Weekly Communion and the Church’s Heartbeat

IMG_9592(Pastor Amen has spent time in past newsletters, Bible Studies, and other discussions on offering the Lord’s Supper each week. Beginning Reformation Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015 the Lord’s Supper will be offered at each Divine Service.)

“After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.” (AC xxiv:3)

So often Christian worship is thought of as our service to God and what we can do for him. The beating heart of Christian worship comes in receiving the gifts of our Lord in His Word and Sacraments, as He comes to us to give us Himself for the forgiveness of sins.

Following Pentecost, we learn that the Church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). From this verse, we see a brief description of the religious life of the first Christian congregation. The Greek word for “devoted” means a persistent and faithful devotion in something. The Church was not only devoted to the preaching of God’s Word “the apostle’s teaching or doctrine” but they were equally devoted to the Lord’s Supper (the breaking of bread).

At the heart of the early Christian’s fellowship with God and with one another was this treasure of Word and Sacrament. The preaching of the apostles and the reception of Christ’s body and blood went hand and hand. The early church always had sermon and supper together. The Lord’s Supper is the climax of the sermon. The two go hand in hand.

In the introduction to the Small Catechism, Luther writes, “Our preaching should…be such that of their own accord and without our command, people will desire the Sacrament and, as it were, press us pastors to administer it to them…. For Christ did not say, “Omit this” or “despise this”, but “This do, as often as you drink it,” etc. He most certainly wants it done and does not want it left undone and despised. “This do”…only emphasizes clearly the benefit, need, usefulness, and blessing connected with the Sacrament, and also the harm and danger of neglecting it.” So, the weekly opportunity to commune was central to the reforms Luther made as he sought to return to the worship practice of the Scriptures and the early church.

In answer to the Roman charge that Lutherans had abandoned the Christian faith and sacraments, Philip Melanchthon writes in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, “In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals, when the Sacrament is offered to those who wish for it” (Apology p. XXIV).

Luther says in the Small Catechism that the chief benefit of this sacrament is the forgiveness of sins. He writes, “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” He also writes in the Large Catechism, “In this sacrament [Christ] offers all the treasure he brought from heaven for us, to which he most graciously invites us…” He also writes, “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.”

In this gift, the Lord of the Church comes to His holy bride to feed her the Bread of Life. Here, the Good Shepherd comes to restore the souls of His sheep. In the face of temptations and trials that face us each week, in sickness and suffering, amid pressures and pain, facing disappointment and death in this sinful world, the risen Christ comes into our midst with pure, wholesome, soothing medicine. From the altar, He gives us food for our journey to heaven. The Sacrament of the Altar is not a footnote in an article, but the Holy Supper is the Church’s heartbeat. Along with the preached Gospel, it is what keeps the Church alive.