Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Tonight we come to the final lesson on Luther’s Small Catechism dealing with Holy Communion.
The question that I want to look at is the issue of who should take Holy Communion?
Recently, I had some friends from Luther Seminary that were all kinds of mad. The church body to which they belong was considering the question of “Whether to give Communion to the unbaptized?”. I kept coming across all sorts of emotional Facebook posts surrounding this very issue.
The question made me think of a story from within my ministry. When I was working down in Lamberton, I knew a girl named Connor. Connor starts attending the church because a lot of her friends were going to Our Savior’s. So Connor comes to me in Seventh Grade wanting to take First Communion Class. So Connor and I get together a few different days after school and go through a study guide on the Lord’s Supper no different than I’ve done with kids here. I assumed that Connor had been previously baptized. We were living in Southwest Minnesota farm country, even those who never had any intention of going to church would get their kids baptized. Connor was a unique child. Connor would go to church nearly every Sunday by herself without a parent, I’ve never seen this in a 7th grader. Connor would help with VBS. Connor was the type of kid that any church would love to have been active within their youth group.
I leave Lamberton to move up to Silver Bay. I had Connor for the first quarter of her confirmation. When Connor gets confirmed, it comes out that she had never been baptized. Many people would assume that I made a great error in not exploring this situation formerly. The revelation though didn’t bother me at all because I just figured that God worked through Connor’s life in a unique way.
There is not a one size fits all approach to the Holy Spirit. We are a church of Word and Sacrament. We believe that God reaches people through the Gospel given both orally through preaching and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins along with reaching people physically through Water, Wine, and Wheat. While Baptism is often the first means that God reaches us, this is not the only possible means by which God can create faith.
When I think of the question of “Whether to commune the unbaptized?”. I tend to think of hypothetical situations. What if a guy attends church on Christmas Eve, who has never been baptized? What if this guy hears the preacher invite the congregation up to Holy Communion? What if this guy is curious about what is happening and wants to partake in the Lord’s Supper?
The preacher has two possible solutions at this point. You can either take the guy explain that God might only possibly work in your life after you’ve conducted an exhaustive study of the Small Catechism. I could perhaps even throw in a small, boring Church history lesson.
The fellow would then go home thinking about Communion in entirely wrong terms of being something earned out of our worthiness. The person probably never thinks about going back to the church ever again. I can’t imagine that this is really how I should be proclaiming the Gospel to strangers within our midst.
The more daring possible solution is to take Jesus’ words “ This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. “ You could give Communion under the premise that it is predicated on God’s ability to act, rather than our ability to comprehend.
There have been times in my ministry, when I’ve had to go to the nursing home to visit with congregational members whose minds have slipped to the point that you can’t carry out a coherent conversation. Situations like this have never been an issue of whether to bring my Communion kit. I believe the promises given in Baptism are still relevant after one’s mind might be gone, the promises given in Holy Communion would be no different. Did these people comprehend the sacrament? No. Did these people decide they needed to take the sacrament in a legal binding fashion? No. Did they receive the Lord’s Supper to their benefit? Yes.
Plenty of Pastors don’t feel the way that I do. I know the verses from 1st Corinthians 11
‘Whoever, therefore, 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. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”- 1st Corinthians 11:27-29
What we can say is that these are some of the most misused verses in all the scriptures. The 1st Corinthians passage has been used to argue against everything from Infant Communion to not communing Non-Lutherans to refusing to commune the unbaptized. These verses were never written to speak to any of these issues.
The thing about 1st Corinthians 11 though is there is a very precise context in which Paul wrote the passage. Let me repeat 1st Corinthians 11:21-22 the key verses from this passage:
“For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”
What was happening in the Corinthian Church is well-off members were drinking all the Wine and eating all the Bread before other members could partake in the meal. Paul’s whole basic point was if you want to eat two loaves of bread by yourself, eat them at home. The Lord’s Supper is different. The Lord’s Supper belongs to all of God’s people. We cannot try to read Bible passages as addressing every possible hypothetical situation that they were never written to address. Some situations are ulitmately left up to pastoral discretion and congregational policy.
I have a friend whose name is Natalie. Natalie is a pastor out in Pennsylvania. Natalie had a confirmation student who will tell everyone at school that “She didn’t believe in God”. Natalie wondered does this mean that she shouldn’t receive the sacrament. When Natalie asks me this, I didn’t know any more than her. I decided to ask the smartest guy that I know in Joe Burgess. Joe was a part of the International Lutheran-Catholic dialogs. Joe has received audiences at the Vatican.
