The Holy Supper of Our Lord Jesus Christ

X Jesus X

What is the Sacrament of the Altar? The Sacrament is the Gospel, the whole Gospel, the treasure of Christ’s true body and blood which alone is that through which forgiveness is obtained, a treasure that will defend us against all our sins, death and every calamity. In the Verba1 we find our entire foundation, protection, and defense against all errors and deception that ever have or will come. Lest we continue the annual hand wringing ritual over what we are going to do to retain the newly confirmed, it should be said that the solution, rarely offered, is found in the proper teaching and reception of the Sacrament which will enable them to believe, fight temptation and the devil and live a life of service, love and prayer.

This Holy Supper provides relief for both soul and body and so its celebration will inspire the highest worship. No one should be forced to the table of the Lord but it is wrong to pretend it is a matter of freedom and not necessary and that it is enough to believe without it. To deprive oneself of the Sacrament is to deprive oneself of life. In this Sacrament we hear from the lips of Christ that we are forgiven and protected against death, the Devil and all misfortune. In fact, the Sacrament embodies not only the whole Gospel but our entire confession of the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.2

And lest anyone accuse me of tergiversating let me say that there are absolutely no negative consequences as a result of celebrating the Sacrament in every public service of every Lutheran congregation even if services were held daily, for in this Sacrament we receive only inestimable blessings and good beyond our understanding.

Extravagant claims for the Sacrament of the Altar? Yes, I confess. But what if I were to tell you these are claims made by Dr. Martin Luther of blessed memory? What if I were to tell you that these claims are made in the Large Catechism and so our common Lutheran confession? Yes, this is what every Lutheran pastor believes, teaches and confesses - lest he be charged with perjury! This is what every Lutheran congregation believes and confesses lest she lose the right to call herself “Lutheran” (and have to buy a new sign). What makes these claims extravagant, however, is not over zealous pastoral praise but what the Word tells us this Sacrament gives, the blessing of Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Extravagantly Christian and exclusively Lutheran.

This is what we believe because this is what Scripture teaches. But the Lord’s Supper is not a doctrine, although we have a doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, it is a meal that our Lord tenderly invites us to “do.” And when we do it we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” proclaiming by what we do, doing because of what we proclaim. What a church does, her practice, should never not exist apart from what that churches believes, her doctrine. Whenever there is a “Nestorian” separation of doctrine and practice, doctrine devolves into mere facts, legalism sets in, Sacraments become meaningless ritual and the Gospel is lost. Nowhere is this more true than in the Sacrament. So what is our practice? The Confessor churches described theirs:

Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the ceremonies are also preserved.3

This worship pleases God; such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion toward God. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us.4

Now, forasmuch as the Mass is such a giving of the Sacrament, we hold one communion every holy-day, and, if any desire the Sacrament, also on other days, when it is given to such as ask for it. And this custom is not new in the Church.5

At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on other festivals… And the usual ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.6

In addition to having an evangelical sacrament, we Lutherans claim to “do the catholic thing better than the papists!”7

This, of course, was the confession and practice of the Lutheran Church of the sixteenth century. Would an objective observer recognize from our practice that this our confession as well? Contrast the practice of the Reformation and early church (“this custom is not new”8) of an every Sunday, festivals and upon request celebration with ours. The 1995 Wisconsin Synod Survey reports that only 5% of our churches celebrate the Sacrament weekly with a large percentage of those in only one of several weekend services. Some 27% offer the Sacrament but once a month. The same survey in asking people to list the top three reasons why one was a member of a Wisconsin Synod parish noted that far more people listed “feeling welcome” (23%), “accessibility/location” (19%) and even the “size of the congregation” (2%) than those who listed the last placed general category of “Sacraments” (1%)! 9

Is there more here than just disparity of practice between our churches and the early and Reformation church? Or is there no more significance to this than in how many hymn stanzas one sings?10 Let the obvious be said first. Obedience to Christ’s imperative, “do,” is not simply in doing it (ex opere operato sine bono motu utensis) or even in doing it often11 rather the evangelical command is fulfilled when the Sacrament is “rightly administered” (Apology XIII) and rightly received in faith (Apology XXIV).

Why did our churches make this confession aside from answering the scurrilous charges of Cardinal Cajetan and his band of bright red-robed inquisitors? Was their practice simply “the way they had always done it?” Hardly. The Confessors defended their devotion for the evangelical Mass by directly appealing to how often it was celebrated among them. They specifically tied doctrine to practice, frequency to belief. (“now, forasmuch as the Mass is such a giving of the Sacrament, we hold...”12)

Well, if the practice of an every Lord’s day celebration13 of the Sacrament was the practice of the early and Reformation church is the solution a return to an every Sunday service celebration? Not necessarily. The solution lies in a renewed understanding of ourselves and the Sacrament, which will lead to a desire for more frequent reception, necessitating more frequent, yes, every Sunday celebrations. This, too, is our confession,

We are to force no one to believe, or to receive the Sacrament, nor fix any law, nor time, nor place for it, but are to preach in such a manner that of their own accord, without our law, they will urge themselves, and, as it were, compel us pastors to administer the Sacrament.14

Would not every Lutheran pastor have the faithful make this imposition on his time rather than the non-essential (i.e. non-Augustana V) demands which often consume his day?

“If the sacrament is what you say it is, then why don’t you celebrate it every Sunday?” That is a question every pastor here has been asked, one recently posed in the Northwestern Lutheran.15 Save for historical explanations,16 it is a question to which I never gave a good answer, a question to which I have yet to hear a good answer, a question I did not understand was that person’s way of “compelling” me. It is a question which I no longer have to struggle to answer for I have found the “answer.” The congregation I serve (as my former congregation) celebrates the Sacrament in every weekend service.

The answer to all our questions, especially that of “how often,” however, can only be found in the Sacrament itself. Dr. Martin Chemnitz (the great 16th century Lutheran theologian and Confessor) writes:

the rule about when and how often one should go to Communion must be taken from the teaching about the fruit and power of the Eucharist, namely, when and as often as we recognize that we have need of this power.17

If the sacrament is what you say it is, then why don’t you celebrate the Sacrament in every Sunday service, or, compel your pastor to? That is a question I ask you to consider. There are historical and theological reasons. What I have discovered is that when I have begun to proclaim the “fruit and power” of the sacrament people say “why not every Lord’s Day?” Just as many though express great misunderstandings about the Sacrament, some of which can be traced back not only to insufficient knowledge but also to infrequent celebrations. Once answered the only question that usually remains is “why not?”

Therefore with all praise to our Lord Jesus Christ who gives us his true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and with your kind indulgence, permit me to direct your attention anew to

The Holy Supper of Our Lord Jesus Christ

The Essence of The Sacrament

What is the essence (proprium) of the Lord’s Supper? We confess in the Small Catechism “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink instituted by Christ Himself.”18 Our Lord Christ invites us to eat this bread and to drink this cup for (gar19) they are his true body and blood. This is indeed a great mystery (sacramentum)! The God Incarnate, the one born of a virgin, the one crucified and risen comes all the way to us and gives us his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins! After Baptism, what greater comfort can we find? As Dr. Luther said “here in your city or village, in front of your door, Christ himself is present with his body and blood.”20

In a gathering of Lutherans one automatically assumes a belief in the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament.21 Perhaps though we ought not always go on automatic. We should not forget that anti-materialistic Melanchthonianism and anti-Sacramental Pietism are in our theological bloodlines and, living in a Protestantized America, only the naïve or proud will not admit that we have been in varying degrees Protestantized ourselves.22 It happened to Lutheranism once before.

Philip Melanchthon, Dr. Luther’s “heir,” became a bit squishy on the matter of the real presence in the elements of the Sacrament. He and his theological descendants emphasized the presence in the action of the Sacrament. In his infamous editing of the Augsburg Confession, the Variata, he altered the Invariatae “that the Body and Blood are truly present” to “with the bread and wine truly are exhibited the body and blood of Christ.” (The first to object was a sharp eyed layman, Elector John Frederick followed by the diabolical Dr. Eck!23)

When one focuses on the “real presence” of Christ in the action and not the body and blood in the elements, the sacramental presence can slowly be “spiritualized” away, and so, it is believed that Christ is present somehow, somewhere, some way, when we eat bread and drink wine.24 This not the real presence but what others so accurately have dubbed the “real absence.”25

The battle for the est (is) waged against the Reformed must also be fought for the hoc (this) as well. This bread and this cup are the body and blood of Christ.26 Our focus is not on bread and wine, bread and wine save no one, but on the word of Christ which tells us what this bread and this cup are, the true body and blood of Christ which saves us. Who would disagree with Luther?

Thus here also, even though I should pronounce over all bread the words “This is Christ’s body,” nothing, of course, would result therefrom; but when in the Supper we say, according to His institution and command “This is My body,” it is (est, ist) His body, not on account of our speaking or word uttered [because these words, when uttered, have this efficacy], but because of His command - that He has commanded us thus to speak and to do, and has united His command and act with our speaking.27

Here the prepositions “in, with, and under” by which we often describe the real presence are not always helpful. This phraseology, coined against the Thomistic transubstantiation, was the Lutheran way of saying, “bread remains.” However, the prepositions lose their usefulness against the far more dangerous view of Protestantism which happily admits a presence of Christ’s “body and blood”28 but mockingly denies the elements are his body and blood.29 You may recall Luther’s mild judgment of transubstantiation as opposed to the Reformed view,

This bothers me very little, for I have often enough asserted that I do not argue whether the wine remains wine or not. It is enough for me that Christ’s blood is present; let it be with the wine as God wills. Sooner than have mere wine with the fanatics, I would agree with the pope that there is only blood.30

It appears that Luther referred to “The Three Prepositions” only once in his writings but there noted that they could be used against the real presence. “Thus a thousand evasions and glosses would have been devised over the words, “in, with, and under,” (had Christ said them) no doubt with greater plausibility and less chance of stopping it than now.”31

With guns trained only on Roman transubstantiation, Geneva’s guerrillas can quietly slip in behind the lines and plant philosophic ideas or ways of speaking which undermine the infrastructure of the real presence. A first step in losing the real presence is the common belief in consubstantiation, the belief that along with (cum) bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood are present.32 If you can remove bread as the body and the wine as blood you are one step closer in removing the presence altogether. One often hears imprecise language in this regard, such as “when the bread is distributed.”33 True, but the bread we distribute is the body of Christ. Such imprecision supports the common view of receptionism which, in effect, fixes a “moment of presence” at the eating. When eating and drinking is the “moment of certainty” which assures us of the presence of Christ’s body and blood then we are on the syncretistic sinking sand of human action and not on the firm foundation of Christ’s words.34 Receptionism creates uncertainty and is a step towards Geneva. What is in doubt is not to be believed. Assurance of the real presence is found in the Word of Christ which tells us what is present.35 This is not magical hocus-pocus 36 or theurgy, but the powerful word of Christ. Luther speaks of what all hangs on this word:

The words are the first thing, for without the words the cup and the bread would be nothing. Further, without bread and cup, the body and blood of Christ would not be there. Without the body and blood of Christ, the new testament would not be there. Without the new testament, forgiveness of sins would not be there. Without the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation would not be there. Thus the words first connect the bread and cup to the sacrament; bread and cup embrace the body and blood of Christ; body and blood of Christ embrace the new testament; the new testament embraces the forgiveness of sins; forgiveness of sins embraces eternal life and salvation; See, all this the words of the Supper offer and give us, and we embrace it by faith. Ought not the devil, then, hate the Supper and rouse fanatics against it?37

Without a clear presentation of the elements as the true body and blood of Christ, you are left with an undefined “spiritual” presence of Christ which soon evaporates into a Docetic38 fog and the Sacrament reduced to a Nestorian39 snack of bread and wine, where the elements matter little,40 as some sort of a specter of Christ mystically floats about.

