Midweek Lenten Service
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
“Twenty Questions, One Answer: Go to the Sacrament Frequently”
Tonight we conclude our five-part series on the Sacrament of the Altar. So far we have followed the outline Luther uses for the Sacrament of the Altar in the Small Catechism: the Nature of the Sacrament, what it is; the Benefit of the Sacrament, what it gives; the Power of the Sacrament, how it can do such great things; and the Reception of the Sacrament, how to receive it worthily. But remember what I said right at the outset of this series, about the purpose of this teaching: Our purpose here in this series is not just to give you a bunch of information about the Sacrament. No, our purpose is to prepare you to receive the Sacrament. The goal is that you would go to the Sacrament–go willingly and full of faith, and go often, frequently, to receive this great blessing that Christ has given his church.
So the goal of the teaching on the Sacrament of the Altar is your taking of the Sacrament, at the altar–that you would desire it and partake of it often. That is the note we will end on, then, as we conclude this series. To help us do that, tonight we are using another section of the Small Catechism, the “Christian Questions with Their Answers, for Those Who Intend to Go to the Sacrament.” The twenty questions provided there are designed to lead you in one direction–up to the altar. They are designed to encourage you to want to go to the Sacrament, to hunger and thirst for the Sacrament. And so our theme tonight, “Twenty Questions, One Answer: Go to the Sacrament Frequently.”
As you’ve just heard, the first half of these questions and answers are basic Law and Gospel: I am a sinner. I have not kept the Ten Commandments. I am sorry that I have sinned against God. I have deserved God’s wrath and displeasure. That is the Law that condemns me. Yet, I do hope to be saved. For I trust in my dear Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for me and shed his blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. This is the Gospel by which I am saved. Note how personal this Law and Gospel becomes as it is applied to me. The word of God is not some detached, “out there,” abstract theory. No, the word of God applies to me–and to you–directly. You and I are those sinners who have earned the wages of sin, which is death. And, at the same time, Christ died for me, and for you, so that now we trust in him for salvation. The Word applies to you and me very personally. No “arm’s length” Law and Gospel!
And the Sacrament–the Sacrament is a very concrete application of this gospel of Christ. Christ intends for each one of us to desire and receive it often. That’s where the second half of the Christian Questions with Their Answers takes us. The Sacrament is the pledge Christ gives me, in his body and blood, that my sins are forgiven and that I am saved. The Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me, now gives me a tangible, “taste-able” testament of his love. The Sacrament is the gospel, as Luther loved to say! A very specific, visible, physical form of the gospel, the good news of God’s love in Christ–a love that brings us back to God and binds us to one another, a love that forgives our sins and redeems both soul and body for everlasting life.
And now notice what the Catechism does in the last few questions and answers. It leads us up to the altar. “Finally, why do you wish to go to the Sacrament?” it asks. Not content to leave us just thinking about the Sacrament–“Oh, isn’t that nice!”–these twenty questions lead to one answer, and that is: Go to the Sacrament, frequently! Take it! Receive it! Desire it! Go as often as you can, as often as you consider Christ’s command and his promise, and your own pressing need.
Question 19 puts it like this: “What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?” Answer: “First, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord. Second, his own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given.” Command, promise, need, all leading us up to the altar.
Christ’s command is found in his words instituting the Sacrament: “Take, eat. . . . This do. . . . Drink of it, all of you. . . . This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Yes, Christ our Lord says, “This do.” It is a command–Christ’s command to his disciples, to his church, and that’s us. It is not possible for a Christian to be doing the will of his Master and not be going to the Sacrament. It is flat-out disobedience and outright rebellion and sin for someone claiming to be a Christian to not be in church regularly to receive Christ’s body and blood. I’m talking of course about people who are physically able to come to church; for those who are truly “shut in,” I bring church to them with home Communion visits. But for those who are physically able and yet who choose to skip out on church, who do not put top priority on being in the Lord’s house, on the Lord’s Day, to receive the Lord’s Supper–those people are disobeying Christ’s command, and they need to repent.
But if all we had driving us was a command, then we would reduce receiving the Sacrament to obedience to an ordinance, and that would be a terrible minimization. For the reason Christ directs us to “do this” is so that we can “receive this”–the “this” being his body and blood and the forgiveness that comes with his body and blood! It is Christ’s promise that draws us to the Sacrament! What grace, what love, what a gift is given us here! You don’t need a whip to drive you when someone is offering you the greatest treasure in heaven and on earth! You come running up to receive it! That’s the way it is with the Sacrament of the Altar, when you truly understand all that Christ is freely giving you here. The weight of your sin and guilt removed from you. New life, lived in fellowship with God and one another. Eternal salvation and the sure hope of heaven. Yes, the promise draws you. “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” There it is! What a promise, what a hope!
But if all that is not enough–Christ’s command and his promise–there is also your own “pressing need,” as it says. And the need that presses hard upon you is threefold: your own sinful flesh; the hostile world around you; and your unrelenting enemy, the devil. Can you feel your need for the Sacrament? No? Well, reach inside your shirt and pinch. If you can feel human flesh, then that tells you that you have not yet graduated from the weakness of the flesh, that sinful pull we all experience from the inside, pulling us away from God and turning us in on ourselves–that old selfishness and self-centeredness we call the old Adam. We need God’s help to escape that gravitational pull, and God gives us that help in the Sacrament.
Then there is the world around us, which has no use for God and which hates Christ and his Christians. More need, pressing hard against us. The world would try to suck us in, conforming us to its misplaced values and moral vices. The siren song of our pop-culture society would lead us astray from what is really true, true and right in God’s sight. Then to top it all off, there is our old evil foe, the devil, the tempter, constantly whispering in our ear, trying to seduce us and entice us to be our own god, telling us that we don’t need Christ and his cross and that old-fashioned church business. What a load of lies!
Brothers and sisters, we need arming, we need fortifying, in order to stand–to stand strong–to stand amid the assaults of devil, world, and flesh. We need the resources Christ gives us in his Word and Sacraments. Don’t fool yourself. You will not make it on your own. Take heed, lest ye fall. Here in the Sacrament, here in this “salutary gift,” God will strengthen you in the faith and the love you need to live as Christ’s disciples. And so Christ’s command, Christ’s promise, and our own pressing need all combine to compel us, to constrain us, to positively draw us to receive the Sacrament often.
“Twenty Questions, One Answer: Go to the Sacrament Frequently.” That’s where this all ends–at the altar. Only, that means it will not truly end. For this feast is just the first course, a foretaste of the feast to come, the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end. The gift Christ gives us in his body and blood–“given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins”–this is his sure and certain pledge of the life and salvation to come. Come, then, dear Christian, as often as you can, and receive the wonderful gift Christ has for you in the Sacrament of the Altar!