This five-part series is written to help a local congregation recover the lost gift of weekly participation in the body of our Lord. It is based on original work by Pastor Duane Bamsch, and he draws from resource, “The Blessings of Weekly Communion” by Keith Weiiting. Please take and use as you see fit.
The Blessing of Weekly Communion Part 1:
The Way We’ve Always Done It
But what Does the Catechism Say?
What is Communion (or the Sacrament of the Altar)?
“It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.” (Small Catechism)
How do we know this?
From the very words of Jesus Himself, found in the Scriptures, tell us what we receive in Holy Communion. The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write: Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
What is the benefit of the Lord’s Supper? Why is it important for us?
These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. (Small Catechism)
Can You Have TOO MUCH Forgiveness, Life and Salvation?
The Breaking of Bread
It was the practice of the Apostles to celebrate Holy Communion every week (and in Jerusalem it was even celebrated daily for a time). To commemorate the day Christ rose from the dead, the Apostles discontinued the Saturday Sabbath of the Jews in order to worship on Sundays (called “the Lord’s Day” in Revelation 1:10.) It is clear the Church in the book of Acts considered receiving the Lord’s Supper often an essential part of their life together. The Lord’s Day always included the Lord’s Supper, for a time called the “breaking of bread.”
Acts 2:42, 46—They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to thebreaking of breadand to the prayers…Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. Theybroke breadin their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.
Acts 20:7—On the first day of the week we came togetherto break bread.Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.
We Know this was Communion
1 Corinthians 10:16—Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is notthe bread that we breaka participation in the body of Christ?
The Blessing of Weekly Communion Part 2:
Why Would We Want Such a Thing?
Apostles celebrated the Lord’s Supper every “Lord’s Day.“
Early Christians followed their example.
Historical evidence is clear that the early Churchmet frequently to receive the Lord’s Words of Institution as the gift of bread and wine. One document, The Didache, (or, ”The Teaching”) written around 100 AD, says this: “On the Lord’s day—His special day—come together and break bread and give thanks…”
Justin Martyr, a Christian named for his death by beheading in 165 AD, wrote many public defenses of the faith. In one, he testifies to us: And on the day called Sunday there is a meeting in one place… After writing this, he goes on to describe a Communion service.
As in the Early Church, So in Luther’s Reformation
The Lutheran Reformation placed Scripture Alone above all other considerations.
But that didn’t mean they abandoned the witness of the Church who came before. Along with discovering the evidential blessings of weekly communion in the Bible, the first Lutherans embraced both Sunday “Mass“ and additional communing on high festival days such as Epiphany and Ascension.
The Pope’s Hostile Witness
Strangely, among the many slanders the pope’s minions hurled against us was included the accusation that Lutherans had “abolished the Mass.” But our Defense of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord replies:
It is again necessary to point out that we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously retain and defend it. Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord’s day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved. We also keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments, and other similar things. (XXIV)
“Mass” is a term that has become foreign to American Lutherans, but it is just an old term that refers to a “public event,” which eventually came to refer as shorthand to the essential public event in the life of Christianity: weekly communion.
You Don’t have to Take the Medicine if You Don’t Want To.
The Church never forces blessings on you.
It is not required that one commune every timd the Sacrament is offered. Faith is never strengthened by the Law’s demands. Rather, Jesus’ Church endeavors to deliver the Gospel to everyone who is hungry for it.
Sinners are always in need of more forgiveness. When you feel your sin, there is no quiet confidence like that distributed in the Supper.
“Am I really so bad? I don’t feel that weak.”
Are you going to die some day? Then you are always sick. St. Ignatius, who sat at the feet of St. John himself, and died shortly after him inn 108 AD, wrote,
Come together, man by man, in common through grace, individually in one faith, …with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.
So long as you remain sick, taking the medicine regularly is a very good idea!
The Blessing of Weekly Communion Part 3:
I’m a Life-long Lutheran…But
“I’ve been a Lutheran my entire life, and no one ever taught me this.”
It is a common complaint.
Sadly, it applies to more than just this salutary gift. In every place Christianity has ever sojourned, the ingrown habit of slowly drifting away from Jesus’ institutions and toward our own assumptions is a constant threat. For this reason, the Church is always in need of Reformation.
We do this by testing ourselves against the Scriptures. We also listen to that great cloud of witnesses who came before us, seeking out where they and the Scriptures together testify against us, in order that we might joyfully strive to repent.
But It’s Not Lutheran!
Dr. Luther would disagree.
In his Small Catechism, the one that has sat on your shelf since you were a child, he asks, “What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?” He answers: First, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord. Second, your own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given.
In response to, “But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?” he also writes:
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: First, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.
Loving Your Neighbors is Putting their Needs First
Travel, illness and the chances of life sometimes keep your brothers and sisters away.
Of course, attending Church every week is best. But that doesn’t mean it always happens. One of the best reasons to strive for weekly communion is so that those who cannot always be here, when they are here, are never deprived of the blessings of the Sacrament.
Imagine being unable to receive the Sacrament for months due to unfortunate timing due to work or illness. It is strong sentiment, but one LCMS professor has said it well:
“It’s very selfish to say ‘I don’t need the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.’ Maybe you don’t. But do you know what’s going on in the life of the person next to you? You may think you don’t need it, but what about that other person [who does]?”