Think of all the efforts used to make our Lord and our faith “real,” “relevant,” “personal,” and “contemporary” to our people. But where do we turn? To conceptual object lessons, technology, analogy and yes, symbolism,41 all by nature one step removed from reality. Here in the Sacrament is reality as opposed to Zwinglian symbolism. Here in the Sacrament is the truly present body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. You can’t get any more real, relevant, personal and contemporary than that, here in your city, your village, your church, your mouth.

The Sacrament and the Incarnation

Our God deals with us through means, both in the Old42 and New Testament, apart from which He is a nameless horror.43 These means of grace are means of his presence for us and so means of churchly identification. As Moses said, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here…What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33.15-16). Where is God? The ultimate theophany of God is the Word made flesh. Here in Christ in the Sacrament. Martin Chemnitz says “we may safely seek him and certainly find him, for there through the sacred ministry he gives his body and blood to the communicants.”44 And Dr. Luther writes:

God without flesh is useless, upon the flesh of Christ, upon that Infant clinging to the bosom of the Virgin, you are to set your eyes and simply with steadfast heart say, “I have neither in heaven nor earth a God, nor do I know one, outside this flesh, which is gently enfolded in the bosom of Mary… God is my God, he puts on my flesh, becomes as I am, bears my calamity, yet without sin. Yet faith must go on further. When God is fashioned into this bawling boy, it declares, “He could not come closer.”45

Dr. Luther knew well that if you lose the real presence you lose your grasp on the incarnation. It was not mere coincidence that the despisers of the Sacrament of Luther’s day also had a false view of the natures of Christ’s person. The two errors have the same basis, a denial that the infinite deity can be present in the finite body of Jesus or the infinite Son of God in finite bread and wine (finitum non est capax infiniti).46 Zwingli with his “damned alloeosis,” consigned the body of Christ to some distant and remote “heaven.” The old Nestorian heresy,47 in effect, ripped the deity from the man Jesus. Leave it to Dr. Luther to draw the conclusion (quoted in FC TD VIII 39):

Beware, I say, of this alloeosis, for it is the devil’s mask since it will finally construct a kind of Christ after whom I would not want to be a Christian, that is, a Christ who is and does no more in his passion and his life than any other ordinary saint. For if I believe that only the human nature suffered for me, then Christ would be a poor Savior for me, in fact, he himself would need a Savior.48

God deals with concrete human beings in the concrete reality of humanity, the deus incarnatus. The deus incarnatus deals with us in the concrete realities of word, water, and wheat and wine, the concrete realities of his true body and blood. He cannot come closer. Against the fanatics who said it was “beneath” God to be in a simple thing, Luther wrote (1527 “That These Words of Christ ‘This is My body,’ Etc. Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics”):

But the glory of our God is precisely that for our sakes he comes down to the very depths, into the human flesh, into the bread, into our mouth, our heart, our bosom; moreover, for our sakes he allows himself to be treated ingloriously both on the cross and on the altar.49

God is salvificly known only in Christ, who hides in his Word and in the Eucharist where Luther says “he is most hidden (Sacramentum Eucharistiae, ubi est occultissimus)50 Where Christ is most hidden it takes the deepest faith to apprehend him. To deny God his incarnation, to deny Christ the honor of being present in bread and wine is to rob Christ of his glory. His glory is still found in his incarnation and his presence in simple bread and wine. Here in the Sacrament, the Theophany, the Incarnate one, hidden to the proud, is made known and real to the humble.

The Sacrament preserves for us our belief in the Incarnation and leads us to the atonement. The Son of God became incarnate to make atonement. Forgiveness was not simply cut out of whole cloth but comes alone in the Incarnate one. The Sacrament insures that the forgiveness of sins is fixed in Christ, in his body and blood “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in very way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2.17). Dr. Sasse reminds us that without the Sacrament “the proclamation of the Gospel could be understood as just one of the many religious messages in the world.”51

The Sacrifice Given as Sacrament

In the Sacrament of the Altar the two great scandals of Christianity, the incarnation and the atonement, merge and find their proper interpretation. On this most solemn night as the fulfillment of God’s promise was about to be accomplished, as Jesus and his disciples gathered to celebrate the last Passover - the great Old Testament deliverance event which was a mere sign and acted-out-preachment of the greater deliverance52 that would come by the blood of the sacrificial Lamb of God - our Lord interpreted for his disciples the meaning not only of those past deliverance events but the meaning of the salvific events of the coming days as he instituted the New Testament in his blood fulfilling the Old. Moses’ words by which the first covenant was confirmed “This is the blood of the covenant” (Exodus 24.8) established the New “This is my blood of the new covenant (diaqhkh).”

His death would be a bloody, substitutionary, sacrificial death of atonement. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9.22). “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3.25) The blood of this New Testament “speaks (present indicative) a better word than the blood of Abel” for us today. He is (estin, present indicative) the atoning sacrifice, offered once, forever atoning (1 John 2.2). The death of their Lord the disciples so vigorously opposed and misunderstood would now be interpreted for them in the Holy Supper. The body was given, the blood was shed FOR YOU. On the cross, Himself the victim, Himself the priest. In the Holy Supper, Himself the Host, Himself the Feast.

We do not preach a Savior who merely died but one who died a sacrificial death. “We preach Christ crucified” (estaurwmenon - perfect tense, happened once, effect continues.53) What was offered to God as a completed sacrifice54 would now be given to his disciples, and to us, as a continuing sacrament, his Testament in his blood. The Apology:

It follows that Christ is the only sacrifice applied on behalf of the sins of others. Therefore, in the New Testament no sacrifice is left to be applied for the sins of others, except the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross.55

This is the Sacrament of the Altar, not the Roman altar where the Roman priest claims to offer to God as sacrifice what God offers to us as sacrament, but the Lutheran altar where as Dr. Chemnitz writes, “that one sacrifice of Christ is applied to us, so that we be made partakers of its fruit and power.”56 We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. In the Holy Supper the death of our resurrected Lord is properly proclaimed, interpreted, understood and applied. Dr. Luther:

What is the whole gospel but an explanation of this testament? Christ has gathered up the whole gospel in a short summary with the words of this testament or sacrament. For the gospel is nothing but a proclamation of God’s grace and the forgiveness of sins.57

The Sacrament of the Altar is pure Gospel, the Holy of Holies into which we may now enter.58 Through Baptism where we are washed and become a royal priesthood, through his body and blood we gain entrance into the Holy of Holies and is why we gather together as church.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:19-25)

No repristination of Holy Week events, no attempt at recreating a first century Jewish seder, no visit to the Holy Land, no passion play, no 3-D overhead power pointed picture presentation, no cleverly thought up analogy and object lesson, no footprints in the sand, no imaginary time travel trips to the foot of the cross can better proclaim the death of the living Savior and interpret the meaning and benefit of that death for you than the participation in the New Testament of his body and blood where we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”59

The Sacrament is the Gospel

The Sacrament is the Gospel60 is the forgiveness of sins.61 Unless your Gospel is the forgiveness of sins in the body and blood of Christ you have another Gospel. Sadly, the Gospel today is often reduced to a simplistic “smile, God loves you” and the purpose of the Divine Service lost. Not the causa prima but the word “worship” we use to describe what we do on Sunday contributes. Indeed we worship, but all God pleasing prayer and praise comes from faith, the greatest worship, and faith comes from hearing, from bathing, from receiving his body and blood. The sermon preaches Christ crucified, the Sacrament proclaims his death. The Sacrament so purely presents the Gospel that it resists all attempts to turn the Gospel and the Service into something else. The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship (koinwnia), the breaking of bread and to the prayers ” (Acts 2.42, see also Acts 20.762 and 1 Cor. 11.18). Preaching, Sacrament, liturgy. We confess:

Let us speak of the word liturgy. This word does not properly signify a sacrifice, but rather the public ministry, and agrees aptly with our belief, namely, that one minister who consecrates tenders (shows forth) the body and blood of the Lord to the rest of the people, just as one minister who preaches tenders the Gospel, as Paul says, 1 Cor. 4.1: Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, i.e., of the Gospel and the Sacraments. And 2 Cor. 5.20: We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, Be ye reconciled to God. Thus the term leitourgia agrees aptly with the ministry.63

When the minister incorporates people into Christ in Baptism, speaks in Christ’s stead in absolution and tenders the corpus of Christ to people in the blessed Sacrament his service will be seen as first and foremost as God’s Service. In a Divine Service silliness and irreverence ought to stick out like a pair of blue jeans at a formal wedding banquet. To this end, as the Augustana says, “[partaking of the Sacrament]… increases the reverence and devotion of public worship (ceremoniarum).”64 The liturgical service, hardly an indifferent thing, sets a mannerly and orthodox (literally, “healthy praise”) table for preaching and the Sacrament.65 A proper banquet, however, does not eliminate the main course. The Sacrament which for the early66 and Reformation67 church was the climax of their service ought to be the climax of the Lutheran Service today. The Christian Worship Manual bravely quotes Wilhelm Loehe (“one of worship’s nineteenth century champions”),

A morning service on Sundays or festivals without communion is like a broken column…God is rich toward all who seek him, and those who come to his table shall be satisfied with the abundance of his house. Nor ought anyone to say that frequent celebration serves to bring the Sacrament into contempt, for those who are rightly prepared will always hunger for this bread and thirst for this drink; and the more frequent they commune, the firmer becomes the persuasion that all of the early life is only a preparation for the celebration of the great Supper on high.68

In the Sacrament the Gospel is Used

Dr. Luther writes in the Large Catechism “Although the work was accomplished and forgiveness of sins was acquired on the cross, yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word.”69 Indeed “it is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments.”70 In Baptism, absolution, preaching, and the Sacrament the Gospel is delivered. However, the Sacrament, like Baptism, like absolution, like preaching must be received in faith to receive its benefit. Mere eating and drinking, or listening for that matter, does not do it (opus operatum), but doing it in faith. Dr. Luther called this “using”71 the Gospel.72 The Gospel is used when men believe it, desire it, eat and drink it. In the Sacrament faith is given an outlet to which it may cling and express itself by receiving the true body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. In the outward, physical action we see inward faith in action. Dr. Luther,

for instituting it he intended it to be a token and mark whereby we might be identified as Christians. For if we were without it, it would be impossible to tell where to find Christians, and who are Christians, and where the Gospel has borne fruit.73

In faith we walk up the chancel steps, kneel and receive from our pastor Christ’s true body and blood and we say “Amen” I believe. Here the benefits of the great exchange are tendered to me,

For here his innocence and my sins, my weakness and his strength are thrust together, and all thus become one. What is mine is his, and what is his that I also have … When I receive the Sacrament, then Christ receives me and consumes me also, and devours me and my sins, and I enjoy this righteousness. Thus his godliness and riches swallow up my sins and misery, so that afterwards I am nothing but righteousness.74

The church consumes and is consumed.

The Gospel in Word and The Sacrament

One of the Lutheran battle standards is “the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.” Too often, however, the sine non qua prefix, “the Gospel in” mysteriously disappears and the sacramental suffix is often reduced to a detachable “add-on.” The standard dissolves into the cliché “Word and/or Sacrament.” Yes, too often there is a “Word” in which the Gospel is assumed (a doctrinal assumption worse than the one claimed for the blessed virgin.) The Word’s purpose is to bring us to repentance and forgiveness, not an accumulation of facts, and so presumes a sacramental end. The catechetical word (the church’s didach) brings the catechumen into the mystical body of Christ, the Holy Communion (koinwnia) of the Church, by incorporating (koinwnia) him into the death and resurrection of our Lord in Holy Baptism. The continuing catechetical word of preaching prepares us for participation (koinwnia) in the Holy Communion (koinwnia) of the crucified and risen body and blood of Christ in the Holy Supper. The preached Gospel is not incomplete without the sacraments, but the Gospel preaches us to the sacraments. When you have the sacraments you also have the Word, without the sacraments you can lose the purpose of the Word. The Word in, with and under the Sacraments is the Gospel in action.

