It's a Miracle that Communion Gives Life
I'm continually amazed that some electronic gadget does more than I thought. The Kindle has a dictionary and can read out loud. The GPS tells not only your speed but the posted speed of the interstate. Some mobile phones can be used like credit cards. That's how it is with the Lord's Supper. It does more than you expect.
We "expect" forgiveness. Each Sunday our Lord proclaims to us anew in the Words of Institution, "This is my Body given for you," and, "This is My Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." No doubt about what His Body and Blood are present on our altar for. They are "for you," and they are "for the forgiveness of sins."
We've seen this a long way off, haven't we? John the Baptist told us in Advent, "Behold the Lamb of God that carries away the sins of the world." At Christmas we celebrated that Jesus was born under the law to redeem those under the law. During Epiphany we rejoiced that God in Man was manifest for our salvation. And in Lent we see our forgiveness worked out up close and personal.
The first step to winning our forgiveness was Jesus being declared innocent before men. Sacrifices for sins in the Old Testament had to be unblemished, healthy, pure animals. To pay for the sins of mankind, the Man Jesus had to be innocent. Did you hear how many times tonight Jesus was declared innocent? Pilate said, "I find no basis for a charge against Him," not once but three times. Herod too found Jesus innocent. And then God testified to Pilate's wife in a dream that Jesus was innocent. How the hearts of Jesus' followers and mother must have leapt for joy. Surely it would be all right after all.
To be the payment for our sins, Jesus had to be innocent before men, but guilty before God. Yes, God held Him guilty of the sins of all times, peoples, and places. He made Him to be sin says 2 Corinthians. That item you stole as a kid; that lustful look you stole today; that unbelief and even distain for God's Word; your lack of love for even your loved ones and your total love for all things "you" was on Jesus. So God the Father saw to it that His only beloved Son paid for it all. Read the words "flogged," "hit," "spit," "ridiculed," and "mocked," and know the Father did that to His Son so He could forgive the sins of the world. And the Son endured it so you could eat that beaten Body and drink that shed Blood for your forgiveness.
We come to the altar rightly expecting forgiveness and not only that but salvation. Jesus doesn't forgive us our sins so that we could flourish in this life. Jesus tells Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world, but He doesn't deny He has a kingdom. But what we know of politics and presidents, nations and superpowers, this world and world domination is about as relevant to Jesus' kingdom as the game of Risk is to the real world.
Jesus tells Pilate that He was born and came into this world to testify to the truth. The truth is there is more than this world, more than these nations, much, much more than what you see. Why do you think Scripture says that in the Lord's eyes the nations of the world are dust, nothing, and less than nothing? Why do you think Paul can call our afflictions like cancer, heart disease, rotten marriages, horrible childhoods, and despondent adolescence as light and momentary? He says these insubstantial and passing compared to the "eternal weight of glory." We haven't been saved by Jesus' innocent life and guilty death to be pain free here, to be rock stars here, to be happy here. We've been saved for an eternal kingdom that takes the breath away.
At the altar is a pick up point for that salvation. Isn't that what we say in our Catechism? "For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also salvation." The same thing that barred Adam from paradise bars our stairway to heaven: sin. Excuses can't get you into heaven. Promises to do better don't unblock the stairs. Forgiveness does. Eating Jesus' Body and drinking Jesus' Blood gives you forgiveness. God can no longer see or even find your sins. And since God can't find them, it doesn't matter if the Devil, the World, or even your own conscience can. None of these can keep you out of heaven.
We expect forgiveness from Communion and because we get forgiveness we ought also to expect salvation and not only salvation but life too since where there is forgiveness of sins there is not only salvation but life. We have to be careful here so you have to listen closely. Obviously when we confess that in Communion there is life and salvation we mean to make a distinction between these two. By life we don't mean eternal life because that would be the same as salvation. So am I telling you that Communion is the Fountain of Youth or that by taking it you will keep your body healthy from disease? No, but I am telling you there is life here.
Luther said the Lord's Supper is our Tree of Life. "In a visible way the Tree bends down its branches to earth and puts it fruits within our reach." What Adam and Eve were barred from we have on our altar. What John saw in heaven lining its main street, the Tree of Life bearing fruit every month, we have every Sunday in our church.
