Communion is For You
"For you" is all over the Confessional Lutheran approach to Communion. Communion is "for us Christians to eat and drink" because Jesus said "given for you" and "shed for you." The benefit of eating and drinking are shown in Jesus' words "given and shed for you." These words along with the eating and drink are the main thing in this Sacrament. The person who believes "given and shed for you" is worthy and well prepared. "For you" are confessional Lutheran words, but we weren't first to see this. The words of distribution inherited from the early church were, "The body of Christ, given for you; the blood of Christ shed for you" (Ox. His. Wor., 408). Luther didn't start the emphasis on for you', but Luther brought it back. In 1523, he included the words "given for you" in connection with Christ giving the Bread. Although they're in Luke's record of the Supper, they had fallen by the wayside between the 4th and 7th centuries (Peters, Bpt. & LS., 180-1). Have they perhaps fallen aside again in our thinking?
Have you ever been at the reading of a will? It's a solemn occasion. A will testifies to a person's last wishes and distributes his property. What does Jesus leave us? Here's what Luther says, "'He gives me His body and blood also physically, in my physical mouth, to eat and drink with such overwhelming sweet, friendly words: given for [all of] you, and shed for [all of] you'" (Brief Letter Concerning Pr. Mass, in Peters, 195, fn. 238). Of all the things Jesus could leave His children, He picks the Body and Blood He gave on the cross for their sins and gives it to them in bread and wine. Here Lutherans stand between the Catholics who say bread and wine aren't really there and the Reformed who have the more serious error of saying the Body and Blood aren't there.
We admit we don't know how Jesus can do this, but no one can change a testament but the testator. You may wish that grandma hadn't left that ring to your cousin, but you have no power or right to change her will; only grandma can do that. And once grandma is dead, not even she can do that. Heb. 9:17 speaking of this says, "A will takes effect only after a person dies." And Gal. 3:15 says, "Even though it's only a man's will, yet once it has been put into effect no one can cancel it or add conditions to it." Of course after Jesus died, He rose, but a resurrected Jesus didn't change His will.
What He left us is the same body He gave on the cross and the same blood He shed there. So, if He only gives you bread and wine that symbolize His body and blood, that's what you're saying He gave and shed on the cross. But symbols don't bleed, weep, cry out, sweat, or die, do they? Besides in a testament, you can't use figurative or picture language. If Grandma wants to leave you her car and she calls her car Babe', even though everyone in your family knows Babe' refers to her car, her lawyer would make her specify a 2010 blue, Camry. Even the dinner setting of the Last Supper precludes figurative language. All the laws of langue lead us to expect that the thing offered won't be a sign, symbol, or memorial of what is to be eaten and drank but the thing itself (Krauth, Cons. Ref., 603). You don't say, "Have some steak," and give someone a picture of a steak, or, "Have some wine," and give them Kool-Aid. Whether at a will-reading or a dinner party language would commit suicide if it accepted the idea that the substantive verb, is, expresses not substance but symbol (Ibid., 619).
But I sympathize with all those who deny that Communion is the body and blood of Jesus. What man could leave that? What man would think others wanted His body and blood to eat and drink? Well, it's more than a man's will. Jesus is not only true Man born of the Virgin Mary but true God begotten of the Father in eternity. God can leave anything to us He wills to, and we most certainly need everything God wills to us. When asked point blank, "Are you the Son of the Blessed One," Jesus clearly says, "I am." the 2-word Greek translation of Yahweh. If you don't get that, the Old Testament church leaders did. Jesus' answer settled the case. Jesus claimed to be Yahweh. Jesus claims to be the One who made a bush burn without burning up, who made the sun go backwards, who made iron float, a donkey talk, and greater miracles than these: a harlot into a believer, an adulterer and murder into a forgiven sinner.
The God-Man, Jesus, can easily leave His people His body and blood, and that He wants to do this is clear from His words. He wants sinners to eat His body which was given for them on the cross to pay for their sins. He wants them to drink His blood "which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." He wants us to have the forgiveness He won with His body in our bodies. He has no pleasure in the death of a sinner even of the one who sins against better knowledge. This is Peter. In the previous Passion Readings, you heard how many times Jesus warned Peter. And even tonight Peter is somewhere that he never should've been. Jesus asked the arresting mob to let His disciples go. The mob didn't give chase; Peter was free. Jesus had told them He was going where they could not follow. After being warned about denying Him 3 times before sunrise, Peter not only follows but makes his stand the middle of the arresting party. And in quick succession Peter falls, denies, gives into that sin which he had promised, vowed, swore he wouldn't do again.