We fret out “graduation” views of confirmation. When the goal of catechesis is Communion with Christ then the “graduation” mentality is foreign. Confirmation is not a matter of mere “eligibility” for the Sacrament (legalism) but an evangelical invitation into the mystery of the Church, her Holy Communion. (Odd, isn’t it, that in many of our churches on the day of “confirmation” Communion is not celebrated?!) Ours is not a “graduation” based on knowledge, but a “graduation” (gradus, “step”) a step up into the chancel, where we ascend the steps to the Holy of Holies to meet the Incarnate One in the mystery (sacramentum) of the Holy Communion.75

One of the great tragedies of the Lutheran church was the appearance of Pietism. Its progenitor, Jacob Philip Spener, taught an orthodox Lutheranism, but advocated a study of Scripture which divorced itself from the regular assembly of the congregation and thus the Sacraments. The Sacraments became dispensable add-ons as the emphasis76 in Pietism shifted from Christ to the Christian, from His holy life to our holy living, from objective sacraments to subjective feelings. Study of the word separated from the pure Gospel of the Sacrament turned the Scriptures which testify of Christ into a “golden rule book.” The Sacrament of the Altar has struggled ever since to regain its place alongside of, not in place of, not in addition to, but integral to the manifold ways in which our God comes to us.

The Sacrament and Preaching

The purpose of preaching is to prepare people for the Sacrament. “We are to preach in such a manner that of their own accord, without our law, they will urge themselves and, as it were, compel us pastors to administer the Sacrament.”77 The Sacrament is the natural completion of preaching, “I believe what you said.” However, the evangelical invitation “do” is utterly meaningless to the sated. Dr. Luther tells preachers how to be compelling:

This is done by telling them: Whoever does not seek or desire the Sacrament at least some four times a year,78 it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is no Christian, just as he is no Christian who does not believe or hear the Gospel; for Christ did not say, This omit, or, This despise, but, This do ye…

Now, whoever does not highly value the Sacrament thereby shows that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell; that is, he does not believe any such things, although he is in them over head and ears and is doubly the devil’s own. On the other hand, he needs no grace, life, Paradise, heaven, Christ, God, nor anything good. For if he believed that he has so much that is evil, and needed so much that is good, he would not thus neglect the Sacrament, by which such evil is remedied and so much good is bestowed. Neither will it be necessary to force him to the Sacrament by any law, but he will come running and racing of his own accord, will force himself and urge you that you must give him the Sacrament.79

Why aren’t out of breath parishioners grabbing and shaking the stoles of their pastors? Perhaps Claus Harms (the great 19th century Lutheran theologian), commenting on the indulgence buyers of Luther’s day speaks about our generation, “at least then people were willing to pay for the forgiveness of sins.” But where does this problem reside, in the pew or in the pulpit, if not both? Before I cast a stone I offer this as mea culpa,

When the Gospel does not seem to be working, the problem is not with the Gospel... The problem is with the preaching that leads to repentance. Perhaps too often you have preached a law that threatens instead of the law that kills. Such law and death will never be appealing for increasing membership, but is the only thing that prepares one for the Gospel. Programs often miss that. The law that would kill the old Adam doesn’t sell as well as a law that merely threatens the old Adam or laments the slip of society into moral degradation. The law kills… When the Gospel doesn’t seem to be working do not consider what kinds of hymns, worship or social programs might make the Gospel more appealing to the flesh. Rather consider what is appalling to the flesh. Only where the letter has killed can the Spirit give life.80

The flesh of the faithful is as unconverted as the flesh of the unbeliever. Therefore “the sinner and saint” (simul justus et peccator) needs the constant balance of law and Gospel, lest he plummet pride first into the crevasse of hell or becomes disemboweled on the rocks of despair. Only those who have felt the presence of the devil and stood on the brink of despair can understand Dr. Luther:

The two words “my” (body and blood) and “your” (sins) are indeed mighty words which should fairly impel you gladly to walk over a hundred thousand miles for this sacrament; for if you would consider who it is who speaks “my,” and who says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” you would discover that it is your dear Lord Christ Jesus, God’s Son, who shed his blood and died for you.81

Much is being written today about “communicating the Gospel” and finding ever and better so called “effective” ways of doing so. Here in the Holy Communion we have the greatest and grandest communication, for we communicate in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.

The Sacrament Leads to the Highest and Most God Pleasing Worship

The greatest worship is faith which seizes the gifts that God offers,82 that is, seeking forgiveness, as the Apology reminds us in citing the sinful woman who anointed Christ:

The woman came with the opinion of Christ that with Him the remission of sins should be sought. This worship is the highest worship of Christ. (Hic cultus est summus cultus Christi) Nothing greater could she ascribe to Christ. To seek from Him the remission of sins was to truly acknowledge the Messiah.83

To commune is the highest worship for in the Sacrament the very essence of forgiveness is found, the sacrificed and risen body and blood of our Lord given and poured out for the forgiveness of sins. No greater “worship aid” is there than the Sacrament, as our Augsburg Confession says

this (partaking of the Sacrament) also increases the reverence and devotion of public worship (ceremoniarum)…The people are also advised concerning the dignity and use of the Sacrament, how great consolation it brings anxious consciences, that they may learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. This worship pleases God.84

All other acts of worship, praise, adoration, humble service, worship, music, and the arts are secondary in that they are but fruits of this highest worship, faith which seeks the forgiveness of sins. When the baptized faithful believe the absolution, the Gospel proclaimed, and walk up the aisle to the altar they are offering the greatest worship from which all other worship springs.85 The Holy Supper of our Lord Christ is rightly called the Holy Eucharist (from the Greek eucaristew, “to give thanks”) for it inspires the sacrifice of praise and prayer (sacrificium laudis et sacrificium orantis).86

The Sacrament Allows the Priesthood to do its Priestly Work

Much is said today about the neglect of the priesthood of believers in our midst. Some have suggested getting involved at church is the way to have a meaningful relationship with God and the church. That is a relationship built on the sinking sand of works. No, building a relationship with God and his church happens in Baptism, in preaching, in the Lord’s Supper whereby we partake of the Incarnate sacramental body and are incorporated into the mystical body of Christ, his holy Church. Limiting opportunities for receiving the Sacrament more than anything else limits the true and often neglected work of the priest. Dr. Luther tells us that when the minister communes the priest, he, the communicant,

carries out the highest office of a true priest in a twofold way: By thanking, praising, and glorifying God he performs the most beautiful sacrifice, the supreme worship of God, and the most glorious work, namely, a thank offering. With his confession before men he does as much as if he preached and taught people to believe in Christ. Thereby he assists in augmenting and preserving Christianity, in confirming the gospel and the sacrament, in converting sinners and in assaulting the devil’s kingdom. In short, he assists in whatever the teaching of the word accomplishes in the world and participates in the same work87

Communing assaults Satan as the angels sing their Trisagion. “Der Teufel Schreck, der Engel Freude88 (“Devil’s fright, Angel’s Delight”).

The Sacramental Life Leads to a Sacrificial Life

The baptized faithful, who partake of the sacrificed and living body and blood of Christ, become “living sacrifices.” The sacramental life leads to a sacrificial life, it transforms us.89 “We give thanks, almighty God, that you have refreshed us with his holy Supper. We pray that through it you will strengthen our faith in you and increase our love for one another.” Dr. Luther loved to say against the monks and monasticism that God does not need our works in heaven but that they should remain here on earth as we serve our neighbor at home, in the world and then at church.

A lament often heard in the church is that there is a lack of a sanctified living. The church of all ages has sought solutions in the law, making rules that are not followed,90 promises that we won’t keep, wondering what Jesus would do, making morality the goal of the Gospel. The law works, but not true sanctification, only the Gospel can do that. Seldom, it seems, that the Sacrament is mentioned when there are efforts to “renew” the church. Priests who are communed, however, are released into the world to do their true priestly work of sacrifice, self sacrifice, Myself the victim, myself the priest. Some think this simple Gospel has no meaning for my life on Monday. Dr. Luther beautifully describes how the Sunday sacramental life leads to the weekday sacrificial life.

Even as we have eaten and drunk the body and blood of Christ the Lord, we in turn permit ourselves to be eaten and drunk, and say the same words to our neighbor, Take, eat and drink; and this by no means in jest, but in all seriousness, meaning to offer yourself with all your life, even as Christ did with all that he had... As if to say, Here am I myself, given for you, and this treasure do I give to you; what I have you shall have; when you are in want, then will I also be in want…

These (words) we must take, and repeat them to our neighbor, not by mouth alone, but by our actions, saying, Behold, my dear brother, I have received my Lord; he is mine, and I have more than enough and great abundance. Now you take what I have, it shall be yours, and I place it at your disposal. Is it necessary for me to die for you? I will even do that.91

The served, serve, the sacrificed for, sacrifice for, the died for, die for... any day.

How Often?

How often should the Holy Communion (koinwnia) celebrate the Holy Communion (koinwnia)? For the early Christian this is why they gathered on the Lord’s Day because for them the sacramental presence of Christ with his body and blood was a continuation of the Lord’s post Resurrection appearances.92 In the Sacrament Christ’s promise to be incarnationally present with his Church found fulfillment, he was “always with them.” Yes, every Sunday is Easter.93

The early and Reformation church94 answered the question of how often “every Lord’s Day, festivals and when people ask for it” which answer they found in the Sacrament. So the church of all ages must ask the question for themselves lest it be turned into something we just do (opus operatum). The answer to the question of “how often” is - the Sacrament is the Gospel, all that Christ has won.

How often ought one go to the Sacrament? Some wonder why didn’t the Lord give us a number. That desire can come from a legalistic mindset. “How often must I go to satisfy God’s command? Up to four times a year?” No, this is Gospel, gift, grace.95 However, our Lord did give an “numerical” answer although the question was posed a bit differently, “How often should I forgive my brother when he sins against me, up to seven times?” “No, seventy times seven.” Forgiveness is given as often as it is needed and desired.

How often? As often as believing hearts desire it. How often is that? How often are people weighed down, in spiritual anguish, burdened, anxious, enduring trials, being tempted in the flesh by the world or by Satan, hurting, struggling, hungering and thirsting? Although I do not always knows the trials and struggles that my members are undergoing, I can answer the question how often the believers desire this gift from personal and pastoral experience. When the Sacrament is offered in every weekend service, nearly all come forward, and, the per celebration attendance has gone up (the experience of every pastor to whom I have spoken whose congregation has an every Sunday service celebration).

How often an individual receives the Sacrament depends on their own heart. How often a church celebrates the Sacrament ought not be determined arbitrarily or legalistically, the church has answered that already, as often as there are communicants.96

You Don’t Have To Celebrate the Sacrament, But…

“Evangelical-Lutherans” make no laws. Only soul murderers turn the Gospel into law.97 “Not forced but aroused.”98 But what you often hear when the “fruit and power” of the Sacrament is proclaimed is the protestation “Well, you don’t have to go to communion!” Yes, that is perfect theology. You don’t have to go to Communion, you don’t have to receive Baptism or the absolution or hear preaching either. That statement only has validity if someone makes a law of it.

But the charge of “legalism” is so feared that the inference will be preempted. As one speaker did after, thankfully, saying “Should one elevate the sermon above the Sacrament? Are they not both high points - Word and Sacrament?” He immediately added “By that I’m not implying one must celebrate the Sacrament every Sunday.”99 But why crash through open doors? Is that the inference that the faithful will draw, the legalistic have to? Some do, which makes me think they protesteth too much. Why don’t you want to? However, when you proclaim the “fruit and power” of the blessing (and for the flesh the information that the early and Lutheran Church has done this before) the inference that is drawn by the faithful I have served is the quite compelling “why don’t we?”

