Upon singing the final chord of the Sanctus’ the congregation unites its voice in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. The early church placed it here in The Service of the Sacrament to mark it as the prayer of the faithful. As explained in Part 6 of this series, “In ancient times [The Service of the Sacrament] marked an entirely separate service as the catechumens (individuals whose instruction in the faith was not yet complete) were dismissed and the ‘faithful’ were invited to share the body and blood of Christ.”
After the unified “Amen,” The Service of the Sacrament continues with The Words of Institution. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul record these words of Jesus:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “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. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
These are great and powerful words, words we must rightly regard and receive.
Martin Chemnitz, a contemporary of and co-reformer with Martin Luther, wrote this regarding Christ’s words:
If the words in the last will and testament of a man are to be observed and weighed with such great diligence, care, and sense of duty lest the will of the testator be negated and lest something be done against or alongside the will of the testator, then the reader should consider what must be done in the case of that will which belongs to the Son of God, our Savior, which He established on the night in which He was betrayed. He did so with earnest gestures, words, and emotions which pertained to the greatest of all legacies—our salvation. To the improper discernment of this legacy, Paul pronounces [1 Corinthians 11:29], there is attached the guilt of judgment. This argument contains a great warning for us.
In other words, if a man’s last will and testament is highly regarded and honored, how much more should the last will and testament of the Son of Man be regarded and honored? Christ’s words are not ours to alter or redefine; they are to be received dutifully and obediently.
Through His words our Lord Jesus teaches us many things. First, He instructs that we are to eat and drink the Sacrament. It is not to be adored, but to be consumed. As Luther writes in the Small Catechism, the Sacrament was “instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”
Second, Jesus teaches us that His body and blood are present in the Sacrament. He plainly says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” When Jesus says “is,” He means “is.” To twist His words to mean “symbolize” is to violate His last will and testament. Do we fully understand how Jesus’ body and blood can be present in the Sacrament? No. Faith, however, does not demand that God bend His ways to our ways or His thoughts to ours.
Luther succinctly captures this in the Large Catechism when he writes:
Let a hundred thousand devils, with all the fanatics, come forward and say, “How can bread and wine be Christ’s body and blood?” etc. Still I know that all the spirits and scholars put together have less wisdom than the divine Majesty has in his little finger. Here is Christ’s Word: “Take, eat, this is my body.’” “Drink of this, all of you, this is the New Testament in my blood,” etc. Here we shall take our stand and see who dares to instruct Christ and alter what he has spoken.
Third, Jesus teaches us that the Sacrament is given for us. He says the Sacrament “is given for you” and “shed for you.” And He announces that the Sacrament is given and shed “for the forgiveness of sins.” Luther highlights this in the Small Catechism:
These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
What greater treasure could we receive than forgiveness of sins, life and salvation?
Fourth, Jesus teaches us to “do this” “often.” How often is not for any man to mandate, but Jesus is surely teaching that the Sacrament should not be despised and neglected. In the Large Catechism Luther minces no words when he writes:
I call it despising when people, with nothing to hinder them, let a long time elapse without ever desiring the sacrament. If you want such liberty, you may just as well take the further liberty not to be a Christian; then you need not believe or pray, for the one is just as much Christ’s commandment as the other.
To ensure we don’t lose the desire for the Sacrament’s benefits, Luther writes:
I know no better advice than that [those who don’t feel the desire for the Sacrament] put their hands to their bosom to determine whether they are made of flesh and blood. If you find that you are, then for your own good turn to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians and hear what are the fruits of your flesh: ‘Now the works of the flesh are obvious: adultery, fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.’ For this reason, if you cannot feel the need, at least believe the Scriptures. They will not lie to you, since they know your flesh better than you yourself do.
Our hymnody masterfully captures Christ’s teaching. Consider but a few stanzas:
Lord Jesus Christ, You have prepared
This feast for our salvation;
It is Your body and Your blood,
And at Your invitation As weary souls, with sin oppressed,
We come to You for needed rest,
For comfort, and for pardon.
(Lutheran Service Book, Hymn #622)
Give us, who share this wondrous food,
Your body broken and Your blood,
The grateful peace of sins forgiv’n,
The certain joys of heirs of heav’n.
(Lutheran Service Book, Hymn #623)
Your body and Your blood,
Once slain and shed for me,
Are taken at Your table, Lord,
In blest reality.
(Lutheran Service Book, Hymn #623)
With such great benefits, it’s no wonder we treasure the Sacrament so highly and sing about it so joyfully.
Upon the completion of the Words of Institution, the pastor elevates the consecrated elements for the congregation to see and then says, “The peace of the Lord be with you.” Through these words he is saying, “The peace of the Lord offered here in this Sacrament be with you.” And the congregation responds, “Amen,” by which they mean, “may it be so.” It’s only natural then, that we would continue by singing about that peace in the words of the Agnus Dei, which is the subject of the next article in this series.
Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, is a former board member for the Hausvater Project.