Not the Eating and the Drinking

Text: Mark 14:12-36
Date: Maundy Thursday + 4/2/15

We have studied the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper comparing the four accounts of the institution in Matthew, Mark, Luke and 1 Corinthians. We noticed that each account varies in some details but that they all record the Verba, Jesus’ words of consecration, “This is my body,” “This is my blood.” These words are the divine words which effect His bodily presence in every celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

This year we hear of the Lord’s Last Supper with the Twelve from Mark’s Gospel. What’s missing from his account is the Lord’s command to “eat” and to “drink.” He says only, “Take; this is my body.” “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood.’” Let this little detail from St. Mark help us recall the answer of the Small Catechism to the question, “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?” “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but…these words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing.”

When we insist it is not the acts of eating and drinking that effects the real presence of Christ’s body and blood we mean, first, to defend against those who protest that the true body and blood of Christ are not present until they are consumed. This false teaching is called “receptionism,” making the receiving of the bread and wine “the moment” of the Lord’s presence. It is false because it is always and only the word of Christ alone that causes the bread and wine to deliver His body and blood as He says.

But when we insist it is not the acts of eating and drinking that effects the real presence of Christ’s body and blood we do not mean, secondly, that it doesn’t matter whether we eat or drink. For Christ clearly has commanded us to eat this bread and to drink this cup. This fact means to defend the sacrament against those who would enclose, expose and parade around with the bread effectively turning the Blessed Sacrament into rank idolatry. So we say in our Lutheran Confession that apart from the use of the sacrament (the consecration, distribution and reception, or oral partaking of the consecrated bread and wine), “when in the papistic mass the bread is not distributed, but offered up or enclosed, borne about, and exhibited for adoration, it is to be regarded as no sacrament” (Trig 1003:87).

“Certainly not just eating and drinking.” Jesus presided at the Passover Seder, the last authentic, effective Passover ever celebrated as in His hands the annual meal had reached its fulfillment. In this ancient meal each generation was to participate in a sacramental way so that each person could say “God delivered ME from bondage into freedom.” Now in His hands by the piercing with nails all who participate can now say “God delivered ME from the bondage of sin,” and the angel of death passes over all who are covered with the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

“Not just the eating and drinking,” but still the receiving orally what? “My body,” “My blood.” So important is this sacrament, this fulfillment of the Passover prophecy, that the old annual feast becomes a weekly, even daily feast, the very lifeblood of saving faith. In this way we, with the first disciples, proclaim the Lord’s death and celebrate His presence and life in us, for us, and for the life of the world.

In the eating and drinking of this bread and cup, the body and blood of our Lord, we receive the forgiveness of our many sins, we receive eternal life, we receive salvation. So who would not here eat and drink? For it is both the Lord’s command and his gift.