We have perfect freedom to celebrate the Sacrament, but careful, this is not the same as the corresponding “freedom” not to. As Luther said in the Small Catechism “Christ did not say, This omit, or, this despise, but this do ye,”100 and in the Large “Some pretend that it is a matter of liberty and not necessary, and that it is sufficient to believe without it... If you wish such liberty, you may just as well have the liberty to be no Christian.”101 This is not the answer to the question “how often” but a caution that the Gospel not be despised. The law cannot compel us, only two words compel us, ”my” and “your.” As Luther said if you think you don’t need it take the pinch test,102 see if you have flesh and blood and if you do, you need this body and blood.103

No Law and No Limit

In his “Concerning the Ordering of Divine Service (Gottesdienst) in the Congregation” Dr. Luther wrote “but should some desire the Sacrament on a day other than a Sunday, Mass is to be held, as devotion and time permit; for in this connection one cannot lay down either a law or a limit.104 We don’t make laws, but do we artificially, arbitrarily, even legalistically,105 limit the faithful’s opportunity to receive the Sacrament? It is a simple truth, no one must receive the Sacrament when it is offered but you cannot have the Sacrament if it is not offered. How many know that it is their confessional right to have the Sacrament “when they ask for it”?106 Should the church refuse some, on the basis that some do not desire it? We all believe, teach and confess in the Large Catechism that “body of Christ can never be an unfruitful, vain thing, that effects or profits nothing.”107

The Sacrament, Taken for Granted?

Although I do not believe it is the underlying reason, the most common objection against not having an every Sunday service celebration given by pastors and laity alike is “it will be taken for granted.” Let us examine that rationale for not celebrating the Supper of our Lord’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins to which he tenderly invites us. I agree. People do, I do. If we learn anything from our Lord’s ministry and the Church’s history it is that He and his grace will be taken for granted. Luther says about the people of his day:

Anyone can readily observe and understand all of this when he sees how people now regard the holy sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord so lightly and assume an attitude toward it as if there were nothing on earth which they needed less than just this sacrament; and yet they want to be called Christians.108

But is the cause of the problem that God’s grace is so boundless, or, is it because we are so perverse? It doesn’t matter whether the Gospel comes as a bath, as preaching, or as a meal, it will be taken for granted by the flesh regardless of whether it is offered weekly, monthly or four times a year! However, the real absence does not make the heart grow fonder. The solution is not to withdraw grace (that is done only to the manifestly impenitent) but to preach repentance. Taking the Gospel, the Sacrament for granted is a dreadful sin. But how is this prevented? By removing the Sacrament? God forbid! Remove that which causes the sin! If this is a valid objection then there is an equal danger in regards to the preaching of the Gospel. Should we limit this? It is just as “dangerous” to take for granted a sermon which calls for repentance and preaches Christ.109 In fact it is much easier to take the Gospel for granted in the sermon, you can simply sit there (opus operatum). When the Sacrament is offered you must make a conscious decision to walk or sit.

However, the Sacrament will not be taken for granted by those who are prepared whether it is offered every Sunday, yes every Monday through Saturday if you like. For what is required so that one will not take this gift for granted? Only a believing heart, and I would hesitate to judge the hearts of those who commune weekly.

Worthy Recipients or a Worthily Receiving?

The belief behind this “take it for granted” objection to the Sacrament is in part a vestigial remnant of Pietism. Another mis-emphasis of Pietism was an unhealthy concern for proper preparation centered on the life of the communicant. Am I worthy?110 As one theologian said, our pietistic roots have led us to put a “fence around the Sacrament” by emphasizing more our preparation than the gift. Preparation is important, but it is something that is done to us, not so much done by us.111 The solution to proper preparation is proper law and Gospel preaching which is sacramental preparation preaching.

Finally, we can never be worthy. St. Paul does not use the adjective “worthy” but the adverb “worthily.” We can only eat and drink “worthily” (or unworthily). It is a penitent heart which alone makes us “worthy” of commensalism. Recall one of the most serious charges leveled against our Lord Christ? “He eats with sinners.”112 He still does today.113

The Sacrament, Too Special?

Another form of “the take it for granted” objection is that having it too often will make it less “special.” As if, “like x-rays the accumulation of too many might be harmful.”114 This argument against an every Lord’s Day supper belies the understanding that the Gospel we preach grants the same blessing of forgiveness as the Sacrament. Yes, the Sacrament of the Altar is special in that it is a different means by which forgiveness and life is brought to the believer. In Baptism we are brought and incorporated into Christ, in the Sacrament of the Altar the corporal Christ is brought into us. He in us, we in him. In preaching the Gospel is proclaimed for all, in private absolution115 forgiveness is pronounced to the individual. Different, not always interchangeable, but bringing the same forgiveness.

If, then, the Sacrament is viewed as a “special” means of grace, not to be overused but reserved for certain, special predetermined times, then the Gospel we preach much be something “less.” So one must ask, what pangs of conscience over any sin are not removed by the simple word of forgiveness? Or, if the Sacrament is a “special” means of grace reserved for very difficult or sinful times in our life then it must not be needed for other times in our life. At what time do I not need deep contrition and this medicine of the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins?116 For one to say “I don’t need this” calls for serious self examination. What this objection fails to take into account is the paradoxical nature of the Christian as he is in the world (in concreto). We are at the same time sinners and in Christ saints (simul justus et peccator117), not either/or, not sometimes sinner, sometimes saint. Our pilgrimage on earth is not the uncertain trek of Roman Catholicism, “sin, confession, penance… sin, confession, penance…” or even a “Lutheranized” version of the same, “sin, forgiven… sin, forgiven…” No, we have been freed from what Luther called the “monstrum incertitudinis.” We, who are always sinners, are always forgiven in Christ.

As Dr. Luther said in response to the question as to why one needs the sacrament after one has already been forgiven in the absolution, “So what! I want to add the sign of God (the Sacrament) to his Word. To receive God’s word in many ways is so much better.”118

Are There Benefits In Not Celebrating the Sacrament?

Are there benefits to not having the Sacrament in very weekend service? (Odd question.) None, well, only one - and for our purposes it falls into the hypothetical category119 - that, is, if someone says it is sinful not to have the Sacrament. No Lutheran says that.

But can there be unintended negative effects when there is a once a month or every other Sunday celebration? If we give the impression that the Sacrament is something “more” or “less” than the preached Gospel there can be. If we give the impression that having it “too much” can have negative effects, and so be harmful, there can be. If we give the impression that this is a dispensable thing (unlike the offering120) that is not needed, there can be. If the needs of the faithful are not met with the fullness of God’s gifts there can be. That the opinion that an every Sunday Sacrament is thought by many “eccentric” or “extreme” abounds in our midst is symptomatic proof that the Sacrament may not be fully understood or appreciated. Dr. Herman Sasse reminds us it is always “a sign of deterioration when one (sermon or Sacrament) is emphasized at the expense of the other.”121

Let it be said, having the Sacrament every Lord’s Day does not make it less special but more special, having the Sacrament every Lord’s day does not lead to taking it for granted, but creates a great love and devotion for the Sacrament. Proof? Ask those who commune each Sunday and see how per celebration attendance goes up.122 If the Sacrament is what we confess it to be, then there can be no negative benefits in celebrating it every Sunday, only good beyond our understanding.

The Sacrament and Tradition

When the practice of the early and Reformation church was to celebrate the Holy Supper every time they gathered, why are we content with less? There is the historical answer. In a prescient essay “Present Day Pietism” Professor Ernst Wendland reminds us of our, other, heritage, “a more serious cause for alarm, however, is the fact that Pietism has left is mark upon our present day attitude toward the sacraments.”123 No historian disputes the fact that our roots lie in Pietism which moved the Lutheran church’s emphasis from justification to sanctification and so Sacramental piety, which centers on Christ and His gifts, was soon lost to sentimental pietism which settles on the Christian and his gifts.

By the grace of God a recrudescence of Lutheran confessionalism in America helped turn our church towards orthodoxy. But our poor start coupled with our “conservative” nature has resulted in the practice with which most of our congregations seem content. Professor Erling Teigen hit the nail on the head in contrasting this “conservatism” with genuine Lutheran “confessionalism”:

Conservatism can also stand for a mind-set that tends to value the status quo most highly, so that one can only be moved in a different direction by bulldozer or cataclysm, never by theological study or intellectual honesty… Teaching and the teachers of churches need to be rereviewuated always to see whether or not their teaching is in accord with the Lutheran confessions. While conservatism can be construed as a desire to preserve that which is good, it doesn’t necessarily work that way.124

The biggest obstacle, it seems to me, to a return to an every Sunday service celebration after our own lack of faith in this Sacrament and our own lack of understanding is tradition. As one person challenged me a number of years ago “Are you saying that for 150 years the Wisconsin Synod has been all wrong?!”

No, we are not wrong if we do not celebrate the Sacrament in every Sunday service. The Sacrament is gift! But we are wrong if we do not take with utter seriousness the evangelical invitation to “do this.” We are wrong if we do not highly value this most blessed gift of Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. We are wrong if we do not because of theological laziness examine our practice. We are wrong if pastors do not take with utter seriousness the call they swore on oath “to administer the sacraments in accordance with the inspired word of God and the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and to maintain sound Lutheran practice at all times.” We are wrong if in any way we give the impression that this having the Sacrament too often is too much or, at best, an unusual practice. We are wrong if we accede to the vocal opposition of some and deny this blessed gift to others. And to be sure we are wrong if what prevents us from considering this is that the Wisconsin Synod has not done this for 150 years. That is pride.


How often ought we celebrate or receive the precious body of our Lord Christ given into death for our sins and receive the blood of the New Testament which was shed for us for the forgiveness of sins in this blessed meal to which our Lord tenderly invites us? I have only touched the surface of what benefit and blessing accrue not only from the Sacrament but from an every Lord’s Day Supper.125 And yet Microsofta Word tells me that I will wax some 11,535 words (sans footnotes, 20,558 with) prolix trying to get you to reconsider how you answer that question when, as Dr. Luther said, only two are needed, “my” and “yours” which ought to “fairly impel you to walk over a hundred thousand miles” for it. Two words which ought to compel parishioners and their pastors.

May your devotion for this great gift of the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins, increase, regardless of how often you receive (or are offered) this blessing, but I also pray that your devotion is respected and honored by those126 who are given the stewardship of this mystery (sacramentum) which our Lord tenderly invites us to “do in his remembrance.” After all, what is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the whole Gospel and there are absolutely no negative consequences in celebrating the Sacrament in every public service of every Lutheran congregation, no, only blessings beyond our understanding. That is the Lutheran confession. What shall be your practice?

Respectfully submitted,
Rev. Fr. John W. Berg
(Revised 11 January 2001)


Invitation to the Sacrament

Regardless of whether one has the “goal” of an every Sunday Sacrament or not our course of action has already be laid out for us by our Lord Christ, “preach the Gospel”. He commissioned the Eleven to do by baptizing and teaching all nations to observe all he commanded us including the command to “do this.” We are to proclaim with all earnestness the invitation to take and eat for the forgiveness of sins. When it comes to the Sacrament we should make no law nor limit.

Instruction in the Sacrament

We prepare people for that by preaching the law in all its severity, and the Gospel in all its sweetness. This preaching will compel people to compel their preachers to give them the Sacrament. Are our preachers not doing that? Some may not, but my guess is most do. What I think is that preachers often miss the compelling signals, such as the plaintive question “If the Sacrament is what you say it is, then why not?” I also think that the faithful, by our unquestioned practice, simply don’t voice what may be in their heart. But as the old saying goes, people vote with their feet. The fact that the faithful who have this opportunity return week after week is proof enough.

Instruction is greatly needed, first and foremost for our pastors and then, for our people. Part of that instruction is understanding why, not just that, the early Church and Reformation Church could not conceive of a service without the Sacrament.

