The Lord’s Supper
An LCMS Understanding
In Psalm 16:2 David declares, “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from You I have no good thing.’” This is an astonishing declaration, if we stop and think about it. Every good thing we receive in life, whether physical or spiritual, comes from God, the Father Almighty (see James 1:17). No wonder that Christians have long proclaimed, “Praise be to God from whom all blessings flow.” The One who created us continues to provide for us, body and soul.
One of the most special gifts God has given to Christians comes from His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. This gift is often called the Sacrament of the Altar in the Lutheran Church. In his Small Catechism Martin Luther explains what the Sacrament of the Altar is: “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink.”
For almost two thousand years now Christians have treasured the means of grace that is the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ near the end of His public ministry. In his Small Catechism, Martin notes that the holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul wrote: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”
The Sacrament of the Altar—our Lord’s Supper—is truly a means of grace. Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism asks, and then answers, the question: “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
Luther goes on to address another question that may arise: “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’”
For almost 500 years now the Lutheran Church has believed, taught, and confessed that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace whereby the forgiveness of sins is received by partaking of the real presence of Christ’s holy body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar.
While, on the basis of Scripture, Lutherans have maintained this confession for nearly five centuries, other parts of the Christian church do not agree with our understanding of God’s Word, the Bible. A sad division exists between Christian denominations (churches) with regards to the benefits of the Lord’s Supper. This is something which all Christians should lament, even as we strive to reach a common confession regarding what the Word of God teaches us about the Sacrament of the Altar.
It is not enough that Christians “agree to disagree” about such an important matter as the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is not only a means of grace for the individual Christian, it is also a confession of faith of the denomination (church) to which he or she belongs. Sadly, not only do misunderstandings involving the Lord’s Supper exist between different Christian denominations; such is also the case between various Lutheran denominations as well. Issues such as salvation through Christ alone, the practice of church fellowship, abortion, and God-pleasing human sexuality, just to name a few, increasingly divide even Lutheran denominations.
The state of affairs described above should grieve Christians, including Lutheran Christians. We need to keep in mind what is at stake. The importance of both Christian teaching, and Christian conduct, can be seen in Paul’s letter to Timothy, a young Christian co-worker: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church is a member congregation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). The LCMS is an evangelical, confessional church body made up of thousands of congregations throughout the United States. The LCMS proclaims that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, through grace alone, on the basis of Scripture alone. (More of what we believe, teach, and confess is found in the Book of Concord.) It is in light of all of this, that we eagerly and humbly approach our Savior’s table.
What a good and gracious God and Savior we have; One who has prepared a feast for us! May He grant that we weary sinners may never be guilty of despising the sacrament, but receive it frequently with blessing!