Why does the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod practice close Communion?
Before I became a confirmed member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod I sat in on a few services. Yeah ~ a daring thing for a professing “Baptist” to do. Those Lutherans have an awful lot of communion. They do it at least every two weeks, and even more during Advent and Lent. Why is that? And they use real wine too. Hmmmm…. Likewise, an interesting notion to someone who considered herself a very conservative Baptist. Everyone knows that a “good” Baptist doesn’t drink wine, or any alcohol for that matter. And especially not as part of the Lord’s Supper, which is only observed once every three or four months in the Baptist church. And why do Lutherans go forward to the altar to receive Communion? Baptists just stay in their seats and the ushers pass the trays of white bread with the crust cut off and little plastic cups of grape juice up and down the pews like the offering plate ~ and anyone who wants to can take it. So, as I sat in the pew watching those around me walk up to the altar to receive communion, I have to admit I felt a little left out and a lot resentful. Why do Lutherans have communion so often, why do they have to “sign up” for it, and why can’t just anybody who wants to, go forward to receive it? “What snobs these Lutherans are”, I thought. But why did it bother me so much when I didn’t even know what Lutherans believed about communion? Still, on more than one occasion, I thought “maybe I can just sneak up there and no one will notice” or “maybe I should just say I believe what Lutherans believe about communion, so I could have it”. But it wasn’t that simple and in my heart I knew that. Sure, I had read the Pastor’s statement on the back of the bulletin about communion. It said (with my own thoughts at the time in italics):
“+ I am a sinner, am sincerely sorry for my sins, and confess the need for God’s forgiveness. (okay – I agreed with that one. I know big-time what a sinner I am.)+ I believe in JESUS CHRIST as my only Lord and Savior from Satan, sin, and death. (yes, I believe that too!)
+ I believe that the true Body and Blood of Christ are really present in Holy Communion under the form of bread and wine (Augsburg Confession, Article X). (Now wait a minute! I had a huge problem with that. Southern Baptists believe that this is only a symbolic thing ~ don’t be talking about Christ’s true flesh and blood here.)
+ I desire forgiveness of all my sins, fellowship with Christ, and the proof of eternal life given in this Sacrament. (Okay, okay, okay! I believe all of this with the exception of the part about “proof of eternal life given in this Sacrament”. Afterall, didn’t proof of eternal life happen the moment I walked down that aisle to invite Jesus into my heart as my personal lord and savior, and agree to follow him?)
+ By the power of the Holy Spirit, I desire and intend to lead a more Godly and Christlike Life, trusting in God’s promises and obeying his commands. (yea, I guess I could say that and mean it…)
Those who hold in common this faith are welcome to join us in Holy Communion. If you have questions, or have not communed with us before, please speak with the pastor. (Now that was the clincher, I was sure that I did not hold in common that faith and I surely didn’t want to talk with the Pastor about it ~ he might try to “convert” me, and I wasn’t looking for that ~ I just wanted communion).”
So I stayed in my seat without realizing what I was missing out on and my heart was a little achy, because even in my own ignorance about what it was, I loved partaking of The Lord’s Supper. But that is not enough.
What do Lutherans believe about The Lord’s Supper? It is not just bread and wine. It is not symbolic. It joins us to Christ and to each other. It works forgiveness of sins and strengthens our faith. Human nature asks how this can be. How can these common earthly elements of bread and wine work anything for our spirit? Jesus, himself gave us this Holy Supper. Luke 22:19 & 20 says, “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’. And likewise the cup after they had eaten saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” There is a lot to decypher in these two statements. This “new covenant” replaces the old covenant of Passover. (Likewise, the new covenant of Baptism replaces the old covenant of Circumcision, but I will save that for another time.)
God made promises to save and protect his people through their observation of Passover. God has attached, with his word, the gifts of grace and forgiveness to physical elements since the beginning of time, but it has to be done in His way. The Passover lamb was without blemish and was roasted whole, not a bone broken, on two spits (one horizontal and one crossing vertically over the other) upright over an open fire. Then it was eaten completely in haste with wine and bitter herbs; and all of it was to be eaten. Families too small to eat all of the lamb were instructed to invite enough guests over to help them eat the entire lamb. And it was the blood of the lamb smeared on the door posts that saved the Israelites from death. This was God’s promise. Likewise, it was at God’s command that the Passover be observed from thence forward. Jesus instituted The Lord’s Supper during Passover. Thus, under the new covenant, The Lord’s Supper is the fullfilment of the Passover meal and Jesus Christ is now become the Passover Lamb without blemish that takes away the sins of the world and saves us from death and the devil. True man and True God became the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Just as God saved the Israelites who observed the Passover meal as he instructed them to, He now also saves us men who observe The Lord’s Supper as he has instituted it for us and for our benefit. Our Lord’s body was broken for us and his blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus took God’s wrath that should have been mans upon himself. This is the new covenant in his blood. Now we Lutherans do not claim to know how God accomplishes this in communion. But because Jesus said “this is my body” and “this is my blood” we believe that He is truly present in the sacrament. We acknowledge that this is a mystery from the human perspective. But he said it and I believe it. The word “Is” means IS. (no redefining the meaning of the word here.) I find it interesting that other denominations can pick and choose the things that Jesus said, as they wish to believe them. But there is no getting around the word “is”. It truly is that plain and that simple.
Why do we human beings expect God to work in wondrous ways through wonderous means? It is the Word of God combined with these common elements of bread and wine that bring the true presence of Jesus Christ into the Holy meal, as is true in Baptism. And this is a wonderous mystery. In Baptism, the Word combined with the water works salvation and forgiveness of sins. And without the Word, the bread would be bread alone, and the wine would be wine alone. Without the Word, the waters of Baptism would be water alone. God joins himself in and through the Word, to these common elements and they become the saving grace that was issued from the Cross of Christ himself.
I Corinthians 10:16 says, “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?” We practice close communion to protect the unbelieving soul from drinking to his own damnation. I Corinthians 11:27 says, ” Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” And as it is written in I Corinthians 10:17, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” And, so we also practice close communion to preserve the fellowship of true believers as they come to The Lord’s Table.
Before I became Lutheran, communion was a time to sit in my seat and beat myself up for being so evil that it required Jesus’ death to save me from my sins. It was a time for feeling guilt, shame, and unworthiness. And following communion, I left feeling the same.
But now that I know the true meaning of The Lord’s Supper, I gladly run to His table where I receive grace, forgiveness of sins, and strengthening of faith in partaking of, and participating in the Lord’s true body and true blood until he returns to take me home where I will join him at his own table in Heaven