During this Lenten season, we have focused our meditation upon the salutary gift of our Lord’s body and blood. The Lord’s Supper is a life-giving fruit, giving eternal life to the one who eats it in faith. It is “bread from heaven,” nourishing and strengthening the new man for his journey toward the heavenly promised land. It is a healing balm and medicine for the soul, an extension of Jesus’ ministry of healing into the here and now.
Tonight we continue our meditation upon the benefits of the Lord’s Supper, focusing our attention on the blest communion that we enjoy in this Holy Meal. Luther’s great Communion hymn, O Lord, We Praise Thee – which we sang as our opening hymn this evening – confesses this truth in the third stanza: “May God bestow on us His grace and favor That we follow Christ our Savior And live together here in love and union Nor despise this blest Communion! O Lord, have mercy!” (LSB 617:3)
Luther’s hymn, along with the Scripture readings tonight, remind us that the Lord’s Supper is a communion or participation with Jesus and with one another. Hear once again those words of St. Paul: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).
The word Paul uses here is κοινωνία. It is translated in different ways into English. Usually it is translated as “fellowship” or “participation” or even “communion.” St. Paul is teaching the Christians in Corinth that through the Lord’s Supper they have union and fellowship with the body and blood of Jesus.
The same word is used in the Book of Acts, where the first Christians are described as devoting themselves steadfastly to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, “to the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42). This tells us quite plainly what the early Christians were doing – they were celebrating Holy Communion! They were celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
What a blessed gift! Through the means of bread and wine, Christians came into contact with the very Son of God Himself. You have union with Jesus in a way that we do not have anywhere else in this world. For the one who believes the words of Jesus, this is a very good thing. Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, shares His holiness with those who commune.
Why is this so good? Because in and of ourselves, we are certainly not holy. With repentant hearts, we confess that we are unholy and unclean sinners. By our κοινωνία, our fellowship with Adam and his unholy nature, we ourselves are made unholy. Our unclean thoughts, words and actions make us unacceptable in God’s sight.
Jesus identifies the source of this unholiness when He says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). So it should cause us great joy to hear that we unholy people can share in Jesus’ holiness through participation in His holy things – namely, His body and blood in the Sacrament. Here at the altar He invites us to enjoy a blest Communion with Him.
There is another dimension to this idea of “communion” or “fellowship.” There is another union that takes place in the Lord’s Supper. It is first and foremost a union of the believer with Jesus. But this blest Communion results in another union – that of Christian to Christian. Our readings tonight also remind us that the Lord’s Supper is never merely a “me and Jesus” thing. Though we receive the benefits of the Lord’s Supper individually, it is never a private matter.
When you come to the altar and receive this salutary gift, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, you are also bound and united to those with whom you commune. St. Paul says as much in the next part of his letter to the Corinthians: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (10:17). We who are many, says Paul, become one body in the Lord’s Supper.
Since you are united with Christ, and through Him with another, it goes without saying that you should be united in your confession of faith and reconciled with one another. Division at the Lord’s Table is not pleasing to the Lord. And if you claim to be reconciled with Christ, yet continue to hold onto your grudges and anger toward your fellow Christian brothers and sisters, are you not lying to the Lord?
So it is necessary that those who commune together are also united in faith and doctrine, and that they have no enemies at the Lord’s Table. Christians should be willing to let go of their grievances with their brothers and sisters, or they run the risk of forfeiting their own forgiveness from Christ, as we learn in the parable of the unforgiving servant.
But there is another aspect to the blest Communion with Christ and with one another that our Lord grants in the Lord’s Supper that we have yet to speak about. Have you ever paid close attention to the words of the Communion liturgy? “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying …” (LSB Proper Preface).
These words remind us that we are, as proclaimed in Hebrews chapter 12, “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” when we are gathered at the Lord’s altar. Your departed loved ones who have fallen asleep in the Lord are part of that “whole company of heaven.” They are among those who have joined the Church Triumphant and are with Christ.
In the Lord’s Supper, you have fellowship not only with Christ and with one another but also with these unseen saints. In the great hymn For All the Saints we confess: “Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.” What comfort there is in knowing that we have union with our Lord Jesus Christ and with the whole company of heaven!
In this “blest Communion” of Christ’s body and blood, our Lord answers a need that all Christians share: the need to have fellowship with God and with one another. Nowhere does this happen in such a way as it does at the Lord’s altar, where Christians are joined to Christ through His body and blood, and where “we who are many” are made “one body” with Christ. May we never despise this blest Communion – but rejoice in it! Amen.
Note: This sermon has been adapted from The Salutary Gift, a sermon series published by Concordia Publishing House.