Introduction to an Every Sunday Service Sacrament

After patient instruction a first step would be to celebrate the Sacrament in every weekend Service during Advent - not excepting Christmass, and then Lent - not excepting Holy Week and Easter (after moving to an every other and festivals if you have the Sacrament only once a month). The penitential times of Advent and Lent provide a wonderful opportunity to speak about true repentance, preparation, and the forgiveness of sin. What this also does is gives people the opportunity not only to receive the precious body and blood of our Lord Christ every Sunday, but to see for themselves what blessings accrue and how to spiritually prepare. What it also does is “flush out” all the objections and misunderstandings about what the Sacrament is. It will have a man examine his heart “what do I believe about this law and Gospel I have heard and about this gift?”

People often vacation on weekends during the summer. Instituting an every Sunday celebration during the summer so that no one would miss is a logical thing to do. This holds true year round for those who cannot be there every Sunday because of illness, family obligations, or those whose work - fireman, policeman, doctors, nurses, paramedics - prevents them from communing if their and the church’s schedule do not align. What you end up with are a handful of services without the Sacrament, which, and I guarantee this, will be labeled, as “weird” by numerous people. Or as Loehe said, “broken.”

Just a brief word about the issue of time. I served a large and now an average size congregation and time has never been issue. A carefully conducted service devoid of the unnecessary, unwelcome, intrusive and disruptive clutter of announcing every element of the service (when they are already listed in the hymnal or service folder127), a judicial use of hymns128 and the number of stanzas and an efficient, but not hurried, ushering forward of the communicants enabled me to conduct a full liturgical service and communion within the posteriorally mandated hour.

Let me say a brief word about another objection to the blessed Sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood being offered the faithful, the visitor to whom we say “please wait and speak with the pastor.”129 Celebrating and receiving the Sacrament is the most complete preachment of what we believe. We sinners are willing to walk a hundred thousand miles for this meal. We are say, “this is really, really important. Very serious goings on up here.” We “proclaim the Lord’s death” by our celebration and reception. We are not ashamed of this Gospel.

What I have discovered, as I am sure you have, is that those who are not members of our church or a member of a church of our fellowship and thus are asked to “wait” fall into three categories. Those who are just visiting, not looking. Although they may not understand the announcement, they will respect it. Then there are the militant visitors who know the “rule” so to speak and militate against it, i.e. argue with the pastor 5 minutes before the service or come up. Invariably they are already churched. And then you have the genuine seeker. The first two of these we ought not worry about. The first we won’t offend, the second we will offend (but not in the biblical sense) and we ought to because of their bad Table manners, and the third understand that there is a procedure, catechesis, which teaches proper Table manners. These are those souls who when they begin to learn by the communicant’s preaching and pastoral teaching can’t wait and invariably weep at their first communion, as do many penitents. Evangelism, that is, preaching the Gospel, does not include removing the preaching of the Gospel which includes the celebration and reception of the Sacrament to which we point the catechumen as the culmination of their catechesis.

Suggested Reading

Chemnitz, Martin Ministry, Word, and Sacraments CPH St. Louis 1981

Chemnitz, Martin The Lord’s Supper CPH 1979

Hardt, Tom The Sacrament of the Altar (Contact E. Teigen e-mail found on “Semper Reformanda” web site

Just, Arthur The Ongoing Feast: Table Fellowship and Eschatology at Emmaus Pueblo,, Collegeville, MN 1993

Luther, Martin American Edition of Luther’s Works Volumes 35 - 38, 53 CPH/Fortress Philadelphia

Luther, Martin The Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. II p. 193-222. edited by John Lenker Baker, Grand Rapids 1988

Nagel, Norman “The Incarnation and the Lord’s Supper in Luther” Concordia Theological Monthly September 1953 Vol. XXIV No. 9

Nagel, Norman “Holy Communion” Lutheran Worship: History and Practice CPH St. Louis 1993

Sasse Herman This is My Body Openbook Publishing Adelaide 1977

Sasse, Herman We Confess the Sacraments CPH St. Louis 1985

Scaer, David “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” Concordia Theological Quarterly

Senkbeil, Harold Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness CPH 1994

Teigen, Bjarne, The Lord’s Supper in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz Trinity Lutheran Press, Brewster, Mass. 1986


1 Conflation of texts from Matt, Mark, Luke and Paul. (Matt. 26.26-28; Mk 14.22-24; Lk 22.19-20, 1 Co. 11.23-25)

2 From LC V “For upon these words (take, eat and drink, this is My body and blood, do this) rest all our foundation, protection, and defense against all errors and deception that have ever come or may yet come. (19) “The words stand here and give us this; for on this account He bids me eat and drink, that it may be my own and may benefit me, as a sure pledge and token, yea, the very same treasure that is appointed for me against my sins, death and every calamity. On this account it is indeed called a food of souls which nourishes and strengthens the new man. For by baptism we are born anew; but, as we said before, there still remains, besides, the old vicious nature of flesh and blood in man, and there so many hindrances and temptations of the devil and of the world that we often become weary and faith and sometimes also stumble. Therefore it is given for a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so as not to fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger. (22) “That, we say, is verily the treasure, and nothing else, through which such forgiveness is obtained. Now the only way in which it is conveyed and appropriated to us is in the words: Given and shed for you. For herein you have both truths, that it is the body and blood of Christ, and that it is yours as a treasure and gift. Now the body of Christ can never be an unfruitful, vain thing, that effects or profits nothing. Yet, however great is the treasure itself, it must be comprehended in the Word and administered to us, or else we should never be able to know or seek it. (28-30) “For although the work is accomplished and the forgiveness of sins acquired on the cross, yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word. For what would we otherwise know about it, that such a thing was accomplished or was to be given us if it were not presented by preaching or the oral Word? Whence they know of it, or how can they apprehend and appropriate to themselves the forgiveness, except they lay hold of and believe the Scriptures and the Gospel. But now the entire Gospel and the article of the Creed: I believe a Holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sin, etc., are by the Word embodied in this Sacrament and presented to us. (31-32) “Some pretend that it is a matter of liberty and not necessary, and that it is sufficient to believe without it. (41) “We must never regard the Sacrament as something injurious from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy, imparting salvation and comfort, which will cure you and give you life in both soul and body. For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved. Why, then, is it that we act as if it were a poison, the eating of which would bring death? …For here in the Sacrament you are to receive from the lips of Christ forgiveness of sin, which contains and brings with it the grace of God and the Spirit with all His gifts, protection, shelter, and power against death and the devil and all misfortune.(68, 70) “For since they (children) are baptized and received into the Christian Church, they should also enjoy this communion of the Sacrament, in order that they may serve us and be useful to us; for they must all indeed help us to believe, love, pray, and fight against the devil.” (87) All references to the Confessions are from the Concordia Triglotta, CPH, St. Louis, 1921 pp. 757-769.

3 AC XXIV 1, p. 65. Among these ceremonies are the elevation, genuflecting, the use of incense, chasuble, alb, altar. In speaking about these and other ceremonies Luther wrote “Against the Heavenly Prophets” who condemned the use of the elevation and other such things and against the Papists who demanded such things (although Luther said “we do as the papists”) “Thus the pope and Dr. Karlstadt are true cousins in teaching, for they both teach, one the doing, the other the refraining, We, however, teach neither, and do both.” AE 40 p. 131.

4 AC XXIV 9, p. 65.

5 AC XXIV 34-35 p. 67.

6 AP XXIV 1 p. 383.

7 Dr. David Scaer St. Matthew the Catechist: The Life of Death and Resurrection Concordia Catechetical Academy, Sussex, WI CSTS97-6 cassette tape. The catholic ceremonies are also a part of our heritage, for we confess “nearly all the usual ceremonies are preserved” (AC XXIV 1) and they “conduce to good order in the Church.” (AC XXVIII 53)

8 No serious scholar disputes that an every Lord’s Day celebration of the Sacrament was the norm for the early and ancient church. Dr. Herman Sasse, the preeminent 20th century Lutheran theologian of the Sacrament wrote, “no Christian of the Reformation, apart from the followers of the Reformation at Zurich and Geneva could conceive of a Sunday service without the Lord’s Supper, just as already in the church of the New Testament there was no Lord’s Day without the Lord’s Supper.” We Confess the Sacraments CPH St. Louis 1985, p. 32.

9 WELS Survey 1995 p. 16.

10 Ironically I have taken more heat in my ministry of shortening the number of hymn stanzas than for not having the Lord’s Supper in a service.

11 Paul’s words “as often as” (osakis ean) are often mistaken and Paul is said to say, “do this often” when he says, “as oft as” (AV) or “whenever you eat the bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

12 Here we cite the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi “the law of praying established the law of believing.” This rule attributed to Prosper of Aquitaine was formulated against semi-Pelagianism. Prosper showed that since the church prayed for the conversion of unbelievers, what Scripture commands, then their conversion must be the work of God. This rule was simply an argument from Scripture. As we believe so we will do, as we do shows what we believe. Caution must always be exercised especially when the church is about that which constitutes herself as church, preaching, administering Baptism and the Sacrament, prayers and praise, i.e. the service is hardly an indifferent thing.

13 The average Christian rarely communed in the middle ages due to a fear of unworthy reception. “Eye communion,” observing the mass was just as good, and safer! Ultimately the church at Lateran IV (1215) mandated one communion per year. This “practice” of infrequent reception continued in the Reformation church, despite a correct understanding of the Sacrament. Communion was always offered but not always taken. However, the celebration would not be held if there were no communicants and an admonition was given against despising the Sacrament.

14 SC preface, p. 537. The preface to the Small Catechism should be included in our published Catechism as well as the complete versions of Luther’s morning and evening prayers. Omitted are the instructions which gives our life its baptismal focus “in the morning, when you rise/in the evening when you go to bed you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer…” SC p. 557, 559.

15 January 1998 p. 32. Although doctrinal reasons were given for the Roman Catholic and Reformed practice in this article, the reason given for Lutherans not celebrating the Sacrament every Sunday - the question that was asked - rested largely on a historical reason. According to the writer, “Formerly, many Lutheran churches in American celebrated the Lord’s Supper once a month or less. This relatively infrequent celebration was at least in part a reaction to Catholicism’s overemphasis on the sacrament at the expense of preaching.” This overreaction to this “overemphasis,” if indeed this were the case, falls into the “cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face” category. Why a correct emphasis on the preached word should in some way lead to a reduction of the Sacrament, is a tragedy, and doesn’t answer the question, why we don’t. Agreeing that reactionary “anti-Catholicism” was a partial cause, the reactionary “anti-Catholicism” in question, infrequent communion, was more due to a despising of all things deemed Catholic far more so than a reaction to Roman overemphasis on the sacrament over against preaching. More likely and what is most often cited as the reason was that this practice of infrequent communion came over on the boat in among latter day Lutherans (1800s) inflicted with Pietism, many of whom had a Reformed view and low regard for the Sacrament which also was the practice and belief of the first wave of Lutherans who by this time were thoroughly Protestantized in this regard. The writer rightly writes that “Lutheran churches tended to center on preaching as the “source and summit” of Christian worship, but that still leaves the question “why we don’t” unanswered.

16 There are a number of factors. Our historical roots are in Pietism which movement had little regard for the Sacrament. Pietism “began to change the emphasis from what Christ has done for us to what Christ does in us” Professor John Brenner writes in an essay on Pietism. There is little room for an objective supper in this vision of the church. This along with frontier conditions and the shortage of pastors in our early beginnings made for few opportunities for the congregations to celebrate the sacrament, even if they so desired. An entrenched conservatism which always seeks to preserve the status quo sometimes preserves the bad with the good even when it is not something “new” to the Lutheran Church.

17 Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II, Concordia, St. Louis, 1978 p. 330.

18 Small Catechism Part VI 2 p. 555. The first edition of the new “blue” Wisconsin Synod catechism translated the simple unter and sub (under) as “together with.” This was an unfortunate translation and has been corrected. One of the more common misunderstandings among Lutherans in regards to the presence in the Sacrament is “consubstantiation” the Reformed coined term of derision for the Lutheran understanding of the presence in the Sacrament. The old “tan” Gausewitz catechism has “under.”

