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Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
᛭ INI ᛭
What Paul says negatively, we actually believe positively. We believe the positive of what Paul puts in the negative. Because the negative statement is, of course, a warning, but, when flipped to the positive, it contains the most amazing promises about the Sacrament of the Altar, and it’s the Small Catechism that reveals to us the Gift hidden in the warning. (So simple children can grasp it!)
So, let’s lay it out: Paul says, Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. Luther in the Small Catechism takes up this verse and teaches its positive nature twice! First, he teaches us, “Whoever believes [the Words of Jesus] has exactly what they say, ‘forgiveness of sins.’” Second, we learn the following, “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”
Now, Paul’s words are true as written. God’s Word, including His warnings and Laws, is always true. His promises are also always true. So also, Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. On this Luther also teaches us, “Anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.”
Faith is what unites the catechism questions. Faith for the positive. Lack of faith of for the negative. Faith receives from Jesus as Jesus gives. Faith is “discerning,” as Paul puts it, but it discerns nothing other than whatever Jesus says and does and gives. Unfaith does not; it changes, calculates, measures, and rejects.
Faith sanctifies, makes you holy. Faith sanctifies because Jesus sanctifies; Jesus makes holy. “I, the LORD, who sanctifies you, am holy.” “Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” (Heb 13:12) And a person is “sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18)
Jesus sanctifies you completely: “your whole spirit, soul, and body.” (1 Th 5) You are holy: “heart, soul, mind, and strength”—what you think, feel, desire, and do. Holy actions, holy thoughts, holy words are yours by Jesus working on you by means of His Word and Gifts.
Your thoughts, words, and actions aren’t holy because they’re good. They’re holy because of faith. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Rom 14) That means no matter how good you think you are in thought, word, and deed—apart from faith they are sin. As even Isaiah prophesies: “All our righteous deeds”—the very best things we do—“are like a polluted garment.” (Is 64:6)
Because Jesus sanctifies, faith sanctifies—your heart, your mouth! “With the heart one believes and is justified and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Rom 10) (You can’t have one without the other.) Such faith is God’s Gift to you. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” (Rom 10) That’s not only the Word about Christ, what He’s done for you, but also Christ’s own Word, what He says.
Now, all that’s easy stuff for us Lutherans, except when it comes to Communion. Our sinful nature often adds or subtracts, calculates and figures beyond what Paul actually says. Paul does warn: Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. Which means: when someone doesn’t believe Jesus’ Words, which is not discerning His body, they eat and drink His body and blood not for forgiveness but rather judgment. Unbelief in Jesus’ Word makes the Sacrament a curse rather than blessing. From this passage we get our practice of closed communion. (Acts 15 and Galatians 2 lay out the proper order of operations when it comes to extending fellowship to one another.)
But we add more. Like what people should be doing or even looking like before they come or while they come to Communion. We makes personal judgements about proper demeanor. A somber person is not more worthy than a happy one. An outwardly glib one not less worthy than one with lots to show. Jesus nor Paul nor the Catechism talk about such things. “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.” But they don’t make you worthy for Communion.
But that’s what we hope! Often thinking, “Sure I’m not holy like I should be, but at least I got cleaned up this much!” We all fall into it! But what we’re all really doing is “placing burdens on people that neither we nor our fathers could bear!” (Acts 15) When it comes to our judgements, all we’re really doing is saying someone isn’t acting like me or like I think they should. “To be sure, it is true that those who despise the Sacrament and live in an unchristian way receive it to their hurt and damnation.” (LC V 69) But that’s the life of unbelief.
Things like demeanor or actions or feelings or even specialness become internal and external roadblocks to Communion. Infrequency, scarcity doesn’t engender specialness, rather fear. In fact, all of us are acutely aware of things that are special due to their great frequency! Empty-nesters, you know, all the various things you did frequently with your children, but then couldn’t. Same for all of us with children who age out of various stages. Things no longer said or done. So also any of us who move on in life, suddenly frequent things just stop. What wouldn’t you give to do them again! Greater frequency will move something past being “special” to being “cherished” and “desired.”
Even so, the Bible and Catechism don’t talk about such things, but they do say a lot about faith in Christ and His Words! Because of what Him and His Word, “We must never think of the Sacrament as something harmful from which we had better flee… It will cure you and give you life both in soul and body… Why, then, do we act as if the Sacrament were a poison, the eating of which would bring death?” (LC V 68) When you have faith in Jesus’ words and promises, you can have this comfort when it comes to the Sacrament:
WHOEVER BELIEVES JESUS’ WORDS ALWAYS EATS AND DRINKS IN A WORTHY MANNER.
That’s what the Catechism says, for whoever believes Jesus’ Words, discerns the Lord’s body—that the bread is His body, the wine His blood for the forgiveness of sins. Faith is what discerns, unbelief does not. As Lutherans, “we reject the teaching that worthiness comes not only from true faith, but also from a person’s own preparation.” (Sold Declaration VII 124) Worthiness comes sola fide. “We [also] reject this teaching: even true believers, who have and keep a right, true, living faith, and yet lack the so-called sufficient preparation of their own, could receive this Sacrament to condemnation.” (Sold Declaration VII 125) By faith you can’t receive it to your condemnation, “for that person is truly worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words.”
What about “let a man examine himself”? Sure! Why not? But let’s also spiritual checkup of the Christian Questions: Do you have a pulse? Then you have sins, so you need the Sacrament. Are you living in the world? Then you have trouble, so you need the Sacrament. The devil’s seeking to devour you, so you need the Sacrament.
What if you don’t notice any sins? Then go to the Sacrament! (That’s what Luther says in the Large Catechism.) “The less you feel your sins and infirmities, the more reason you have to go to the Sacrament to seek help and a remedy.” (LC V 78) “You are much more in need of the Sacrament against the misery which, unfortunately, you do not see.” (LC V 84)
“The body and blood of Christ are truly present and distributed to those who eat the Lord’s Supper” (AC X) for the forgiveness of all your sins. He died and shed His blood for you. Communion rests upon Christ’s death and His own words: “This is My body given for you; this is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” “Our Sacrament does not depend upon our worthiness…On the contrary, we go because we are poor, [destitute] people. We go exactly because we are unworthy. This is true unless we are talking about someone who desires no grace and Absolution nor intends to change.” (LC V 61) The living death of unbelief.
For what Paul says negatively, we actually believe positively. It’s laid out quite clearly in the text of the Small Catechism. We all believe the Words of the Catechism are faithful to God’s Word. Paul says, Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. The Catechism takes up this verse and teaches “Whoever believes [the Words of Jesus] has exactly what they say, ‘forgiveness of sins.’” And “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”
WHOEVER BELIEVES JESUS’ WORDS ALWAYS EATS AND DRINKS IN A WORTHY MANNER.
“Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.”
“Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
“Given for you; shed for you.” Yes, even you.