Grace and peace to you all in the name of our living Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you have been in church over the last two or three weeks, or if you plan on being in church in the next three or four weeks, you will inevitably be hearing gospel texts from John chapter 6 that focus on bread. More specifically on Jesus as the bread of life. Now, I may not be preaching solely on these texts over the next few weeks in what could be considered a sermon series, but it is important for me to point out the central theme within these texts and what that theme means for us as a worshiping community.
When we talk about Jesus being the bread of life there is always one connection made to what we do in worship; the sacrament of Holy Communion. In this article I wish to highlight one aspect of Holy Communion that I find very important to talk about.
In the gospel text assigned for Sunday August 2, the people in the crowd following Jesus ask a very interesting question. They ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”[i] This question that the crowd poses to Jesus is one that is often asked among worshipping communities. It is also a question asked in regards to the sacrament of Holy Communion as well, although phrased a little differently as, “how often should I receive Holy Communion,” and “what must I do to receive it worthily?”
As Lutherans, we have a hard time with these questions, because one of our chief theological claims is that there is nothing we must do to receive the grace of God freely given to us. However, there are steps that can be taken to make sure we get the most out of the sacrament of Holy Communion in which God bestows the grace of God on us. In the fifth part of Luther’s Large Catechism on the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther outlines who exactly is to receive the sacrament and indirectly how often it should be received.
In this section Luther begins by stressing that as a gift of God “no one under any circumstances should be forced or compelled”[ii] to receive the sacrament, but rather should want to come to the sacrament willingly. Luther later states that those who should come to this holy meal are those “who feel their weakness, who are anxious to be rid of it and desire help”[iii] and that these people “should regard and use the sacrament as a precious antidote against the poison in their systems.”[iv] Luther goes on to point out that if you are one that does not feel your weakness or are not anxious to be rid of your weakness, then you should probably spend some time in scripture examining your life in regards to how you measure up to the standards God has for your life. For in Scripture you should undoubtedly find that as a person of flesh and blood you are a slave to the works of the flesh. In Galatians 5:19-20(NRSV), St. Paul outlines just what those works of the flesh are: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” The point Luther eventually comes to make is that if you do not feel the pull of any of these things, and more, on your life, then “the more reason you have to go to the sacrament and seek its help and remedy.”[v]
This leads directly into our discussion of how often we should be receiving this Holy Sacrament. Luther states although no one should be compelled to take the sacrament, on the other hand “Christ did not institute the sacrament for us to treat it as a spectacle, but he commanded his Christians to eat and drink it and thereby remember him.”[vi] For, when Christ said “‘as often as you do it,’ [implies] that we should do it frequently….being bound to no special place or time.”[vii]
A common debate within many churches is honestly how often to the sacrament of Holy Communion should be administered. There are some that say that by receiving the body and blood of Christ too often makes it lose its meaning; that it becomes too ordinary. On the other hand the argument can be made that the sacrament of Holy Communion should be ordinary because that is a testament to what God does; God comes to us in the ordinariness of our lives. I am personally of the opinion that, as a person who recognizes my sinfulness on a weekly basis, if not a daily basis, being able to receive the body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion would be a freeing experience. For as Martin Luther said, “We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine that aids you and gives life in both soul and body.”[viii] I know I for one would love to be able to receive that medicine and have a renewed life in both soul and body on a weekly basis.
Ultimately, as with all things liturgical, which literally means the work of the people, how often we receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion is up to you all. It is my hope and prayer that you will prayerfully consider what this sacrament means to you, and be in conversation with one another about the frequency in which you desire to receive it.
Grace be with you all.
[i] John 6:28 NRSV
[ii] LC 471:42
[iii] LC 474:70
[v] LC 475:78
[vi] LC 471:42
[vii] LC 471:47-472:48
[viii] LC 474:68