Most discussions of the Lord’s Supper among Christians of different theologies focus on the question of Christ’s presence or lack of presence in the bread and wine. But that is only the beginning consideration. We also need to reflect on other questions: What does the Sacrament mean? What does the Sacrament do?
Some people accuse Lutherans, with their high view of the efficacy of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, of advocating salvation by works. You believe Baptism is regenerating and that in Communion we find the remission of our sins and are united to Christ. Baptism and Communion are things we do. Therefore, if the Lutheran sacramental theology were true, we would be saved by our works, rather than by grace through faith.
Those critics might go on to wonder how Luther, given his sacramental theology, could make such a big deal of salvation being by grace through faith and not by our works. Perhaps they are not understanding him.
My wife, who is reading through Luther’s sermons, alerted me to The Reception of the Holy Sacrament, preached the week of Easter in 1523. He shows how the Lord’s Supper is God’s work, not our own, and how it is connected to justifying faith.
For Luther, believing in the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine is the easy part:
2. If I can believe that Christ rose from the dead; likewise that he went through the stone at the mouth of thegrave and made no hole in it; and if I can believe that he went through closed without breaking or damaging anything, thus that wood and his body were in one place, and yet true flesh and were there; then can I also readily believe that the body and of Christ are present in the bread and wine.
But some people, including the church of Rome, construe the Sacrament as “my work.” But it isn’t:
5. Now, one can in no way abuse and dishonor the most worthy Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper more than by regarding it only as a good work. For a good is that which I can do to another and it must be my ; but the Lord’s Supper is not my work but God’s work, with which I permit myself to be served, and I receive a blessing, therefore, as far as God’s work and my work are different from one another, so far are the thoughts separated from one another which hold the Sacrament to be God’s and at the same time our own work. Hence it is now clear that it is a great abuse of the Sacrament and blasphemy. if you do not esteem it to be the work of God.
7. For if you do even believe that the Sacrament is the body and blood of Christ, how are you made better? To what end does that profit you? The devil believes that too; but what does it help him? By it you do nothing but a good work, and you have no more benefit of it than the box in which the wafer is kept, or the cloth that is spread over it; for you are not a vessel prepared, in which true faith works. But when the faith comes that lays hold of the Word, and .says: These words Christ spoke and I believe they are true, and I am ready to die trusting in them, and I am certain and sure that he is there present, that he has given himself to me and he is mine, also that I appropriate him to myself, as if it were my own possession which God has bestowed upon me.
Read the whole sermon, which is one of the Church Postils that would have been read throughout the “evangelical” churches of the day.
HT: Jackquelyn Veith