Read the section in the Small Catechism on the Sacrament of the Altar
This sacrament goes by many names; the Sacrament of the Altar, the Sacrament of the Table, Holy Communion, Communion, Eucharist (the Greek word for thanksgiving). Each refers to the sharing of bread and wine, which is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. A meal that has been shared by believers from the very beginning of the Christian church.
It is described in Acts 2:41-42, “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
The description of this meal and ritual appears in the earliest texts outside of the bible as well. What then are we to make of it?
What the sacrament is- Luther believed and taught that what Christ promised is true. This is (as in equals) his body and his blood. That Jesus is truly present in/with/and under the bread and wine. Why? Because Jesus promised. We miss his emphasis in the last sentence, “for us Christians to eat and drink.” In the Middle Ages it was understood that the benefit came from being present at the consecration, not from the partaking. Luther understood that the intent Jesus’ command is that the Meal is for eating.
This visible presence of Jesus Christ among us was a gift of God, meant to assure the faithful of Christ’s real presence among us. We know Christ is present here now. Because we taste the tart flavor of the wine, the crumbliness or moistness of the bread. These real experiences of these elements are a gift to us, for we receive the real Jesus in a real way.
What is the benefit of eating and drinking- Luther understood that the meal is “food for the soul” to strengthen us in our daily living out of our baptism against sin, death, and all evil. It also offered us forgiveness of sins and in that life and salvation.
Like real food strengthens us, so this Meal strengthens us. And, like real food, we should eat this as frequently as possible. For we desperately need what this meal has to offer.
How can bodily eating and drinking do such a thing- It is not just the eating that brings this, but it is the eating of one who trusts those words, “This is my body…this is my blood” and who knows that it is “given and shed for you.” All these things come together and bring about what they promise.
Who receives this sacrament worthily- Basically, Luther is speaking to the practices of the day. However, his warning might also be worth hearing for us, as we have in the past placed impediments in front of those desiring to receive the sacrament.
For Luther, the primary thing is trusting in the promise and that this promise is “for you”. In later conversation, Luther wrote that all Christians need the sacrament. By that measure, even babies should be communed. What then of faith, you may ask? Luther points us back to the Third Article, “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or strength believe…” The faith that receives and trusts this promise is the one that is given to us.
How does this happen- This is a question that is often raised among believers. When our rational brain kicks in. Luther’s response was this, “I do not know. But I do know full well that the Word of God cannot lie, and it says that the body and blood of Christ are in the sacrament.” Christ is present in, with, and under the elements and this is one of those questions Luther thought we ought not spend too much time on. To seek the answer to this question is more a means of seeking to control God, rather than trust in God’s promise.
Questions for thought and conversation:
- How does Luther’s understanding compare with your own? What is challenging? What is comforting?
- How often do you reflect on the words, “for you” as you receive communion? What helps or hinders you from hearing personally and truly that Christ is “for you”?
- How are you changed by knowing that God loves and forgives you unconditionally? How does the basic message of this meal “You are loved, forgiven, and free” enable you to live a changed life in the world?
Read the section in the Small Catechism on the Morning and Evening Blessing
A few things to keep in mind when reading these. First, these are intended to be used within the household. With children and adults. These morning and evening blessings along with the meal blessings are reflections of Luther’s own positive experiences as a monk of the daily office of prayers. This is a gift that is available to us as Christians which we do not often make use of. The gift of having our day “interrupted” so that we might better be mindful of God within our daily lives.
Getting into these disciplines of morning and evening prayer, of prayer around meals, also begins to give us a vocabulary and familiarity with God. They are meant to be a gift, a constant reminder that we are baptized children of God whom God has claimed, whom God provides daily bread for.
Note also the reference to the Catechism, that one might recite the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. What I find is that when I teach confirmation, when I hear again Luther’s explanations, those tend to be a running commentary in my head as I recite them. Things that move me from mindless recital of these basics into mindful interaction and prayer. They become a gift and a means for my own daily growth in faith.
Questions for thought and conversation:
- What would it be like to take a week and commit to doing these morning and evening blessings and a prayer at meal time? Take the challenge and reflect on what the experience was like for you.
- Does a meal time prayer change your view of that act? Luther understood that sharing a meal is a sacred act, akin to communion. In what practical ways do you foster or hinder the sacredness of eating together?
- What of these prayers and blessings are helpful to you? How might you want to change them to be more helpful?