Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The Presence or The Absence
Such is the sarcasm and contempt of Luther for those who distance themselves from the Table of the Lord. We might well condemn Luther's words for being excessively harsh and hardly the winsome way to restore those who have fallen away. I daresay that you will not find any mention of this quote in those books that talk about how we might reclaim the lost. But this is a truth too often sidestepped in our day of niceties and politeness and so the point of his words is also lost on us. The Sacrament of the Altar is not an extra or an addendum to the spiritual life and piety of the Christ but part of its very essence and core.
The vast majority of books on piety are written by non-Lutherans and even those written by Lutherans tend to direct the devotional point to the Word alone and not the Sacrament. As such, we Lutherans have learned that the Sacrament is a little extra but not an essential ingredient to our spiritual identities and lives as Christian people. This is to our great loss and not without serious consequence.
The vacuum created when the Lord's Supper is absent from our piety and devotional life will, of necessity, be filled with something else. If not the Sacrament, then prayer or feelings or a spirituality divorced from the means of grace. In the end, we will find ourselves victims of the success of the evangelical publishing industry that churns out books as fast as it can. More and more our faith will begin to resemble that which feeds it (the devotional literature of evangelicalism). If we begin with a weak tie to the Sacrament of the Altar,the strong influence of popular evangelical literature will distance the Sacrament even further from our daily thoughts, prayers, and lives. It is then easier and easier to miss the Sacrament without thinking we are missing anything at all.
Let me illustrate. In a group of Lutheran lay folk I once asked how many had read the then popular Left Behind series and two thirds of the hands went up. I asked the same group who had read the Small Catechism since they were confirmed and only a couple of hands went up. A few years later I repeated the question but inserted the then popular The Purpose Driven Life with pretty much the same results.
It is true, as Luther said, we should receive when we are "impelled by hunger and thirst therefor"; but this hunger and thirst will come as we receive, and the more we receive, the more we will hunger and thirst. If we urge our people to read the Bible daily, if we insist that they attend church every Sunday, why then should we not insist that they come to Holy Communion? [von Schenk]
"Negligence of the Sacrament I call treating the Lord's Supper with contempt. If you wish such liberty, then take even a little more and cease to be a Christian, then you need not believe or pray-for one is as much Christ's commandment as the other!" Negligence is not only staying home when the Sacrament is offered, it is also ignoring the means of grace and building personal piety and devotional life upon another foundation. As biting as Luther's words are, we need to hear them....