1 Corinthians 11:23-29 After my grandfather Weidemann passed away, my grandmother gave me a note. It was written on a little scrap of paper. It said, “Dear Allan, when I die, I want you to have my 30-30 deer rifle. Be careful with it. Love Pappy.” I had seen him carry that rifle since I was old enough to remember. He killed dozens of deer with it and I have killed dozens more.
But what I really treasure is that little note—part of his last will and testament—written in his own hand. It’s much more than paper and ink—it is a concrete sign of his love for me. And when I read those words and when I hold it in my hand I remember all he meant to me.
So it is tonight throughout the Holy Christian Church on earth as we gather around altars and receive the gifts that Christ gave us in his last will and testament.
Much more than merely bread and wine, we receive Christ’s true body and blood—the same body and blood born of the Virgin, crucified on a cross, and raised from a tomb—into our mouths to eat and drink.
And we remember in a new and powerful way just exactly what Christ means for us and the deep and abiding love that he has for us and the incredible gifts of grace he gives to us in his most holy meal. The Apostle Paul says: For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you.
In every time and place where Christians have gathered in worship—every hour of every day for the two last thousand years—this meal has been celebrated and the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation given and received.
From the hands and lips of Jesus into the hands and mouths of his disciples and then into the hands and mouths of the early church what was given by the Lord was given to others and now has been given to us on this altar tonight: the Lord’s Supper.
And Paul is very careful to make sure we know that what the Lord gave and what the Lord said has been passed on to us for it is HIS Supper. It is HIS body and blood. It is HIS sacrifice upon Calvary offered to God that’s now offered to us upon this altar. It is HIS testamental gifts of forgiveness and life that we receive as we eat his body and drink his blood.
We have no right to change his institution-- or attach some new meaning—or deny the plainly spoke words he said, for to do so is to change the Lord’s Supper into something else.
From Jesus to the apostles—form the apostles to the early church—from the early church down through history to us here tonight—God has graciously preserved this meal for our eternal good and has given it into our hands so that it might faithfully be given into the hands of those who follow us.
When we insist that this meal is the Lord’s Supper and not ours to change in the slightest, we are not be rigid or unloving but are simply passing on a precious inheritance that has been faithfully given to us from the hands of the Lord himself. Paul say that:
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
On the night when he was betrayed. Those are the words that reveal the deep and profound love that make this sacred meal different than all others. It is the truest kind of love for it is a love—not for those who return our love—but a love that extends even to an enemy.
My grandfather loved me and I loved him and he gave me an inheritance so that I would remember that love that existed between us.
But the meal we celebrate tonight and the gifts we receive at this altar were given by Jesus to those who would betray him- and abandon him- and deny him. The meal we celebrate tonight and the gifts we receive at this altar are still given to those whose track record is not much better than the men who sat around the table with him in the upper room on that Passover evening.
We have not sold our Lord for thirty pieces of silver but we value other things above our life with him. We have not fled from his side because of the threat of an armed guard but we have strayed from his side to simply go our own way. We have not denied him when questioned by a little girl but our words and actions often deny that we have any relationship with him at all.
But it is exactly to those who betray him and abandon him and deny him that our Lord gives his own body and blood so that we would always be able to call to mind—in a way that is fresh and new every time we come to Holy Communion—just exactly what kind of love it is that Jesus has for us.
It is a love that led him to the cross. It is a love that permitted his own body to be pierced with thorns and nails and spear. It is a love that was willing to shed his own life’s blood to pay for a world full of betrayal, abandonment, and denial.
That is what we remember tonight as we eat his body and drink his blood but it is not just a remembrance of things past—but a recognition of things present-- for this meal is the new covenant between God and us.
The Old Covenant said that the one who sins must die. The Old Covenant said that the wages of sins is death. The Old Covenant said that the one who sheds man’s blood, by man must be shed. The Old Covenant pronounced death on the sinner.
But tonight receive the new covenant that is in Christ’s blood—a new way of living with God by his gracious love to us in Christ. It is a new covenant where the innocent dies and the guilty lives. A new covenant where death brings life. A new covenant of forgiveness for our sins. A new covenant that was made at the cross. Paul said:
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach Jesus. If necessary, use words.” We understand his point—that not only our words but our actions are a proclamation of what we believe. So it is in this meal.
As we eat Christ body and drink Christ’s blood we are preaching the basic truths of the Christian faith: that we are sinners who need these gifts of salvation.
That such is the greatness of our sins that God had to take upon himself and die to make things right again between us and him.
That we are incapable of making a way back to God but that in mercy he comes to us and forgives us and gives to us as a gift what we could never earn for ourselves.
This way of understanding our life with God is to be lived out among the people of God and proclaimed by the people of God until our resurrected Savior returns to gather us to himself—and to fail in this is something very serious indeed. Paul says:
Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
When Caroline left church last Sunday there were several messages on our phone from different people in Kingsville that one of our former members, Elsie Schubert, had passed away.
I remember a conversation that I had with her and her sister Rubina about Holy Communion. They said that growing up they were taught, and it was their mother’s example, and still their custom, to wear black to come to Holy Communion.
Not because it was a sad occasion or some morbid memorial of death, but because their piety needed a way to show that they understood what a serious thing it was to come to Holy Communion—for to misuse the sacrament is a sin against the very body and blood of the Lord.
I think that all of us would recoil in horror if we were told to drive the nails into Jesus hand and feet or cast the spear into his side or cause in any way by beatings or thorns, even a single precious drop of his blood to fall to the ground. We just wouldn’t do it!
But that is exactly the image that Paul uses to show what the unworthy reception of Holy Communion really is: a sin that is perpetuated directly upon the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Given just how serious that is, what does it mean to receive the sacrament worthily? Luther’s Small Catechism says, “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.”
Faith in the words of Christ is what is required-- which is why Paul says that we are to examine ourselves before coming to Holy Communion.
Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
Before we come to Holy Communion we should ask ourselves these questions: Do I confess that I am a sinner and that I am sorry for my sins? Do I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior from sin and death and the words that he speaks to me at this altar about what I receive under the forms of bread and wine, that it is his true body and blood? Am I committed with the help of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness I receive here, to change my sinful life?
Do this in remembrance of me. These are the words that the Lord speaks to us tonight and to help us remember his love, he places into our hand and mouths the very same body that was pierced and the blood that was shed upon the cross as a reminder of that love. Receiving these gifts, our faith is and our love for him is renewed. Amen.