The Second Sacrament of the New Testament
We have two sacraments, baptism and communion. Both have
been given to strengthen our weak faith and support us in our
endeavor of faith. Baptism happens but once. If someone falls
away from the baptismal covenant and goes into the world, he does
not need to be baptized again when he receives the grace of return
Communion on the other hand is intended to be enjoyed often. In
establishing communion Jesus said: "For, as often as ye eat
this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till
he come" (1 Cor. 11:26).
Communion was part of the life of the New Testament congregations
from their beginning. Luke depicts the life in the early congregation
after the first Pentecost in this way: "And they continued
steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking
of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). In the beginning they
gathered every day to a meal, then on only the first day of the
week, and later less often. We cannot place guidelines on how
often one should partake of it, but the words "as often"
stress the great significance of communion.
Luther teaches: "Christ wants to clearly say: 'I instituted
for you an Easter festival or supper, of which you are to partake,
not just on this evening once a year, but you shall enjoy it frequently,
when and where you choose, according to the opportunity and need
of each one, and being bound to no definite place or time.' Thus
you see no liberty is granted to treat the sacrament with contempt.
To dispense without positive hindrance for a long time to feel
no desire for itthat I call treating the Lord's Supper with
contempt" (Luther's Large Catechism 4749).
The Old Testament Passover and Communion
The children of Israel were preparing to leave Egypt to that land,
which the Lord had promised to their fathers. Before their departure
they ate the Passover meal following the directions of the Lord
An unblemished yearling lamb was killed and roasted with fire.
The lamb's blood was brushed on the doorposts, for when the Israelites
were eating their Passover meal, the Lord punished the Egyptians,
smiting all of their firstborn. When the destroyer saw the marks
of blood on the doorposts, it went by. Prepared to journey, the
people ate the paschal lamb, and as the meal ended they departed
for the journey.
No stranger could eat of the paschal lamb. This meal was not only
eaten on that historical night of departure, but the Lord commanded
that the Passover meal be eaten every year after they reached
the promised land. "And ye shall observe this thing for an
ordinance to thee and to thy sons forever. And it shall come to
pass, when ye be come into the land which the Lord will give you,
according as he hath promised, that ye shall keep this service.
And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you,
what mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, it is the sacrifice
of the Lord's Passover, who has passed over the houses of Israel
in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians and delivered our houses"
When Jesus came to Jerusalem with His disciples for the Passover
feast at the time when He would suffer and die, they ate the Passover
meal as the Lord had ordained it. Jesus gave the Old Testament
meal a new significance. He was the paschal lamb. His blood, which
was shed for the forgiveness of sins, made the destroyer withdraw.
He was the bread of life (John 6:55). The Lord Jesus' Word united
with the meal's visible components, the bread and wine, and the
new covenant sacrament was born.
The part in the Gospel of John (6:51) does not as such speak of
communion. Luther has written a note on the margins of his own
Bible "this part does not speak of the sacrament, the bread
and wine but of spiritual eating, which is believing, that ChristGod
and manhas shed his blood for us."
The New Testament's synoptic Gospels (Matt. 26:1921, 2529,
Mark 14:2224, Luke 22:1420) consistently tell of the
institution of communion. The differences in detail emphasize
the significance of the different parts in communion. John does
not relate of communion being established but in its place the
washing of feet which preceded it (John 13:117). Paul speaks
of Christ as the paschal lamb who was sacrificed in our stead
(1 Cor. 5:7) and the New testament communion (1 Cor. 10,11), as
do Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In addition he exhorts the Corinthians
to try themselves, that they would be acceptable, not unacceptable
Communion is a meal of Remembrance
In relating of the institution of communion, both Luke and
Paul mention that Jesus said: "Do it in remembrance of me."
In eating the Old Testament Passover meal, the children of Israel
remembered being freed from Egypt. At communion we remember Christ,
our paschal lamb, who gave His life and shed His blood for our
sins and the sins of the entire world. As believers we can eat
the body of Christ and drink His blood at communion, thus being
partakers of His atonement work. Although we do not completely
understand the mystery of communion, we, nevertheless, feel the
presence of Christ and His grace power at the communion table.
Communion strengthens our faith and draws our gaze to that land,
which the Lord Jesus has promised and prepared for His own.
Who Is an Acceptable Communion Guest?
This was asked last fall, when at a youth evening in Vaasa
we discussed the sacraments. No wonder, for communion is holy,
and the Word of God exhorts us to try ourselves, that we would
not be unworthy communion guests, who enjoy the sacrament of the
altar to their own condemnation. The small catechism answers the
question thus: "But he is truly worthy and well prepared
who has faith in these words: 'given and shed for you, for the
remission of sins.' But he who does not believe these words, or
who doubts, is unworthy and unfit, because the words, 'for you'
require truly believing hearts." Luther briefly confirms
this in the large catechism: "But he who does not believe
has nothing" (V:35). In considering the question of acceptability
he separates from each other those, who are hardened and partake
of communion and think that as a committed deed it brings a blessing,
and those who understand the meaning and value of communion but
are fearful, feeling their own sinfulness and unacceptability
before God's holiness. To these latter ones Luther says: "People
with such misgivings must learn that it is the highest wisdom
to realize that this sacrament does not depend upon our worthiness"
Believers feel holy timidness going to communion. They beg for
forgiveness from each other. In homes, parents ask for forgiveness
from each other and their children, when they have hurt and offended
others, likewise children ask of their parents and each other.
I have also noticed that in the communion line at large summer
services many take matters to a confessor father. We are guided
to this usage by John's narrative that before the first communion
Jesus washed the feet of the disciples (John 13), and by the teachings
of Jesus: "Therefore if thou bring they gift to the altar,
and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be
reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree
with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with
him" (Matt. 5:2325).
Translated from Siionin Lähetyslehti no.9, 1997