What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

Lenten Midweek Series #1 on the Sacrament of the Altar – March 1, 2023

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

Lent Midweek 1


Naturally, we have questions about the Lord’s Supper. Because Jesus is God, and we are human, and our minds have trouble understanding the divine. It would be too hard NOT to ask questions about the Lord’s Supper. Because it just seems too good to be true. Or, it’s just too incomprehensible for our limited perspective to understand. Because with our tools, there’s no amount of biochemistry that could dissect and answer this question that we discuss tonight: What is the Sacrament of the Altar? I mean, is Christ’s body and blood REALLY in there? If I cut open the bread, will blood flow out of it? Surely, Jesus means something else, right?

In John chapter six, there’s an exchange between Jesus and the unbelievers that shows the natural questioning that limited human understanding has about Jesus’ words. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51-52) What a statement! Jesus gives His flesh to eat. The response of the unbelieving crowd is relatable. Because it’s a question that many Christians still ask themselves today. They asked themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” The question of “how” then becomes the great linchpin and enemy of Christ’s own words.

Thus begins the slippery slope of doubting the clear words of Jesus. These words were never doubted in the Christian church until the Reformation, when groups splintered out of the Reformation and questioned Jesus’ words of institution in the Lord’s Supper. Nevertheless, correcting Jesus’ words, or making them more clear and palatable had become commonplace in many Protestant churches since the Reformation.

Now, this sermon series isn’t meant to disgrace the faith of many good-natured, well-intentioned Christians concerning the basic question that we examine tonight. However, false teaching must be addressed so as to clarify what to believe. But the point of our meditation tonight would rather lead you to believe and trust in Christ’s own words about what is in this meal. And it leads us to know and understand WHY this meal is the lifeblood of Christ’s holy church, and why our church life together revolves around it.

I had a seminary professor who hit the nail on the head when asking and discussing questions about the Lord’s Supper. He said, “all our questions about what the Lord instituted, must be answered by His own words.” That is to say, we must go to the Words of Institution used by Jesus to know what is happening. If we go outside of Christ’s own words to find an answer, then we stray from the very words that come from God’s lips. Doing such is the same thing that those folks did in John 6 – “How can this man give us His BODY to eat? And His BLOOD to drink?” But of course, this was Satan’s tactic in tempting Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden: “Did God REALLY say… that it’s His body and blood?” Because His goal is to cause us to doubt God’s clear Word.

So, what is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is Christ’s true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink. This is to say, there’s no metaphors. The bread does not REPRESENT Christ’s body. The wine is not SYMBOLIC of Christ’s blood. That’s not what God’s word says. So, where is this written? Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul write, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me. In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament (or covenant) in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”  All our questions about the Lord’s Supper must be answered by THESE words. Then, we can see how the rest of Scripture fits in with Jesus’ words.

First, let’s the discuss the context of Christ’s own words. This meal is the LAST thing Jesus gives to His disciples before he dies. In that way, this is Jesus’ last will and TESTAMENT he’s leaving for them. Jesus is leaving them with something upon His death. Now, when we do that, we call that a ‘will’. And if you’ve ever read a will before, how is it written? It’s clear. Precise. There’s no if, and’s, or but’s about it. There’s no metaphors or understandings you need to bring to the table to make it clear. It’s given with precision and attention to detail, that we wouldn’t be left with mystery. So, when Jesus says “This is my body. This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” He’s not trying to be poetic and metaphorical. He wants us to know that the nature of what’s given here isn’t merely bread and wine. But it’s his true body, and his blood.

A common question is: how can Jesus just hold up bread and say “This is my body” when clearly, His body is something completely different and separated from the bread he holds? How can He say “This is my blood” when clearly, His blood is inside His body?

As I tell my confirmation kids, what Jesus says, goes. If I live by faith and not by reason, I have no reason to doubt Jesus’ clear words, though my reason fails to comprehend it. I mean, His track record shows that my reason should submit to His Word and work. When He was involved in the creation of the world, He, as God’s Word, created reality. Real things. Out of thin air! With words! He said, “Let there be light” and there was light. “Let there be fish of the sea, and there were fish of the sea.” In His earthly ministry, Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out of your grave!” and the once dead man, Lazurus, came out. Jesus healed people on earth with just a WORD. “Be healed!” He would say.