19 The NIV regrettably (predictably?) does not translate the “for” (gar) in Matthew 26:28 “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant.”

20 Martin Luther Luther s Works: American Edition (AE) Volume 38 p. 110.

21 As theologian Claus Harms said to early 19th century unionized and Protestantized Lutherans on the 300 anniversary of the posting of the Ninety-five Theses in Ninety-five theses (thesis 78) “If at the Colloquy at Marburg, 1529, the body and blood of Christ was in the bread and wine, it is still so in 1817.” Translated by William A. Lambert in “Theses” in Jacobs and Hass, The Lutheran Cyclopedia, pp. 513f.

22 Seen in rabid “anti-Catholicism” which objects to Lutherans vestments, chanting, crucifixes, crossing oneself, or as one said in regard to an every Sunday sacrament “too Catholic.” As I was told by one pastor “the reformation was about getting rid of things like crossing oneself.” I referred him to his Catechism. One confessional theologian, Prof. Kurt Marquart of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne calls the objection to catholic and Lutheran custom in conservative Lutherans “Ku Klux Klanism.”

23 Dr. Eck, objecting no doubt for the reason that transubstantiation was ruled out by this new wording. It is somewhat ironic, disconcerting and enlightening to learn that some 60% of members polled in the other Christian church that maintains the real presence in the Sacrament, the Roman Catholic Church, believe in a spiritual, not physical presence, in the Sacrament. The mental machinations required by Thomistic transubstantiation in effect so spiritualizes the body of Christ that it is inevitable that this should happen. The great theologian of Rome Thomas Aquinas (doctor angelicus), however, was said to have died in simple faith as expressed in his great Eucharistic hymn. His faith, it was said, was better than his theology.

God only on the cross lay hid from view (In cruce latebat Sola Deitas)
But here lies hid at once the manhood too (Sed hic latet simul Et humanitas)
and I in both professing my belief (Ambo tamen creden atque confitens)
Make the same prayer as the penitent thief. (Peto quod petivit Latro penitens.)

24 Often the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament can be confused with his presence by virtue of his omnipresence. This confusion provides a cover for those who deny the presence of the true body and blood in the elements and so believe a “real presence” of Christ in the host “as much Christ’s body (is present in) the egg on his breakfast table.” (Tom Hardt The Sacrament of the Altar A condensed version of Hardt’s excellent doctoral dissertation Venerabilis et Adorabilis Eucharistia. Essay published on the “Semper Reformanda” web site) Luther and our Confessions (FC TD VII 98-103) find useful the terms from medireview scholasticism concerning the modes of Christ presence. The circumscriptive mode, the manner in which a body normally exists. The diffinitive mode, the presence in the sacrament, real and true but not circumscribed by space. The repletive mode which is what we normally call omnipresence. Care needs to be taken in speaking about the presence of Christ in the Sacrament in terms or with passages which speak of Christ’s omnipresence.

25 The Formula of Concord describes this sophistry “When this figment (saying that the bread and wine are mere symbols, essayist) would not stand the test, they confessed that the Lord Christ is truly present in His Supper, namely per communicationem idiomatum (by the communication of attributes), that is according to His divine nature alone, but not with His body and blood. Afterwards… they declared it in no other way than spiritually [only of a spiritual presence] that is, of partaking through faith of His power, efficacy, and benefits, because [they say] through the Spirit of Christ, who is everywhere, our bodies, in which the Spirit of Christ dwells here upon earth, are united with the body of Christ, which is in heaven” (FC TD VII 4-5).

26 Fears of being mocked as cannibals, Capernaitic blood slurpers or Thyestrean meat eaters, worries about artolatreia (bread worship), the use of the elements outside of the ordained use and of proper adoration have pushed many Lutherans away from bold statements of the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements that are present, distributed and received.

27 FC TD VII 78 p. 1001. Here Luther showed that it was not the Roman priestly “indelible character” that gave the power to effectively call bread and wine, body and blood, but the word. As also in his 1533 “The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests” “We join the water to the word, as he commands us to do; however, not this action of ours, but Christ’s command and ordinance make it a baptism. According to his command we join bread and wine to the word of Christ; however, not this action of ours, but Christ’s word and ordinance effect the change. Now if in this instance the devil or his follower (earlier he includes the devil’s mother) would observe the ordinance of Christ and act according to it, it would nonetheless be the true baptism and sacrament; for Christ does not become a liar or deceiver of his church on account of the devil or of evil people, but baptizes persons and gives them his body and blood no matter whose hand it is or what kind of a hand it is by which he does it.” AE 38 p. 202. Later (204) Dr. Luther reminds us to “distinguish between the office and the person.”

28 In 1536 Dr. Luther and others signed the Wittenberg Concord (Formula Concordiae) with Bucer and others which stated “that in this Sacrament there are two things, a heavenly and an earthly. Accordingly, they hold and teach that with the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present, offered, and received.” However, as The Formula of Concord (VII 17-18) noted the Sacramentarians (those who reject the real presence) found a “loophole” and so interpreted this to say that this “presence” of the body of Christ “is offered with the bread in no other way than as it is offered, together with all His benefits, by the Word of the Gospel, and that by the sacramental union nothing else than the spiritual presence of the Lord Christ by faith is meant.” Dr. Luther closed this “loophole” with the Smalcald Articles’ “The bread and wine in the Holy Supper are the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, which are offered and received, not only by the godly, but also by the godless Christians [those who have nothing Christian but the name].” (SA Part III VI 1) Not surprising then that Melanchthon never approved of this change from Dr. Luther’s original draft of the above “under the bread and wine is present the true body and blood of Christ. Dr. Bjarne Teigen in his fine The Lord’s Supper in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz (Trinity Press, Brewster, MA 1986) gives us the timely caution that we confessional Lutherans ought not so exclusively use these prepositions when the Reformed can so easily live with them (p. 50).

29 The Reformed admit one receives Christ’s body and blood by “extension.” His body is stuck in heaven by virtue of the Ascension, so they say, but his divine nature is present when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated and his divine nature extends to heaven and connects with his humanity, so ipso facto, we receive his “body and blood.” They, however, deny that the “wicked” or unbeliever receives Christ’s body and blood for, as they say he can only be received by faith, nor orally. The Reformed mock the Lutheran view as not yet being freed of Rome. Luther suggested that the fanatics sing Ascension hymns during the distribution to better reflect their Sacramental theology.

30 AE 37 p. 317.

31 Tom Hardt The Sacrament of the Altar on the Semper Reformanda web site. p. 26.

32 Dr. Norman Nagel writes in his 1995 Sasse Symposium presentation “On Consubstantiation”: “Have you ever heard someone, a catechumen, say, ‘Rome has body and blood. The Reformed have only bread and wine. Lutherans have all four - that’s the Lutheran doctrine!”

33 It is instructive to note that in Union distribution formulas “just the words of the Bible are used!” The formula usually is “Christ said, ‘This is my body.’” These bare words of Scripture, however, are a poor formula for they are interpreted by the Reformed as “Christ said, ‘this is my body,’ whatever that means.” Homemade distribution formulas (and creeds) ought to be avoided.

34 Cf. FC TD VII 73-89.

35 “Moment of presence” controversies are always red herrings to divert us from the Word of Christ. What is present, not when, is our concern. The word tell us what not when, but when the Word speaks we are certain of what this bread and this cup are, the body and blood of Christ.

36 This “magic” word was derived from a corruption of the words of Christ in Latin “Hoc est corpus (meum)” “This is (my) body.” The Roman priest, by virtue of his ordination, is said to be able to effect the conversion, hence magic.

37 AE 37 p. 338.

38 Docetism was a second century Gnostic heresy that denied the true humanity of Christ, saying that he simply appeared as a man.

39 Patriarch Nestorius was rightly condemned by the Council of Chalcedon for his unscriptural separation of the human and divine natures in the person of Christ. The arch enemy of Lutheranism’s view of the Sacrament, Ulrich Zwingli taught Nestorianism with his heretical alloeosis in which he compared the two natures of Christ to two boards glued together and that the human nature did not participate in the divine attributes, hence his human nature, body and blood, could not be present in the Sacrament, but that his human nature is stuck away in heaven by virtue of the ascension.

40 Dr. Herman Sasse writes, “If we ask the question whether the bread is the body and the wine is the blood we would receive various answers. Some would say Yes, others would say, Yes, but, which is the fashionable substitute for No, introduced by Karl Barth.” This is My Body Openbook Publishers, Adelaide 1977 p. 333.

41 In regards to Baptism Luther from 1523 to 1526 trimmed down the “symbolic” actions in his rite, not that these actions did not explain or extol this Sacrament, you can’t do that enough, but that in all the explaining and extolling the “real thing” can get lost. See Norman Nagel’s section on “Holy Baptism” in Lutheran Worship History and Practice (CPH, St. Louis 1993) pp. 272-279.

42 “The ark or chest was in their midst, where God was a surely as he is in the Lord’s Supper” Sermons of Martin Lutheran, Lenker, ed. Baker, Grand Rapids Vol. 2 p. 228. Cf AE 1, pages 309, 248, 250; AE 2 pages 46-48, AE 3 108-109.

43 Martin Luther as quoted in “The Incarnation and the Lord’s Supper in Luther” Norman Nagel, Concordia Theological Quarterly, September 1953 p. 636.

44 Fundamenta sanae doctrinae de vera et subsstantiali praesentia, exhibitione et sumptione Corpis et Sanguinis Domini in coena cap. Si, ed. Nove (Wittenberg: Clemens Bergerus et Zacharias Schuererus, 1610) 71. As quotes in “Christ Today: His Presence in the Sacraments” Dr. Arthur Piepkorn Lutheran World July 1963.

45 As quoted in Norman Nagel’s “The Incarnation and the Lord’s Supper in Luther” Concordia Theological Monthly September 1953 p.648.

46 “O dear man! If someone does not want to believe the article of faith concerning the Lord’s Supper, how will be ever believe the article of faith concerning the humanity and divinity of Christ in one person. If you have doubts about whether you are receiving the body of Christ orally when you eat the bread from the altar, likewise, that you are receiving the blood of Christ orally when you drink the wine in the Lord’s Supper, then you must surely have serious doubts (especially when the end of your life draws near) about how the infinite and incomprehensible Godhead, who is and must essentially be everywhere, can be bodily enclosed and included in the humanity and in the Virgin’s body” AE 38 p. 306f.

47 Chalcedon confessed “asugcutws,” “unconfused,” “adiairetws,” “unchanged,” “atreptws,” “unsubsumed,” and “acwristws,” “unseparated.” See “The Case for Four Adverbs” by M. Scharlemann, CTM Vol. XXVIII No. 12, who describes these four adverbs as “buoys, marking the channel which a sound Christology would need to follow.”

48 AE 37 p. 209-210.

49 AE 37 p. 72.

50 WA 3 124, 37f. As quoted in Herman Sasse’s This is My Body p. 93.

51 Herman Sasse We Confess the Sacraments CPH St. Louis 1985 p. 26.

52 Both Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar were foreshadowed in the Great Deliverance, the Baptism in the Red Sea and the Passover meal and subsequent bread from heaven which sustained them in the wilderness before their descendants were brought into the promised land. The ancient church incorporated this beautiful picture into the Easter Vigil service. After the catechumens were baptized and then brought into the nave of the church they were given milk and honey, they entered the promised land! They then received the Holy Communion, the bread of life. In my experience, one must celebrate the Easter Vigil for a number of years to fully begin to realize the fullness of this service, how it draws together into one service the great deliverance of the old Testament and how it foreshadows the ultimate deliverance of the new.

53 The Lamb that was slain - perfect tense - from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13.8) See also, Gal. 3.1.

54 “Therefore the Mass is not a satisfaction, but a promise and Sacrament that require faith.” AP XXIV 90 p. 415.

