Eat Your Heart Out
A 19th century Lutheran observed that this whole mystery of evil, of the powers and sorrows which overwhelm our race, of the past, the present, and future of sin, revolves around a single natural eating, forbidden by God. He went on to say that we learn from the Fall what fearful consequences can be associated with the simple act of eating" (Conservative Reformation and It's Theology, 587). Tonight Jesus shows that another simple act of eating can undo the judgment, the evil, and the sorrow that overwhelms us. So eat your hear out.
That expression can mean something good: eat your heart out, pine for, long for, desire greatly something. When Alexander Hamilton lay dying for 37 hours having been shot in a duel with Aaron Burr, he longed for the Sacrament. His Dutch Reformed clergymen refused because their church didn't allow private communion. They comforted him by telling him it was only a symbol. He said he knew it was only a symbol but wanted it anyway (Eidsmoe, Christianity and Constitution, 160).
The Orthodox, who have as strict of a closed Communion policy as we do, use antidoron to satisfy in some way people's craving for the Sacrament. During the consecration large bowls of pieces of bread are held over the Body and Blood of Christ. After the liturgy people can get that antidoron, and though it's not blessed bread, holy bread, or the Lord's Body but just common food, people long to eat it anyway (The Heresy of Formlessness, 182-3).
What about us? Do we eat our heart out for the real thing? Our Large Catechism says, "If you could see how man knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you, you would be glad to come to the Sacrament at often as possible." (LC, V, 82). Hamilton saw that on his deathbed and the un-communicated at the Orthodox church do too and so they eat their heart out for even just a symbol of the Lord's Body and Blood.
We have the real deal right here. Jesus words are quite clear, "This is My Body given for you." The same Body only hours for now you will see arrested, mistreated, lashed, and crucified is here now for you, not to condemn you, not to shame you, but to forgive you. The same Blood only hours from now you will see drip from bleeding lips, run down a furrowed brow, well up from a lacerated back, and flow from a wounded side is here for you. For what reason? To make you feel bad? To make you try harder to be good boys and girls? No, Jesus says it's "for the remission of sins." His Body is here for bodies withered away by sinfulness and His Blood is hear for souls shriveled up from thirst.
The same grace, the same forgiveness, the same mercy and peace that people eat their heart out for in this Sacrament is also in Baptism and Absolution. So why did the dying Hamilton and the un-communed at the Orthodox eat their hearts out for even a symbol of the Sacrament? Because the Lord's Supper is the only means of grace that engages all five senses. It blows the sinner away, it overwhelms, it inundates him preaching to his nose, his ears, his eyes, his tongue, his hand that he is forgiven.
When the Jews celebrate Passover they set aside a cup of wine for Elijah who is the forerunner of their messiah and they even open the door just to make sure he knows he's welcome (Milwaukee Journal, 4-8-79). Isn't that neat? Do you see how it preaches physically to them? Well, we don't have a cup of wine to remind us of Jesus, we have a cup of wine that is Jesus' Blood. We don't leave a door open to let Jesus know He's welcome. We welcome the actual Jesus singing, "Blessed are You who comes in the name of the Lord."
So eat your heart out. Long, pine, deeply desire to communicate with the Body and Blood of your Lord in this space at this time. Of course, eat your heart out can mean to pine away in an unfulfilled way. And that's part of our Communion practice too. It's called closed Communion. St. Paul said based on the institution of the Lord's Supper Jesus handed down to him that "there have to be divisions among you."
What we have to be crystal clear about is that closed Communion is not about worthy Communion. It's not about who should go to Communion but about who should go to Communion together. The Catholics, Baptists, ELCA Lutherans, or even Missouri Lutherans I don't commune aren't unworthy communicants to me. I'm not making that determination when I talk to them. I am asking if they are of the same faith that we are because it would be contrary to Communion, a meal showing shared faith, for people who are of different faiths to commune at the same altar.
The Jesus the Catholics commune with says pray to My mother; the Jesus the Baptist commune with says don't baptize your baby; the Jesus the ELCA communes with says homosexuality is not a sin to be repented of; the Jesus open Communion LCMS churches commune with says all these things don't matter; contradictory faiths can and should commune at the same altar. But Communion isn't a parish fair where Christians and even non-Christians can get together in a spirit of goodwill and friendship. You know who compared Communion to a parish fair? Zwingli, Luther's rival theologian who denied the Real Presence (LW, 37, 141, fn. 246). Luther sharply denounced this idea (Ibid.).
