The delightful children's poem "Floradora Doe" considers the calamity of her "who talked to all her plants, because she thought it helped them grow." She recited, lectured, and prattled "with a constant stream of prose, then suddenly, one morning, every plant" was dead. The person who gave me this said it was consistent with my point that Jesus said make a tree good and the fruit will be good. Jesus makes trees good by justifying them by grace through faith; you don't exhort a tree to make it produce good fruit. She was right in all this, but then I remembered the Exhortation.
In the early church the pastor exhorted the congregation in Greek liturgies prior to communing "The holy things for the holy people" (Sasse, This is My Body, 320). The first century A.D. Didache, also known as The Teaching of the 12 Apostles, exhorts, "If any man is holy, let him come; if any man is not, let him repent" (10: 13-4). From this same source, we find this exhortation was inscribed above the entrance to the place Communion was celebrated: "'He who loves the Lord come! May he who does not love the Lord be cast out! Maranatha'" (10, 6 in, Brunner, In the Name of Jesus, 194). The Didache also applies Christ's sobering admonition not to give what is holy to the dogs to distributing Communion (Elert, Eucharistic, 221). The Apostolic Constitutions, 4th century A.D., has the deacon exhorting before the distribution "Let none of the catechumens, let none of the hearers, let none of the unbelievers, let none of the heterodox, stay here [and commune]. .." (VIII, xii). Of course all of these exhortations are rooted in Paul's words: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Cor. 11:28).
"Floradora Doe" didn't start me on the path to reexamining exhortation. An elder did. For decades I have included Luther's Exhortation to Communicants in the Reformation service. The elder asked, "Why don't we use it every Sunday?" That's certainly what Luther intended. The Exhortation I use comes from Luther's redoing of the Catholic church's Communion liturgy where he takes out the re-sacrificing of Christ. He instructs, "After the sermon shall follow (note the word shall') a public paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer" and second an exhortation. I use only the exhortation which admonishes 3 things: That you "discern the Testament of Christ in true faith" taking to heart His Word where He gives you His body and blood for forgiveness; that you "remember and give thanks for His boundless love"; that "in this faith, you externally receive the bread and wine, i.e. His body and blood" (LW 53, 78-80).
A year before this, 1525, a Lutheran pastor sent Luther a German communion service for his review. The only thing he suggested was to replace the preface in the Roman Mass, the one we still use, with the Exhortation to the Communicants he was sending. Here's some highlights: "This commemoration requires a firm faithsure and certain that Christ has suffered death for all his sins. But whoever doubts and does not in some manner feel such faith should know that the Supper is of no avail to him, but will rather be to his hurt, and he should stay away from it. And since we cannot see such faith and it is known only to God, we leave it to the conscience of him who comes and admit him who requests and desires it. But those who cling to open sins, such as greed, hatred, anger, envy, profiteering, unchastity, and the like and are not minded to renounce them, shall herewith be barredlest they incur judgment and damnation for their own souls. If, however someone has fallen because of weakness and proves by his acts that he earnestly desires to better himself, the body and blood of Christ shall not be denied him" (LW, 53, 104-5).
Every hymnal produced by our denomination from 1927 right up to 2006 has had the Exhortation that I use on Reformation. The 1927 hymnal had it in a footnote noting it could be used in the regular Communion service. From 1941 on it was in the corporate confessional service that I have used for decades on Maundy Thursday, but always without the Exhortation. Hippolytus, an early 3rd century father, said that a pastor can scarcely be saved, and I believe it. How many times over the decades have I learned that someone had the temerity to come to Communion while living in sin? I didn't know it, but they sure did. Had my preaching and teaching emboldened them to do this? Had my lack of exhortation enabled them? And what of those who go long periods of time without communing and expect me to give them the Lord's Supper with no more examination than the general confession of sins? With no exhortation to be careful, to beware?
Luther in about 1529 said, "'In the same way one ought to examine the simple peopleto see whether they know the parts of the Catechism and whether they realize their sin done against it and whether they are willing to learn more and amend their lives; otherwise, they are not to be admitted to the sacrament. For since a pastor ought to be a faithful servant of Christ, he must not, as much as he can, throw the sacrament to the sows and dogs, but hear who the people are" (WA, 30.3:567, in Sonntag, Unchanging Forms, 41). Getting a sense of why Floradora Doe's plants died?
