Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sermon: Cross and Communion


          This summer I’m going to be preaching a little differently—I’m going to be preaching topically, specifically on topics related to questions the congregation submitted to me during the last month. This sermon series began last week when Pastor Jim answered questions about the Lord’s Prayer and Discerning God’s Will.

          Today I will be preaching on two questions:
1. What is the significance and meaning of the procession of the cross at the beginning and end of the service?
2. Do we as Lutherans believe the bread and wine literally change into Jesus’ body and blood? I assume different Protestant sects believe different things in this regard. I believe Roman Catholics do believe it changes.

          I will tackle these questions bit by bit. First I will deal with the procession of the cross into church and then we will process the cross into the worship space here today
          Next, during the typical time of the Sermon I will tackle the communion question.
          Then, finally, before the recession of the cross, I’ll cover the significance of recessing the cross.

          We process in with the cross in order to acknowledge the symbol of our redemption—the Cross of Christ. We remember the life giving act of God’s son for our sake, his death on the cross.
          By beginning the service in such a way, we remind ourselves what kind of community is gathered here. It is a cross shaped community, a community immersed in Christ’s death, and made alive with Christ in his resurrection.
          Entering with the cross reminds us that we are a community defined by our Baptism into that death and resurrection of Jesus.
          That in fact, is why the next thing we do in worship, after processing with the cross, is that we return to the font, where we were Baptized, either through confession and forgiveness like we will do today, or in a more literal sense with Thanksgiving for Baptism.
          We process the cross to remind ourselves we are a cross people. A+A


          The official Lutheran answer to the question asked today about communion can be found in the Smalcald Articles as well as in Luther’s Large and Small Catechism.

          In the Smalcald Articles it is written:
“Concerning transubstantiation, we have absolutely no regard for the subtle sophistry of those who teach that the bread and wine surrender or lose their natural substance and that only the form and color of the bread remain, but it is no longer real bread. For it is in closest agreement with scripture to say that bread is and remains there as St. Paul himself indicates “The bread that we break” and “Eat of the bread.”

          And yet, we also affirm the words of Luther’s Large Catechism:
“It is the true body and blood of the Lord Christ, in and under the bread and wine, which we Christians are commanded by Christ’s words to eat and drink… the sacrament is bread and wine, but not mere bread and wine such as is served at the table. Rather, it is bread and wine set within God’s Word and bound to it.
“It is true, indeed, that if you take the Word away from the elements or view them apart from the Word, you have nothing but ordinary bread and wine. But if the Words remain, as is right and necessary, then by virtue of them the elements are truly the body and blood of Christ. For as Christ’s lips speak and say, so it is; he cannot lie or deceive.”

          So, what’s going on here? Luther is threading the needle between two different understandings of the Lord’s Supper which rely on Logic instead of Faith.

          In the first case, Luther is standing against Medieval Roman Catholic understandings of the Lord’s Supper, which rely on the science of the time, Aristotelian Logic, in order to explain what happens during communion.
          This way of looking at communion makes the claim that we are assured that Jesus is present with us in communion, because all things in the universe have accidents and substance. The accident of the thing is that which can be seen, touched, felt, etc, and the substance of the thing is what the thing actually is.

          So, for example, a fun joke you can play on your friends when you are in the hospital, is to get a Urine Sample Cup, fill it with apple juice, and drink it in front of them.
          In that case the accident is Urine, but the substance is Apple Juice.
          Just so, Medieval reliance on Aristotilian Logic insists we know Jesus is in communion because bread and wine are the accident and flesh and blood are the substance.
          Luther hears this argument and says, “That’s all math to me… we should believe Jesus is truly present in communion because he truly promises to show up, and Jesus doesn’t lie.”

          In the second case, Luther is standing against other protestant reformers like the French John Calvin and Swiss Huldrich Zwingli. They too, he felt, clung to logic instead of faith.
          When they debated with Luther about the Lord’s Supper they clung to a literal understanding of scripture—specifically that Jesus is at the Right Hand of the Father… which to them meant Jesus clearly couldn’t show up in bread and wine here on earth, because he was up in heaven.
          Luther countered that The Right Hand is a Hebrew way of saying strength or power, and so the Traditional understanding of that power involves the ubiquity of Christ—at essence, Jesus isn’t bound to any one place.
          For example, if you read the end of several of the Gospels, Jesus walks through walls, shows up on the road to Emmaus, and so on. So clearly he’s not stuck on a cloud somewhere, clearly he can show up in bread and wine if he promises he is going to.

          So convinced was Luther of the real presence that he met with Zwingli in Malburg and they went round after round for days and days about the real presence and Luther began to etch into the table they sat at “Est ist est.” That is “Is means Is.”
          As I read in the gospel today Jesus says, “this IS my body” and “this IS my blood.”

          So the question quickly becomes, why isn’t this common knowledge among Lutherans?
          To paraphrase the eminent theologian Mel Brooks: “I blame the Irish.”
          During the American Civil War tons of Protestants were dying left and right, just as Immigration from Catholic Ireland was picking up.
          And Samuel Schmucker, a Princeton Grad and one of the founders of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, saw this and lost his head. He believed the only way to keep Roman Catholicism from taking over America was to join Lutheran Protestants with Calvinist Protestants by chucking our understanding of Holy Communion.
          In response to this move away from traditional Lutheranism, a cadre of Faculty left Gettysburg and started up a new seminary in 1864, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
          Similarly, Lutherans in parts of the country in which everyone is either Lutheran or Catholic—especially in the Midwest—tend to downplay or even misrepresent our understanding of Communion in order to make a greater distinction between us and our Roman neighbors.

          But that’s all a lot of history and maybe a little dry. The important thing to know is this, Jesus shows up in the meal, he is really present. We know this to be true because he promises to show up, and Jesus doesn’t lie!
          If your beloved promised to meet you at the train station, would you sit at home wondering if mathematics can prove her arrival? Would you spend your time fretting over how she made it to the train station?  No, you would run stop lights to get there and see her!
          So too with Jesus, he promises to meet us in the meal! Rejoice, he will be there! Rejoice! His words point us to the reality of his forgiveness—in the meal Jesus promises us forgiveness, life, and salvation. A+A


          When we recess with the Cross, we find ourselves between the rich meal of Communion and the cross of Christ.
Fed and now following, bringing with us that promise we received in the Body and Blood of our Lord, to be shared with a hurting, crucified, world.
          We are led out into the world to find God in unexpected places, God on the cross, following Christ wherever he may lead.