12 July 2008

Jesus Says So

There's evidently been a flurry of recent discussion and debate over the consecrated elements remaining at the conclusion of the Divine Service. "What are they, and what should be done with them?" I'm sorry, but such questions — and arguments over the answers — strike me as unseemly. I'm glad I've been out of the loop. Getting dragged into a debate over the elements of the Holy Communion is akin to Ham, the father of Canaan, calling his brothers Shem and Japheth to come look at their father's nakedness. Duty requires a response, but our humble service is one of love. If the questions are asked, they ought to be answered. I also acknowledge the significance of the way such questions are answered. But it is shame to be arguing the point to begin with.

Maybe I've become spoiled and naive in dealing with my young catechumens, who simply want to hear what Jesus says and to proceed according to His Word. There is a great Mystery indeed in the Holy Communion, but it isn't in the "what" or "what for" department. The Catechism gets to the heart of the matter in a single sentence: "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 to drink." That's nothing else than a confession of what Jesus does and says: He takes bread and wine and gives them to His disciples. "This is My Body. Eat it. This is My Blood. Drink it." Even the littlest catechumen knows what it is and what to do with it, because Jesus says so. His Word makes it so. The eating and drinking are faith's "Amen" to what is given; not to make it so, but to receive it.

There isn't any ambiguity in what Jesus says. If we abide by His Word, there is no problem. As long as there is "this bread," concerning which Jesus has said, "This is My Body; eat it," we Christians should eat it. As long as there is "this cup," concerning which Jesus has said, "This is the New Testament in My Blood; drink it," we Christians should drink it. Since everything is given by His Word and depends upon His Word, faith proceeds according to His Word. Anything beyond or apart from that introduces unnecessary ambiguity. Yet, the Word of Christ remains.

His Word and promises are irrevocable. He has sworn by and with Himself, and He will do it. Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.

I'm frankly surprised by arguments that, "if it isn't eaten, it isn't the body of Christ," and "if it isn't drunk, it isn't the blood of Christ." It's as if the policy has been adopted, that two wrongs do make a right, or something. Thus, if Jesus is contradicted by not eating and drinking, then He is also to be contradicted concerning His Body and His Blood. If this is supposed to resolve the ambiguity, it has the opposite effect, for the Word of Christ has been altogether abandoned.

Now, I understand and agree with the position of our Lutheran Confessions, that outside of the use there is no Sacrament. But what does this mean? A supposed "consecration" of bread and wine for some other purpose than eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Communion is no Sacrament of His. It is not the Sacrament of the Altar, and therefore not the body and blood of Christ, because it is a departure from the Word of Christ; and where there is no Word of Christ, there is no Sacrament of Christ. The same thing holds true in the case of those who publicy deny the Word of Christ by teaching that the bread and wine of the Supper are not His body and blood. In such a case, no matter what vocables may be uttered, they have been redefined and are not the Verba Testamenti Christi. Where there is no Word of Christ, there is no Sacrament of Christ.

But these aberrations are not really the point under discussion. The consecrated elements remaining at the conclusion of the Divine Service have been set apart and given by the Word of Christ precisely for the eating and drinking of His Christians. Concerning this bread and this cup, He has said: "This is My Body. Eat it. This is My Blood. Drink it." How should this be difficult? If more has been consecrated than may be consumed immediately, then whatever does remain should be consumed as soon as possible. If it can be taken directly to the shut-ins, that practice does have ancient precedent and still follows the Word of Jesus, that His disciples should receive and eat and drink His Body and His Blood. Even so, because the Verba Testamenti are not only the Words of consecration of the elements, but also the Words with which Christ gives His Body and Blood to His disciples, those same Words surely ought to be used (again) in the distribution to any shut-ins who were not on hand to hear and receive the Sacrament in the Divine Service.

The best and strongest practice (if not the only right practice) is to do what Jesus has bidden us Christians to do: to eat that bread which is His Body, and to drink that cup which is the New Testament in His Blood. Jesus says so, and faith proceeds according to His Word. There is no Word of Jesus that says, "This isn't My Body or Blood after all; don't eat it or drink it"? Therefore, if He has said no such thing, than how shall we trust or follow any such thing?

As soon as someone says, "Well, what if we don't eat or drink it, anyway," there is already a departure from the Word of the Lord. But does a departure at that point undo the Word of Christ that He has already spoken? If the bread and wine administered from the Altar have been the Sacrament, the Body and Blood Christ, as He has spoken, then how shall any of those same elements that remain become anything less? As our Confessions also teach, when the Word comes to the element, it is a Sacrament. Therefore, instead of debating what it might be if we don't use it correctly, should we not simply receive it and use it correctly?

