The Lord's Supper I
with host Todd Wilken
WILKEN: Greetings, and welcome to Issues, Etc. I'm Todd Wilken. Thanks for tuning us in.
Okay, so we're coming up on Holy Week. Maundy Thursday heads the show, you might say. This week—perhaps this week only—you will see on television popular tele-evangelists maybe for the only time during the year celebrating the Lord's Supper. I don't know what they think they're doing. What are they doing? Is this Lord's Supper merely a reenactment, a play acting of what happened so long ago in the upper room with Jesus and His disciples? I've seen a couple of these television evangelists do the Lord's Supper right around the time of Holy Week and Maundy Thursday, and it looks like they're trying to reenact something.
When Jesus says, "This is My body, this is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," what is He saying? Should we take Him at His Word? And if we do, what does that mean the Lord's Supper is, and what does it mean the Lord's Supper is for us? We're gonna talk about that tonight on Issues, Etc. Pastor Matt Harrison joins us here in Studio A.
Now, we're coming to you live this Palm Sunday evening. We will be taking your questions and your comments on the Lord's Supper for the next two hours on the program. Our call-in number: 1-800-730-2727. And our in-studio E-mail address: email@example.com.
Now, before we begin our conversation with Pastor Matt Harrison on the Lord's Supper, I need to thank Pastor Robin Fish and our friends at Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church in Laurie, Mo., for cosponsoring Issues, Etc. on KCRL. Welcome aboard! Thanks for your support of the worldwide outreach of Issues, Etc.
Our guest this evening, Pastor Matt Harrison, is a regular here on the program. He's executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Matt, welcome back to Issues, Etc.
HARRISON: Good evening, Todd. Always great to be with you and your listeners.
WILKEN: Let's go back to the first Lord's Supper, to that Upper Room where Jesus is with His disciples on the night when He is betrayed, the first Maundy Thursday, if you will. What is Jesus doing there in that upper room with His disciples?
HARRISON: Jesus asked His disciples to go ahead of Him into Jerusalem and find a place which He had known about, to celebrate the Passover meal with them—the last Passover before His own Passion. And the Passover meal was something celebrated by the Jews through the centuries as commanded—as mandated—by the Lord right in Exodus. And you remember after the plagues that struck the Egyptians? Pharaoh hardened his heart, and finally the Lord threatened a final plague—a plague of the firstborn. Before that plague hit, the Lord commanded His people, and He said, "Pick out a spotless lamb, take that lamb and sacrifice it, and sprinkle the blood of that lamb upon the lintel and upon the doorposts, and then consume that Passover lamb with your clothes on, your loins girded ready to move. And then when the angel of death comes over Egypt to kill all the firstborn, that angel would mark those doors marked by the blood of the perfect lamb and pass over." There would be redemption, life, for those marked by the blood of the lamb.
Jesus celebrates that Passover, and more than that, He really shows Himself—He demonstrates Himself to be the fulfillment of that Passover. In fact, St. Paul tells us that very thing in 1 Corinthians 5:7. He says, "For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival not with the old leaven of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Christ was putting Himself in as the final great Passover Lamb. "Behold, the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world," John the Baptizer said.
WILKEN: So, with that said, how do we—how are we then to take Jesus' words when He deviates radically from the Passover at one point and says of the bread, "This is My body," and says of the cup and its contents, "This is My blood. This is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Eat it. Drink it"?
HARRISON: The Lord is instituting something which is deeply connected to the past, and even foretold by the past, and giving it a completely new meaning and fulfillment and putting Himself into the Passover in a final and radical way which alters all of history.
WILKEN: What does it mean, then, that Scripture—at least on one occasion, I think Paul in 1 Corinthians refers to this as the "Lord's Supper"? Why is that significant?
HARRISON: Well, this reality of the Lord's Supper, which I think we are so often tempted to merely look at it as though it were another action on the Christian's part to show dedication to God, something that were unessential to the Gospel, this is the Lord's own doing, and His own last will and testament. It's called a DEA FAY KAY in the New Testament. That means even more than a covenant—a testament. On the most solemn night of His life, before He is handed over to His crucifixion, this is what the Lord wills to give His disciples, and He says, "Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me. This is My body. This is My blood." And so we have from the Lord His last will and testament, and He says it's to be done often.
WILKEN: So let's clarify that. Is this—the Lord's Supper—an ordinance that Christ left before His crucifixion and resurrection and ascension for His disciples to do as a mere memorial meal? In other words, is this something we do to remember Him, or is this the Lord's work when we call it the Lord's Supper?
HARRISON: It is the Lord's work and, in fact, Martin Luther got it right when he said "the Sacrament is the Gospel."
"This is My body, this is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." It's the Lord's own doing, the Lord's action, the Lord's body and blood to which He ties the forgiveness of sins.