Joe’s response to Natalie’s question was so good that I read it here tonight
“Teens are teens. They pose. One will claim to be a communist. Another will color her hair pink and so on. Pastoral care requires that we take care. Presumably the teen has been baptized. Does she come forward to receive the sacrament? Is her atheism merely a pose? No one is to be compelled, to be sure, but if someone comes forward, we cannot demand in that person a level of theological knowledge lacking in most pastors.”
People might wonder what about taking Holy Communion in other churches that aren’t Lutheran.
When I was in Seminary, there was this large Baptist church in Minneapolis that I would occasionally attend on Saturday nights. The way that these Baptists did Communion was interesting. The minister would first of all get up there and say “If you had any unresolved sin in your life than you shouldn’t commune”. I would never be worthy according to that standard, and I’m sure few people in that room would be. The reason that we take Communion is because we are sinners. Sinners need forgiveness. Remember that Jesus gave Judas communion right before he sold him out, and he also gave Peter communion before denying to know him on three separate occasions.
The Church then proceeded not to have people walk up to the front to receive Communion, but rather they passed the communion cup and trays down the aisle where everybody served themselves. Self-service Communion would seem to defeat the purpose of the Lord’s Supper that one hears the words “This is my body, which is given for you.” We don’t give words of promise and forgiveness to ourselves; this is why it's so important to have someone else give Communion to us. I did not take Communion that night. My reasons had nothing to do with not acknowledging the believers in this congregation as my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. My reasons always have to do with not receiving an explicit proclamation regarding the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.
What I would do is extend Communion though to any members of that church or any church if they came here if they believed that Christ is indeed present in the Bread and Wine for the forgiveness of sins. We believe the Lord’s Supper is not a mere metaphor or a vague spiritual presence. We believe that Christ comes to us in his Supper. For in the words of Paul from 1st Corinthians 10 “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”
Holy Communion was at the center of the worship life of the Early Church because of its unique role in sustaining people’s faith.
As we reflect on the Lord’s Supper tonight, a few points need to be made.
1. What makes the Lord’s Supper effective? The Lord’s Supper is effective because, within it, we receive a Word of promise. Both sacraments Baptism and Communion produce faith; they do not depend on faith. Taking the Lord’s Supper doesn’t prove that you are a Christian. What the Lord’s Supper does point out is how God gives us the Supper so that we may be sustained and strengthened in our faith.
2. The main problem that people have in understanding the Lord’s Supper has to do with how they use the Bible. Our initial instincts are always to use the Bible to judge rather than to proclaim. The Bible seems to be the means that we judge the faith of others and even ourselves. We must always seek to avoid this tendency. The Lord’s Supper is not something that God commands us to do; it is rather something that God does for us. Faith is not something that we sustain or decide upon; it is rather what God keeps through the promises of Word and Sacrament.
Tonight, we close our study of Luther’s Small Catechism. In a little less than two months, we will confirm six youth into this congregation. I should close with a few words on what makes us Lutheran.
I am a Lutheran because I believe Luther’s words: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” I am a Lutheran because I am a no good, broken sinner. I am a Lutheran because I believe that God sustains the Church, in spite of our own effort. I am a Lutheran because Jesus and his Gospel is at the center of all that I hope and believe. Amen
 Luke 22:19
 This section was influenced by an email exchange that I had with Joe Burgess in March 2011. I get into the reasons for that email later in the sermon. Joe was recalling giving Communion at a mental insistution. My experiences have been primarily with Alheizmer’s patients. FYI- I have made Communion visits at mental wards.
 I had a discussion with Joe Burgess about this in my March 2011 email exchange. The context was my recalling a professor at Luther Seminary saying that “We shouldn’t commune Infants because they can’t examine themselves”.
 The following excerpt is from a March 20, 2011 email between Dr. Joe Burgess and Myself.
 1st Corinthians 10:16. It’s really hard to argue the Apostle Paul saw the Lord’s Supper as a mere symbol.
 This is a paraphrase of Joe Burgess’ words to mean on the misunderstanding of Communion present even within Reformation churches.
 This is a quote from The Third Article of The Creed in Luther’s Small Cathecism.