Maundy Thursday: The Miraculous in Holy Communion
April 21, 2011
Text: 1 Cor. 11:23-29
“If only I could see a miracle,” one might be heard to say, such a one being a well-meaning Christian, maybe even a Missouri Synod Lutheran. “I mean, I believe, but if only I could see one of the extraordinary miracles of God.” Maybe you’ve said something like this yourself. Of course, we all know what is meant. If only I could have been there to see Jesus perform one of His many miracles of healing: restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, curing leprosy, casting out demons, raising the dead. Or maybe one of God’s Old Testament miracles, like the crossing of the Red Sea, or the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, or the three men in the fiery furnace.
The real problem is, though, that we can’t recognize a miracle when it happens right under our nose. We can’t recognize a miracle if it hits us in the face, right between our lips. You know where this is going. And you’re right. You see a great miracle every time you come to the Divine Service for the Lord’s Supper. Here our crucified and risen Lord Jesus speaks through the mouth of a poor sinful man clothed in a divinely instituted office, and bread and wine are now the true body and blood of Christ. And you receive that true body and blood under the bread and wine in your mouths, to be eaten and drunk, for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. What could be more miraculous than that? And yes, we believe it really happens that way, that this is real, honest-to-goodness body and blood of Jesus that we eat and drink. Because Jesus says so, and He cannot lie. Jesus declares in the Words of Institution, recorded by the holy evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul: “this is my body… this is my blood” (Matt. 26:26, 28; ESV). It’s a miracle.
Many Christians deny the miraculous in Holy Communion. They say that at best, Jesus is spiritually (but not bodily) present with the bread and wine, at worst, He isn’t present at all, but the bread and wine are just symbols of His body and blood, to remind us of His death for our sins. This is the official teaching of many churches. But this isn’t what Jesus says. He says the bread is His body. He says the wine is His blood. There is absolutely no indication in the text that He is speaking symbolically. You can think of the word “is” as a big equals sign. The bread equals Jesus’ body, because He says so. The wine equals Jesus’ blood, because He says so. How this can be, we do not know. Nor does Jesus owe us an explanation. Obviously this is supernatural, meaning “above nature,” which is just another way of saying that this is miraculous. But that doesn’t take anything away from the truth that this bread and this wine that Jesus singles out in His Word is His true body and blood. And He tells us to eat it and drink it. When you eat and drink with faith in Jesus’ Words, you receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. When you eat and drink without faith in Jesus’ Words, denying the truth of Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament, St. Paul says you eat and drink judgment on yourself (1 Cor. 11:29). Needless to say, this is a serious matter. The Sacrament is powerful stuff. You shouldn’t use it without instruction. This is why we practice closed Communion. Because love demands that we protect our neighbor from eating and drinking to their judgment.
But practically speaking, even many Missouri Synod Lutherans who have been instructed about the Lord’s Supper, who have learned the Catechism, who have received the Lord’s Supper for years… even many Missouri Synod Lutherans for all practical purposes deny the miraculous in the Lord’s Supper. What I mean is that we so often heedlessly come forward without examining ourselves, without confessing our sins, without stopping to think about what a powerful miracle our Lord is accomplishing in our midst, without asking ourselves if we still believe the Word of the Lord and what this is He is distributing to us. The old sinful flesh treats the Lord’s Supper casually, as just another custom, a thing we do for the sake of doing it. Repent, beloved. Did you catch yourself thinking, when I compared the Sacrament to the other great miracles of the Bible, “Yeah, Pastor, I get it, but that’s not really what I mean when I say I want to see a miracle.” Exactly. Repent. Because the Sacrament is actually the greater miracle. That is why it is so unbelievable. When someone is miraculously cured of cancer, even the rankest unbeliever believes it. But when bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus by virtue of His Word, even the most faithful Christians deny it. Beloved in the Lord, this miracle, this gift of God’s grace which communicates to us the saving benefits of our Lord’s cross, this meal is to be received by faith. It cannot be rationalized or explained beyond the simple words of Jesus. It really is as simple as this: Jesus says it, we believe it. For Jesus cannot lie.
And faith basks in the great miracle, clinging to the benefits our Lord here promises. Receiving the Supper by faith, you are cleansed of all sin, cured of death by the life of Christ, saved from every peril to your soul, strengthened for life in this fallen world. Christ is now in you, even as you are in Christ. You are united with your brothers and sisters in Christ who commune with you in common confession. You commune with your loved ones who died in Christ, but who still live in Him. And just as this Sacrament heals you spiritually, who is to say what physical benefits there are in receiving the Sacrament? After all, you are coming into contact with the same body of the Son of God that healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Miracles do happen. They happen right here every Lord’s Day and every time we gather around the altar.
So, do you want to see a real life miracle? Come here. Behold what your Lord here does for you. Here He really touches you with His healing. Here He places His body on your tongue and pours His blood down your throat. Here He distributes to you freely the medicine of immortality. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 The theme and many of the thoughts in this sermon are from Miracles of Lent (St. Louis: Concordia 2011).