WILKEN: Now, you just quoted Luther—"the Sacrament"—referring to the Lord's Supper—"is the Gospel." Someone says, "Matt, the Gospel is what happened at the cross! The Gospel is Jesus shedding His blood at the cross and dying at the cross and rising again after three days. How can it be—how can you say the Sacrament—or Luther even say the Sacrament is the Gospel?"
HARRISON: We really have to take a look at the words. We call them the words of institution: "Take, eat, this is My body. Take, drink, this is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." Is Jesus speaking in kind of a symbolic way? Well, unfortunately, the New Testament never uses the word symbol for the Lord's Supper—ever. And so—and there's also quite strong indication in the New Testament that the Lord actually meant what He said when He said, "This is My body. This—which I'm holding in My hands—is My blood."
WILKEN: This runs entirely counter to our senses—to our reason.
HARRISON: It does indeed. And I think it points to the way God works. The Lord's Supper is intimately bound up with the whole Christian faith in a way that I think is quite surprising. We see that it is the Gospel because in the purest sense the Christian merely receives. Recognizing his own sinfulness, he merely receives and lays hold of the gift delivered.
WILKEN: What is that gift?
HARRISON: The gift is the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. And even moreso that the ancient fathers of the church called the Lord's Supper "the medicine of immortality." And they did this based upon John 6: "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood, I shall raise him up on the Last Day." This flesh and blood of Christ is the medicine of immortality which guarantees a resurrection for us. Jesus Himself points to that right when He gives the words of institution, especially in Luke's Gospel. He says, "I will not drink of it again until I drink of it with you in the Kingdom." He's speaking of a resurrection right there.
WILKEN: Our guest, Pastor Matt Harrison, is executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care. We're talking this evening on Issues, Etc. about the Lord's Supper. So far, we know why it's called the Lord's Supper. Not only did He institute this as a fulfillment of the sacrifice made at the Passover, now He is the One Lamb, the One spotless Lamb, made for the rescue and the redemption of all men.
But we also know that in calling it the Lord's Supper, it is the Lord's work! It's not our work. It's not a mere reenactment or play-acting to simply remember a distant Savior but, in fact, Christ Himself coming to serve us with His body and blood for us to eat and drink.
Now, does this baffle the senses? Without a doubt it baffles my senses! But where do we put our attention on the Lord's Supper? Upon what the Lord says it is and not what we think or can understand it to be. He says, "This is My body for you, My blood for you."
Now, maybe you've got a question or a comment on the Lord's Supper. Here's our call-in number: 1-800-730-2727. And our in-studio E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
When we come back, an objection often raised—even within Christian circles about the Lord's Supper—maybe Jesus is simply speaking metaphorically as when He says, "I am the Vine." We'll answer that after this.
WILKEN: We're talking about the Lord's Supper tonight on Issues, Etc. Our guest, Pastor Matt Harrison, executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Matt, tell us about the work of LCMS World Relief.
HARRISON: LCMS World Relief is the arm of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod which assists people in need in all kinds of circumstances, whether in disaster, domestically or internationally. It's the development arm which assists Christians all over the world in dealing with challenging circumstances—poverty and all of life's difficulties. We work closely with other Christians in many different efforts and also assist Lutherans all over the world in bettering their own circumstances.
WILKEN: More specifically, what about the most recent tsunamis and the relief efforts there?
HARRISON: We have a number of Lutheran partners in the tsunami-effected areas, and also through our partner, Lutheran World Relief Baltimore, we are working with many other Christians to address tsunami issues. We have work going on Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Thailand, and other places.
WILKEN: So you are a busy man.
HARRISON: Yeah! We've been busy lately.
WILKEN: Folks—[laughter]—you can check out the Web site for LCMS World Relief by simply going first to our Web site: issuesetc.org. Look under the "Links" section, and you'll find a direct link to Pastor Matt Harrison and LCMS World Relief. Or just call our resource line number: 1-800-737-0172, and we'll give you the phone number and the mailing address for LCMS World Relief.
All right, a common objection regarding the Lord's Supper, Matt, is that we are—at least so far in our conversation—misreading Jesus. He did not ever intend to be taken literally when He said, "This is My body, this is My blood." But He intended it in a more obvious sense that our reason can grasp, which is, "this bread symbolizes—represents—My body. This cup symbolizes—represents—My blood." You said Scripture does not permit for that reading of Jesus' words. Why so? How do you respond?
HARRISON: You know, Todd, I actually believed that position at one time, before I really took a serious look at the New Testament, and there are a couple of things that really convinced me.
