What do Lutherans believe about Communion?
Posted on February 8th, 2020 by Eli Thomas in Know Christ
Have you ever been to a church and either watched or participated as they celebrate the last supper? Maybe it seemed different than the way you grew up with it, or maybe you have forgotten exactly what it means. As a member of the LCMS, Christ Community practices Communion with a specific set of beliefs. Keep reading to find out more!
In the gospels, we read about Jesus celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples. This meal that they were sharing was a celebration of the Jewish festival of the Passover. Each year in the Spring, the people of Judah would celebrate the night that God spared them from the worst plague poured out upon Pharaoh during their captivity in Egypt. The entire story can be read beginning in Exodus 1, but in short, God heard the cries of his people in their slavery and sent Moses to intercede with Pharaoh on their behalf. When Pharaoh refused God’s demand that he let the people go, God sent plagues upon all Egypt, When Pharaoh still would not heed the word of God, the final, and worst, plague struck the land. In Exodus 12 we read about the angel of death who would sweep the land killing the firstborn of all the families.
It is always fascinating to see how God works in our lives. When reading the account it seems like God is unable to direct the angel he sends and so has to provide a special way to save the firstborn of the Hebrew people. In reality, the actions that God directs them to take binds them more firmly as His people, involving them in the salvation that he will pour out for them and also answering the question “what does this say about Jesus.” The Hebrew people are directed to slaughter a perfect lamb (a sign pointing to Jesus) and place the blood on the doorframes. When the angel of death comes, he will see this sign and PASSOVER the house, sparing all inside. This foreshadows the sacrifice that Jesus will make when he is put to death at the hands of the Hebrews and death passes over all who believe.
This act by God is celebrated for all the generations after and it is this meal the Jesus is eating with his disciples when he institutes the Last Supper. On the night when Jesus is betrayed and taken to the cross, he takes bread and wine, blesses it and gives it to his disciples with the words “this is my body” and “this is my blood” which is given for the forgiveness of sins.
Recognizing the power in that moment, we continue to celebrate this meal as Jesus started it, gathering together around the table to eat and drink in remembrance of the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf.
Many churches teach that this is all the Communion is, simply a remembrance of the work that Christ did on the cross, that the meal is symbolic in nature only, but this isn’t what Scripture says. In the 16th Century, Martin Luther is mentioned at a meal with Ulrich Zwingli, another reformer who was a contemporary of Luther from Switzerland. Luther is described as taking chalk and writing on the table “This is my body” and then covering it with the table cloth. Why is this important? It reminds us that Jesus at the Last Supper used those same words- this IS my body. It is not a representation that we receive at the Lord’s Table but instead, somehow, it is the true presence of Christ. Though we cannot explain it, Jesus is present- in, with, and under the bread and the wine. They retain their look and taste, it is still bread and wine, but in a great mystery of heaven, Jesus is there. Just as God promised to dwell among the Israelites in the Tabernacle, resting on the Mercy Seat on top of the Ark, promising to meet with the people, so too in the bread and the wine God comes to meet with us. What a great gift Christ has given to us, his very presence in what we eat and drink.
In addition to remembering his sacrifice and receiving his true presence, one more thing occurs at Communion and that is a declaration of the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 11:26 says: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” When you come to the table of the Lord to receive the bread and the wine you make a declaration of faith- you proclaim Jesus’ death on the cross for the sins of humanity, declaring that one day he will return as he has promised to put right what is broken. Eating and drinking proclaims the promises of God.
One final note, 1 Corinthians 11:27 goes on to say: “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” What does it mean, “unworthy manner?” How can eating and drinking be sinning against the body and the blood? Coming to the table and not believing that Christ is present denies the reality of him in your life. It says that what Christ has declared regarding his body and blood is not real or valid. It is a lack of trust in God to make real what he has said. Also, to come to the table with unconfessed sin means trying to gain forgiveness without repenting. In the eating and the drinking Christ pours out his forgiveness on us for our sins. Before we come forward we need to confess our sins to God, coming only when our hearts are clear before Him who is the author of our salvation.
So what do Lutherans believe about Communion? That Christ comes to meet with us in the bread and the wine, forgiving us for our sins, and restoring us to our proper place in God’s family. Look forward to these moments because though Christ meets with us when we read and pray, this is a moment when we get to see him physically present.