Yes, Peter is somewhere he never should have been, and that's a line from a 1991 Garth Brooks' song about a cheating husband. In one version, Garth has the wife running "back down the hallway and through the bedroom door. She reaches for the pistol kept in the dresser drawer. Tells the lady in the mirror he wouldn't do this again. Cause tonight will be the last time, she wonders where he's been." That was too vengeful for networks to play, but that spirit is what we would expect from the holy God who has warned and warned of a sin, but the sinner pushes on. But in Peter's bleakest, blackest moment, the beaten, bruised, bloody Jesus turns and looks straight at Peter "and with a look recalls" him. Such a merciful Jesus wants to give His Body and Blood to sinners for supreme, tangible, tastable forgiveness. But what about Judas?
First, let's talk more about the Supper. There is judgment in the Supper for those who don't first judge themselves and for those who don't discern that it is Jesus' body and blood in this time and space. But judgment isn't the purpose of Jesus' presence in Bread and Wine. Just as God the Son didn't need to take on flesh and blood to damn sinners, so He doesn't need to be present with His Body and Blood in Communion to judge them. There will come a day when everyone will see Jesus "sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven" for judgment. Today is not that day. This altar is not supposed to be that place. Look up Albrecht Durer's "Mass of St. Gregory" from 1511. See the truth of the Real Presence of Christ graphically portrayed but see more so the forgiving Christ portrayed.
Judas could see nothing but Judge Jesus and his own sins. His sins were too big to make up for, to pay for, to get relief from, and when he went to the place of God's forgiving franchise on earth, they said, "What is that to us? That's your responsibility." And so say all churches, all Christians, who refuse to pronounce an indicative, I forgive you, absolution of sin. But in Judas' case we agree. How many things there are which commemorate his sin which is unforgiveable to us: Judas Goat, Judas Cradle, Judas Fig, Judas Cake, Judas Beer, Judas Bread. Since we feel this way, we think Jesus must to.
No, the Jesus who calls all who are burdened and heavy ladened never said, "Not you Judas." The One who said, "The one who comes to Me I will never cast out," didn't add the asterisk, "Except for Judas." The One who wept over Jerusalem being unwilling to gather under the wings of His cross doesn't celebrate Judas refusing shelter from the storm there. You must never give up that God says He is not willing that any man perish but that all men repent and come to faith; that He takes no pleasure in the death of even the wicked; that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice not only for your sins but the sins of the world. If you think there is even one person Jesus didn't give His Body and shed His Blood for, didn't really want to forgive, wasn't able to forgive, even Judas, then be assured the Devil will suggest one gloomy day, one dark night that you're the second exception. Your crimes, your secret sins are too great, too dirty, too evil to be forgiven. However, the Body and Blood Jesus gave and shed for the sins of the world without exception, asterisk, or qualification say otherwise.
By the words for you,' Jesus reminds us that we ought to explode with joy and gladness because the ransom that was paid for the sins of the whole world is, so to speak, put in our mouths (Harrison, Ed., Law & Gospel, 168). Hear the words used when distributing Communion circa 1723, "'Behold the Blood Christ poured out for thee, and for me, and for all of us. Drink ye all this, drink large draughts of the Love of Christ" (Ox. Hist. Wors., 516). Communion is a foretaste of the Lamb's wedding feast. You invite friends not enemies to a wedding.
In the sermon every listener is expected to apply the message to himself, but the troubled conscience finds that hard do to. He needs the Sacrament where God says to him for you.' "There he receives the assurance that he is not being passed over by the Lord. The Sacrament bridges the gap between Christ's salvation revealed and offered to all and the lonely individual in his spiritual need" (Luther on Worship, 138). Luther himself goes one better showing once more Confessional Lutherans stand between Catholics and Reformed. The soul "can do quite well without the sacraments." It "cannot do without the word of God" (LW, 44, 227). Now were back to the beginning and the emphasis on Jesus saying that the communion of His body and blood is for you'. He would've said that even to Judas. He does say it especially to you. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Midweek III (20190320); Sacrament of Altar I, Passion Reading 3