A Gracious and Merciful God

“Now, if you are afraid to go to the Sacrament, and your conscience frightens you, as if you were unworthy, put this verse into your heart and on your lips.  Then you must hear and feel how sincerely He calls and invites you.  He is here and is waiting for you with hands and heart wide open, for you to take and receive grace and mercy.  He does not want you to flee and shy away from Him but to flee to Him and with full confidence go to Him.  Here he is called nothing but this: the gracious and merciful Lord.” Martin Luther, “Commentary on Psalm 111:4,” Luther’s Works 13:374.  (Italics in original)      Lucas Cranach-Lord's Supper-Reformationaltar

Here Dr. Luther is explaining these words: “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;  the Lord is gracious and merciful.” (Psalm 111:4)  In this commentary he focuses on the nature and proper reception of the Lord’s Supper.  Luther exhorts believers to consider Christ in this manner when approaching the table of the Lord.  When sinners fail to recognize Christ as merciful they make Him a liar and believe their deceitful hearts more than God.  This leads to idolatry.  For this reason Dr. Luther explained: 

“Whoever is inclined to put pictures on the altar ought to have the Lord’s Supper of Christ painted, with these two verses written around it in golden letters: ‘The gracious and merciful Lord has instituted a remembrance of His wonderful works.’  Then they would stand before our eyes for our heart to contemplate them, and even our eyes, in reading, would have to thank and praise God.  Since the altar is designated for the administration of the Sacrament, one could not find a better painting for it.  Other pictures of God or Christ can be painted somewhere else.” (LW 13:375.)

Dr. Luther understood the role of Christian art in reinforcing the central message of the Gospel: the forgiveness of sins.  The image above comes from the Altarpiece placed in St Mary’s Church in Wittenberg.

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