Real Things Have Consequences
Unreal things don't have consequences because they don't exist. Things like Big Foot, Chupacabra, the Jersey Devil don't impact our time and space. The fact that some of you think one or more of them might really exist is evidence that we live in a time when it's acceptable to believe anything. Because this is so, the amazing miracle of God the Son giving His Church His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine is put in the category of "an impossible thing some people choose to believe." I'm telling you real things have consequences whether you believe them or not.
Present at every Communion service is the Body and Blood of Jesus and you either meet Him as Savior or Judge. Whether or not you believe the command of Jesus "do this" or His promise "this is My Body given for you;" "this is My Blood poured out for you," these are present. Likewise, whether you believe the doctor who commands you to take a medicine or the pharmacist who promises it's real medicine, that pill, tablet, or patch of drugs exists in time and space.
You take the promised prescription drug as commanded and the effects are usually beneficial. You take it wrongly and the effects won't be. In either case the effects are real. Likewise you eat and drink after having examined and approved yourself, that's what the word examined means here, and you eat and drink salvation meeting your Savior in person. But you eat and drink without examining and approving yourself, without recognizing that Jesus is really present in the Bread and Wine, you eat and drink weakness, sickness, and death because you've met Jesus as Judge.
You either meet Jesus in as Savior or Judge. That's one of the reasons the Church has been careful about who she invites to the Table since the night Jesus instituted this meal. Only the disciples Jesus had instructed for 3 years were invited. Not even Jesus' mother was! Those unable to examine and approve themselves because they hadn't been instructed weren't invited.
But not everyone we don't invite to Jesus' altar would necessarily meet Him as Judge. Most of the time Closed Communion is about the divisions Paul says exists among Christians. Either Jesus is really on our altar as Confessional Lutherans, Catholics, and Orthodox say or He is not as Baptists, Church of Christ, and Episcopalians say. Either the Jesus present here teaches when Christians die they go to purgatory as the Catholics say or He teaches they go to heaven as Confessional Lutherans say. Either the Jesus present here tells you don't baptize your babies as Baptists say or do baptize them as Confessional Lutherans say.
A Christian church on every corner teaching something different is how it was in the first 4 centuries of the church. The only difference is that then they were all labeled only Christian. Now names distinguish them. Now you can compare what a church named Catholic, Baptist, or Lutheran teaches with what God says. Paul says the one that has God's approval after examining it is to be judged the right one. Yes, approval' is the noun of the verb Paul uses later. So in sum: Worthy communion is about examining and approving yourself compared to Scripture; Closed Communion is about examining and approving what others believe compared to Scripture. Both are important because Jesus is really here either as Judge or Savior.
Real things have consequences. Present here is not only a Judge or Savior but Deity. When the Lord appeared to Abraham he fell on His face. When Moses came into the presence of God he was ordered to take off his shoes. For just improperly touching the Ark where God dwelled a man was struck dead on the spot. Again and again in the New Testament whenever someone realizes the divinity of Jesus Scripture says they fell down and worshiped Him (Mosebach, 125).
The veiling of the elements, us bowing, kneeling, asking the Coming One to save us now, asking the Lamb of God who has come to have mercy on us, and stating that our eyes have seen the Lord's salvation are all ways we testify that more than meets the eye is here. No less than Deity, the Body and Blood of God are. You wrap presents, a bride is veiled, the elements are veiled not to hide but to teach something is present beyond what physical eyes can see. Praising, praying, bowing, and kneeling confess the specialness of what is unwrapped before our eyes.
You bow at our altar not to me, but to the Jesus who is present here. If you are ushered in to meet the Queen of England you'll be instructed to bow as we do here: upon entering her presence and again upon leaving. This is part of giving honor to whom honor is due as Paul directs. When Peter falls at Jesus' feet confessing Him as Lord, when the women coming away from the Easter tomb sees Jesus they grab His feet and worship Him, Jesus doesn't say, "Stop that; no need for such displays of devotion."
