In Coena Domini


In Coena Domini means "At the table of the Lord" and it's the name for a recurrent papal pronouncement (bull) from the 13th to the 18th centuries where the pope censured heretics. It's named for its first words "At the table of the Lord" and was read annually on Maundy Thursday (ODCC, 695). Luther joked in the last year of his life. "I have been in hell for 28 years, and I'm still quite healthy in spite of it" (Reed, 502). What happened in the papal pronouncement In Coena Domini was a laughing matter. What happens at the Table of the Lord is not.

At the Table of the Lord there is no praise for wrong Communion. See how emphatically Paul says to the Corinthians he has "no praise for them" in regard to how they practiced Communion? In the old ordination rite supplanted by Vatican II the Mass was described as "a dangerous and fraught undertaking" (Mosebach, Heresy, 209). When Luther celebrated his first Mass in 1509 he said that "'he was so overtaken with dread lest he make a mistake in word or gesture, and thus commit a mortal sin, that he almost fled from the altar'" ("Martin Luther and His Work," Century Magazine, 11, 1911, 369).

We dismiss all that popery, and neither pastor nor people approach this altar with as much respect as it is due and certainly with no dread. Yet, if you celebrate Communion with known divisions among you Paul says you do more harm than good. There is certainly no doubt that in the first 4 centuries of the church "that unity in doctrine was a prerequisite of altar fellowship" (Elert, 109). Luther said that the pastor who admits a known impenitent sinner to his alar takes on that sin and must go to hell with him (LW, 58,10). That includes not just those living in open sexual sins such as fornication or homosexuality but those more serious sins of false teaching or believing. Knowingly inviting to Communion or going to Communion with those who believe, teach, or confess contrary to you does more harm than good. Rather than, as Paul says, recognizing the division to show the Lord can only approve one side, you're papering over the division.

Practicing open Communion by inviting all Christians, all Lutherans, or everyone who believes what Communion is and why they should come no matter what else they believe is not praised by Paul. He says it does more harm than good, and "it is not the Lord's Supper."

This could mean it's not the Supper Jesus instituted. Since after saying this he goes on to tell them what he "received from the Lord," this might be his point. But it could also mean that churches, or district and synodical conventions that have Communion services when they know there is no unity of confession, really don't have the Lord's Supper. Then the celebrants can't be held guilty for the sins of open sinners they are communing and those communicants who don't recognize the Real Presence can't be eating and drinking to their own judgment. Because if it's not the Lord's Supper, it's not His body and blood.

At the table of the Lord, there might not be any praise, and there is an open wound. In Buenos Aires, there is a park commemorating tens of thousands of civilians who died or disappeared from 1976-1983 in the Dirty War under a military regime. The 35-acre park is cut into the landscape and is shaped like an open wound. This is what the Lord's Supper is.

Twice Jesus says emphatically: "Do this in remembrance of Me," and "Me" is bold, black, emphatic. Neither is this the ordinary Greek word for remembering something. "Remembrance" is more than a mere recollecting. It's a reliving (Kiehl, Passion, 61) says one Lutheran scholar. The French say more. The French Bible translates, "Do this to bring Me back to you." Even a Reformed scholar, while pulling his punches as to the reality that Christ actually returns, nevertheless says of this phrase "the rite is designed not merely in memory of Christ butwith a view to recalling Him, i.e. appropriating Him as present reality" (Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, 108). We don't "appropriate" Jesus as a present reality in Communion. He is that.

Least that's what He says. "This is My body which is given for you." Communion is the actual body Jesus gave over in place of you. In Gethsemane He was arrested not you. He was put on trial not you. He was beat, slapped, punched, and shamed for your sins not you. It was His body that endured all that, and in Communion He comes back to you in that same body. Likewise, Luke tells us Jesus promises that the cup of Communion is the New Testament in My blood which is poured out for you. This is a blood promise. This is the promise to forgive your sins sealed with the blood of Jesus that He poured out "for you."

This is an open wound. We don't proclaim the Lord's resurrection when we eat His body and drink His blood; we proclaim the Lord's death. Look at Durer's 16th century woodcut of a Communion service. There is Bread and Wine on the altar, but there is Christ down from the cross crowned with thorns, with graphic nail holes, clothed only in a loin cloth.

