Real Presence or Really Absent?
Real Presence or really absent? That's the question tonight and on the answer hinges whether Holy Communion as our sermon series theme says really is an aid to faith and answers for life.
An absent Jesus is neither aid nor answer, but that's what appears to the senses, to science, and to reason. There's nothing on this altar or anyone else's after the Words of Institution but bread and wine. Yes, science has done tests with electron microscopes and pronounced, "There's nothing here other than what meets the eyes." And our other senses add: there's nothing here that contradicts the eyes: smells like bread and wine; tastes like bread and wine; feels like bread and wine. And reason agrees. How is it possible for bread to be Body and wine to be Blood? Even "Biblical" reason recoils. Why would the God who made such a big deal about not partaking of the blood of animals institute a Meal where His Blood is a main course?
The Reformed, any denomination not confessional Lutheran, Catholic, or Orthodox, agree with reason, senses, and science. The Consensus Tigurinus of 1549, a main Reformed confession of faith, says it "a perverse and impious superstition" to believe Jesus' Body and Blood are under the elements of this world (Lonely Way, I, 427). The Thirty Nine Articles, the confession of all Episcopalians and most Anglicans, says, "[T]he means where the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith" (XXVIII). The Methodist say the same thing in their Book of Discipline (Article XVIII). The Presbyterian confession says the Body and Blood are "spiritually present to the faith of believers" (Westminster Confession). The Baptist confession also says the body and blood are "spiritually present to the faith of believers" (1689 London Confession, 7). Liberal Lutherans in Communion with churches who deny the Body and Blood of Jesus are present also forfeit the Real Presence.
Those whose altars are really absent of the Body and Blood of Jesus get no aid or answers from His Body and Blood, but neither do those who commune at altars that have the Real Presence but don't believe it's there. Several years ago a survey said that 70% of Catholics didn't believe the Body and Blood were really present. I was shocked till I found a 1972 survey saying 70% of Lutherans didn't either. Hear from Luther how real the presence is. "Christ's body is broken and divided at the table and bitten, chewed, and swallowed like other bread, though in the form of bread or in the bread" (LW, 37, 333).
If you don't believe Jesus' Body and Blood are actually, truly, physically present in Bread and Wine, stop communing. You're poisoning yourself. You're eating and drinking condemnation not salvation. You're meeting Jesus here as Judge not Savior. You're doing what the Jewish leaders and soldiers did. They saw Jesus as nothing more than a man, so they thought nothing of beating, mocking, and spiting upon God.
Those who want nothing to do with Jesus on their altar often speak of Communion as a picture. A picture may be worth a 1,000 words but it's worthless compared to the real thing. A picture of a pizza may make your mouth water, but it won't nourish you. A picture of your spouse may warm your heart but won't warm your bed on a cold night. And if it's a picture you want, a really good painting of the crucifixion would bring to mind what Christ gave and shed for you more than bread or wine do.
Communion isn't a picture of Jesus' Body and Blood; it is His Body and Blood, and this is His testament to us. A testament is a will. No one uses figurative language in a will. No one leaves one thing that represents another. A last will and testament is very clear about who gets what, and one thing is for sure, no one ever made a will in order to leave absolutely nothing other than what their heirs already had.
A Jesus whos is really absent from the altar is neither an aid to faith nor answers to life. A present Jesus is both. In the Old Testament the Lord was really present to walk with Adam in the evening. Moses begged the Lord to not take His real presence from them after the Golden Calf incident. Psalm 114:6 says the sea flees, the mountains skip, and the earth trembles before the presence of the Lord. The demons could not help themselves from bowing before the real presence of Jesus, and on the Last Day every tongue will confess it and ever knee will bow before the real presence of Jesus whether in heaven, on earth, or in hell says Philippians.
Here we are to the stickiness of the wicket. When God wraps Himself in outward things, the senses can't perceive anything but those outward things. Your senses can prove that bread and wine are on that altar, but they cannot prove Jesus Body and Blood are not. Likewise your senses can prove to you that you are sinner. You feel it, see it, hear it, taste it, and maybe even smell it, but your senses can't prove you're not redeemed, forgiven, saved. Neither demons nor angels are fooled by the human side of Jesus, and on the Last Day nobody else will be either. Same goes for the righteousness, holiness, godliness you have right know for Jesus' sake. On the Last Day it will be felt, seen, heard, tasted, and even smelled.