First off, the words themselves—now, Jesus Himself uses metaphorical language in many places: "I am the Vine, you are the branches," etc. The question is, is Jesus using metaphorical language here? Now, if Jesus would have said, "Take, eat, this is fish," or "Take, eat, this is very good bread," there would be absolutely no question about what He was saying. But the fact is here, He says very clearly, "Take, eat, this—which I'm holding—is My body. This cup of wine is My blood, shed for you. Take it."
Now, if I were to reject that, I would have to say, "Well, it doesn't square with reason that Jesus would give such a gift. It seems absurd." But if I take the same principle, for instance, and look at John's Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Well, Jesus is not talking about—John is not talking about Jesus as God in the real sense; he's talking about Jesus as some sort of God—"
WILKEN: Or a symbol.
HARRISON: "—or a small god, or a symbol of God." Very quickly you lose the heart of the faith. So the question is not whether Jesus uses symbolic language or metaphorical language. He does often in the New Testament. The question is, is He, in fact, using it here?
Now, there are many other things that come to bear. Paul—and, actually, probably the earliest written account in 1 Corinthians—people don't realize that 1 Corinthians is probably written at least as early or earlier than the earliest Gospel. Paul speaks in very realistic terms. "If you're guilty of not discerning the body of Christ's presence, then you're guilty of the body and blood of the Lord," he says in 1 Corinthians 11.
Just before then, 1 Corinthians 10, he says, "Is the cup not a COIN NO NEAH—a participation in the blood of Christ? Is the bread not a participation in the body of Christ?" A partaking of that thing. So, the New Testament witness is rather solid on the issue, and I'm forced, really, to take my reason captive and give Jesus the benefit of the doubt.
WILKEN: So, Paul would've—if there would've been a misunderstanding, Paul would've had ample opportunity to correct it because, after all, Paul is there about explaining what the Lord's Supper is, and he doesn't try to clarify Jesus' clear words.
Then, maybe in a more practical sense for us everyday for those who participate in the Lord's Supper, what's the pastor holding in his hand? What is being put into our mouths to eat and drink?
HARRISON: We confess that when a church confesses that this is the Lord's body and blood, and that when this meal is repeated with the very words of Christ, the pastor holds in his hand Christ's very body and blood to be received by those who believe it and those who don't believe it. Paul says, "Those who receive it unworthily are guilty of profaning that very body and blood." So, the pastor doles out the body and blood of Christ. How? I have no idea. I have no idea how bread and wine can be at the same time body and blood. We don't try to figure that out. We don't try to answer these minute questions over how that can be. We just confess that that's what it is in a miraculous way.
WILKEN: That sounds—some would say—very Roman Catholic.
HARRISON: Well, it just so happens that Roman Catholics are not wrong about everything. And it just so happens that the Roman Catholics, while they try to explain the real presence with the doctrine of transubstantiation, which says that the bread turns into body, such that bread is actually no longer there, that's a way to try to philosophically understand or explain the real presence, nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, and Lutherans all confess this so-called "real presence of the body and blood of Christ."
WILKEN: With about a minute here—and I want to do more Scripture on the other side of this break—but with a minute here before we're up against this break, take us through a couple of places—other places in Scripture that speak clearly of the Lord's Supper. Where would you first beyond the words of institution in the Gospels?
HARRISON: We have the words of institution in two of the Gospels: Matthew and—we have them in Matthew, Mark, and Luke—three of the Gospels—and we don't have the words of institution clearly in John. However, in John we have this intriguing passage in John 6 where he says, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man you have no life in you." I believe that what's happening there, John is writing his gospel toward the end of the first century. He's writing in a context where there is deep misunderstanding and antagonism from those who do not understand the Gospel or Christ. And he's writing in a context where many are denying the incarnation of Jesus. And those who deny the incarnation always ended up denying the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament. And so John is using very realistic language: "Eat My flesh, drink My blood."
WILKEN: Let's pick up with the Scripture passages on the other side of this break.
Folks, listen to this:
It is Jesus who has done it all for us. He gives it all to us as He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. Look nowhere else but only to Him. Not to anything of our doing, but only to His. We find ourselves among the disciples who can't figure out what is going on, who have no confidence in themselves, who can even see themselves as betraying their Lord. But they hear what the Lord says and receive what His words say that He is giving to them. It doesn't depend on them at all.
Those are words from a Maundy Thursday sermon from Dr. Norman Nagel from our Issues, Etc. Book of the Month for March—Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel. He preaches there about the Lord's Supper.
Now this book is a collection of a lifetime of preaching from Dr. Norman Nagel, a regular guest here on the program. You can browse before you buy this book at our Web site: issuesetc.org. Or you can order Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel by calling Concordia Publishing House weekdays during regular business hours: 1-800-325-3040. The book is $24.99, plus shipping and handling. Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel. It's our Issues, Etc. Book of the Month for March. We'll be right back.
