Communion – What and Who is Given and Served?


The Divine Service contains two services: The Service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament. 

What is a sacrament? 

A Lutheran List of Requirements for Something to be a Sacrament:

  1. A Sacred Act
  2. Instituted by God
  3. Has the promise of God’s forgiveness and grace attached to it.
  4. Is connected to a visible means or external element.

The word Sacrament is not in the Bible.  So different denominations might view this word and its meaning differently.

Because of this, different denominations have different sacraments. 

“It is far more profitable to focus on the meaning and use of particular things than to argue about the numbers of sacraments.  For example, what does the Bible say about the Lord’s Supper, and how are we to use it?  This is much more fruitful than the question of categories” (Called to Believe, page 202).

Does Communion meet these four requirements to be called a sacrament?

Read Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 to see if these requirements are in Scripture. 

Questions to ask:

What makes the Lord’s Supper efficacious?

The person distributing the bread and wine?

The people receiving the bread and wine?

What type of bread was used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper? (Luke 22:7)

What type of bread was used for Passover? (Exodus 12:7)

However, the words of institution do not signify it has to be a certain type of bread.

What type of bread have you seen used? 

What is the mode of distribution? 

Wine is the other element of the Lord’s Supper.

Matthew 26:29 – How does this verse refer to the cup?

What were they drinking in 1 Corinthians 11:20-21?

Is it OK for Christians to drink alcohol?

Ephesians 5:18 – What does this verse say?

John 2:1-22 – What was the miracle in this passage?

Matthew 11:19 – Do you think Jesus drank if he was accused of this? 

What is received in the Lord’s Supper?

Real Presence – Teaches that Christ’s body and blood is received as is bread and wine.  This teaching uses the phrase “in, with, and under” to explain the location of the blood and body in the wine and bread.

1 Corinthians 10 – Participation in the blood of Christ and the Body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11 – Sinning against the body and blood of Christ. Is means is. 

Matthew 26:28 says that there is forgiveness of sins through the blood.

1 Corinthians 10 – One loaf, one body of Christ.

Other views

Transubstantiation –  Bread and wine is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.  The traditional Roman Catholic Mass then has the priest take the Body and Blood and offer it as a sacrifice for sin.  He did not kill Jesus on the altar, just offered the Body and Blood as a sacrifice for sins.  Participation was a good work that earned participants merit before God. 

Consubstantiation – A new substance is formed. 

Spiritual Presence – The presence of Christ is in the meal, but just spiritually. Calvin advocated for this.  “The finite is incapable of the infinite.”  Really?  What about the incarnation?  A participant only receives bread and wine, but the Spirit enables the participant to reach up to heaven and partake of Christ there. 

Symbolic or Memorial Meal – The elements are just earthly.  No presence of Christ at all, nor is there any gifts, such as the forgiveness of sins in the meal.  It is an object lesson to help us recall what Christ has done for us.  The focus is upon our work. 

Quotes from early Church fathers on communion:

“I take no delight in corruptible food or in the dainties of this life.  What I want is God’s bread, which is the flesh of Christ, who came from David’s line; and for drink I want his blood: an immortal love feast indeed!” – Letters of Ignatius: Romans: Paragraph 7

“Pay close attention to those who have wrong notions about the grace of Jesus Christ, which has come to us, and not how at variance they are with God’s mind.  They care nothing about love: they have no concern for widows or orphans, for the oppressed, for those in prison or released, for the hungry or thirsty.  They hold aloof from the Eucharist and from services of prayer, because they refuse to admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.”

– Letters of Ignatius: Smyrnaeans: Paragraph 2

“This food we call Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down for us.  For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word or prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.” – First Apology of Justin: Paragraph 66

“But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. 1 Corinthians 10:16 For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins. Colossians 1:14 And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills Matthew 5:45). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies. When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?— even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. Ephesians 5:30 He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; Luke 24:39 but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones—that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body.” Irenaeus (Against Heresies Book 4, Chapter 2)

Why do we celebrate Holy Communion today?

  1. To remember Jesus’ death (1 Corinthians 11:25)
  2. To confess our faith in Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:26)
  3. To receive strength for our faith (Luke 22:19-20)
  4. To receive the personal assurance of forgiveness (Matthew 26:28)
  5. To receive comfort and peace (Matthew 11:28)

The Sacraments are Signs

One of your elders comes to you with a question about the Apology of the Augsburg Confession.  “It says in Apology 13 that the sacraments are ‘signs and testimonies of God’s will towards us’ (AP 13.1).  My Baptist friends say that the sacraments are symbols too.  How is this any different?”