From Paul's account of the Corinthian communion practice they too had a parish fair idea. There were lots of eating and drinking aside from the eating and drinking of the Lord's Body and Blood to proclaim His death until He came. An eating and drinking far different than the Meal the Lord instituted. To His Supper Jesus invited only those He had instructed for 3 years. Jesus didn't even Commune His own mother at the first Lord's Supper. And no, it can't be determined from Scripture if Jesus did or didn't commune Judas. Even if He did, Judas hadn't publicly broken fellowship with Jesus yet.
Eat your heart out can mean long for something in a good way and it can mean to long for something that you cannot have yet. The practice of Communion has both kinds of longing even for us who commune here. We long for the Lord's Body and Blood, and we long for the time all the people of God will eat and drink at the same altar as will happen in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in heaven. In the meantime, I tell you whom I do commune: eat your heart out in the sense eat your fill, but first I say, "Examine yourself."
That's what Paul says, "A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup." Some trumpet this verse as proving it's up to the individual to decide if he communes, the pastor has nothing to say about it. Wrong, first Paul declares in I Cor. 4 that pastors are "stewards" of Communion. A steward determines what his fellow slaves get. Second, Paul is writing to his members. It's about his members communing, not whether members of another church should. Paul isn't addressing here whether Methodists visiting Lutherans or Lutherans who disagree on what the Bible teaches should commune together.
So I say to my members: examine yourself before coming to this altar. This is more important than ever. Although our Lutheran Confessions say and early Missouri did require that no one came to communion without first being examined and absolved by the pastor, that practice went by the wayside well over 50 years ago. Now members have much more freedom, but with more freedom comes more responsibility.
In the Army's Ranger school, you do Australian rappelling. This is where you go over a cliff face first holding on to a rope with one hand with your weapon in the other. We were practicing this on a cliff of 500 feet. Each time you got to the top, you'd hook yourself up to the rope and show the Ranger instructor. If you had what was known as a fatal hook up, the rope would have nothing to slow it and you would fall down the cliff. After about my fourth trip, I showed the instructor and he said nothing. I asked, "Am I good to go?" He said, "Son, who do you think is going to check you in combat?"
I glanced over at another Ranger hooked up and noticed his was different than mine. One of us was wrong; I decided that in training they wouldn't let us fall down the cliff, so I stepped off. My hook up was right. They stopped the other soldier. But because the instructor had seen that I had noticed the other soldier's hookup and didn't say anything, he assumed I knew the other had a fatal hookup but said nothing. So after much cursing and insulting of me, he made me do 25 push ups upside down on the face of the cliff.
That was 35 years ago; I no longer know what a fatal hookup looks like, but I do know what worthy and unworthy commune look like. I do know what should and shouldn't keep a person from communing. While our synod has said it no longer wants pastors checking members approaching Communion, which can be a cliff where people get injured and even die, you should know you still have one. If in examining yourself, you can't determine whether you have a fatal hookup or not, take no chances ask your pastor.
Communion is too powerful of a medicine to take chances with. That's why it's to be distributed with care. You can't go around handing out heart medicine as if it were candy. You can't distribute it with fun and frivolity at a parish fair. If you did you'd surely make some weak, some sick, and you'd probably kill a few. But if Communion is only a sign, a symbol, then it's nothing more than a placebo, a sugar pill, a candy. Then it would not matter who ate it to their fill, who got it as easily as candy at a parish fair.
This isn't a placebo; this isn't candy; this isn't parish fair food, but it is food: food and drink to save bodies and souls for eternity. So, having examined yourself eat your heart out. Eat your fill. This is the Body and Blood of your God and Savior. There's no sin that you've committed with your Body that Jesus didn't pay for with His Body. There's no sin that makes blood rush to your face with shame that Jesus didn't forgive with the Blood that He distributes at this altar. There's no sin that you can't forget that this Body and Blood can't forgive. There's no guilt so deep or memory so painful that this Body and Blood can't reach to forgive or relieve it. So eat and drink Jesus' Body and Blood for forgiveness and relief and know that it's Jesus heart's desire that you do. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Maundy Thursday (20110421); I Cor. 11: 17-32