The Blessing of Weekly Communion Part 4:
Decently, and in Good Order
This isn’t the LC-MS Way
Except that it is!
In 1995, the Syndo convention passed the following resolution was passed the following RESOLUTION 2-08A:
Whereas, the opportunity to receive the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day was a reality cherished by Luther and set forth clearly with high esteem by our Lutheran Confessions (Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession and of the Apology); and
Whereas, our synod’s 1983 CTCR document on the Lord’s Supper (p.28) and our Synod’s 1986  translation of Luther’s Catechism both remind us that the Scriptures place the Lord’s Supper at the center of worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20,23), and not as an appendage or an occasional extra; therefore be it
RESOLVED, That The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in convention encourage its pastors and congregations to study the scriptural, confessional, and historical witness to every Sunday communion with a view toward recovering the opportunity for receiving the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day.
This will Make it Meaningless!
Taking it too often will cause it to mean less.
This is common objection from the unlearned. It all depends on what you believe the Lord’s Supper means.
If you believe that it is only a symbol of your own commitment or emotions, then certainly these can wain with frequency. But if the meaning delivered to us is what Jesus says the Supper is, that is, his own flesh and blood given to strengthen our faith by the reception of forgiveness, life and salvation, no amount of our receiving it can make it mean either more or less.
Do Jesus’ words ever lose their authority? If we are faithless, will he refuse to be faithful to himself? In the same way, Jesus’ resurrected, physical body can never “mean less,” no matter how many times he communes with us.
How often is often?
Law Questions Get Law Answers
This practice is not a Law, but the Gospel. When a faithful parish celebrates the Supper weekly does not mean you must receive it. Even so, we do well to consider what Dr. Luther writes in his preface to the Catechism:
Whoever does not seek or desire the Sacrament at least some four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is no Christian, just as he is no Christian who does not believe or hear the Gospel. Christ did not say, “Omit this,” or, “Despise this,” but, “Do this, all of you.” Verily, He wants it done, and not entirely neglected and despised. “This do,“ he says.
It is Christ’s own encouragement that we receive the Sacrament often, for it is to our benefit. This benefit is the faith which desires it according to his words. As this faith grows, it is the Church’s duty to provide an answer to your hunger as often as possible.
The Blessing of Weekly Communion Part 5:
Like a Woman who Finds a Lost Coin
If It’s So Great, then How Did We Lose It?
It’s a long story.
But here are a few reasons from our history as American Lutherans:
First,most Protestants think Communion is only a symbol.
“It is Christ’s ordinance, so we must do it, but not too often that it loses its meaning.” Sadly, german and scandanavian immigrants to America often wanted to fit in, especially during the scares of WWI and WWII. As a result, over time, in attempts to blend in, the neighborhood’s neglect of the Supper was simply “in the water we drank” while acclimating to the new world.
Second, this was increased by American hostility to Roman Catholicism. As a result, looking “too catholic,” became something many Lutherans feared. As a result, classic Reformation styles like chanting, crucifixes, statuary, making the sign of the cross, and pastors vesting in high quality vestments were minimized and then lost.
Since all these practices ultimately flow both from and to our beliefs in the Sacrament, over time the new “low church” practices had the protestant-intended “low church” effect: as we worshiped, so we eventually came to believe.
As such, the hunger for weekly communion waned and was lost. (Today, the real threat Lutherans face is not being “too catholic,” but “too methodist.” Weekly communion is the most essential step we can take in this battle to recover our strength and identity.)
Third, in the 1800’s America there wasa severe shortage of ordained Lutheran preachers.
Many rural congregations only had “circuit riding” pastors, traveling through by foot or hoof only three to four times per year. Thus, celebrating the Sacrament only three to four times per year swiftly became, “The way we’ve always done it.” Again, as we worshiped, so we eventually also believed.
Even so, for the last half century our devotion to the Scriptures, along with a growing revival of reading the Confessions, has revived a movement of increased communing in the LC-MS. With many Christian movements failing, the recovery of our identity as Jesus’ disciples of both Word and Sacrament is the heartbeat of our future.
But Didn’t Luther Say, “Commune Only Quarterly”?
Not at all.
Last week, we read in the Small Catechism: “When someone does not seek or desire the Sacrament at least four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is not a Christian, just as a person is not a Christian who does not believe or hear the Gospel.
Luther gave these numbers not as an ordinance, but as a bare minimum, after which one might rightly wonder wherther or not we are even Jesus’ Church at all! He goes on to say:
Now, whoever does not highly value the Sacrament shows that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell. In other words, he does not believe any such things. [But] he is in them up over his head and his ears, and is doubly the devil’s own! [Yet], he [foolishly thinks that he] needs no grace, no life, no paradise, no heaven, no Christ, no God, nor anything good. For if he believed that he had so much evil around him, and needed so much that is good, he would not neglect the Sacrament, by which such evil is remedied and so much good is bestowed, nor would it be necessary to force him to go to the Sacrament by any law. He would come running and racing of his own will, would force himself, and beg that you must give him the Sacrament.”
Lordy, have mercy!
To this end help us, dear Father in heaven. May the Word of God be taught in its truth and purity, and we as the children of God lead holy lives in accordance with it, fully enjoying all the manifold blessings of weekly communion with the eternal body of Christ, our Lord.