Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This Advent season, we’ve been looking at different advents of Christ, different ways in which Jesus comes to be present among us. Of course, there is His first coming, as a baby in Bethlehem. God came to be present among us. That’s the meaning of Jesus’ name, Emmanuel, God with us. Last week, we saw Jesus coming into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. God came to die and rise and so save you and me. Next week, we’ll get to Jesus’ final coming on the Last Day when He will come again to judge and to save. But today, we hear how Christ actively comes to us right now, not in the past or in the future. Today. This is how Jesus comes to be with you and me today.
He comes as He’s promised to come. “This is by body.” “Do this.” “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus comes to be truly present among us today in the Lord’s Supper. When we eat the bread and drink the cup of communion, we are eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus. How does that work? That’s a good question. I have no idea. But then again, there’s a lot about God I don’t know. How did He create the world by simply speaking? How can God be one being, but three persons? How was it that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit? How is it that Jesus is at the same time both fully God and fully man? From the beginning, these things have been called the “mysteries” of the faith. Things we know to be true, but can’t quite wrap our minds around in order to explain how they work.
The Lord’s Supper is the same way. Jesus says, “this is my body… this is my blood,” and we take Him at His word. The bread and wine of this meal are also His body and His blood. Or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10, the cup of blessing that we bless is a participation in the blood of Christ, and the bread we break is a participation in the body of Christ. In Communion, Jesus comes among us. He comes to forgive and to unite His people. As Matthew records Jesus words at the Last Supper, he says that his body and blood are “for the forgiveness of sins.” It’s not that bread and wine are anything special, but because Jesus’ words of promise are there. Jesus says that we receive forgiveness through His body and blood united with the bread and wine, so we receive it there. This meal also serves to unite those who come to this table. When we participate in Christ, it’s not just a “Jesus and me” moment. It’s also a “Jesus and His Church” moment. Everyone who comes to the table confesses the same faith, centered around Jesus Himself. When we’re united with Him, we’re also united with one another.
But Paul warns us that it’s possible not only not to receive forgiveness and unity, but even that we may eat and drink this meal to our own condemnation. It happens when we don’t, to use Paul’s words, “discern the body.” What does it mean to “discern the body?” Again, that’s a good question. But this time, we have an answer, though it might be a tough one. Paul was being intentionally vague when he wrote those words. In particular, using the word, “body.” As he uses it elsewhere, the word “body” can have three meanings: your physical body, the church, and here at the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ physical presence. And since he doesn’t really specify which one he means, he probably wants you to think about all three.
We run into problems when we don’t discern our own body, confessing our sins and making sure our hearts and minds are in the right place. We run into problems when we don’t discern those we’re going to the altar with. If you or I have a personal or theological disagreement and yet we come to the altar with one another, claiming to be united, we are lying. We have not discerned the body, the church. We run into problems when we don’t discern Christ’s presence in the meal we’re about to eat. If we don’t believe He’s here in spite of His words to the contrary, we’re making Jesus out to be a liar, and that’s not a good thing. In all these scenarios, Paul says we would be eating and drinking judgment on ourselves.
So as Christ comes to be present among us now, how do we best prepare or examine ourselves? How do we make sure that we’re properly discerned the body? Right now, I want you to grab the hymnal in front of you and turn to page 329. Surprise! It’s the Small Catechism. Here at the very end of the Catechism are 20 questions that will help you to “discern the body” in every way. You’re first asked to discern your own body, then the body of the church, then the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. It is good and right for us to prepare to receive Jesus as He comes to us in this way. And I encourage you to think through these questions every time you come to take Communion here.
It’s actually pretty normal for us to prepare for the visit of someone special. This time of year, around the holidays, we have friends and family over to celebrate and enjoy each other’s presence. But we don’t just open the door and let them in. First, we clean the house from top to bottom, even the rooms no one will go into. We spend hours, if not days, getting the food ready, marinating and brining and baking and frying. We’ll even full out the good china, the place settings that only come out once or twice a year. This time of year, we pull out all the stops in preparing for friends and family to come.
So why would it be any different when Christ comes to be present among us in this holy meal? Perhaps it’s time to clean house. Evaluate yourself. Which rooms in your mind need cleaning? Which attitudes and behaviors need to be tossed into a trash bag and taken to the street? Perhaps it’s time to take a look at those you’re having over. Sure, Jesus is coming, but what other guests are hanging around? Will anyone make a scene by being seated next to one another? Perhaps someone needs to go sit at the kids’ table for a while until they’re ready to come and be part of the full fellowship. Perhaps it’s time to take a look at the food we’re being served. What is it? What does it do? Why do we eat and drink this bread and wine?
In this Advent season, as we’re preparing to celebrate Jesus birth, let’s also prepare to receive Him as He comes and offers Himself to you and me in, with, and under the bread and wine of this meal. May it be a joy and a blessing to us all. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell