The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.
I received my First Communion here at First Lutheran when I was 11 years old. After weeks of First Communion Classes, my fellow 5th graders and I gathered in the kitchen for our final class. That class was different than any other we’d had to that point. This lesson was hands on. First, we mixed wheat flour with the white flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar together. Then we added honey, oil, and buttermilk. The ingredients themselves were simple and ordinary, but what they combined to make meant much more as we learned how to make the bread that would be served on Maundy Thursday, when we would each receive Communion for the very first time. The Communion bread we baked that afternoon was not just for us, but for all who wanted to come forward and receive communion, trusting in the promise of God’s presence in the elements of bread and wine as often as we come to the table. Though as 5th graders, we did not understand fully the magnitude of the promise received at the Table of Grace, we knew that both in the baking of the bread that would later be blessed broken and given to the assembled community we were taking part in something truly holy, much bigger and better than any one of us independently.
In our reading this morning we hear the story of Jesus’ Last Supper with his friends and disciples, where they experienced a Holy communion, or time of intimate gathering and sharing of a meal and conversation, with Jesus and with one another, before Jesus was arrested in the Mount of Olives and crucified. These events are ordinary and familiar to the disciples as they have shared many meals with their teacher and friend throughout their ministry, yet this time was different than any other had been before. This time, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them saying “Take; this is my body” and “this is my blood of the covenant,” given not just for one or for a few, but for many. These words are echoed in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels as well and are repeated again in 1st Corinthians where we find what are likely the most familiar words used to celebrate Holy Communion. The covenant is the promise of God’s love and grace in the breaking of the bread and in the sharing of the cup in communion with one another. When we say “this is my body given for you,” it doesn’t mean just for you or for me as an individual. In the original Greek text the word for you, is ὑμῶν (hue-mon), which is plural, meaning that Jesus declares the bread and wine are for all of you who commune together in remembrance of me. This was the very first time Holy Communion was celebrated, and it is a meal we partake of when we gather together at the Table of Grace to receive this sacrament.
We believe that a sacrament is a holy ordinance, or Gospel imperative, given to us by Christ, in which God confirms God’s invisible grace through outward and visible means. Martin Luther determined that three requirements were needed for something to be considered a sacrament: First, it required a command by God; second, it needed to have a visible sign or element, and finally it must include an offer of God’s grace. In other words, for Lutherans, Sacraments must have a divine command by God through Jesus Christ, some visual sign or element that the people can see, feel and work with, and sacraments must offer forgiveness of sin through God’s love and grace.
As Lutherans, we believe that there are two sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion. The first cleanses us of our sinfulness through the promise of God’s love and grace present within the baptismal waters and within us. It also welcomes us into God’s beloved community. Holy Communion does the same thing, serving as a regular reminder of that same promise of God’s love and grace found in, with, and under the bread and the cup. Luther explains in the Large Catechism that through baptism we are first born anew, yet our sinfulness remains. As a result, we become weary and Holy Communion serves to give us nourishment and a reminder that our sins are forgiven. Like earthly food sustains our bodies, so too Holy Communion sustains our souls. As Lutherans, we believe that while the bread and the wine are not the literal and physical body and blood of Christ, Christ’s essence is truly present within the Communion elements. The mystery of how Christ is present is something that we do not know definitively, but we believe is there nonetheless because Jesus promised us it would be. We call this belief Real Presence, where the mystery is not found in how the bread and wine changes into the body and blood at the table, but instead that Christ promises his real and mysterious presence, love, grace, and forgiveness are found when we commune together at the Table of Grace.
Because the promises found in this Sacrament are given for all for the forgiveness of sins, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America practices what is called Open Communion, meaning that churches in the ELCA allow people who are not members of our church or denomination to come to the Table of Grace and partake of the sacrament so long as they believe the promises of God’s love and grace present within it. It is a sacred welcome statement that no matter who you are you are welcome here, at this table, and in this beloved and grace-filled community. Whenever we partake of Holy Communion at the Table of Grace the real presence fills us, and we become the real presence of Christ as we go to serve God’s Dream for the world. We don’t understand what happens to us or how God lives in us, but we trust that God’s Spirit is truly and really present as we embody the Good News of God in Christ for our neighbors.
So our lives and decisions, as a congregation and as individuals, become sacramental, or sacred in nature when we answer our calling to share God’s grace and love with the world, welcoming others into our church and to the Table of Grace present here. After worship today/Just before worship today, we have/had the opportunity to vote to have First Lutheran Church become a Reconciling in Christ Congregation, committed to publicly welcoming members of the LGBTQIA+ community to worship and commune with us as their authentic selves in a congregation that is safe and supportive. If passed, First Lutheran will be the first ELCA congregation in Greensboro to identify as Reconciling in Christ, joining Wesley Luther Campus Ministries at UNCG, and only four other congregations and one additional campus ministry in the entire state in boldly declaring that we are committed to welcoming people into our beloved community without prejudice against gender identity or expression, or closing our doors to God’s beloved children for who they might love. It means living out Christ’s real presence into our city, and believing that the Table of Grace is truly meant for all, like Jesus promised at the Passover feast in an upper room in Roman-occupied Jerusalem just before he was arrested and crucified in an act of selfless love for all.
Just as the simple and ordinary ingredients in this bowl, filled with many different colors and textures, each with their own sources and stories of how they came to be present here, blend together to create something truly sacred, the bread of Holy Communion, we too are able to make our church a sacred and sacramental place for all by flinging wide our doors in radical and committed welcome, especially to those who might be differ from ourselves. Becoming a Reconciling in Christ Congregation is one important way, but not the only way that we are able live out Christ’s promise of love and grace present at the table. Just like the promises found in the bread and the wine, the story does not end here, but instead continues, out the doors of this sacred place, into our communities and the world until all are truly welcome to the Table of Grace.