The history of Communion among Lutherans shows a swing between Pietism's reasoning that no one could be prepared ever Sunday, so don't even offer it every Sunday. This led to a once a quarter celebration of Communion; as a kid it went from once a month to twice, and in 1995 our denomination admitted that our own Confession of Faith says we celebrate it every Sunday, and so the pendulum swung the other direction. Since we have it every Sunday, I can receive it with no more preparation than choosing to be present. Could the Exhortation be a corrective to this?
The statement of Closed Communion is an exhortation to realize that not everyone is invited. However, it says active members are, leaving it up to you decide if you're active, but there is no exhortation to examine yourself. The veiling of the elements are an exhortation to take heed: more than meets the eyes is here. This isn't just plain bread and wine here. That's all you see, but Jesus' Words of Institution tell you here is His the very body He gave to death on the cross for your sins. Here is the very blood He shed there for the remission of your sins. If wrongly approaching the cloudy presence of God above the Ark of the Covenant brought judgment on a person, how much more so wrongly approaching the place of the Real Presence of God on earth today? Most Communion hymns also contain exhortations. Take for example "Jesus Christ Our Blessed Savior" verse 3: "Whoso to this Board repaireth/ May take heed how He prepareth; /For if he does not believe, /Then death for life he shall receive." Finally, my 3-year Confirmation program for kids and my almost 4-month one for adults is an exhortation too that to be prepared you need to be instructed as those at the first Lord's Supper were.
While Christ Jesus shed His holy, precious blood for all, covered the sins of all, with no sin being too egregious, too disgusting, to be forgiven, the Body and Blood He gives here is not for some. It is not for those unable to examine themselves. That is those lacking the mental capacity such as the young or impaired or those who have not be instructed in the faith. Communion is also not for those for whom it's a custom. This is those who commune because it is the thing to do, what's expected of them. That's what the atheist Voltaire did. He was asked how he, who denied God, could take Communion; he replied that he "'breakfasted according to the custom of the country'" (Catherine the Great, 299). You come to the Lord's Table just because your family does, your spouse does, or you're expected to, you will get weak, sick, and might die. And neither is Communion for those who deceive themselves. So says Paul, "Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God" ( I Cor. 6: 9-10).
An exhortation can be a warning, but it can also be a stimulation, encouragement to do something. Last Wednesday we heard how our Lutheran Confessions urge, entreat, exhort anyone who knows his great sin and sinfulness, desires to be free of the sins that so easily encumber him, to make use of this medicine. Don't delay; don't put off until you feel you are ready. Don't let your shame over your sins or their great number make you timid. Where sins abound, God's grace abounds more. Though your sins stink to high heaven in your nostrils, God only smells the sweet wine of His Son's blood. So, eat, drink, live. Don't get wrapped around the axle of what you think your level of preparedness is? No heed Luther's words to "'go freely and happily to the Sacrament and die [to yourself] in it'" (WA, 8, 184 in Kittleson, 186). And if you're not able to do that: go to the pastor you expect to commune you. No confessional pastor would tell you to come if you're not prepared. If you weren't but he did tell you to come, your unworthy communion would be all on him not at all on you.
All this talk of exhortation wafts the spirit of Floradora Doe over the altar, doesn't it? The warning can outweigh the encouraging. This can help. One of the derivations of Maundy in Maundy Thursday traces it not to Jesus command, "Love one another" but from the Latin mundare, to wash (Church from Age to Age, 130). Now that takes us to the upper room of the first Lord's Supper, and Peter refusing to have his feet washed by Jesus, and Jesus saying if I don't, you have no part of Me. Then Peter says, "Wash all of me," and Jesus says that those who have been bathed only need their feet washed. You've been bathed in Baptism. Before Communion you don't need rebaptizing. You have your feet washed by absolution after confessing your sins, and you're all ready to dine with and on Jesus.
That's the proper focus not on any words of exhortation from me, but on Jesus' words. In that German Mass where Luther included the Exhortation he had the Words of Institution chanted to the same tune as the Gospel because they are all Gospel. The Gospel is food for the soul. What you hear with the ears you eat and drink with the mouth. Read "Floradora Doe" her exhorting didn't kill the plants; her not feeding or watering them did. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Maundy Thursday (20190418)