And to whom is an open wound comforting? Only to those who have open wounds themselves. How many time have I told you of the ugly, tortured, crucifix in Monte Lupo, Italy where the Christ is contorted and covered with bleeding wounds? During time of plague, people streamed to it (Faith, Reason, and the Plague, 41). Why? A poem penned right after WW I entitled "Jesus of the Scars" tells you why: "But to our wounds only God's wounds can speak, and not a god has wounds, but Thou alone."

I knew nothing about the 1976-1983 "Dirty War" till I meant a fellow chaplain at chaplain school in the summer of 1983. He went on and on about the brutality, the pain, the death, the loss that had occurred. He had either been there as a missionary or knew one. In any event, he knew all about it. I knew nothing. When I first heard about Remembrance Park being completed in 1998, I thought to myself, "I'll bet that chaplain is comforted by that." See, he had wounds from that conflict. He bled and suffered. No cold, lifeless monument would be as comforting to him as an open wound.

Likewise, those who know they have sins that can't be covered by their excuses or even by shedding their own blood, will be comforted to find at the Table of the Lord the very body He gave on the cross in place of theirs and the very blood He shed there. Here is the one who not only knows the blood, sweat, and tears of our sins, but who has covered them by bleeding, sweating, and crying. His open wounds testify to this ongoing fact.

At the table of the Lord there is not universal praise, but there is an open wound for all the wounded, and there is the Medicine of Immortality. Ignatius of Antioch who died about 8 years after John called it that. In a letter to the Ephesians he describes the church celebrating Communion this way: "breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote that we should not die but live forever in Jesus Christ" (20).

Jesus didn't institute this Meal of His body and blood for our harm. It's true; at the Table of the Lord, as we heard, there can be an occasion not to be praised, and further on in our text we hear even harder things. "Whoever eats the Bread and drinks the Cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood of the LordFor anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the Body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have died." This Medicine of Immortality can be taken unto judgement, death and even to eternal death.

The Body and Blood of Jesus is not to be ignored, unrecognized, or viewed as an unqualified good. There is a wrong way to take Communion. There is a deadly way to take Communion. There is a damning way to take Communion. And there is a way to practice Communion that leads to many in a congregation being weak, sick, and a number dying. Paul doesn't say that those becoming weak, sick or dying are the ones not recognizing the body of the Lord. He says those eat and drink judgment on themselves. But many among you are weak and sick and a number of you [plural] have died. Unfaithful Communion practices don't just bring judgment on the pastor celebrating communing wrongly and on unworthy communicants but upon the whole congregation where that is going on.

Let me be specific. Weakness, sickness, and dying happens in those churches papering over manifest sins of doctrine or life by practicing open Communion or these things happen among those giving the Body and Blood of Jesus to those they know don't recognize it's there. But this condemnation, this weakness, sickness and death is not the reason Jesus is at this table. His purpose is not condemnation but salvation; not to give people poison that will harm them but medicine that will help them.

You need to know there are terrifying consequences attached to the individual misusing the Lord's Supper, the pastor celebrating it in an unpraiseworthy manner, and the congregation where either goes on. But don't live here. Just as knowing that virtually any food could stick in your throat and choke you to death doesn't stop you from eating, so knowing that Communion can be a judgment shouldn't stop you from communing.

Yes, at the Table of the Lord there could be present poison that leads to weakness, sickness, and death, but that's not what Jesus puts there. What He puts there is His body and blood for us Christians to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. He is worthy and well-prepared to eat and drink these who has faith in Jesus' words, "Given and shed for thee for the forgiveness of sins." So, what is here is strength not weakness, health not sickness, life not death. What is here is an open wound testifying that the blood of Christ has been poured out to cover sins. What is here is praise for timid sinners who take their Lord at His Word.

In Germany Maundy Thursday is called Grundonnerstag. It comes from the German word grunen to mourn. It was later corrupted to grun green. So, you have both Mourning Thursday and Green Thursday going on this evening. You have sorrowing for sin and green pastures leaving nobody wanting. At the Table of the Lord, because it is His table for sinners, both mourning and green pastures are appropriate. We approach the Table of the Lord with the former and leave with the latter. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Maundy Thursday (20170413); 1 Corinthians 11:17-32