Communion: What It Is And What It Is Not

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

There are a lot of different views on Communion among well-intentioned Christians these days.  Some believe that Communion is nothing more than a symbolic meal that simply symbolizes Jesus’ blood and body – it helps us remember Jesus.  Others will say that Communion is all about a personal one-on-one spiritual connection within the heart where we connect with Jesus in our own special way; therefore, if one wants to use grape soda and potato chips for Communion, then that is totally fine.  And then there are others who believe that Communion is some reward for holiness as if only super holy and super perfect people can receive Communion – that Communion is some reward meal for being good. And then there are those who say that Communion is some celebration that is to be done to strive towards unity – some religious huddle where we gather together and interlock our arms to show that we are all on the same team.  For these people, the more people we can get to the altar, the better, regardless of their religious views.    

There are also a lot of different opinions on who Communion is for these days.  Is Communion for all ages?  For example, some well-intentioned Christians give it to babies, whereas, others give Communion to toddlers and children with relatively no teaching on what it is; therefore, Communion turns into nothing more than a snack break midway through the church service.  There are also well-intentioned Christians that believe that Communion should be for everyone, even those who do not profess to be Christians.  Muslims and Buddhists and Pagans – sure, they should take Communion because it would be rude and unloving to make them feel excluded!  Tragically, this inclusive mentality has even led to some Christians giving Communion to their pets – yes to their dogs and cats.

Indeed, there are a lot of different views on Communion in our culture these days; however, there seems to be very little discernment or thought put into these views.  I do not share this to come across as an arrogant jerk or a religious know-it-all, but rather, I share this because we have a very clear confession and understanding of what Communion is and what it is not, based upon God’s Word.  Yes, here at Zion Lutheran Church and in our Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, we have a very clear confession and understanding of what Communion is and what it is not. This is based not on our own opinions or the opinions of the culture or pious religious sentiments,  but upon the testimony of Scripture – that is the Bible. 

Considering all of this, we actually hear tonight about Communion from our readings in the Old and New Testament. We hear that Communion is not some flippant snack bar and it is not some rallying point where we gather as many people together to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy, and it is not some vacuous symbolic meal where our hearts are to be wooed along in religious feelings.  No, it is none of this nonsense.  But rather, we hear that the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus Christ on that Maundy Thursday some two-thousand years ago.  We hear that the bread and wine are the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We hear that Communion is a meal that is for Christians to eat and to drink.[1]  We hear that it is a holy meal – yes – a holy meal because Jesus is present.  It is food and drink for the body and soul. It nourishes us and strengthens our faith.  It is for the forgiveness of our sins.

We also hear 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, 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 to be served.  Communion is for feeding and tending to sheep, not entertaining or coddling goats.     

But back to who should come to the altar for Communion?  Martin Luther clearly states,

“We will not and cannot give communion to anyone unless he is first examined regarding what he has learned from the Catechism and whether he intends to forsake the sins which he has again committed. For we do not want to make Christ's church into a pig pen, letting each one come unexamined to the Sacrament as a pig to its trough. Such a church we leave to the Enthusiasts!"[2]

So what this means is that people who think they are good 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. 

And those who deny Jesus and the Christian faith, should not communion at the altar as well.  A person who denies Jesus or mocks Jesus by ascribing to a non-Christian religion should not be pressured or coerced to the altar to pretend that there is unity when there clearly is not!

Dear friends, keep in mind that this holy meal of communion is for the forgiveness of sins which means that it is only for sinners, sinners who are in need of forgiveness. Those who do not see themselves as sin-sick sinners really have no use for the Lord Jesus Christ and 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 and the self-sufficient.  In fact, the Scriptures go so far to say that a pagan or a non-Christian or 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 loves sin more than grace or rejects 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.  That is why it is so important for pastors to be able to work with people new to the church one-on-one before they receive the Lord’s Supper.  Out of love, we must guard them against potentially taking the Lord’s Supper unto their condemnation – yes that mean even denying them the Lord’s Supper in love if they are approaching the Lord’s Supper unworthily.  To the point; to be worthy of the Lord’s body and blood is to realize that one is unworthy, yet believe upon Jesus’ words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” 

So, what this means is 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 failing Christian in need of Jesus Christ.  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 some sort of religious huddle where we 'strive' towards doctrinal unity.  It is not some individualized spiritual one-on-one connection in the heart apart from the Lord’s Church and apart from His Word.   It is none of this malarkey.  But rather, it is about the Lord preparing the table to serve poor miserable sinners – it is about failing Christians like you and me beating our breast and going to the altar with our sins to receive complete and total forgiveness.  It is about failing Christians coming to a holy meal to receive everlasting life and salvation upon our tongues and into our bellies. 

Blessed Baptized Saints of Zion, tonight, 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 bodies and souls.  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.[3] 

The Lord meets sinful mankind – failing Christians and failing Pastors – at the altar with forgiveness, life, and salvation at the Altar.  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 in the Holy Meal of Communion.
Therefore, as Christians we approach the Lord’s Supper with joy, confidence, and comfort, this evening, knowing what it is and what it is not while saying,

I am a poor sinner; I need help and comfort.  I wish to attend the Lord’s Supper, and I believe Christ and His word that the Supper is “given and shed for the forgiveness of sins!”

You, who are hungry, and you, who are thirsty, come to the Lord’s Supper this night which has been prepared for you.  For in this Lord’s Supper, 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, “Open Letter” (para. 25), 343; WA 30/III:567.3-15.

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

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