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July 2022 - Real Presence and Forgiveness of Sins

July 2022

If there is anything that separates us Lutherans from the rest of Christianity it is our understanding of what the Bible says about the Sacraments. Our beliefs about Baptism and Holy Communion are related to our beliefs about the whole nature of salvation, so in these we find our uniqueness. About Holy Communion, we believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and the cup and that when we receive these elements in faith our sins are forgiven. Five Bible passages point us to these truths.

We read in Matthew 26:26-28, “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.' And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.'” Yes, there are two mysteries here. Jesus gave His disciples bread, and He said the bread was His body. Jesus gave His disciples the cup, and He said the content of the cup was His blood of the covenant. Jesus proclaimed the forgiveness of sins in the giving of the cup.

Mark 14:22-24 repeats the truths expressed in Matthew 26: “While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, 'Take it; this is My body.' And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, 'This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'” Many Bible scholars believe Peter may have been a primary source for Mark. The words here might then be how Peter remembered them. Mark's account did not include the part about the forgiveness of sins, but it is clear again that Jesus said the bread is His body and the cup is His blood.

Whoever it was that Luke used as his source remembered the Last Supper with slightly different details, but the essence is the same as that written by both Matthew and Mark. “And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood'” (Luke 22:19, 20). Again we read that Jesus said the bread is His body. The words about the cup are slightly different, but the connection to His blood is still there: “the new covenant in My blood.” Added in Luke's account is the “for you” and the command from Jesus to “do this in remembrance of Me.”

The Apostle Paul believed that the bread is the body of Christ and the cup is the blood of Christ as is recorded in 1 Corinthians 10:14-16: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” The whole passage is an encouragement to Christians not to participate in the idolatrous practices of their society; but in that discussion Paul affirmed, in rhetorical questions, his beliefs about the cup and the bread. When we drink the cup together, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. When we eat the bread together, we are sharing in the body of Christ.

Our Words of Institution come mostly from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Paul was not at the Passover with Jesus and the disciples. He does, however, affirm that the truth he passed on he received from the Lord. Again we read, “This is My body...for you...this cup is the new covenant in My blood.” As with Luke's account we are reminded of the “for you” and in remembrance of Jesus. We are also told that the eating and the drinking are a proclamation of the Lord's death. Implied is the purpose of His death which is forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, and eternal life.

Taken together, these five passages teach clearly what we call the real presence of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins in Holy Communion. We don't try to demystify or explain away what Jesus said. We humbly just accept that what He said is true: this [bread] is My body, this [cup] is My blood, for you for the forgiveness of sins. When we come to the Lord's Table we do so believing that the words are true. We truly share in Christ's body; we truly share in Christ's blood; we do, by faith, receive forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, and eternal life.

 

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) Copyright by The Lockman Foundation: http://www.lockman.org/