14 May 2009

Preaching and the Sacrament

To say that the Holy Communion is the heart and center of the Holy Scriptures and of the Christian faith and life, is not to say that the Holy Communion is the only thing proclaimed in the Scriptures or the only thing pertinent to faith and life. It is rather to say, precisely, that the Holy Communion is the beating heart that gives life to the whole body (both the body of the Church and the body of the Christian), and the center of that life which is lived in faith and love toward God and in fervent love toward the neighbor.

To confess the Sacrament of the Altar as the culmination of God's Word to us in Christ Jesus, is not to denigrate the preaching of the Word; nor does it devalue the foundational importance of Holy Baptism. It is through and from Holy Baptism that one comes to the Table of the Lord in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus. The one belongs to the other, and each derives its authority and power from the same Cross and Resurrection of the same Lord Jesus Christ. So, too, it is the preaching of the Word that brings the baptized faithful to the eating and drinking of the Word-made-Flesh in the worthiness of Christ Jesus, which is to say, in repentant faith. The Body and Blood of Christ ought not be given or received apart from the faithful preaching and ongoing catechesis of His Word. It is to His disciples that He gives His Body and pours out His Blood; and disciples of this Lord are made and preserved through one Holy Baptism in His Name and by ongoing catechesis in His Word. Therefore, the centrality of the Holy Communion makes all the more important the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus.

By the same token, preaching is best undertaken with a view toward the Holy Communion. In the same way that the Holy Scriptures are rightly understood as centered and culminating in the giving and receiving, the eating and drinking of the Word-made-Flesh, so is the right preaching of the Word of Christ evangelically ordered to and from Holy Baptism, and thence to and from His Sacrament of the Altar. Again, not as though the Holy Communion were the only thing, but because it is the heart and center of everything that matters, of life with God in Christ Jesus.

The preaching of the Gospel, therefore, brings those who have not been baptized to be baptized; it returns those who have been baptized to their Baptism through contrition and repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins; and it brings the baptized faithful to receive the Body and Blood of Christ their Savior in the Holy Communion. That is what every evangelical sermon and every preaching of Christ is doing, even if it occurs outside of the Divine Service. The Church, and each Christian, proceeds in faith from the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, and is always living toward the receiving of His Body and Blood in that same neverending Marriage Feast of the Lamb. Faith looks forward to that Meal, longs for that Meal, and lifts up the heart toward that Meal, whether it shall again be received from the Lord's Altar on earth or in the Resurrection, in the closer proximity of the Lamb in His Kingdom. Thus, faith listens for that Voice of the Shepherd which calls the baptized faithful to the Wedding Hall, to the Supper of the Bridegroom.

At the northern Indiana spring pastors' conference earlier this week, Pastor Fabrizius pointed to the way the early fathers of the Church understood the Feast of Wisdom in Proverbs 9 to be the Lord's Supper. Why? Better to ask, How could they understand it otherwise? And how or why should they have preached it otherwise? The whole point is that Wisdom has built His House and prepared His Feast, and He calls the nations to come and receive it, to eat and to drink it. So that is what the preachers of Wisdom do. The fathers understood that, because such preaching of the Word was handed down as a heritage of the Church along with the administration of the Supper itself. That very traditio, that handing over of both preaching and the Sacrament together, is exactly St. Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 11. Preaching and the Supper are given and received together: from the Father to the world, from the Christ to His disciples and Apostles, from the Apostles to the bishops and pastors who follow them, and to the whole Church on earth, and from the pastors to the people of their congregations, from one generation to the next.

So it goes, and it is easy to perceive that point when the Lord's Supper is celebrated every Lord's Day. Then even the daily prayer offices are understood to flow forth in the rhythm of the week from the First Day to the Eighth Day, from one Divine Service to the next. Certainly the preaching at the Divine Service is shaped by the fact that, liturgically and ritually, it is leading from the font and the lectern to the Altar and the Meal.

Where the Sacrament has been dethroned from its central height at each Divine Service, and where it has not been allowed to function as the beating heart of the Church's life, there preaching has also suffered accordingly. That is so, even where preaching has been treated as the main thing and given an overabundance of attention; even where it has gone on and on. Preaching, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, is rightly regarded and received when it is understood to be the means by which the Word-made-Flesh is given to the world in the grace and mercy of God the Lord. Where it is approached apart from that gracious self-giving of the incarnate Word, then preaching itself can or does become idolatrous.

Preaching that has been disconnected from the Holy Communion, both in proximity and in its purpose, becomes didactic at the expense of the kerygma; or, what is worse, it becomes legalistic and moralistic, instead of evangelical; or, what is even worse, it becomes comedic entertainment, a proclamation of the preacher's personality, rather than the proclamation of Christ and the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.

Preaching that calls the baptized faithful to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, the Feast of Wisdom, given and poured out for the forgiveness of sins, can hardly help but focus upon the Gospel and emphasize the Gospel. If the preacher understands that his whole purpose and the point of his preaching is that sinners, in repentant faith, should be fed and forgiven at the Table with Jesus, then all of his preaching, of both the Law and the Gospel, shall always be returning to that gracious gift and blessing, and always culminating there in that blessed Meal of Salvation. Such preaching is the Voice of Christ, which calls lost and wandering sheep from all the nations, and gathers them into one flock under that one Good Shepherd who has set His Table for them and pours out His Chalice, which is the New Testament in His Blood, for the free and full forgiveness of all their sins forever.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Pr. Stuckwisch. Believe it or not, I actually needed to hear exactly what you wrote in these last two posts. This is an issue that I have been struggling with. Both of your posts were incredibly heartening!

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you, Nathan. I appreciate your comment, and I am especially glad if you heard the Gospel of our Lord Jesus in my words. The Peac of the Lord be with you, and His grace be upon your family.

person said...

Dear Pastor, Why did you say in referring to Proverbs 9 "Wisdom built His house" and my bible says "Wisdom built her house"? Thank-you and thank-you for writing your blog it helps me a great deal. Jonna Bisig

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Good question, Jonna.

Linguistically, "wisdom" is a feminine noun; thus, feminine pronouns are used in Hebrew (and Greek) to refer to "wisdom."

Theologically, however, the divine "Wisdom" is understood to be Christ (or the Holy Spirit); in much the way that He is the divine Word (Logos) in St. John's Gospel.

So I was deliberately referring to Wisdom with masculine pronouns; even though the translations tend to follow the linguistic "gender" of the pronouns.

Hope that helps. Thanks for asking.