Easter Newsletter: Can you eat Christ without the Lord’s Supper?


As I write this, it is Easter Tuesday. At this point we have gone without gathering for worship for over a month. As yet, we still do not know how long we will have to go on in these present circumstances. The reality is, we could have several more months of physical distancing, quarantine, and stay-at-home recommendations. Yet, far worse than not gathering together, is going without receiving the True Body and True Blood of our Lord and Saviour. Since gathering together to receive Holy Communion is a defining feature of what it means to be “The Church”, many are having a hard time dealing with going without Holy Communion.1 That may even include some in our own parish. Our life together as a church does not feel complete without gathering around the Altar. Our celebration of Holy Week did not feel complete without receiving Communion of Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday.

Why Holy Communion is so important can easily be understood when we remind ourselves about what the Bible teaches about it. When we receive communion, we receive in our mouths not only bread and wine, but along with the bread and wine, the very Body and Blood of Jesus.2 This, of course, is proven by the simple words of Christ himself, “Take, eat; this is my body,” “Drink of it, all of you;  for this is my blood,” (Matt. 26:26-28).3

But, receiving the Sacrament with our mouths and receiving it in such a way that we benefit from it are two different things. This is an important distinction. The prayer entitled, “Thanksgiving after receiving the Sacrament,” on the inside of the front cover of our Lutheran Service Book helps explain this distinction: “Send Your Holy Spirit that, having with my mouth received the holy Sacrament, I may by faith obtain and eternally enjoy Your divine grace, the forgiveness of sins, unity with Christ, and life eternal.”4 Did you see the difference? We receive with our mouths the Holy Sacrament, but we will not benefit from the grace that God offers except by faith. That explains why the Apostle Paul warns that a person without faith can receive Holy Communion to his harm and judgment (1 Cor. 11:27-30).

Christ our Lord also makes the same point. In the Gospel of John chapter six, commonly called “The Bread of Life Discourse,” Jesus shocks the people of Capernaum by claiming, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day,” (John 6:54). It is not hard to see why these verses have been cited throughout the centuries as referring to the Lord’s Supper. However, Martin Luther disagreed. Referring to this passage Luther remarked, “There the Lord refers to spiritual eating and drinking, to the eating not of the mouth but of the soul.”5 What Luther is saying is that this passage is actually about obtaining the benefits of Jesus’ flesh and blood. But wait! Jesus is talking about eating his flesh and blood. Surely this is a clear reference to Communion! Can you really eat Christ without the Lord’s Supper? In fact, Christ himself makes himself very clear. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst,’” (John 6:35). Here, Jesus is saying that to come and believe in Christ is to eat and drink his flesh and blood! He is referring to another type of eating, one done by faith.

Our Lutheran Confessions also refer to two types of eating, and understanding this will help us get through this difficult time where we cannot partake of Holy Communion. The Formula of Concord says,

There is a twofold eating of Christ’s flesh. One is spiritual, which Christ describes especially in John 6:54. This “eating” happens in no other way than with the Spirit and faith, in preaching and meditation on the Gospel, as well as in the Lord’s Supper. By itself this is useful and helpful, and necessary for all Christians, at all times, for salvation. Without this spiritual participation the sacramental or oral eating in the Supper is not only not helpful, but is even harmful and damning.

This spiritual eating is nothing other than faith. It means to hear God’s Word (in which Christ, true God and man, is presented to us, together with all benefits that He has purchased for us by His flesh given into death for us, and by His blood shed for us, namely, God’s grace, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal life). It means to receive it with faith and keep it for ourselves. It means that in all troubles and temptations we firmly rely—with sure confidence and trust—and abide in this consolation: we have a gracious God and eternal salvation because of the Lord Jesus Christ.6

So, while during this difficult time we are unable to receive Holy Communion, we can still “eat” Christ. What does that mean? It means that despite our time of separation, the Word of God is still available to us.

To eat Christ spiritually means to believe the promises of the Gospel. It means to appropriating for ourselves by faith all that Jesus did for us on the Cross.7 God is still offering us His “divine grace, the forgiveness of sins, unity with Christ, and life eternal.” He does so through the Word, wherever it is read or heard. The exact same grace and forgiveness which God offers to us when we receive the Lord’s Supper in faith is offered to us when we trust God’s promises to us offered in the Word.8

Our greatest comfort and during this time is that God has not left us alone. No, we are given the sure and certain confidence that because Jesus Christ has died for our sins, to pay what we owe, and rose again, we know that God is gracious to us. Jesus Christ is the bread of life, and this is the bread that, “is given, and given to be broken in death, so that those who eat of it may not die, but have eternal life in the present and the future and be raised up on the last day.”9 God has not abandoned us in wrath, but because of Jesus, he continues to extend mercy and forgiveness to us. When we trust in this God, who extends forgiveness for Christ’s sake, then we are truly eating of Christ!

