We parents are often tempted to emphasize with our children the need for obedience with the words, “Because I said so.” While we might want to help them obey by giving them other reasons, we still want them to be obedient based on the parent/child relationship we have. Our unique beliefs about Holy Communion are very much a “because that is what God said” understanding. We believe in the real presence, the forgiveness of sins, and the need for self-examination because God’s Word says so.
Among all the groups that fall under the umbrella of Christianity, we Lutherans are the only ones who confess a true real presence in the elements of Holy Communion. On one side of the spectrum is a teaching that the bread and fruit of the vine in the Sacrament actually become the physical body and blood of Christ. We don’t agree because we know that we are still eating bread and drinking the fruit of the vine. On the other side of the pendulum swing is the belief that Jesus is present symbolically or that the elements are representations of Him. Again, we disagree. Our disagreement is based simply on a plain acceptance of the words Jesus spoke when He celebrated the Passover with His disciples. When he gave them the bread to eat, He said, “Take eat; this is My body.” When He gave them the cup to drink, He said, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant…” (Matthew 26:26-28a NASB). We accept that there is mystery here. We don’t try to explain it. We don’t try to humanly understand it. We take Jesus’ words just as they are and believe that He is truly present “in, with, and under” the elements. We call this the real presence.
Intimately connected to the real presence is the forgiveness of sins. Again, we don’t know how it is or how it can be. We simply accept that because Jesus said so, it is true. When He gave His disciples the bread and the cup, He finished by saying, “which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28b). Jesus told us that the cup over which He gave thanks, the cup He shared and called His blood of the new covenant, is indeed poured out for the forgiveness of sins. When we respond to His invitation to eat and drink, we do so believing that we are eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ as the words declare. We receive Christ’s real presence believing that through the gift He is forgiving our sins and giving us the assurance that our sins are forgiven.
Finally, we are encouraged as the Holy Spirit speaks through the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly” (11:27-29). Receiving the elements of this holy act without faith is dangerous. Yes, God is giving us a gift. Yes, this gift is marvelous and beyond compare. But if we come to the Altar (also why we call it the Sacrament of the Altar) with an unbelieving heart, not having taken into account our dreadful sinfulness and unworthiness, there is no benefit in coming. Also, because of the need for self-examination, we do not commune our children before they are able to understand their dire need. We receive believing. We receive in faith. We receive God’s gift based on what His Word says.
The holy act of the Holy Supper is a mystery. We accept that Jesus is really present, we accept that in the meal He forgives our sins, and we take to eat and drink in faith because we are told to do so in Holy Scripture. When in our need we hear God’s invitation and accept it, we come believing in the real body and blood of Jesus poured out for the forgiveness of sins.