55 AP XXIV 56 p. 403.

56 Ministry, Word, and Sacraments, An Enchiridion CPH St. Louis 1981 p. 127.

57 AE 35 p. 106.

58 “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works (as opposed to the NIV’s “acts that lead to death” cf. Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly Vol. 79, 1 p. 56) so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant (diaqhkh), that those who are called may receive the promised inheritance - now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant,” Hebrews 9:11-14.

59 This is the proper call of our pastors. Here we confess what the ministry of the Word is “We teach that the sacrifice of Christ dying on the cross has been sufficient for the sins of the whole world, and that there is no need, besides, of other sacrifices, as though this were not sufficient for our sins. Men, accordingly, are justified not because of any other sacrifices, but because of this one sacrifice of Christ, if they believe that they have been redeemed by this sacrifice. They are accordingly called priests (what the Lutheran pastors were still called at the time of the Reformation), not in order to make any sacrifices for the people as in the Law, so that by these they may merit remission of sins for the people; but they are called to teach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments to the people.” AP XIII 8-9 p. 311.

60 “For in it the sum of the whole Gospel is contained, as Paul says, “for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death [1 Cor. 11.26]…For if you ask, What is the Gospel? you can give no better answer than these words of the New Testament, namely, that Christ gave his body and poured out his blood for the forgiveness of sin.” AE 36 p. 183.

61 “That, we say, is verily the treasure, and nothing else, through which such forgiveness is obtained… For here in the Sacrament you are to receive from the lips of Christ forgiveness of sin, which contains and brings with it the grace of God and the Spirit with all His gifts, protection, shelter, power against death and the devil and all misfortune.” AE 35 p. 106.

62 Some have suggested that this occasion, this all night service was a vigil, an Easter vigil service. The time and setting are right.

63 AP XXIV 80-81 p. 411.

64 AC XXIV 5 p. 65.

65 Perhaps the most neglected aspect is the music of the liturgy. Vernon Kleinig in his “Lutheran Liturgies from Martin Luther to Wilhelm Löhe” writes, “Bach gives musical statement to what he found in Luther: true theology is doxology.” CTQ Vol. 62 No. 2 p. 142. Music, too (especially), is not a simple and indifferent matter of taste.

66 Even as far back as 1943 this could be stated publicly in the WELS. Frederic Blume wrote in an essay “Worship in the New Testament” “If in worship the nearness of God is felt to be very real, then the Lord’s Supper is indeed a climax in Christian worship,” Theologische Quartalschrift Jahrgang 40 Nummer 1 p. 48.

67 After Luther’s Deutsche Messe (German Mass) was celebrated Dr. Luther said to the congregation “the Mass is as you know the most important public office (Hauptgottesdienst) prescribed for the comfort of the Christian.” As quoted in Concordia Theological Quarterly Vol. 62 No. 2 “Liturgies from Luther to Löehe” Vernon Kleinig p. 133.

68 Christian Worship Manual NPH Milwaukee 1993 p. 44. Loehe concludes this by saying “God be merciful to you and supplant our lukewarmness with heavenly earnestness. Amen.” Amen. Liturgy for Christian Congregations of the Lutheran Faith, trans. F.C. Longaker, 1902. Reprinted 1997 Repristination Press.

69 LC V 31 p. 759.

70 Smalcald Articles Part III Art. X 10 p. 497.

71 This is not to be confused with the other use of the word “use” of which our Confessions speak, the so called “Nihil Rule” “Nihil habet rationem sacramenti extra usum a Christo institutum” “Nothing has the nature of a sacrament apart from the use instituted by Christ” or “extra actionem divinitus institutam” “apart from the action divinely instituted.” This outside of which, but within which we have a valid Sacrament is the consecration, or the words of institution, the distribution and reception, or the eating and drinking. The “use” the Confessions speak of is not simply the eating and drinking or the reception, as some receptionists claim.

72 AE 53 p. 25n. See also AE 37 p. 193 “In the same way I carefully wrote against the heavenly prophets that the fact of Christ’s suffering and the use of it are not the same thing (factum et applicatio facti, seu factum et usus facti). The passion of Christ occurred but once on the cross. But whom would it benefit if it were not distributed, applied and put to use? And how could it be put to use and distributed except through Word and Sacrament.”

73 Sermons of Martin Luther, John Lenker, editor, Baker, Grand Rapids 1988 Vol. II p. 203.

74 ibid. p. 232f.

75 One often hears calls for pushing back the age of confirmation so that the confirmands might better be grounded, I assume, so that we do not lose them. However, should we not push forward the age that a child may commune so that he may be more firmly grounded in the Sacrament life? - the practice of the early and Reformation church.

76 Many a heresy has had its inception not in open contradiction of Scripture, but in a misplaced emphasis.

77 SC Preface 22 p. 537.

78 ibid., 23 p. 537. So much for the old saw about Luther recommending one commune 4 times a year. This misunderstanding is perpetuated by such a scholar as Theodore Tappert who said that “Luther recommended that, instead of once a year, people commune three or four times a year” as he cites the Small Catechism reference. Meaning and Practice of the Lord’s Supper, Editor Helmut Lehmann, Muhlenberg, Philadelphia. 1961 p. 100.

79 Ibid. 23 p. 537.

80 Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology Vol. III No. 3 p. 73.

81 AE 38 p. 125.

82 As Luther so aptly defines “God” in the Large Catechism “a god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the whole heart.” LC I 2 p. 581.

83 AP III 333 p. 163.

84 AC XXIV 5-9 p. 65.

85 When the blessed Sacrament of Christ’s true body and blood which properly interprets for us his one time sacrificial death as a timeless atonement for sin is received, the faithful participate with fellow saints in the most sublime and heavenly worship. In the Sacrament the triumph song is not so distant for with angels and archangels and the saints who have gone before us we join in the heavenly Trisagion “Holy, Holy, Holy” at this banquet of our Lord. Nowhere closer to Christ, nowhere closer to his mystical body, nowhere closer to the saints arrayed in white. The Communion of the holy saints is confessed in the Communion of the holy things. Does the phrase sanctorum communionem in the Apostles’ Creed refer to the holy ones (m.) or holy things (n.)? Herman Sasse makes a convincing case for the latter. See We Confess the Sacraments pp. 139-157 and This is My Body pp. 351ff.

Pastor Harold Senkbeil writes in Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness (CPH St. Louis 1994 p. 94) that in the Lord’s Supper “we venture into the very courts of heaven.”85 Indeed with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven with all the host, with all the saints, with the grateful dead we are gathered. In the blessed Sacrament the bride of Christ sits at banquet with her host, her Bridegroom. Here by faith we see one Holy Catholic Church united in Christ which by sight we see “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” Dr. Herman Sasse writes, “when the churches of the New Testament gathered around the Table of the Lord and received his true body and blood, they knew that they were one in Christ and with Christ, that they were his body, bound together by a fellowship that did not exist otherwise… This is the Church we believe to be a great reality in the world, although our eyes cannot see it. For as the body of Christ in the Sacrament is hidden to our eyes, so the mystical body is hidden to any earth eye: ‘Abscondita est ecclesia, latent sancti’ as Luther puts it,” This is My Body p. 319.

Much is made of fellowship in our churches. Many a church every Sunday enjoys a “fellowship” break after the service. But a far greater fellowship will we find at the altar. As Luther says in his 1530 “Admonition Concerning the Sacrament,” “you should be quite willing to walk to the end of the world if you knew you would find such a multitude among whom God is praised and gloried and you could thus share in the sacred fellowship.” And then admonishes his hearers: “And here in your city or village, in front of your door, Christ himself is present with his body and blood, with his remembrance, alive to receive praise and glory, and you do not desire to go there and to assist in giving thanks and praise?” AE 38 p. 109, 110 In some Eastern liturgies the celebration of the Sacrament is called “heaven on earth.” Indeed.

86 AE 38 p. 133.

87 AE 38 p. 111f. Luther continues this quote by stating what happens when people despise the sacrament and are so lazy and sluggish in using it “They dishonor God…they despise the remembrance of Christ… they give others a bad, offensive example… and (show) shameful and damnable ingratitude toward Christ.” p. 112f.

88 From the communion hymn “I Come, O Savior to Your Table.”

89 Dr. Luther uses the analogy of a wolf devouring a sheep and the sheep proved to be so powerful a food that it transformed the wolf into a sheep. Christ’s sacrificed body and blood transforms us. AE 37 p. 101.

90 In his essay on Pietism Prof. Wendland (Our Great Heritage Vol III NPH Milwaukee 1991) speaks of the legalistic bent, still spooking about, of pietism once seen in our circles, “Card playing, dancing, theater-going etc., was vigorously condemned as inherently sinful.” Oddly enough we have somewhat overcome pietism’s devastating influences in regards to card playing, dancing and theater going, but not in regards to private confession and the Sacrament. Lamenting the lack of piety often leads people to turn to pietism and its emphasis on Christus in nobis as opposed to Christus pro nobis which is the solution.

91 Sermons of Martin Luther Editor, John Lenker, Vol. II p. 208f.

92 I learned recently that in the Russian language the word for “Sunday” is the word for resurrection. Interesting too is that the acronym “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior,” in Greek icqus, the word for fish was most likely a first century symbol for the Eucharist. In his post resurrection appearances the Lord broke bread with his disciples and did the same with the fish (John 21).

93 As one writer put it so cleverly “Every Sunday is a little Easter, every Easter is big Sunday.”

94 I was told once that the claim of an every Sunday Sacrament in the Reformation church was a dubious claim. As “proof” a church order which had a provision for a service without the Sacrament. Indeed, if there were no communicants, there was no Sacrament in the Lutheran church. However, this was not the plan for the service although the “contingency” plan was put in for such occasion, the service would end, but, in a number of church orders at this point an “admonition” was read to the congregation against despising the Sacrament! Cf. Kurt Marquart The Lord’s Supper, Divine Service Institute Tape. Concordia Catechetical Academy, Sussex, WI. Ah, the “file drawer problem.” To paraphrase Marquart, something is missing at the bottom of page 20 in Christian Worship. Practical reasons more than anything led to infrequent communions. Evangelical pastors were in short supply and instruction of the laity in regards to the sacrament was sorely needed due to priestly incompetence. People needed instruction and examination. Still, people did not flock to the altar as was hoped, old habits die hard.

95 To turn the Sacrament into something we “do,” as if we were doing something for God is “to defile the Gospel, to corrupt the use of the Sacraments.” AP XXIV 91 p. 415.

96 Rev. David Jay Webber drew my attention to the rubric at the bottom of p. 20 of Christian Worship “When there is no communion…” The rubric of 16th century church orders (as the Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary) would have been “when there are no communicants…” Admonition to follow.

97 “No one should by any means be coerced or compelled lest we institute a new murdering of souls. Nevertheless, it must be known that such people as deprive themselves of, and withdraw from the Sacrament so long a time are not to be considered Christians. For Christ has not instituted it to be treated as a show, but has commanded His Christians to eat and drink it, and thereby remember Him.” LC V 42 p. 763

98 Martin Chemnitz Ministry, Word and Sacrament, An Enchiridion CPH St. Louis, 1981 p. 128

99 “What Does it Mean to Be Evangelical Lutheran in Worship” David Valleskey 1996 National Worship Conference.

100 SC Preface 22 p. 537.

101 LC V 41, 49 pp. 763 – 765.

102 “Put their hand into their bosom to ascertain whether they also have flesh and blood.” Then Luther refers you to the works of the flesh, Galatians 5.19ff. LC V 75 p. 771.

103 “If you find that you are so utterly insensitive that you do not feel sin, death, etc., take hold of your mouth, nose, ears, hands and feel whether they are flesh or stone. If they are flesh, very well, then at least believe the Scripture, if you cannot trust your feelings. For Scripture says: ‘The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit’ [Galatians 5:17], also, Romans 7, ‘Nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh,’ and so forth… For that reason, so long as I have flesh, it is of course necessary for me to go to the sacrament to strengthen my faith and spirit against he flesh which is opposed to my spirit. Scripture is not lying to you, but your feeling and your lack of feelings are deceiving you.