So, if Jesus’ words create whatever He says, why should I doubt Him when He says, “This is my body. This is my blood”? There was never one instance where something Jesus said DIDN’T happen. The proof is in the pudding. Whatever Jesus says, goes. In this bread and wine, we receive His true body and true blood.

This notion that Jesus, the Passover lamb sacrificed on behalf of the whole world, would give us His real body and blood is supported by and laid out in Scripture. Throughout the whole story of the Bible, the blueprints are there for how a holy God comes to His unholy people.

Our reading from Exodus tonight indicates that the blood of the covenant is a real blood. It’s not “metaphorical”. The real blood of oxen was really thrown on the people gathered there for the atonement sacrifice. It was real. It stinks. It’s gross. This blood covered the people and their sins. It reminded them that something had to die, that they may live. Now that they’ve been cleansed by this real bloody sacrifice, they can live in obedience to God who has accepted the sacrifice that was given in their place, that they now wear on themselves.

So, that was the blood of the OLD Covenant. And in the words of Jesus’ own institution, He sets up the NEW covenant in HIS blood. The new covenant isn’t bloodless. The blood He gives is of Himself, the sacrificial lamb who goes to the altar of the cross and gives His life up for the people. Now, if this blood remained just on the cross, there’s no casting of His blood on His people! But just as the blood was cast upon the people in the tabernacle to cover their sins, so is Jesus REAL blood that was shed on the cross as the once and for all sacrifice for sin, now cast upon you and covers YOU as you participate of the Sacrament of the altar. For as Paul says, “The cup we bless, is this not a PARTICIATION in the BLOOD of Christ? The bread we break, is this not a participation in the BODY of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16).  Without real blood, there’s no real forgiveness. But since Christ gives His body to eat, as the Passover Lamb, and gives His blood to drink, as the atonement sacrifice, we do have REAL forgiveness.

Now, we must make a few final distinctions. First, Jesus isn’t merely here “spiritually”. Folks who say as such seek to divide the two natures of Jesus. They try to divide the human and divine natures – it’s as if they imagined that Jesus took off His flesh before ascending into heaven. But no. Jesus didn’t do such a thing. He ascended into heaven with His bodily, human nature. He’s not given us a reason to think that He no longer has His human nature. Scripture actually speaks the opposite way on multiple occasions. So, we believe, teach, and confess that He still has human AND divine natures. And that in this meal, He’s here with us not only in a divine, spiritual, and immaterial way, but also a real, human, bodily, and substantive way.

Second, Lutherans believe in “Real Presence” with the understanding that the presence of Christ in the Sacrament is bodily. We don’t believe in a doctrine called “consubstantiation.” This was a term coined by an Anglican to describe his beliefs, which is similar to, but not quite, what Lutherans believe. This term is incorrectly used by others to describe a Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament. This belief says that the bread mixes with body of Christ, and the blood mixes with wine – a sort of 50% bread, 50% body type of proposition. But this is an incorrect understanding as well. Rather, we believe that the sacrament is 100% bread and 100% body. 100% wine and 100% blood. Just as we believe that Jesus was 100% man and 100% God. How is this mathematically possible? Who knows. And quite frankly, who cares. Because we rest solely on the words of Christ who says This, referring to the piece of bread, is my body. This, referring to the cup of wine, is my blood. To insert our reason or strength to comprehend is to cast doubt on the clear words of Christ.

Because this, of course, is incomprehensible. Yet, faith always trusts in the words of Christ. Because all our questions must be answered by our Lord, who comes to us in a miraculous way in this meal to forgive us our sins and grant life eternal through His blood. Jesus said it Himself – “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

The Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus given under bread and wine for us Christians to eat and drink. And as we’ll hear next week, it’s benefits are salvific.



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