This is why during this time we have opted to offer services which are streamed through the Internet. It is vital that the preaching of the Gospel continue so that you may receive the promised forgiveness by faith, so that you may feed on Christ. But, this crisis is also an opportunity for you to read and meditate upon God’s Word for yourself. In fact, the Word is available to us in abundance! There are numerous resources to choose from! If you have not got into the routine of regular Bible reading, then now is a good time to start. Podcasts and Christian literature are readily available. Other faithful Lutheran pastors are offering prayer services and occasions to hear preaching and God’s Word. If you’re looking for something specific, just ask!

In this time of crisis, we have had to unfortunately suspend our gathering together and thus also our reception of the Lord’s Supper. But we have not suspended God’s Word. The promise of forgiveness of sins, unity with Christ, and life eternal continues to be taught and proclaimed so that you may feed on Christ. Take heart then. God has not abandoned us. On the contrary, He is near to us. He calls us all to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures, so that by the patience and comfort offered in His Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast to the blessed hope of eternal life which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. May we always eat of Christ in this way!


Notes

1  “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered.” Augsburg Confession, VII:1. Citations from the Lutheran Confessions are from Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2006).

2 “We believe that in the Lord’s Supper Christ’s body and blood are truly and substantially present and are truly administered with those things that are seen (bread and wine) to those who receive the Sacrament.” Apology, X:54.

3 Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

4 The Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Lutheran Service Book, Pew Edition (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), Payers for Worship.

5 LW 22:317.

6 Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, VII:61-62. This distinction between two types of eating is not only a Lutheran one. It can also be found in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. See specifically Summa Theologica, III, q. 80, ad. 1. See also Hermann Sasse, This is my body: Luther’s Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1959), 51-53, 178-180.

7 Johann Gerhard, A Comprehensive Explanation of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. (1610), trans. Elmer Hohle, (Malone, TX: Repristination Press, 1996), 340-345. Martin Chemnitz, “The Lord’s Supper” in Chemnitz’s Works, Volume 5, trans. J. A. O. Preus (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2007), 231-241.

8 See Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1953), III.108-114.

9 Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-10 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 87.

February Newsletter

Fasting

Lent begins this month on February 26th. In German, Lent is called Fastenzeit. Fasting-time. Fasting is an act of bodily discipline. Not eating at the regular time brings an immediate response from the body. When we feel hunger, we remember how frail the flesh is. This reminds us of our weakness, for hunger is but a little taste of death. Confronted with our weakness, we confess our need for a Saviour. So fasting is frequently part of repentance.  

After the fall into sin, throughout the Old Testament, God’s people engaged in fasting. In the Scriptures, fasting is frequently accompanied by prayer as an act of worship and repentance. Consider the declaration of God through the Prophet Joel, read among us every Ash Wednesday: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the people. Sanctify the congregation,” (Joel 2.15-16). In the New Testament, our Lord Himself fasted: “…and when He had fasted forty days and forty nights…” (Matt. 4.2). Moreover, our Lord does not say, “if you fast.” No he says, “when you fast,” (Matt. 6:16). Jesus assumes that his disciples will fast. So has the Christian Church observed fasting from the earliest days and throughout the centuries.

But why should we fast? Fasting is not something that the Church commands in order that men earn favour with God. Christians, however, have always seen fasting as a beneficial exercise of discipline over mind and body, indeed even a God-pleasing act. We have to think no further than our Catechism: fasting is “a fine outward training.” The Apology to the Augsburg Confession says that the purpose of fasting is to put “restraints on our flesh, lest satiety overcome us and render us complacent and lazy,” (Ap. XV:47, cf. XV:24). Luther concurs: “It is right to fast frequently in order to subdue and control the body. For when the stomach is full, the body does not serve for preaching, for praying, for studying, or for doing anything else that is good. Under such circumstances, God’s Word cannot remain. But one should not fast with a view to meriting something by it as by a good work,” (What Luther Says, 506).  It is in this spirit, following the words of the Old and New Testaments, the example of Christ and His disciples, the tradition of the Church, and the Confessions of our Church, that we at St. Peter’s encourage the Christian to fast appropriately and as faith compels. But how do we do it?