When Israel and the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, took the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts into battle against the Philistines, as though it were a secret weapon of war, they certainly were not using the Ark in the way the Lord intended. And to be sure, it didn't work in the way they were hoping. But neither did it cease to be the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts, as the Philistines learned to their great hurt and regret. Likewise, when the Ark returned to Israel and some of the men of Beth-shemesh looked upon it with unseemly interest, those men were judged and put to death. I can't help but wonder if there isn't something instructive in these stories of the Ark, something to consider in our reverent administration of the Lord's Supper.

As for me, I'm going to continue to follow the same catechesis I give my young communicants: We know what the Sacrament of the Altar is, and we know what to do with it, because Jesus says so. "This is My Body. Eat it. This is My Blood. Drink it."

3 comments:

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

On kind of an aside:

The same thing holds true in the case of those who publicy deny the Word of Christ by teaching that the bread and wine of the Supper are not His body and blood. In such a case, no matter what vocables may be uttered, they have been redefined and are not the Verba Testamenti Christi. Where there is no Word of Christ, there is no Sacrament of Christ.

I have heard this lately, and I don't believe that I have ever been actually taught otherwise, but I always assumed since we recognized baptism from another denomination that still considers it only a symbolic act, that we would teach that the Body and Blood of Christ ARE present if they used the Words of Christ..but they are taking it wrongly.

Why do we believe that the Holy Spirit is truly present in say, a Baptist baptism, when they teach that it is merely a symbolic act and duty and a reflection of what has already happened in the believer's heart....yet we do not believe that the Real Presence would exist in the same congregation when they "celebrate" Holy Communion and teach that it is also symbolic?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

This is a common question, and a good one, Rebellious.

The Sacraments derive and depend entirely upon the Word of Christ. Without His Word, there is no Sacrament.

His Word works, however, not in the way of a magical incantation, but as a speaking of the Gospel, a speaking of Himself. Thus, we do not mimic the vocables that He once-upon-a-time uttered (most likely in Aramaic, or Hebrew, and recorded for us in Koine Greek), but we proclaim and confess His Words in our own language (with translation for those present who speak in some other language).

In the case of Holy Baptism, despite the false teaching of the Baptists (et al.) who deny its salutary power and gracious efficacy, the Words of Christ by which He has instituted it and by which it is administered: "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," these are not reinterpreted or denied. The English vocables are used and confessed for what they are, the Word of Christ and the Name of God.

In the case of "baptisms" administered "in the name of the creator, redeemer and sanctifier" (or whatever other departures from the Word of Christ may be used), I would say there is no Sacrament of Holy Baptism; because the Word of Christ has been abandoned.

In the case of the Holy Communion, churches who publicly deny that "is" means "is" (in the Verba Testamenti Christi) are not using a translation of the Words of Christ, but are utilizing the same English vocables to speak a different word altogether. Language works as an agreed-upon convention; and if the agreement is determined and established to be something other than what Jesus actually says, then it is not His Word, no matter how much it may sound like His Word. Thus, without the Word of Christ, there is no Sacrament of the Altar, no body and blood of Jesus, but only bread and wine administered in the name of the heterodox church that has invented its own verba.

In each case, the Sacrament does not depend upon anyone's faith, but upon the Word of Christ. It is only that a false public confession -- as to the very meaning of the "words" that are used -- can fundamentally alter the meaning of those vocables, so as to translate and say something else than the very Words of Christ.

Hope this makes sense and helps.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

In the case of the Holy Communion, churches who publicly deny that "is" means "is" (in the Verba Testamenti Christi) are not using a translation of the Words of Christ, but are utilizing the same English vocables to speak a different word altogether.

And thus why we don't recognize the baptism of Mormons, who are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. How do we then approach the baptism by increasingly heterodox church bodies who are redefining who God is, but still are using the same words? If someone came and said "I was raised Episcopalian" or ELCA are we increasingly coming to a point where we would rebaptize because their doctrine of the Trinity is increasingly heretical?


In each case, the Sacrament does not depend upon anyone's faith, but upon the Word of Christ. It is only that a false public confession -- as to the very meaning of the "words" that are used -- can fundamentally alter the meaning of those vocables

This does help, I think...because part of what threw me was wondering how this jibed with our condemning of the Donatist teachings that required righteousness from the priest for Holy Communion to bestow the forgiveness of sins. Where I was stumbing on this was If (as Luther put it) Holy Communion could be valid even if it were consecrated by Satan himself, then why was it invalid at the altar of the Baptists or Calvinists, who do confess the Trinity and use the Words of Institution.