Trigger Warning

Elder John, I am glad that you are reading the confessions and mulling over their meaning. This is a very good question.  I tend to forget the wording of that passage of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession.  When a Baptist calls the sacraments signs, he means that the Body of Christ and the Blood of Christ are not actually present in communion, and that baptism does not forgive one’s sins or unite one to Christ or gives one new life and an adoption into the Kingdom of God.

I’m actually surprised that you’ve encountered Baptist friends who would even call baptism and communion as sacraments.  They usually refer to the sacraments as ordinances, meaning that they are being obedient to Christ’s commands when they are baptized or take communion.  When you ask a Baptist what baptism is the typical answer is that baptism is “his public commitment to be a follower of Christ.”  When you ask a Baptist what communion is the typical answer is that communion is “a remembrance meal in which he remembers Christ’s suffering for him.”  You can notice by these short explanations of what baptism and communion are to the Baptist that he views them as acts that he does, and he does them because Christ tells him to – hence the Baptists call them ordinances.

Lutherans however view the sacraments quite differently.  We agree with the Baptists that they are instituted by Jesus.  However, we see that they also have the promises of forgiveness of sins attached to them in Scripture – hence we call baptism and communion means of grace.  They are ways in which God has promised to deliver grace to us.  They are the promises of the Gospel connected to or with a visible and external element – in baptism it is the Word with the water and in communion the Word with the bread and wine.  Because we have not striped the promises of God’s forgiveness and grace from the sacraments we trust that in baptism we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection and that in communion we are drinking not just bread and wine but also the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, literally tasting the forgiveness of sins as we eat and drink.

The confessions refer to the sacraments as signs, because of the promises God has given to us in the gracious gifts of baptism and communion.  The physical elements and the words that accompany them are signs and witnesses of God’s will towards us.  We know that is his will that no man perishes, but that all come to repentance and be saved.  We see that in the waters of baptism that wash away our sins and unite us in Christ’s death and resurrection.  We see that in the meal in which we eat his body broken for us and drink his blood shed for the forgiveness of all our sins.  We believe these gifts are actually present and active in the sacraments trusting that the Holy Spirit is working through them to strengthen and preserve our faith and give us the assurance that we are saved.

The assurance that we have of salvation in the sacraments comes from the promises of the Word of God that accompanies the water, bread, and wine.  Yet, the assurance also comes from the external and physical nature in which these promises come to us.  We are physical people.  Jesus came to save us physically. The Word became physical flesh. We are saved by the shedding of his physical blood. We are saved by his physical death and resurrection. God still comes to us today physically.  He comes to us through physical water with the Word.  He comes to us with physical bread and physical wine with the Word. It’s assuring to hear our sins are forgiven in the Gospel proclamation, but it’s also assuring to have our sins physically washed away and to be able to physically touch, taste, and smell the forgiveness of our sins.

We should feel sorrow for our Baptists brothers who have turned the gifts and gracious promises from Christ to his Church into works of the law and thus works of men.  We should feel sorrow for them that they have nothing external that is from God to look to and to touch and to feel to know that they are forgiven.  Because Baptists have denied monergism (that God alone works in salvation), they have involved their work in salvation – even if it is just the work of faith; it is a work that casts doubt on their assurance and certainty of salvation.  Since faith is the work of men in Baptist’s theology, Baptists can be plagued with the questions: “Have I believed enough?” and “Do I have too many doubts to be saved?”  To answer these internal questions, they have nowhere to look outside themselves for assurance of God’s “signs and testimonies of God’s will towards us.”  So typically, they look to their external works for that assurance of faith, since Scripture promises that we will bear fruit in Christ… but we’re still sinners and we cannot accurately make such judgments without falling into self-righteousness or despair.  Again, I say we should feel sorrow for our Baptist friends who have turned God’s gracious gifts in the sacraments into ordinances (commands that we must obey). 

99. Lutheran Theology Part 4

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Andy is joined by Wes, Jonathan, and Robby to continue the series on Lutheran Theology. This time the focus is on the means of grace, a term that is particularly Lutheran, and is used to describe the Gospel, baptism, and communion.

You’ll learn why Lutherans call baptism and communion a means of grace. Not all Christians would do this, and many would deny that they are ways in which God delivers his grace to individuals. Most Christians won’t deny the Gospel being a means of grace, so the bulk of the episode is focused on baptism and communion. Lutherans baptize babies and believe that Jesus’ body and blood is physically present in communion and is consumed along with bread and wine. Why do Lutherans believe these things? Listen and find out.