The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
It is called the Eucharist, from the Greek word for giving thanks, since this sacrament is received with thanksgiving. It is called the Lord’s Supper. The Lord Jesus instituted it, saying: “This do, in remembrance of me.” Sometimes the Bible refers to it as the breaking of the bread. The Catechism calls it the Sacrament of the Altar. A common designation of this sacrament is Holy Communion. That is based on the text before us this evening.
Here in these inspired words St. Paul uses the word communion three times in two verses. First, he says the wine of the Lord’s Supper is the communion of Christ’s blood. Second, he says that the bread of the Lord’s Supper is the communion of Christ’s body. Third, he says that the communicants in the Lord’s Supper partake or commune with the same bread.
Communion means that two or more become one. When Paul writes that the wine is the communion of Christ’s blood he is saying that the wine of the Lord’s Supper and the blood of Jesus are one. What was once ordinary wine, the naturally fermented juice of grapes, is now the blood of Jesus that he shed for us on the cross to take away our sin. What was once ordinary bread such as is baked in an oven is now the body of Jesus in which he bore all our sins on the cross to forgive them. The bread is the communion of Christ’s body and the wine is the communion of Christ’s blood. They are one. It is like when a man and a woman become one in marriage. The two become one flesh. They are no longer two, but one. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder. Likewise with the communion of the body of Christ with the bread and the blood of Christ with the wine: this is a communion that God himself has made. We recognize this communion by faith because we cannot see it. What we see, taste, touch, smell, and feel is ordinary bread and wine. The Holy Spirit persuades us that the bread is Christ’s body and the wine is Christ’s blood.
A wonderful mystery of our faith is that God became a man. Jesus is God and Jesus is a man. There is a communion here. We call this the personal union. In the person of Christ, the divine nature he received from the Father from eternity, before all worlds, is united with the human nature he received from Mary just over two thousand years ago. When we see the man Jesus we see God almighty because there is a union, a union in the person of Christ, between God and man.
And so it is here in the Sacrament that we call Holy Communion. There is a union between the elements of bread and wine with the very body and blood of Jesus whereby he gained for us peace with God and everlasting life.
The Lord’s Supper is Communion. When we receive Holy Communion we commune. We partake. We participate. We share. Those who commune are one with each other. Just as the cup of blessing that we bless is the communion of the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break or distribute is the communion of the body of Christ, just so, those who commune, who partake of the body and blood together, are also one. As St. Paul wrote:
For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
The pastor blesses the cup of blessing. By this consecration the wine and Christ’s blood are joined together. We cannot see it happen, but we know it happens because that’s what the Bible clearly says. The cup of blessing that we bless is the communion of the blood of Christ. The minister consecrates both bread and wine, and we are confident that now we have not only bread and wine but also Christ’s body and blood.
Then what does he say? He says to the congregation: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” The peace of the Lord comes from the body and blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The peace of the Lord sets us at peace with God and with one another. The communion of the communicants with each other is not a communion of our own making. God joins us together as one body. He who sets us at peace with himself sets us at peace with one another.
Today’s Gospel Lesson is the account in St. John’s Gospel of our Lord Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Peter objects. It appears to him to be improper. Clearly, Christ has authority over the disciples. He is their teacher and Lord. They should be serving him. He should not be serving them. Jesus’ reply to Peter sounds rather harsh, doesn’t it? He says, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” Why is Jesus so adamant about it? What is it about submitting to Christ’s service that is so vital?
Simply put, Jesus saves us by serving us. He said,
The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)
The Lord’s Supper is not our service to God. It is God’s service to us. The communion is not of our making. It is of God’s making. This we must understand. The minister does not change bread and the wine into the body and the blood of Jesus. Christ has the power to make ordinary bread his body and ordinary wine his blood. And he does so. This is his service to us. God himself brings out the communion. We don’t.
And this goes for the communion we enjoy with one another. We, being many, are one body, because we all partake, we all commune, of that one bread. When we eat and drink we are joined as one with everyone else who eats and drinks. We receive the same body and blood. That means we receive the same forgiveness of sins. We are served by the same Savior. We are set at peace with God and with one another. We are joined together in a communion that God himself is establishing.
We eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins. We eat and drink together. When we commune with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not condoning their sins any more than they are condoning ours. Jesus gives us his body and blood for the remission of sins, not for the defense of them. The forgiveness we receive from the body and blood of Jesus is the same forgiveness our brothers and sisters receive. At the altar God joins us together as one, bound to each other by sharing the same body and blood, the same forgiveness of sins, the same peace with God that surpasses all understanding.
The communion of the communicants with each other as one body is not horizontal. It is vertical. It is as we are joined to God – his body and blood, his grace, his word – that we are joined to one another. We aren’t sharing our stuff. We are all receiving God’s gifts. There is a difference.
Some time ago there was a popular country western song sung by Tom T. Hall that featured this refrain:
Me and Jesus got our own thing goin’ Me and Jesus got it all worked out Me and Jesus got our own thing goin’ We don’t need anybody to tell us what it’s all about.
These sentiments are as American as apple pie. And they are wrong. It’s not just between me and Jesus. Jesus and his church go together. Jesus and his teaching go together. He won’t be separated from his church and he won’t be separated from his word. So when we commune with Jesus we are communing with his church and we are communing with his word.
When we partake of the Lord’s Supper at a church we are partaking of the teaching of that church. We are one with it. This is why we commune only at altars of churches that teach and preach the word of God in its truth and purity. We commune with the truth. It would be better not to commune at all than to commune with false teaching. Jesus serves us through his ministry of the word and sacraments. He serves us by speaking to us the truth. He doesn’t serve us through falsehood and error. We confess the truth when we commune at churches that proclaim the truth. We confess error when we commune at churches that proclaim error.
Holy Week is history. It happened. The same Jesus, who on Palm Sunday was received with joy as the promised King, was betrayed less than five days later. He was arrested, whipped, and at the insistence of a mob urged onto bloodlust, he was crucified by the authority of Pontius Pilate. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? No, no we were not.
But we are here. And here is Jesus. Is not the bread of this Sacrament the communion of the body of Christ? Is not the wine the communion of the blood of Christ? Does not our Lord Jesus serve us by giving us his body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of all our sins? Does not this body and blood unite us together as one body, joined together in one mind and heart, united in the pure confession of God’s saving truth? It most certainly does! This is Christ’s service to us here in this place. Here we will return, week after week, and our Lord will not fail to feed our hungry souls with his righteousness. He will not fail to make us one bread, one body, his one holy, Christian, and apostolic church in this place. Amen