upper Room is the same gift Paul had received from the Lord. And what the Holy Spirit led the Jewish church to receive at Pentecost is precisely what Paul was delivering to the Gentile church at Corinth.
Death has been swallowed up in victory, and the crucified and risen Christ now gives us His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. This meal is no ordinary food but the very bread of life. The kingdom of God has come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. Where He is, there the domain is in our midst (Luke 17:21). In the church’s celebrations of the Lord’s Supper is the fulfillment of Jesus’ Word of promise comes, “I will bestow upon you a kingdom” (Lk 22:29) and “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). We sing with saints, and angels, and the whole host of heaven. And where He is, we have the fruits of His sacrificial death on the cross. We have forgiveness, life, and salvation. Thanks to Jesus for this gift!
Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie