Maundy Thursday

Preached: April 2, 2015

Come Often
1 Corinthians 11:23-26

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is 1 Corinthians 11

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body which if for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NIV84)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“Whatever!” That’s become slang for “I don’t care what you’re saying.” For example, the little sister tells her brother, “Mom’s not going to like the mess you’re making.” And he says, “Whatever!” Though when Mom gets home, he might care a little bit more.

Sometimes I wonder whether we view whenever a little bit like whatever. For example, someone asks, “When are you going to finish that project you started?” And the other person replies, “Whenever I get around to it.” He probably means, “I don’t care about it any more. So if I don’t get back to it again, no big deal. I’ll do it whenever.”

Now we certainly do not want that kind of whenever infecting our thinking when we hear Jesus say, “Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” He isn’t saying, “Whether get around to it or not isn’t important. But if you happen to do it, then remember me.” Maybe that’s why some translations don’t use the word whenever but rather translate: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

And that brings us to the question tonight: How often? How often does Jesus want us to come to the Lord’s Supper?

You can read the Bible backwards and forwards and you won’t find a number. God does not give a minimum or a maximum. Rather he says, “Come often.” You see, the Lord treats us New Testament Christians as mature children. In the Old Testament, he told his people where to worship, how to worship, what to bring, how often to do it, and so on, just as with a young child you spell out every step of what they are to do. In the New Testament he treats us as mature children. He makes it clear that his will is that we worship him and come to the Lord’s Supper often. But he doesn’t lay down rules.

So how do we answer the question: “How often?” One way might be to look at what other faithful Christians have down. And this means more than just looking at what our family, our parents, or our congregation has done. For that covers only a very small time and place, a few decades compared to many centuries, a few hundred people compared to many millions. Yes, the Christian Church is much larger.

And what do we see in the Christian Church throughout the ages and around the world? For most of the history of the church, often meant that communion was offered every Sunday. Even at the Reformation, Martin Luther did not stop every Sunday communion. He certainly got rid of the abuses that had corrupted the Lord’s Supper, such as thinking that celebrating it earned us forgiveness or that it was a resacrificing of Christ. But he valued every Sunday communion as a very good practice, well worth keeping. And the Lutheran church continued to do so in the centuries after Luther until the false doctrines of Pietism, Rationalism, and Calvinism infected many congregations. Then communion was celebrated only a few times a year, maybe only once. But that’s more than we have time to talk about here tonight.

At any rate, tradition, whether the tradition of our parents or the tradition of the Christian church at large, can’t answer the question: “How often?” At best it might open our eyes to realize that just because we are use to one way doesn’t mean that that’s the best way. On the other hand, if someone come to the Lord’s Supper often only to follow a tradition, they are coming for the wrong reason. In fact, asking the question, “How often am I suppose to come?” reveals a heart that does not grasp the greatness of our Savior’s love in giving us his Supper. Asking how often should I come to communion is like asking how often should I kiss my wife. The question itself indicates that rather than a numbers problem, there’s a heart problem.

So rather than asking how often, a better question, which addresses the attitude of our hearts, is: “Why does Jesus tell us to come often?”

So then, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, ponder what the Lord's Supper truly is. Take to heart the words of the text and see how special the Lord’s Supper is. Here you meet your Lord face to face. This isn’t just bread and wine. This isn’t just a picture or symbol of our Savior’s body and blood. Here is a miracle. Here Jesus is present in a very special way. Yes, Jesus is with us always. As the God-man he is present everywhere. But he promises that in the Lord’s Supper he is present in a very special way, so that you actually eat his body and actually drink his blood. This is beyond our physical senses, but it’s just as real and true as if we could touch it, even more so. For that’s what our Savior says, “Take and eat. This is my body. This is what I’m giving you to eat. Take and drink. This is my blood. This is what I’m giving you to drink.” What a profound wonder! How special the Lord’s Supper is. Why wouldn’t we come often?

But someone might say, “If I come too often, it won’t be special any more.” Now it’s true in the physical world that something special loses its specialness if we do it too often. An ice cream treat isn’t so special if you have one after every meal. But first of all notice that an ice cream treat is special because of the way it makes us feel as we eat it. The Lord’s Supper is special because of what it actually is: the body and blood of our Lord. And that specialness doesn’t change no matter how often you come. So come often.

Secondly, our own experience might say to us, “When I’ve missed the Lord’s Supper for a while, it feels more meaningful and special when I finally get back to it.” I can say the same thing about food. If I miss a few meals in a row, I appreciate food all the more. But is that healthy? Maybe you can debate the merits of starving yourself physically, but the Bible is clear that starving ourselves spiritually is deadly. So come often.

Now, if the Lord’s Supper doesn’t feel so special, the Bible gives us a very different way to address that problem rather than coming less often. You see, the problem’s on the inside. What makes us hunger and thirst for the Supper? What makes us cherish it and treasure it?

First of all, see how much you and I need God’s forgiveness, the very forgiveness the Lord’s Supper offers, gives, and seals to you. Every day we are filthy sinners. If you don’t feel that struggle against sin within you, it’s not because you’ve gotten passed sinning. It’s because you have surrendered to it. You have surrendered to the sins of spiritual pride and self-reliance, imagining you don’t need the ways the Lord has chosen and established for strengthening our faith, namely his word and sacraments. But the more spiritually in tune with God’s Word we are, the better we see how deeply sin infects us. Then the more clearly we see that even our praiseworthy works are far less good than they actually look. Sin corrupts the best we do. Look at how even the Apostle Paul struggled. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh ... For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18, 19 NIV84 footnote). Yes, dear friend, see if you are still breathing, then believe what the Bible says about our fallen condition as long as we are alive in this wicked world. How much we need God’s forgiveness!

And here, in such a special way, Jesus brings his forgiveness home to you and me. “Here is my body, given for you, Yes, for you, dear sinner. Because I died for you, all your sins were nailed to the cross in my body. You are forgiven. Here is my blood poured out for you. Yes, for you, dear sinner. Because I died for you, all your sins have been paid for in full by my holy, precious blood. You are forgiven. Yes, eat and drink, for this forgiveness is for you.” Come often. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death, his death for you.

But isn’t this the same forgiveness that God’s word brings us? Of course it is. Forgiveness in Jesus is full and complete. The Lord did not give us baptism and the Lord’s Supper to bring us some sort of different kind of forgiveness, whatever that might mean. Think of marriage. In a strong marriage the couple doesn’t only say they love each other but they also show their love. The Lord’s Supper shows me my Savior’s forgiving love.

Do you ever struggle with doubt? “Has God really love me?” Do you ever struggle with guilt? “Has God forgiven me for even that sin?” Do you ever struggle with worry? “Will God really take care of me after what I’ve done?” I do. And that’s why the Lord gives us more than just his word. If I had perfect faith, then I would only need God’s Word to speak his promise once and I’d believe it fully for the rest of my life. But I don’t have perfect faith. I need my Lord to assure me of his love and forgiveness again and again. I need my Lord to assure me of his love and forgiveness not just by telling me so in his word, but also by showing me in the Lord’s Supper.

In fact, he lets me taste his forgiveness. For in the Supper he gives me his real body to eat and his real blood to drink. In this tangible way he helps me remember his death for me. In the Supper he comes to me as my Bridegroom and gives me much more than a kiss. As my Bridegroom he says, “I gave my life for you. I have washed you clean in my blood. I have dressed you in the wedding gown of my righteousness. You are my bride.” Why wouldn’t I come often? Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313