Many people confuse fasting and abstinence. To fast is to be hungry; to abstain is give up food entirely. The traditional way to fast in the Church is a small snack for breakfast and lunch, with a simple dinner. Simple inexpensive foods (soups, vegetables, etc.) during fasting maintain the spirit of the fast. Although that’s the traditional way, there’s no law about it. For you, it may be as simple as skipping a meal once a week or to refrain from snacking! It is also appropriate to break your fast on March 25th and on Sundays after communion. (Sundays are never fast days, but we always rejoice in the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus!)

Now, fasting was never meant to be by itself. It is joined to the other two Lenten disciplines: almsgiving and prayer. An increased giving to the poor and an increased time of prayer can go hand in hand with fasting: by not eating so much, you actually have more money to give to others who have less than you, and by not fixing elaborate meals, you also have more time to spend in the Word and prayer. Our Church offers midweek services to help you spend more time in the Word and prayer. Further, by going hungry each day you experience solidarity with those many members of the human race who also go hungry each day.

Above all, we teach ourselves that the hunger behind all hungers is the hunger for God Himself. We can discipline our wayward flesh by not letting it dictate to us what and when to eat. Give it some thought and prayer and then rejoice in the truth that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Whatever the shape your fasting discipline takes, may you enjoy a blessed and holy Lent!

Your Pastor,
Rev. Matthew Fenn

December Newsletter

ADVENT

It’s a season of preparation. We’ve spent the last several weeks beginning our preparations for winter. We may have gathered wood for the fireplace, raked the leaves, winterised the car, got winter clothing out of storage, and prepared ourselves to dig in (and out!) for the winter months. This is also the time of the year when we begin to prepare for Christmas. We make a list, either mental or physical, of those to whom we want to give gifts and cards. We go shopping, we decorate our homes, we spend time with family and friends. In fact, we’re so bombarded with Christmas throughout December that by the time Christmas Day arrives we’re ready to be done with the whole thing. We’ve had quite enough of Jingle Bells, Santa Claus, and tinsel for one year, thank you very much.

But this season in the Church is not pre-Christmas. No, this is the season of Advent, and we should not let Christmas encroach upon its own unique character. It is a very short season, just a smidge over three weeks. And what joy we have to welcome its arrival, with the wreath and the growing light and warmth, the many beautiful Advent hymns, the extra services where we lighten the long and dark evenings with the Word and prayer, psalms and songs!

Advent means “Coming” and focuses our attention upon the Coming of the Lord. We have spent a the last four weeks reflecting upon the fact that at the end of history Christ the King will come to rescue the world and establish his rule in the new heavens and earth. Now, we look forward to the coming of the Saviour in Bethlehem, where we meditate on the mystery of the incarnation: God made flesh for us and for salvation. Advent also focuses us on the longing for Christ to come anew into our lives here and now. Advent is a time where the Church prepares itself by meeting the coming of the Lord in his word and in, with and under the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper.

Advent is a season of preparation, expectation and hope. The Old Testament readings are all from Isaiah and express ancient Israel’s hope and expectation for coming of the Messiah. They prayed and prepared for the day when the Messiah would come, establish God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven, destroy all the powers of evil, and abolish sin and death. John the Baptist figures large, with his constant warning and challenge to us not to settle down into the ways of this world, thus failing to be prepared to welcome God’s surprise in-breaking, the joyous arrival of His Kingdom in the flesh of His Son.

This continued coming of the Lord among his people here and now is important. As we go about our busy lives in preparation for the holidays, we have to ask ourselves, “Where is God in all this?” The danger we face is in the tendency to be indifferent to the presence of God. When we think we can do things on our own, we act as though we have little or no need for God. When we fail to live as though Christ himself is present among us during worship, we can easily be lulled to spiritual sleep. Advent exhorts us to be prepared and vigilant so that when Christ comes again to set the world right again, and establish his reign on earth as in heaven, we may be included. Advent reminds us that this expected coming of the Kingdom of God has already begun in the babe in Bethlehem, and continues through Word and Sacrament today. May you have a blessed Adventide!