We kneel here for the same reason: because we are in the presence of God. Kneeling speaks and unmistakable language which standing doesn't (Ibid. 133). A man on his knees because he believes that His Maker is present in a little white wafer is still a stumbling block in many places (Ibid. 30). So it shows what different churches believe Communion is. Communing in the pew was adopted by Presbyterians and Puritans "who did not want to seem to be kneeling in adoration of the Communion elements" (Oxford History of Worship, 809).
The Anglicans in the 16th century went out of the way to say their kneeling had nothing to do with Deity being present. The Book of Common Prayer in 1552 and in 1662 added the Black Rubric. It explains that by kneeling "no adoration is intended or ought to be done...and the natural Body and Blood of our Savior Christ are in heaven and not here." Contrast this with our confession: "No one - except an Arian heretic - can or will deny that Christ Himself, true God and truly Human, who is truly & essentially present in the Supper when properly used, should be adored in spirit and truth..."( FC, SD, VII, 126). Even the Calvinists admit that if Christ is present in the bread corporally "we would haveto show God due reverence no less than Thomas did" (Diaskepis, 272).
Of course, Jesus doesn't come here to be adored. In heaven He has an eternity of adoration from angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. He comes here so that forgiveness of sins would be present here on earth. In a 1981 movie a woman has an abortion and knows her secret will come out in the morning paper because of a political scandal. She is shown asleep on the front porch of her father's house. When the paperboy delivers the paper, she leaps up barefoot and in her robe, verifies the story is there, and then proceeds across the lawn from house to house picking up every paper. She disappears down the street with an armload of papers.
You can pick up all the papers in the world, you can do everything you can to hide your sin and it will still find you. It will hunt you down in the dead of night or even in the middle of the day and with a thousand pointing fingers and a thousand wagging tongues say, "You have so gravely sinned, you can never be forgiven. You can never go back to a clean conscience."
Jesus says different: The same holy Body that I gave on the cross is present here for your forgiveness. The same holy Blood I shed on the cross is present here to cover forever that sin and all your others. Sin came into the world by the First Adam eating. Forgiveness comes into your world by eating the Second Adam.
And with forgiveness, two other gifts: Life and salvation. Life isn't eternal life; that's covered in the word salvation.' Life is earthly life. Am I saying you'll live forever in this fallen world if you eat His Body and drink His Blood? No, I'm saying where forgiveness of sins is really present life is a consequence. We say that in the Large Catechism: the Sacrament is "wholesome soothing medicine which aids and quicken us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also" (V, 68). Zacchaeus life was changed when forgiveness came to his house in Person. Jesus brings forgiveness to you personally in this Meal and that benefits and blesses your earthly life.
But if only a blessed earthly life was here that wouldn't be enough. God could have given us that by leaving us the Tree of Life. But He wanted us to have more than this life. He didn't want to do what the goddess Aurora did to her human lover. She got Jupiter to give him immortality but forgot to ask for eternal youth. She watched him age and decay. Finally she could take the sight of him no longer and shut him up in a room but she could still hear his feeble voice. That's not our fate. Luther said the Lord's Supper "'is a street, a bridge, a door, a ship, a stretcher on which and by means of which we journey from this world into eternal life'" (Structures, 319).
Forgiveness for sins we can't forgive ourselves for; life in the midst of death; and salvation from here to eternity are really present here. The words "for you" let you know these are yours. By these words Jesus is reminding you to explode with joy and gladness because the ransom that will be paid for the sins of the whole world on the cross tomorrow is put into your mouth tonight (Law & Gospel, 168).
In a book not about Communion but agriculture, Wendell Berry says the highest joys we can know are union, communion, and atonement (Unsettling America, 122). I'm saying these 3 are present in the Body and Blood of Jesus on that altar and all 3 are put in your mouth. Furthermore, I'm saying the reality of this has only good consequences for those who believe it. They are like the traveler in George McDonald's Fairy Land who found the food and drink there gave sustenance, correct thinking, put him in proper relationship with everything around him, and gave him the impulse to sing (Phantastes, 33, 37).
For centuries Communion has been called "Bread for the journey;" taught the correct way to think about sin, self, and Savior, and enabled people to pass through things temporal so they lose not things eternal. Whether you believe this or not it's true that Communion can do all this, but if you believe it you can't help but sing. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Maundy Thursday (20160324); I Corinthians 11: 17-32