Saturday, March 26, 2016
Backwards and forwards. . . in the Holy Supper
The truth is that we are heirs of a flawed tradition. Our most recent Lutheran forbears came to see the Sacrament of the Altar as an add-on to the Word, an occasional extra. They taught it to our grandparents and parents and, if you are my age, they taught it to you. I grew up first with a four times a year Holy Communion and then monthly as did many of you. Boy did they get it wrong!
Luther and our first fathers of the Reformation understood it correctly. Our Confessions faithfully spoke of this wonderful sacrament (which we just prayed about in the Collect). Our Lord bequeathed to us this Sacrament as His highest gift – what He called His solemn testament. All that went before is remembered here and all that is to come is prefigured here. Here in this Sacramental eating and drinking of His flesh and blood, we remember yesterday and anticipate our eternal tomorrow, all in the flesh and blood of Christ.
All that went before, reaching backward in time to the earliest of days, is manifest right here. Here is Jesus’ blood, the blood that gave the blood of goats and bulls its power to forgive sins. The whole sacrificial system of the temple looked forward to and was dependent upon Jesus once for all sacrifice of His flesh and blood on the altar of the cross. Every Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement prefigured what we have right here.
Jesus’ body is the Passover Lamb that once symbolized more than it was but now is the real food of Christ’s flesh. Everything in the Passover looked forward to Christ and here in this Sacrament we recall that Passover and see it fulfilled in Christ the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Here in this communion we receive bread from heaven – not the fragile and perishable manna God once provided in the wilderness but the full manna from heaven that the miracle bread of old prefigured. Here in the wilderness of sin does Christ set His table and feed us His flesh, the living manna from heaven that imparts eternal life and satisfies our hunger.
Just as this meal fulfills all that went before, so does this meal anticipate the hidden future that is in Christ. The future prepared for us, the marriage supper of the Lamb in His kingdom without end – this is what we eat. This is the foretaste of the feast to come.
Here is His blood that cleanses us from all sin and we are given this blood to drink that Christ may be in us and cleanse us and we may be in Him. Here He gives us His crucified and risen flesh in which we taste our future, our own joyful resurrection and reunion. This is the foretaste, the appetizer, for the promised future, the main course God prepared for us.
Here is tomorrow’s bread for which we pray in the Our Father – not a bite of food which will need to be replenished another day but the eternal food of an eternal people in Christ. Here is our future, here is our communion with those who have gone before us and rest from their labors, here are saints and angels, archangels and all the heavenly host. Here we taste our future and in tasting are strengthened for today.
We don’t eat signs and symbols. We eat real food and we drink real drink. Christ’s flesh and blood are real food and real drink for a people who need to be connected to God’s saving acts in the past and sealed for the future He has prepared.
Come, les us eat the real food that ties us in real time to the temple sacrifices of old, to the Passover Lamb, and to the wilderness manna from heaven. Come let us eat the future that is already but not yet of our own joyful resurrection, of perfect righteousness to cover all our sins, and of an eternal home and dwelling place, the wedding feast of Christ and His bride the Church.
Symbols have no power but the power we give them. They cannot connect us to the past or to the hidden future we believe but do not yet see. Only real flesh and real blood, with power to bestow real forgiveness upon real sinner, with real life now and real life triumphant over death, and with real salvation that is not our hope but our confidence. Christ has hidden Himself in the bread and wine of this Supper, a presence that is seen not with eyes but with faith. This presence looks backward in time and brings the past to fulfillment and forward to eternity to anticipate what is to come. That is what your Holy Communion is now and forever. Amen.
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I can bear my own witness that, many and many a Sabbath, when I have found but little food for my soul elsewhere, I have found it at the communion table. – “In Remembrance” – Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit for 1909, 55, pg 71
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