What to do in the meantime? Are you going to go by what your senses, reason, or science tells you, or are you going to go by what Jesus says? Pick one or the other. If you go by the former say goodbye to angels, heaven, forgiveness, and your loved ones who died in Christ because according to science, reason, or senses dead is dead. If you go by what Jesus says see angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven here to worship and adore the Body and Blood of Jesus that He says are present in Communion.
You're missing something if you don't realize that it is because the Body and Blood of Jesus are present in this time and space that we bow and kneel at this altar. Eventually, I am going to restore the genuflection where after each part of the consecrating Words the pastor presents the Body then the Blood giving the congregation the opportunity to bow and then he genuflects before them. I plan on doing this to testify in the most powerful way I know to our Reformed and Liberal Lutheran brothers and sisters in Christ that we believe Someone is present here that they do not.
You saw in the Passion Reading that what people did with their bodies reflected who they really thought Jesus was. Those who thought no more than an ordinary flesh and blood man were present felt free to hit, mock, and ridicule Him. Peter for a while denied who Jesus really was, but when he remembered who He was he went out and wept bitterly for what he did to his Lord. In the end even Judas who thought he was betraying nothing more than a sinful man realized he was betraying innocent blood and went to be absolved by the Church who refused.
Jesus was an aid to Peter's faith but not to Judas'. The text says "the Lord" not "Jesus" turned to look at Peter and that brought him to repentance and faith. The text says when Judas saw that "Jesus" not "the Lord" was condemned that led to repentance but not to faith. The Body and Blood of Jesus present here is to be an aid to your believing. As sure as all five of your senses testify that you are eating and drinking Bread and Wine, so sure do you have what Jesus says you do. "My Body given for you." "My Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins."
See in this text what He means by "given" and "shed." He gives His real Body over to real beating because that's what your body really deserves for your sins of just today. His real Body is bruised with fists and speckled with spit because that's what your body really deserves for all the things against God and Man you have done with it. See, that's real blood coming from Jesus' busted lip. That's real blood welling up on His cheek from a fist that landed there.
But all this giving and shedding of Jesus' real Body and Blood is useless to you if the words "for you" don't resonate, echo, reverberate through your head, heart, and life. He's taking your place here. He's showing you that everything your sins deserve and your conscience fears already happened to Him. So eat His Body in this Bread and drink His Blood in this Wine and know that you really have all that He won and did for you. This isn't a picture of what He did; this is His real Body and Blood with which He did it. This isn't a meal to remember what He did for you; this is the Meal where He gives you what He did for you.
The Body and Blood of Jesus really present on this altar are also answers to life. Buddha is said to have lived on a single grain of rice per day. A single fleck of Jesus' real Blood; a single crumb of His real Body can sustain you for life everlasting. Ignatius who died just 7 years after the apostle John called Communion the Medicine of Immortality (Ephesians 20,2). The ordinary bread and wine on the altars of all Reformed and liberal Lutheran churches is transformed into the body which eats it. The real Body and Blood of Jesus "transforms the person who eats it into itself, and makes him like itself, spiritual, alive, and eternal" (LW, 37, 100).
But how does this provide answers to life? You're no longer a material girl or boy but a spiritual one; you're no longer waiting to die but alive; you're no longer are here for such a short time but for eternity. All the magic potions that transform people, empower people, bless people are poor parodies of what really happens when you eat God's Body and drink His Blood. If we can be thrilled by the close of John Magee's poem where he puts out his hand and touches the face of God, how much more thrilling to eat His Body and Drink His Blood for our highest good now and forever?
Jesus has left us more than bread and wine as an inheritance. On the night He was betrayed, He in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, divided His estate among His followers. He could have left us anything or everything in all heaven and earth: riches, power, popularity, success, but this is what He did leave us His Body and His Blood. Funny thing is. Many churches don't want it. We do. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Midweek III (20150304); Communion I, Passion Reading 3