Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Lord’s Supper—simple, yet profound

Midweek in Lent5
March 16, 2016
In a few days Holy Week will begin. The season of Lent has us pondering the Passion of Our Lord for six weeks in preparation for Holy Week and our celebration of Easter. Nowhere is the Gospel more simply shown than in Holy Week and Easter. And nowhere is the Gospel more profoundly expressed than in Holy Week and Easter.

For six weeks we have seen how the Gospel is both simple and profound. Jesus died for the sin of the world. Salvation is in Him, it’s simple. But the nature of the Gospel as simple in now way means it is simplistic. It is, rather, profound, God making known our need through the Law, making known how He meets our need in the Gospel, granting us the invitation to pray to Him in all our needs, blessing us eternally in Baptism, and nurturing us in Absolution.

God can never just give us simple Gospel. He must abundantly give. That’s why He gives His Gospel—forgiveness, life, and salvation—in His Sacraments as well as the proclamation. The Gospel is the same, whether given through Baptism, Absolution, proclamation, or the Lord’s Supper. But we gain abundant blessings through receiving the Gospel in these various ways. We have seen how this happens in Baptism and Absolution. As we come to the close of our look at the Gospel in its simplicity and its profoundness, it is appropriate that we conclude with the Sacrament of the Altar.

In this Sacrament, in which our Lord gives us His body and blood, we see the utter simplicity by which our Lord works and the amazing profoundness of His work of forgiving us. While for eternal salvation nothing more is needed than simple faith in the simple Gospel, everything given by God, beginning in Baptism, continuing in Absolution and proclamation, comes to fulfillment in the Lord’s Supper.

Just as the Lord came to earth in a simple way, being born of a virgin, coming as a baby, so when He comes to us here and now it is in simplicity, in ordinary bread and wine. Our Lord came to us personally in simple water in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Even now, we see that just as He used ordinary water, He uses ordinary bread and wine to come to us. And in the simple speaking of words as the pastor pronounces Absolution, we are forgiven our sins. So in the Lord’s Supper the Word of Christ is spoken and we are forgiven. And we hear the Word of God proclaimed, our Lord continuing to come to us through the proclamation. In the Lord’s Supper, as well, there is a proclamation, of the death of the Lord for the forgiveness of sins.

And yet, simple as it was, our Lord coming as a baby, it was profound, God residing on earth in the flesh. Who can comprehend this? The creator of the heavens and the earth was cuddled up in His mother’s arms. The Savior of the world was being fed and nurtured by His mother. In Baptism there’s not simply water being applied to the person being Baptized, there is a deep profoundness happening in that Sacrament. The one being Baptized is brought to death in their sinful flesh and raised up to new and eternal life, raised up in Christ’s resurrection. When the words of the pastor of Absolution and proclamation strike the ear of the Christian, not only is the mind taking in what is said, but the words strike the heart as well. The Christian hearing those words is not simply reminded of God’s love but is actually being forgiven by the Holy Spirit working through those words.

These actions of God show how much we need forgiveness. As we live, we are forgiven. But we get weak. We struggle. We forget, we fail, we continue to sin. We sometimes don’t trust God completely. We might think that all we need is to be forgiven and then we’re good to go. But we’re not good to go. We don’t always live as if we’re forgiven. We don’t always live as if all we need is what God gives to us, no matter whether it seems we have all we need or not.

Our God is always more ready to give than we to receive. He always gives in abundant mercy, more than we are ready to ask. In our need, in our weakness, in our struggle against temptation and sin, He gives us a meal. To strengthen us, to nourish us, to forgive us. This simple meal, bread and wine, the Word of Christ, is given to us to forgive us. Yet this simple meal is so profound that we could never understand what is going on according to reason. When we are receiving the bread and wine we are also receiving much more. The body and blood of Christ is the true gift in the Sacrament.

When you get Christ you get it all. And there is no greater way to get Christ than to get Him straight into your mouth. How Jesus’ body and blood are actually present in this simple bread and wine we leave to Him. We simply cannot understand it. It is given to us simply to believe Him and rejoice in Him coming to us in such an amazing way. When you are weary and heavy-laden, He will give you rest. He will give you Himself, His body given for you; His blood shed for you.

When Mary conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, a journey began. God was now in the flesh. That little person inside Mary’s womb began to form cells and nerves and veins. Flesh began to form. Blood began to course through His veins. In nine months He was born and those little toes wiggled, the little mouth breathed, the little eyes began the process of seeing around His little world clearly.

As a baby Jesus wasn’t aware of what would happen to the flesh that wrapped around His skeleton and organs. He did not know what was in store for the blood that was flowing inside of Himself. No, that came later on when He grew in wisdom and stature. As an adult He was fully aware of who He was, why He had been born, and what He would do. He knew He was God in the flesh and that He would offer that very flesh on the cross as the sacrifice for the sin of the world. He understood fully that His blood would flow out of His body as a pleasing sacrifice to His Father for sinful humankind.

It’s hard to wrap your mind around God being born. It’s even harder to come to terms with God dying. We do not comprehend as well how a person can return to life after being dead. But Jesus is God and He has power over death. The living, resurrected Lord is no longer subject to death. There is no more need for sacrifice. He has accomplished the perfect sacrifice. It is finished, He said.

And yet, He does something amazing. Profound. Almost like He did the first time when He was born of Mary. He does not shed His physical body. Jesus ascended into heaven in bodily form. He will return in the same way He left. In heaven He is worshiped as the Lamb who was slain. His joy and His glory is not to be just the spiritual God. His profound joy and glory is to continue to be in the flesh. And to continue to come to us in the flesh. To give His very body born of Mary and given on the cross to us in His Holy Supper. To give His blood that began coursing through His veins when He was in the womb and that was poured out on the cross to us in His Holy Meal.

It is so simple. God Himself coming in flesh and blood, giving Himself to us to eat and drink. But the profoundness of this defies reason and we must simply rejoice in the glory of it all. It is glory not found in confining God to a simplistic understanding that He loves us, but rather confining Him to the way in which He has promised He would come to us. He has promised to come to us in the bread and wine that are consecrated by His very words that He spoke on the night in which He was betrayed. He took bread and broke it, and gave it to His disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is My body, given for you.” And He took the cup, and having given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Take, drink, this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”

You need the Gospel. You need forgiveness. You need strength. You need rest. This is what God is all about. Giving you these things in the Gospel. It is rather quite simple. We should never make it harder than what it is. In fact, we shouldn’t make it hard at all. Because it isn’t. It is the opposite. It is the simplest thing in the world. He accomplished your salvation, He forgives you, and He will bring you to heaven. There is nothing you can or should do. He works repentance in you and forgives you. And in His Sacraments He gives you more forgiveness. He strengthens you more and more. The simple and profound love of God given to you in His Son through Word, water, and bread and wine. Amen.


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