What life is given here? If our Tree isn't an antioxidant against cancer or an inoculation against heart disease or a vitamin for long life, what life does it give? It prepares these physical bodies for eternity. People who come up from great depths in the ocean have to have their bodies prepared for life above the water in a hyperbaric chamber lest they get nitrogen bubbles. Our mortal bodies need medicine to be prepared for life above the earth. Apart from this happening God would be like Aurora, goddess of the dawn.
She was in love with a mortal. She asked Jupiter to give him immortality but forget to ask for youth too. To her horror, after some time he began to age. She left him when his hair was white, but he still lived in her palace on the ambrosial food of the gods dressed in celestial clothes. When he lost the power of his limbs she shut him up in his chamber but his feeble voice could still be heard. Finally she could bear it no more and turned him into a grasshopper (Bulfinch's Mythology, 207).
What if we were forgiven and saved for eternity but with these bodies of death? No Paul says, "We eagerly awaitthe Lord Jesus Christ whowill transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." The mythical goddess Aurora ended up changing her lover into a grasshopper. Our Lord changes our bodies into His. We wait for the Last Day for that transformation to be complete, but He who promised to be with us always till then, certainly is at work in these mortal bodies through the means of grace He has left us.
Besides, why do you think Jesus is put through and endures such bodily suffering if not to redeem these bodies? As we say at Christmas, what God the Son did not assume He did not redeem. Therefore, He came into the world as unborn baby to redeem everyone from there on. Likewise, He came into the world in a body and soul to redeem us soul and body. Therefore, His body had to suffer what our sinful, fallen, wretched bodies deserve so that these bodies might be forgiven, saved, enlivened.
It's like the Star Trek episode "The Empath." Dr. McCoy finds himself imprisoned with a beautiful alien. Other aliens beat him and throw him back in the cage. The woman touches his wounds. Each one shows up on her. Jesus has a crown of thorns jammed on His head thereby taking away the wounds we have from our dirty thoughts. He is slapped in the mouth thereby healing our mouths from the harsh things we have said. He is whipped in Body that our bodies might be restored. That's what Isaiah means when he says, "By His stripes we are healed."
Our Large Catechism does deal with the physical effects of eating and drinking the Body and Blood of the Lord who saved us Body and Soul. We call Communion "soothing medicine which aids and quicken us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also" (LC, V, 68). In other writings, Luther fleshes out what he means by the body being benefitted. He does it along the lines of the Eurasian bullfinch.
The Eurasian bullfinch is a beautiful little bird with a pink-red front. If you feed this bird a diet of nothing but hempseed, its feathers turn black (Whose What? 44). We too transform perishable food into our bodies, but Holy Communion is like hempseed with bullfinches. The Body and Blood of Jesus, says Luther, "transforms the person who eats it into what it is itself, and makes him like itself, spiritual, alive, and eternal" (LW, 37, 100).
Luther in this same writing expands on this theme showing how eating Jesus physically with your mouth effects you even as eating Him spiritually through faith does. "If we eat Him spiritually through the Word, He abides in us spiritually in our soul; if one eats Him physically, He abides in us physically and we in Him. As we eat Him, He abides in us and us in Him. For He is not digested or transformed but ceaselessly transforms us, our soul into righteousness, our body into immortality. So the ancient father spoke of the physical eating" (LW, 37, 132). Luther is referring to the fact that the church fathers, and he too, were fond of calling Communion "the medicine of immortality."
Yes, new electronic gadgets continually surprise me. Did you know there are gadgets which enable up to 8 others around you to connect to the internet through your device? It's not only more useful to you but to others around you. Likewise is the life that Christ imparts to you in Communion. Luther said in taking the Sacrament we became like the monstrance in a Catholic Church. A monstrance is a cross-like structure in the center of which Catholics put a consecrated host. It has golden rays shooting out from where jewels surround the host. It's carried about for all to see. We, said Luther, by taking Communion are the monstrance' (Kleinig, Grace upon Grace, 283). The life, salvation, and forgiveness we get from Christ we bear in our bodies into the dying, damned, sinful world around us. And that's a miracle! Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Vespers IV (20110330); Lord's Supper II