Your Pastor,
Rev. Matthew Fenn

November Newsletter

November 2019 Newsletter

With the Canadian federal election behind us, and the American election in the news and on the horizon for next year, the idea of government — its responsibilities and failures — is on the minds of many. Politics can be one of those topics which is seen as taboo because of how divisive it can be. Even among confessing Christians, our political views and ideologies can sometimes differ immensely. Not only do we sometimes differ among ourselves, but even more often do we differ with the secularising tendencies of our culture. This leads naturally to the question of how we as Christians relate to our civil government. 

St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Rom. 13:1). If Paul can say this while being a subject of the first century Roman Empire, it surely is still applicable to those in twenty-first century liberal democracies. In fact, the commandment to honour our father and mother implies that we should “not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” (Small Cat.: fourth commandment). Why? Because government is “God’s servant for your good.” (Rom. 13:4)  God doesn’t want society to collapse into a chaos where the bullies and power-brokers do what they like and get away with it. Even in countries where people hate the authorities and fear the police, when someone commits a murder or even a serious robbery everybody affected by it wants good authorities and good police who will find the culprit and administer justice. That is a basic, and correct, human instinct. We don’t want to live by the law of the jungle. We want to live as human beings in an ordered, properly functioning society. God has given us civil government as a gift, to serve this purpose.

Christians are called to believe that civil government is there because the one true God wants his world to be ordered, not chaotic. This does not mean that whatever a government does is automatically sanctioned by God, nor does it mean that a particular government automatically has his approval. It is merely to say that some government is always necessary, in a world where evil flourishes when unchecked. But, it also means that Christians can and should take it upon themselves to speak out against injustices, inequalities, and issues which need to be addressed. (See for example Matthew 14:3-5; 23:1-36; Amos 2:6-7; 4:1; 5:10, 12). Our government is also in great need of our constant prayers. (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

As the Church year moves towards it’s close, we are reminded of an important truth we need to keep in mind. The last Sunday of the Church year is called “Christ the King” Sunday. Christians today need to consider both what it means that God wants his world to be governed under the rule of appropriate law and that Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, is now enthroned as the king of heaven and earth. Our king has purchased us “with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that [we] may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” This is most certainly true! Amen.

Your Pastor,
Rev. Matthew Fenn

September 2019 Newsletter

Where do you go to get your news? A Russian news outlet decided to run an experiment. They only reported good news to their readers for an entire day. The results of the experiment were severely disappointing.  The site brought positive news stories to the front of its pages and found any and all silver linings in negative stories (“No disruption on the roads despite snow,” for example). The result was a buffet of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows—that absolutely no one wanted to read. The news site lost two-thirds of its normal readership that day, according to one of the editors. Good news doesn’t sell. Instead, what sells is controversy, scandal, crime, murder, and war. It is particularly striking then that Christianity’s big idea is about good news. 

St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 1:16). The translated here as “Gospel” can also be translated “good news”. This word comes from the greek translation of the Old Testament. There, it concerned God’s promise to defeat of Israel’s national enemies and the return them from their exile to the promised land. In the Roman world of the first century, “gospel” or “good news” referred to the announcement of the new age of peace and salvation ushered in by a new emperor’s birth, accession to the throne, or victory in battle.

In a world obsessed with bad news, Christianity brings “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10). The Christian idea of the “gospel” or “good news” incorporates both the Old Testament and Roman ideas, and applies them to Christ. We proclaim the good news of the birth of a new king, the King of Kings. Jesus, the anointed Messiah and King of Israel will bring an era of peace and salvation. He offers peace with God. We are exiled out of paradise and the presence of God, and are now captive to sin, death, and decay. Christ our King has been victorious in battle upon the Cross of Calvary. He has defeated our enemies of Satan, Sin, and Death by his death on the Cross. He has ascended into heaven and sites enthroned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

This is good news, and with all news, it is information. You do not “do the news”. News is not something which you do. It is a report about what others have done. In this case, it is a report of what Christ has done for us, and how he now offers us peace and pardon with God, and everlasting life in new heavens and new earth, where death, pain, and crying will be no more. (Rev. 21:2-4). It is that good news which calls us to trust in the King who has liberated us and offered us such blessings. That is the good news which is proclaimed here at St. Peter’s, and which keeps us in the truth faith, to life everlasting. May the peace of the good news of Jesus Christ give you hope this fall!

Your Pastor,
Rev. Matthew Fenn