Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We’ve come to the last part of the Small Catechism, the Sacrament of the Altar. Baptism begins a struggle, a struggle against sin and our sinful natures. It is a struggle that is fought by a daily return to Baptism through Confession and Absolution. It is a struggle that we walk being guided and comforted by the Word of Christ. And while we walk on through this struggle Jesus comes among us and gives us food and drink for the journey. Jesus gives us His body & blood at the altar to support us in our struggle against sin, to uphold us, and give us His strength against sin and sinful natures.
The Small Catechism states, “These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” On the night when Jesus was betrayed, when He took the cup, He said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt 26:27-28) Here Jesus tells us that the wine in the cup is His blood (don’t ask how that works, it just does, because Jesus said so), but also that this cup is for the forgiveness of sins, to bring forgiveness to us as we participate (as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10) in His blood, receiving the gifts that the blood was poured out to win for us. This is His great work for us, to bring us yet another means for the Holy Spirit to bring the forgiveness of Christ to us and support us in this struggle and faith. Like Baptism and Confession Jesus uses this great gift to assure us, and give to us, the forgiveness that He won for us. And having been forgiven of all our sins by the body & blood of Jesus, we find life and salvation because what is left to condemn? What is left to die? Sin has been declared forgiven for the sake of Christ, for the sake of the body & blood He gave on the cross for our sakes.
But how can eating & drinking do such great things? “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’” Faith receives the promise. Without faith in the promise of Jesus there is no forgiveness, only eating and drinking. Faith receives, it does no work, at least not in this case. All the work comes down from above, from the Father of lights, giving us His Son to die on the cross, the Son giving His body & blood for us to eat & drink, and the Holy Spirit strengthening faith through the reminder and seal of what Jesus did on the cross for you. We struggle against sin, we suffer and we fall, so Jesus gives us food and drink because the journey is too great for us, but it wasn’t too great for Him. He took it for us and gives us the food, the body and blood that endured it all and came out unscathed on the other side. And we receive this food, trusting in His Word and His promise.
And so, this food is for those who believe and trust in His promise. It is for those who recognize the struggle in themselves and hunger and thirst for righteousness. It is for those who believe, whether that belief is strong or weak, because even weak belief is still belief. In fact, this meal is especially for those who are weak, so that Jesus may lift them up with the forgiveness of sins that He won for them in His death, and delivers through His Word of forgiveness, Baptism, and Supper. Luther speaks to those who believe when he says, “We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also.” (Large Catechism V, 68)
Jesus feeds us who struggle against our sin and sinful natures in the Sacrament of the Altar. He feeds us with His body & blood, with His forgiveness, with His promise so that we can know His death is for us, His body and His blood were for us, because He puts them in our mouths. This sacrament is all gift, all good news, all Gospel. And it is all for you.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Tim Schneider