The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost at Hope, Jerseyville
“The Forbidden for Forgiveness”
Sermon Text: John 6:51-69
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Cannibalism. This was one of the accusations that was thrown at the early Christian Church as they confessed to eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. Cannibalism is defined as the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of the same kind, or a ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being. It almost seems to fit and be an accurate description of our practice of eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ in the Supper. If all you heard were the words and the confession without ever going into a church to observe the practice, you could understand why Christians could be accused of being cannibals. Can you imagine the rumors that would have gone around about the early Christian Church? “Did you hear what they do? They eat the flesh and drink the blood of another human! They’re cannibals!” I imagine that would have been a deterring factor for anyone considering Christianity. If we said, today, that in order to be part of this church, you have to eat the body and drink the blood of another person, I think we would not be considered very “seeker-friendly.” Doubly so in the Jewish community that Jesus was in because it was forbidden to drink the blood of any animal, much less that of a human. Many people would likely turn away or never consider Christianity if they thought Christians were cannibals, which was exactly the reason they were labeled that way. And since it was illegal to be a Christian, the Lord’s Supper could only be celebrated secretly, so not many people had seen the practice, but only heard that Christians are cannibals.
Now if you see the practice of the Lord’s Supper, if it is a public thing as it is today, it is easy to combat the claim that we are cannibals. We eat bread and we drink wine. Showing someone what we do is by far the best way, perhaps the only way to convince someone that we are not cannibals because if we try to describe or tell someone we are not, chances are we will say something that is untrue about the Lord’s Supper. We cannot say, “Well we are not eating and drinking the body and blood of a person,” because we are. We cannot deny the real, physical presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Supper especially because Jesus himself says that his “flesh is true food, and [his] blood is true drink.” In the Lord’s Supper, when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we receive the true, real, physical, body and blood of Jesus.
But we don’t want to be called cannibals. No one wants to be called a cannibal. It’s gross and disgusting and, to be honest, even I’m a little offended at the number of times I’ve already used such a sadistic word in my sermon already. Yet we cannot deny that the flesh and blood of Jesus is true food and true drink and that we do eat and drink his body and blood. Even with all the rumors and accusations flying around about the early Christian Church and even though they couldn’t show anyone what they were actually doing because they could have been arrested and killed for being a Christian, still, they never denied the real, true, physical presence of Jesus.
None of the early Church fathers, in any of their writings, ever tried to refute cannibalism by saying that it was simply a spiritual eating and drinking of Jesus, rather than a physical one. None of them ever said that is was simply a memorial meal to remember the flesh and blood of Jesus given and poured out on the cross. None of them tried to dispel the rumors or accusations of cannibalism by denying Jesus in the Supper. It wasn’t until Christianity was legal and that people could publicly see what was happening that the accusations went away. The Lord’s Supper was a hard saying, a hard teaching, that caused many to take offense at Christianity when the Lord’s Supper was a private event.
And now, the Lord’s Supper continues to be a hard saying, a hard teaching, of the Church that causes many to take offense. Today, we are doing what is forbidden in our culture, in a similar way that human cannibalism is forbidden in essentially every culture of every time. The offense over the Lord’s Supper today is not what we eat and drink, not that it is a secret practice, but a public one that is given selectively. Today’s offense over the Lord’s Supper is the Biblical, Scriptural, practice of closed communion.
Closed communion is the practice of only giving the Lord’s Supper to those people who are communicant members of this congregation, a sister congregation of the LCMS, or a sister congregation with which we are in full altar and pulpit fellowship with. That last part refers primarily to churches in other countries who believe what we believe but have their own leadership and structure apart from the Missouri Synod.
Closed communion gets us labeled and accused of being intolerant, exclusive, unloving, even hateful by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Now maybe that’s a little better than being called a cannibal, but in today’s culture it carries with it almost as heavy of a weight and stigma of not being a group that people want to join. It is an accusation that is still offensive and hard.
And it would be easier for us to deny the claim by denying the practice. It would be easier for us not to practice closed communion, both in teaching and in practice. It would be easier for us to invite everyone to the Supper. It would be easier for me not to have to be concerned about who comes to the rail, but just distribute to everyone, but that is not faithful to God’s Word.
Closed communion isn’t a man-made rule, teaching, or practice, it is given to us by God in Scripture. We don’t give communion to just anyone and everyone because not everyone believes it is the actual, true, real, physical body and blood of Christ. Not everyone, both Christians and non-Christians alike, believe Jesus when he says that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink. There are many who would claim that it is just bread and wine. There are many who would claim that Christ is only present in our memory. There are many who would claim that Christ is only spiritually present. There are many who would claim that bread and wine are not present. There are many who would receive this gift of God, the physical body and blood of Jesus that is true food, true bread, and true drink, true wine, to their harm, perhaps even to their own damnation. This is a hard saying. “Do you take offense at this?”
But this gift of flesh and blood is not meant for your harm but for you your good. These words of Jesus, hard and offensive as they may be, are spirit and life, that by the faith granted to you by the Father you would receive the crucified and risen body and blood of Jesus for your good, for your forgiveness, for your life and salvation. So what shall we do? Where shall we go? To a church or a place who would deny the teachings of Jesus to be acceptable? Or to a church that stands with the Church of all time, doing what is hard, confessing what is offensive, confessing that Jesus has the words of eternal life and we have believed, and have come to know, that he is the Holy One of God and that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink, that this is my body, this is my blood which is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for the forgiveness of your offense, for your salvation, for your eternal life won for you by Christ on the cross, delivered to you by bread and wine, received for your good by faith. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.