How Much is Too Much
Pentecost Monday
21 May 2018
Recently, I heard from a correspondent whose friend suggested that a weekly reception of the Lord's Supper was just way too much. How much too much? Well, the friend suggested that the communion should be celebrated only yearly as a memorial of the original celebration, which occurred on the night of the betrayal of our Lord. Here the Lord's Supper becomes merely a memorial of the death of Christ, which should only be remembered on the anniversary of His death. This theory has a number of problems associated with it.
Scripture never commands that you should not partake of this sacrament except yearly. What passage places this requirement on Christians? If God's Word has not commanded this, are we not free to celebrate this Supper as often as we need it? Should we sinners not clamor often for this Supper of forgiveness? The express words of our Lord in the institution of the Supper are: "This keep on doing in remembrance of me." The present imperative in Greek is an insistence on continuous action. This is the exact opposite of only yearly celebration.
In Mt 26:26-28, Jesus attributes forgiveness of sins to faithful reception of the body and blood of the Lord. Do we really need forgiveness of sins only yearly? Woe unto us if we are that self-righteous!
The church of apostles celebrated the communion not just on Sundays but every day (Acts 2:42-46). The breaking of the bread is Luke's figure of speech for the communion (see Lk 24:35). So this is not a report on potluck suppers! I think the apostles might have known what they were doing. Paul chided the Corinthians for celebrating unfaithfully the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, and when setting them straight, he says, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (11:26). "For as often..." hardly leaves us with the impression that this is only yearly or that the communion must be restricted to a yearly celebration. It is also obvious that the Corinthians were celebrating the communion quite often. Paul certainly chides them for their misuse of the communion, but none of those criticisms includes the command to celebrate the communion only yearly.
Scripture says a great deal more about the communion than that it is a "memorial" meal. In fact, the term that Jesus uses for remembrance does not merely mean to remember something forgotten "Oh, now I remember," or let's celebrate an anniversary, "Wow, a birthday party for the communion." The Greek word anamnesis means to remember in such a way as to re-enact what has been commanded and given by Jesus. The communion of the body and blood of Christ is not unrepeatable, because the eternal Son of the Father commands that we "keep on doing it!"
In the kind of thinking that commands only a yearly communion, the "memorial" becomes more important than Christ's gift of forgiveness through the body and blood of the Lord. The memorial is our obedience to Christ rather than his mercy to us. This turns gospel, gift, and grace, into my work, effort, and law. This is a triumph of Moses over Christ; and works over grace. The Lord wants us to have His mercy always before us. How can sinners ever have too much mercy?

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"We must also see who is the person that receives this power and benefit [in the Lord's Supper]. That is answered briefly, as we said above about baptism and often elsewhere: Whoever believes the words has what they declare and bring. For they are not spoken or proclaimed to stone and wood, but to those who hear them, to whom He says, 'Take, eat,' and so on. Because He offers and promises forgiveness of sin, it cannot be received except by faith. This faith He Himself demands in the Word when He says, 'Given ... and shed for you,' as if He said, 'For this reason I give it, and ask you to eat and drink it, that you may claim it as yours and enjoy it.' Whoever now accepts these words and believes that what they declare is true has forgiveness. But whoever does not believe it has nothing, since he allows it to be offered to him in vain and refuses to enjoy such a saving good. The treasure, indeed, is opened and placed at everyone's door, yes, upon his table. But it is necessary that you also claim it and confidently view it as the words tell you. This is the entire Christian preparation for receiving this sacrament worthily. Since this treasure is entirely presented in the words, it cannot be received and made ours in any other way than with the heart. Such a gift and eternal treasure cannot be seized with the fist. Fasting, prayer, and other such things may indeed be outward preparations and discipline for children, so that the body may keep and bring itself modestly and reverently to receive Christ's body and blood. Yet the body cannot seize and make its own what is given in and with the Sacrament. This is done by the faith in the heart, which discerns this treasure and desires it. This may be enough for what is necessary as a general instruction about this Sacrament. What may be said about it further belongs to another time.
"In conclusion, since we now have the true understanding and doctrine of the sacrament, there is also need for some admonition and encouragement. Then people may not let such a great treasure-daily administered and distributed among Christians-pass by unnoticed. So those who want to be Christians may prepare to receive this praiseworthy Sacrament often. For we see that people seem weary and lazy about receiving the sacrament. A great multitude hears the Gospel. Yet because the nonsense of the pope has been abolished and we are freed from his laws and coercion, they go one, two, three years, or even longer without the sacrament. They act as though they were such strong Christians that they have no need of it. Some allow themselves to be hindered and held up by the excuse that we have taught that no one should approach the Sacrament except those who feel hunger and thirst, which drive them to it. Some pretend that it is a matter of liberty and not necessary. They pretend that it is enough to believe without it. For the most part, they go so far astray that they become quite brutish and finally despise both the sacrament and God's Word."

Martin Luther, 
Large Catechism, 5.33-41
1 Corinthians 11:23-34

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
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. 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. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another--if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home--so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (ESV)
Lord Jesus, send us preachers who will teach us into hunger and thirst for Your gifts in the holy sacrament. Make us eager to seek Your mercy ever in these great gifts. Amen.
For the confirmands of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would always hunger and thirst for the gift of forgiveness of sins which comes through the reception of Christ's body and blood in the holy sacrament

For those who need deliverance from temptation and evil, that the Lord Christ would send His Spirit to those who are tempted that they might be rescued
For the work of our Ethiopian friends, that God our heavenly Father would give success to the word among them through the Holy Spirit
For all the schools of the Concordia University System, that God would grant them a clear understanding of their calling to be a Lutheran university system
Art: DYCK, Sir Anthony van  Pentecost  (1618-20)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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