Communion: What Is It And Who Is It For

Text: John 13:1-15 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-32

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

A man came to a church service early one morning.  As he was visiting with the pastor, he noticed that it was a communion Sunday.  He then turned to the pastor and said,

By golly Reverend, I think I am worthy of two of those bread wafers and two shots of the wine, for I have been extra-extra good this week! 

Now, whether we like to admit it or not, a common opinion of communion in the church, and probably more so outside the church, is that communion is a holy meal for righteous people.  In other words, we can easily lead ourselves to believe that communion is only for good people, while bad people must keep their distance.  And of course, we rarely think of ourselves as bad.  We typically see the best in ourselves.  Therefore, we say to ourselves,

I went to Sunday School, I was Confirmed, I went to Midweek Services, and I have been a Lutheran my whole life… that is why I get to go to the altar for communion. 

If we were to ever be denied communion by any other Christian or another pastor, we would most definitely resort to anger saying,

I have paid my dues.  I have served the church!  Give me the wafer and give me the small glass of wine!  Who are you to judge me and not serve me?   

Even though this perception and attitude towards communion exists among those inside and outside of the church, the truth of what communion is and who it is for is quite different. 

Dear friends, just to be perfectly clear; the Lord’s Supper is not something that was dreamed up by a bunch of religious monks.  It was not invented as a marketing tactic to get people to come regularly back to church.  Furthermore, it is not a snack bar during the church service.  It is not a symbolic meal and it is not a meal for good people.  It is none of these things. 

If it is none of these things, what is it then? 

The Lord’s Supper, which was instituted by Jesus Christ on that Maundy Thursday some two-thousand years ago, is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is the true body and blood of Christ in and under the bread and the wine.  It is a meal that is for Christians to eat and to drink.[1] 

Simply stated, this is a holy meal, because Jesus is really present.  It is a holy meal because it is food of the soul; it nourishes us and strengthens our faith.  Even more specifically, it is a holy meal for sinners only, for only sinners are in need of forgiveness.

What does this all mean?  It means that when you joined this church and when you came to this Divine Service and when you will come to this altar this evening, you are not only declaring that you are in agreement with Christ’s church located here in this location, but also declaring that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness.  Yes, when you and I come forward to receive the body and blood of Christ, we are confessing that we are not a goody two-shoe, but a sinner in need of Jesus Christ.  That’s right my friends, we do not get or deserve the Lord’s body and blood for being good.  Communion is not like an eloquent country club buffet in which we are only admitted if we are dressed properly, have the right name, and have paid the proper dues.  It is not about what we can bring to the table.  But it is about the Lord preparing the table to serve us.
Keep in mind that in our Gospel reading from this evening that the disciples did not wash Jesus’ feet, but it was Jesus washing their feet.  In other words, communion and the mission and work of Jesus are about you and me being served by Him.  Christ did not come to be served, but to serve and give ‘His life’ as a ransom for many.  It is the same with communion.  It is a holy meal – a meal that the Lord serves to us, a meal that the Lord grants us forgiveness of sins.  We come to the Lord’s Table in faith and with open hands.  The only thing we bring to the table is the confession that we are poor miserable sinners in need of forgiveness.    

But back to who should come to the altar for communion?  It could be said that good people should not commune at the altar.  Why should they?  Those who do not want their feet washed, those who do not think that they are sinners… they have no need for Jesus and His Holy Supper.  Keep in mind that the Gospel is for sinners only.  Communion is a holy meal for those who need the forgiveness of sins.  Those who do not see themselves as sin-sick sinners really have no use for the Lord Jesus Christ and really have no business being at the Lord’s Table or in the church.  The church is a hospital for sinners, not a country club for the self-righteous.  The church is for feeding and tending to sheep, not entertaining goats.  In fact, the Scriptures go so far to say that a goody two-shoe person taking the Lord’s Supper in a flippant way without faith is actually unworthily of the body and blood of Christ and is taking communion unto judgment, not life.  In other words, if a person rejects the idea that they are a sinner or love sin more than grace or reject the real presence of Jesus in the supper, they should be warned not to take the Lord’s Supper – they should fear the table of the Lord. 

But you, yes you Baptized Saints, you should not be scared away from the Lord.  The Lord did not give His life and shed His blood to hurt you, but He gave Himself unto death, for your benefit, to your comfort and strengthening, for the redemption of your soul.  Furthermore, you should not be scared away from the Lord’s Table, for the Lord does not give you His body and blood in and under the bread and wine to hurt or destroy you, but to give you new life.[2] 

The Lord meets sinful mankind and sinful mankind receives forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The Lord is the one who sits down with sinners to eat.  He is the one who came for the sin-sick.   He is the one that forgives sinners.
Therefore, as Christians we approach the Lord’s Supper with joy, confidence, and comfort, saying,

I am a poor sinner, I need help, and comfort.  I wish to attend the Lord’s Supper!

And the Lord surely does help.  You, who are hungry, and you, who are thirsty, come to the Lord’s Supper, for you will be nourished and refreshed.  You, who feel the weight of sin, the guilt of your failures, and the sting of death, come to the Lord’s Supper, for here at the altar you receive forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Come and receive, the Lord does not hold back; He meets you, because He is for you. 

Come and receive the body and blood of Christ this evening in the Lord’s Supper – a holy meal instituted for you that Maundy Thursday long ago. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, The Large Catechism: The Sacrament of the Altar.

[2] Martin Luther, The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther: Volume 5 ed. Eugene Klug (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 459.

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