“If you do not feel the world, look around yourself and see whether you are not living among people where you see, hear and encounter murder, adultery, robbery, error, heresy, persecution, and all kinds of vices. When you see this, then believe the Scripture which says: ‘Let him who stands take heed lest he fall’ [1 Cor. 10:12]. For under such circumstances you, too, can fall at any time… Therefore, as long as I am in the world, I need to go to the sacrament so that I might cling to my Savior and strengthen my faith.

“If you do not feel death, go to the charnel-house (mortuary) and the graves in the churchyard, or believe the Scripture which says: ‘It is appointed for me to die once’ [Hebrews 9:27]. Then you will find that you are not yet bodily in heaven, but that you face death and your grave awaits you amid the other graces, and you are not safe for one moment… As long as I am living, it is necessary for me to go to the sacrament in order to strengthen my faith so that death - in case it comes swiftly - may not scare me and cause me to despair.

“If you do not feel the devil, how he can drive you to unbelief, despair, blasphemy and hatred of God, believe Scripture, which shows us how he has by such means plagued Job, David, St. Paul, and many others, and can also plague you… For this reason I must go to the sacrament and hold to my dear Helper and Savior so that my faith and faith may be strengthened daily and the devil may not impale me with his spear or kill me with his fiery, poisoned arrows.” AE 38 p. 129-130.

104 Martin Luther The Works of Martin Luther Vol. VI Muhlenberg, Philadelphia 1932 p. 63.

105 I was told of a congregation where a number of communicants (not just one or two) desired the Sacrament on a major feast of the church, and were refused in advance of the service. That pastor/church should be reminded of our confession “also on other days, when it is given to such as ask for it.” ACXXIV 34-35.

106 This, by the way, in not a call for all sorts of private communions. Private communions are the exception, for the infirm or elderly or other unusual circumstances. The Sacrament is not a private affair, but a communal meal that has been given the church and for the church . “The fact that we hold only Public or Common Mass [at which the people also commune, not Private Mass] is no offense against the Church catholic.” AP XXIV 6 p. 385 This passage does not speak against the “private” communion of those unable to attend public services, the infirm and elderly, but about the private, communicant-less masses of the Roman church. However, the mass, communion, when celebrated ought be open to all who desire the Sacrament. One is shocked to hear of the unconfessional practice of offering only the bride and groom the sacrament at weddings. Communion is not a private or family affair.

107 LC V 30 p. 759.

108 AE 38 p. 98.

109 As F.R. Webber writes “Who would advocate four to six sermons a year, lest the people lost respect for the preaching of the Word?” Studies in the Liturgy, Ashby, Erie PA, 1938 p. 206.

110 My father tells me that my grandmother said that if one went to the Lord’s table too often in her day you were considered “pushy.” An elderly woman told me in a Bible class that if you had been to the dance hall that week you would not dare go to the Sacrament. Other elderly members present nodded in agreement.

111 The Apology (XXIV 1) says that “The Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved.” Some misunderstanding has arisen over the frequency of this. In a day when there was little instruction this was very necessary. However, this is not to imply that examination was required before every communion. Dr. Luther himself in his 1523 “An Order of Mass and Communion” wrote, “But I think it enough for the applicants for communion to be examined and explored once a year. Indeed, a man may be so understanding that he needs to be questioned only once in his lifetime or not at all.” (AE 53 p. 33) The examination would be of the manner of the communicant’s life, the reason for their faith, there would be questions about the proprium et beneficium of the Sacrament, and one would be asked to repeat from memory the Words of Institution.

112 The role of table fellowship is the subject of a wonderful book by Dr. Arthur Just The Ongoing Feast (Pueblo, Collegeville MN 1993) in which he discusses the table fellowship in Luke’s Gospel.

113 Dr. Chemnitz reminds us “This food is prepared and intended especially for sinners.” op. cit. p. 130.

114 Prof. Kurt Marquart’s quip in The Lord’s Supper Concordia Catechetical Academy tape Sussex, WI.

115 Here I am speaking primarily of private absolution, the private and individual absolution. Also called private confession. We Lutherans emphasize the absolution part of “confession.” Of course the Lutheran church maintains that “it would be wicked to remove private absolution from the Churches” (AP XII 100 p. 281). Reactionary and uninformed anti-Catholicism has prevented us from seriously considering an active practice of private confession and absolution. This too was one of the criticism of pietism against the Lutheranism of its day. The confessional chair was said to be the “devil’s chair.” Cf. Our Great Heritage Vol III NPH Milwaukee 1991 p. 174. See also “Liturgical Renewal in the Parish” by Dr. Arthur Just in Lutheran Worship History and Practice CPH St. Louis 1993 p. 21ff.

116 As Ambrose says “because I always sin, I am always bound to take the medicine.” AP XXIV 33 p. 67.

117 See Seigbert Becker’s treatment of this thought in Luther in Foolishness of God NPH Milwaukee 1982 p. 139-145.

118 AE 53 p. 118. Herman Sasse reminds us that for the reformation church that “it can never come to that tearing apart of ‘sign’ and ‘thing’ signum et res that since Berengar, Wycliff, the radical Hussites, the Devotio Moderna in the Netherlands, the Humanists, Zwingli, and Calvin has reduced the sacrament to being only a sign of grace. Under the pressure of such spiritualizing Luther more and more stepped back from the conventional word sign, which was much beloved in the theology of the Middle Ages. He was profoundly aware that the sacrament has another side the ‘eternal thing’ which the Enthusiasts scorned (LC IV 7), the ‘gross, external mask’ the outward form.” We Confess the Sacraments p. 16 Sasse reminds us that “Luther distinguished between a philosophical sign which denotes something that is absent and a theological sign, which denotes something present.” This Is My Body p. 90. The use of the word sign however is vulnerable to Zwinglian symbolism and neo-Platonistic consubstantiation.

119 I like Luther’s answer to foolish “hypothetical” questions, in answering the question as to whether Christ communed at the first Lord’s Supper, which Luther believed he did. “What if Christ did not drink at his Supper, but only the disciples?” I reply: What if a fool can ask more questions than ten wise men can answer.” AE 37 p. 317.

120 Try suggesting that taking the offering too often will lead people to take it for granted.

121 As noted in Professor Kurt Marquart’s The Lord’s Supper tape from the Concordia Catechetical Academy. Sussex, WI.

122 In my last congregation where we rotated common cup, individual cup, some who once avoided the common cup like the plague began to commune when the cup was offered. Oh, about that cup. Dr. Luther wrote in his 1527 “Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague” the deadly plague being the Black Death, the bubonic plague, gave this advice to the Wittenbergers who stayed behind when that city was struck “everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight.” AE 43 p. 134.

123 Our Great Heritage Vol III NPH Milwaukee 1991 p. 182 “The Lutheran Order of Service began to be regarded as an ossified relic of Pre-Reformation times, a legalistic straight jacket which through its prescribed prayers impeded the free outpouring of a devout heart. The ex corde prayer took precedence over the liturgical prayer. Sentimental Gospel hymns replaced the confessional Lutheran hymn. Private confession and particularly absolution by the pastor was bitterly opposed, since it was claimed to presuppose a judgment as to the true repentance of an individual. ‘The confessional chair is the devil’s chair,’ it was declared. Meetings of smaller Bible study and prayer meeting groups were encouraged as a leaven of the truly sanctified and a means of gaining more ‘truly converted’ souls, which resulted in a neglect of the importance of the regular service of worship.” p. 174.

124 Erling Teigen Logia Vol. II No. 4 “Confessional Lutheranism vs. Philippistic Conservatism” p. 33. Please do not interpret this as an endorsement of a liturgy du jour or a condemnation of every poor soul who objects “we’ve never done it this way” as Pharisaic legalism, but a reminder to check all we do against our confessional understanding of Scripture. In regards to liturgical innovation Luther as he cautiously introduced the Deutsche Messe cautioned about new liturgies “Some have the best intentions, but others have no more than an itch to produce something novel so that they might shine before men as leading lights, rather than being ordinary teachers... While the exercise of this freedom is up to everyone’s conscience and must not be cramped or forbidden, nevertheless, we must make sure that freedom shall be and remain a servant of love and of our fellow-man.” AE 53 p. 61. Vernon Kleinig in his “Lutheran Liturgies from Martin Luther to Wilhelm Löhe” writes that “Herman Sasse often claimed that it was the Lutheran liturgy that saved the Faith of the Lutheran Church during the Age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century.” CTQ Vol. 62 No. 2 p. 142.

125 The eschatological dimension of the Sacrament, our communion with the communion of Saints, especially the “alien work” of how this meal sets us apart the Rome and Geneva among other topics must be left unexplored. Teaching its essence marks us off clearly from Protestantism, teaching the benefits from Romanism and Protestantism. This is what is called the “alien” or “strange” work of the Sacrament. Rome, however, is not the enemy for American Lutherans us as it was for the Lutheran church of the sixteenth century. Luther himself recognized that the despisers of the Sacraments posed an even greater danger,, “Yet in the silence of the Wartburg a horror seized (Luther) again and overshadowed the second and more difficult war of the Reformer against his own companions, the Schwaermer and the sectarians.” Rudolf Thiel, Luther Muhlenberg, Philadelphia 1955 p. 485.

A clear teaching on the Sacrament will clearly show the theological distance we ought to keep from Protestantism to whom many in our midst seem attracted because of apparent agreements on many teachings. The core difference lies in our understanding of the Gospel which is evidenced by Protestantism’s rejection of the Sacraments.

126 “I am writing this treatise with diligence complete earnestness, and in a brotherly spirit, as a plea both to myself and to all pastors and preachers that they, together with me, would diligently look after the people whom God has purchased as his possession through the blood of his Son and has called and brought to baptism and into his kingdom. He has entrusted them to us and will demand a strict accounting from us, as we well know. For if we, who have the office and the mandate, are sluggish and lazy in carrying them out, we will have to wait a long time before the people admonish themselves of their own accord and come [to the Lord’s Table], since they hardly come even when we are most persistent in our pleas. For, as has been said, the devil is present with his angels and offers resistance. Even so the people must look to us and hear our word and we contrariwise must not look to them and their behavior. Of what use would the office of preaching and the ministry be if the people could teach and admonish themselves? Christ could just as well have kept it and not purchased it so dearly. And why do we hold such an office if we do not want to carry on with teaching and admonishing? By such conduct we would not be any better, and we might even be worse, than the popes, bishops, clergymen, and monks have been until now.” AE 38 p. 100.

127 Rubrics are red not to be read. The flow of the liturgy is disrupted when these unwelcome intrusion, which, if you ask your lay people, many resent. They can read. C. S. Lewis compared the liturgy to dancing, when the liturgies constantly change you have to continually look where you are going, for you have never been here before, i.e. you are being told how to dance you are not dancing.

128 The most underused aspect of congregational life is the choir as a liturgical choir, especially, who, after communing first may quietly sing hymns or chorales to aid the about to and just communicated member and to edify the not yet ready catechumens.

129 Not being the sharpest tool in the shed I have been unable to fashion a bulletin announcement which can fully, in love, explain the Sacrament of the Altar, its institution, its essence and blessings, the doctrine of the church especially the article on her fellowship in a paragraph. I haven’t seen a good one either, most of which are rightly or wrongly interpreted as saying “you aren’t good enough.” If you have a good one please share it with me. Twenty years of thought has produced this one that I use. “If you are not a member of our congregation and would like to join our communion fellowship in the future, please speak to our pastor after the service and he will be delighted to speak with you about what that entails.”

Earlier versions of this essay were delivered at the National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts (sponsored by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod Commission on Worship), July 18-21, 1999, and at a meeting of the WELS Commission on Worship, September 23, 1999.

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