WILKEN: Next week on Issues, Etc., we're going to discuss "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ"--of course, Easter Sunday. Dr. Art Just of Concordia Theological Seminary will be our guest. Is the resurrection of Jesus more important than His crucifixion? How do we explain the differences in the Gospels' resurrection accounts? And what's the significance of Jesus' resurrection? We'll talk about it next week on Issues, Etc. with Dr. Arthur Just.
Now, if you'd like to know what we'll be discussing for the weeks ahead on the program, check out our Web site, issuesetc.org. While you're there, be sure to read several articles that we posted on the Web site on the Lord's Supper.
Now, we're going to be giving away a great book—this is a marvelous book on the Lord's Supper—to the best callers during this hour and the next. It's titled The Lord's Supper by Martin Chemnitz. He's often called ‘the second Martin' after Martin Luther in the Reformation. He's a second-generation Lutheran, and he did a lot to explain what the Reformation was saying on a lot of things, including in this book the Lord's Supper. That goes to the best callers and E-mailers in the next 45 minutes: 1-900-730-2727 and that E-mail address is email@example.com.
We talked before the break about the way Matthew, Mark, and Luke deal with the Lord's Supper in the words of institution, the unique way that John deals with the Lord's Supper in his gospel. What does Paul give us in the Lord's Supper? You mentioned a couple passages already.
HARRISON: Yeah, 1 Corinthians 10. Paul says "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?" That word COIN NO NEAH there means participation—taking part of. It's sometimes translated communion—communing with.
WILKEN: Is this why we call it Holy Communion, by the way?
HARRISON: Yeah, it is.
HARRISON: Because the Latin translation of the Greek here is communion. "The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" And then he goes on to say, "Because there's one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread." By partaking of this bread and wine, body and blood, the Lord not only forgives us—"given and shed for you for forgiveness"—but He also makes us into something that we weren't before. He makes us one. And it's no coincidence that following his teaching on the Lord's Supper, Paul immediately starts saying things like "If one member of the body suffers, do not all suffer with it?" So, you know, Todd, you go along and you kick a chair with your little toe, and you don't just say, "Well, it's just my little toe. It's very small; it's only a few centimeters long, no problem." No, you bend over. You grab your toe. Your whole face puckers up. You scream, "Ah-hh!" You scream to high heaven because your toe is hurting! Well, it's just a little toe! So also with the body of Christ because of the Lord's Supper. We're made one, and when any one of us—any one of the least is suffering anything, the body cares, loves, is concerned for. It can't be any other way.
WILKEN: And when Paul says of the Lord's Supper later, and he chides the Corinthians for their misuse of the Lord's Supper—this is the 11th chapter—what is his deep concern about the Corinthians' abuse?
HARRISON: Well, they were getting together some, he says, what is commonly called the agape meal. Somehow there was a larger meal associated with the Supper at the earliest times in Corinth, which soon fell away we know in the early history of the church. But some were getting drunk. Some weren't eating at all. And then he says, "I receive from the Lord what I delivered to you on the night when He when was betrayed, Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me." And the word remembrance is well and good. We believe the Supper is a remembering of Christ's sacrifice and His blessings for us. But it is also more than that, it's body and blood given and shed. "In the same way He took the cup after supper. ‘This cup is the New Testament in My blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.'" And then He goes on to say, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." What do you proclaim by partaking? You receive the Lord's gifts, and you receive it in faith, and right there by receiving it you're saying "I believe the Gospel."
You know, the sacrifice language—Hebrews says "the sacrifice has been made once for all time." There's no re-sacrifice of Christ in the Lord's Supper; it's a done deal. But because we know Christ is sacrificed and body and blood is given, the Gospel is always front and center. There was a sacrifice once for all for sins. The benefits continually are delivered over time.
And then Paul goes on to say "Everyone should examine himself and then eat of the bread and drink the cup, for anyone who eats and drinks without discerning—recognizing—the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself." Now, some have said, "Well, he's just talking about the body as the church—the body of Christ." I think Paul's probably talking in double entendre here, and he's concerned that the Corinthians aren't recognizing the church—that is, others—as Christians. And also they're doing that because they're not recognizing the body and blood of Christ which is present. And he says when that happens, "you are guilty of body and blood of the Lord." And the Greek word there means you're of sinning against something that is present.
WILKEN: Our call-in number: 1-800-730-2727. Let's go to the phones and talk first with Cynthia. She listens on WAVA in Washington, D.C. Cynthia, thank you for waiting. Welcome to Issues, Etc.CYNTHIA: Well, I'm glad to be able to be on. I got a question about the communion. Is the wine that we serve, is it the juice from the vine, or
The Rev. Todd Wilken is the host of Issues, Etc.