1 Corinthians 11:23-32 When there is a disagreement or argument in our marriage or family that leads to hard feelings, there is really only one way forward and that is for us to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me” and then for us to hear “I love you and forgive you.” That is the only way to restore broken relationships.
Often times, when that confession and forgiveness has taken place, there will be a concrete demonstration of that forgiveness: maybe a hug or a kiss or a note or a gift—something tangible that says: “things are right between us”—something concrete that says “I love you and I forgive you”.
And we know of course that those words of love and forgiveness-- and those tangible tokens of a restored relationship-- are not just a once in a lifetime event in our lives together, but they really do form the very center of our relationships. So it is tonight.
We come into the presence of the Lord confessing our sins. We know we have done and said things that have harmed our relationship with God and one another. We know that there is a distance between us and God and us and one another that ought not be there and we confess our wrongs.
And then we hear that Good News that on account of what Christ has done for us, we are forgiven—that things are right and renewed between us and God-- and a foundation has been laid for a right and renewed relationship with one another. What a blessing that forgiveness and love we receive from God is!
But there is even more. In Holy Communion the Lord gives us a concrete, tangible gift that puts flesh and bone on his love and forgiveness: he gives us Christ’s true body and blood. The same body and blood that our great high priest offered up on the cross as the once-for- all sacrifice for the sins of the world, is placed into our mouths for us to eat and drink as a special assurance that things are right between us and God on account of Jesus, giving us the forgiveness we need in our relationship with God and one another. The apostle Paul says: For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…
On this day, in Christian churches throughout the world, this meal of love and forgiveness is being celebrated just as it has been every day and in every place for the last two thousand years. What Christ placed into the hands of the apostles two thousand years ago was placed into the hands of the pastors who followed them down through the centuries and then is placed into our hands and mouths here tonight.
That is why we have no right to change anything of what our Lord has given to his church on earth. Not the words, not the meaning, not the gifts themselves: the bread which IS Christ’s body and the cup which IS Christ’s blood is given to us for the forgiveness of sins so that we would remember his sacrificial love and proclaim it together to the world. The Bible says that:
The Lord Jesus on the night when 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 also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
On this night, when the disciple gathered to celebrate the Passover, they remembered how their forefathers had been enslaved in Egypt, they remembered the hopelessness of their people, and they remembered the mighty deliverance of their Savior God and how slaves had taken refuge from the Angel of Death under the blood of a lamb and then left their slavery as the dearly loved people of God.
All of this was in their hearts and minds as the Lord, the One proclaimed by John as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, took bread into his hands and said “this is my body” and took the cup of wine and said “this is my blood”—the new covenant promised by the prophet Jeremiah when he said:
"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
That is what we receive tonight—the new covenant of forgiveness and love that is found only in the body and blood of Christ—the new covenant where we call to mind and receive again and again the Good News that on account of Christ God no longer remembers ours sins.
Like every covenant enacted by God, this new covenant of forgiveness and love, this new covenant of a right relationship with God because our sin have been forgotten, has been enacted by the shedding of blood of the Lamb of God.
And every time we receive it, the reality of his love and forgiveness is proclaimed to us again and again so that we might proclaim it to the world again and again. The Bible says that:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Wherever the church has existed for the last two thousand years this meal has been celebrated and as the bread is lifted up with the words “this is my body given for you” and as the cup of wine is lifted up with the words “this is my blood shed for you” the forgives and love of God has been received by those present-- but also proclaimed to those outside the church.
In this meal that we receive tonight, the church says to the world, and Trinity Lutheran says to San Angelo: Christ’s body was broken for you, Christ’s blood was shed for you, his love and his forgiveness are for you. And when we begin to understand that these gifts of God’s love and forgiveness are for our eternal benefit-- but also so that the world around us might hear the good News of Jesus--all questions about how often we should celebrate Holy Communion are put to rest.
We need the forgiveness that is given at this altar- and the world needs to hear of the forgiveness that is proclaimed at this altar- and because this meal is so critical to our salvation and the salvation of the world, it needs to be received in a worthy manner. The Bible says that:
Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
We are not left to our own devices when it comes to what constitutes an unworthy manner of receiving Holy Communion. The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us exactly what that is: not discerning the body of the Lord.
And he goes on to say that someone who eats the bread and drinks the cup in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment on himself.
That is why we are to examine ourselves before we come to Holy Communion. We ask ourselves: Do I believe the words of the Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Holy Apostles that this is Christ’s true body and blood? Do I believe that this body and blood is given to me for the forgiveness of my sins? Do I come to this altar confessing my sins and desiring to be done with them and do I believe that my living Savior is here, offering me his love and forgiveness and strengthening presence to begin again?
That we are to examine ourselves in this way before receiving the body and blood of Christ—that we are to know the answers to these questions before eating the bread and drinking the cup-- is why we do not say to every person who worships with us: come to the altar.
Instead, we ask them to share our confession that the words of Jesus and the apostles are true: that this is Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. We ask them to have a knowledge of the things of God and the teaching of Holy Scripture so that they can examine themselves and receive these gifts in faith—because the consequence of not doing that are severe. The Bible says that in the Corinthian congregation unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper:
is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
In that Christian congregation, God was exercising his temporal judgment upon those who were coming to Holy Communion in an unworthy manner, having a different confession regarding the Body and Blood of the Lord. People were weakened, became ill, and even died.
For Christian pastors and congregations who actually believe the Word of God, we have to take these words seriously. It ought to be our firm desire to see everyone be able to come to this altar and receive the gifts of forgiveness and love that are truly given here in Christ’s true body and blood.
But that same desire has to be guided and informed by God’s Word which says that not only forgiveness can be received here—but also God’s judgment. So it has always been in the presence of Christ: forgiveness and life for those who believe—but judgment and death for those who reject him and deny him.
The Good News for us here tonight is that we know who is present among us under bread and wine: the Savior who laid down his life for us on the cross—the great High Priest who takes bread and wine and says “this is my body, this is my blood given for you” as a special assurance that you are forgiven and loved. Amen.