[Read 1 Corinthians 11:23-32] “…Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself…”
Let a Man Examine Himself
What is up here? What are you approaching when you approach the table of the Lord? What is the bread? What is the cup? What must you believe? And, believing it, what heart or mind should you have for it? And what heart and mind must you have for those with whom you are receiving it?
It is the true body and true blood of your Savior Jesus Christ. The bread does not merely symbolize His body. The bread is His body. The wine does not merely symbolize His blood. It is His blood.
It is His body and blood. The mind cannot grasp this. Natural reason cannot fully understand it. It is supernatural. And it is believed.
We believe this because we believe God’s Word. We do not judge Scripture and set it lower than our limited human reason. Just as God Himself surpasses our understanding, so God’s Word informs us of many things which surpass our understanding - things which we are called to believe.
The Lord’s Supper is a heavenly event happening on earth. There are even many earthly, natural phenomena that our brains cannot yet fully know and understand. Unsurprisingly then, heavenly things surpass our mind’s boundaries. So we believe what the Lord says about them. About this Supper, we believe the Lord’s promise: “This is my body.” “This is my blood.”
Jesus Himself is recorded as saying so - recorded in four places in the Bible - in plain language - in words which are His last will and testament, sealed by His death - telling us that this is His body and blood:
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant’” [Matthew 26:26-28]. “Take; this is my body”; “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” [Mark 14:22-24]. “This is my body, which is given for you”; “This cup that is poured out for you is the new testament in my blood” [Luke 22:19-20]. And we read the same words in 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 tonight.
It is His body and blood. And He says to eat it and drink it in remembrance of Him. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.”You receive His body here, remembering that He gave His body on the cross for you there. You receive His blood here, remembering that He shed His blood there to atone for your sin. Receive and remember. Believe.
His body and blood. Not in some gross, cannibalistic way - but in a heavenly, unexplainable way. Not a piece of Him but the full Him. His full, complete, risen, living body and blood once crucified for you - the Lamb of God sitting on heaven’s throne, sharing Himself with you here.
Why is He food and drink? Because He said, “I am the Bread of Life” [John 6:33,35]. Because He is the true Lamb of God [John 1:29] - the true Passover Lamb of whom we now partake. [1 Corinthians 5:7-8].
So this is a heavenly eating and drinking - yet a true, present eating and drinking - in, with, and under this bread and wine - which are His body and blood right here, in your hand, in your mouth.
“Therefore”, it says, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” Not guilty against bread and wine but guilty against the body and blood of the Lord. A less than pleasant proof of His true presence.
Also, in another verse, it says this: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” [1 Corinthians 10:16]. The cup and the bread are not a symbol of something absent. They are a participation - a fellowship - a communion - in something present. His body and blood.
Therefore - back to our questions - with what sort of heart and mind ought I approach? Repentance and faith. “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
The people of the Old Testament could not even touch the arch of the covenant - a wooden box - without certain destruction. But here you touch and receive the very body and blood of God the Son. It is a weighty, serious matter. Not a casual matter. Approach seriously. Approach aware of the event. Approach with due repentance. Approach examining yourself. “Let a man examine himself, and so eat and drink.”
Examine yourself according to the Lord’s commandments. Measure yourself against His measuring rod. Not in hopes that you might measure up. If you think you do, you are more lost than anyone. Measure yourself against the Lord’s word and commands to see where in your life you need to repent - to see what needs mending. And then come to be mended, strengthened in what is right, and forgiven for your wrongs.
Don’t examine yourself according to your own understanding. As Lutherans, you have at your disposal one of the most helpful resources for examining yourself - we’ve been using it for about five hundred years. Read regularly the Ten Commandments in your Small Catechism. There, God’s will for your life is explained in a concise and helpful way - a simple and practical explanation of God’s commands, drawn from all of Scripture. A lamp for your feet in every part of your life. Read, examine, and come repenting.
Self-examination and coming worthily sounds like this: “Lord, I am sorry for my wrongs; forgive me; help me to do better.” “Lord, I am sorry for what I am; forgive me; help me to be better.”
Here is His body given for the redemption of sinners. Here is His blood poured out “for the forgiveness of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. Here you will find His forgiveness and His help.
Furthermore, come believing what it is. Don’t come denying it: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the bodyeats and drinks judgment on himself.” To discern the body is to distinguish it from all other breads and to believe that it is what He said it is - and to treat it accordingly.
Which brings up this question: If I discern this bread to be His body and this cup to be His blood - if I know this to be heaven’s meal - if I discern that Christ Himself is present at this table and in these vessels - then with what heart do I prepare these vessels and this table? With what heart do I clean up this Supper? With what heart do I wash each cup and handle these elements?
With what heart do I enter this room? With what heart do I support and supply this Supper with my offerings? With what heart do we all adorn and take care of this room? With more or less care than our dining rooms at home? With more or less joy than our rooms at home? Here is Christ’s dining room.
And, much more than that: With what care do I treat these living vessels of the Lord - my brothers and sisters in Christ who gather around this table with me? As I approach to be forgiven, do I forgive? As I approach to receive the Lord’s aid, do I give help?
What I am receiving from the body of Christ up there I also must share with the body of Christ out here - forgiveness, patience, care, heartfelt love, for one another. “A new commandment I give to you”, Jesus said in the upper room,“that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” [John 13:34]. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” [1 Corinthians 10:17]. One bread and one cup are we in the sharing of this bread and cup. “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” [Colossians 3:13].
Therefore, lastly, but by no means least: There must be no divisions among us regarding the faith we believe and confess. “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith…”[Ephesians 4:4-5]. Being united as one body, around one table of the Lord, means also being united in the one biblical faith. Not divided in our beliefs but knowing and confessing one faith.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”[Philippians 1:27]
“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” [Philippians 2:2]. “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” [1 Corinthians 1:10].
Because of all this, we take preparation and instruction seriously - not leaving our Confirmation instruction in the Small Catechism behind us as a childhood memory. Instead, instruction in the fullness of our biblical faith is a present, growing, and ongoing part of being a participant in the Lord’s table.
Here is the body and blood of the Savior - given and shed for you - to gather unworthy sinners, to forgive the sorry in heart, to help you, the Lord’s guest, in every need. So come and receive the free gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation here. Amen.