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March 2017 - The Salutary Gift of the Lord's Supper

The Salutary Gift

Lent is upon us, and with it, a new series for our midweek meditations.  This year our theme will be The Lord’s Supper: The Salutary Gift.  Now I know that in our Reformation-focused articles this year we have already looked at Luther’s reforming of the Liturgy and Hymnody.  But with our midweek sermons touching on several great hymns related to the Most Salutary Gift of the Lord’s Supper, I thought it proper to add the following thoughts to help introduce you to our Lenten Meditations.

The chief blessing of the Lord’s Supper is made clear by the words of Christ’s institution: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The forgiveness of sins, won for us on Calvary and offered in the Sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood truly makes this blessed Supper a “salutary gift” (Post-Communion Collect). While the chief blessing and benefit of the Lord’s Supper is the forgiveness of sins, there are several different images and metaphors used by Holy Scripture to highlight the blessings of the Lord’s Supper, many of which are reflected in our hymns.

Consider the following examples: In Stephen Starke’s hymn “The Tree of Life,” the Lord’s crucified body and blood are depicted as a life-giving fruit that flows from the tree of the cross. “For all who trust and will believe, Salvation’s living fruit receive. And of this fruit so pure and sweet The Lord invites the world to eat, To find within this cross of wood The tree of life with ev’ry good” (LSB 561:4). This fruit is contrasted with the fruit that Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden, bringing the world into sin and ruin. For the sacramentally minded Christian, it is not difficult to connect this “pure and sweet” fruit with what is received, eaten, and drunk in Holy Communion.

Another benefit of the Lord’s Supper is its nourishing power. Martin Luther in the Large Catechism calls the Lord’s Supper a “food of souls, which nourishes and strengthens the new man” (Part 5, par. 23). For this reason, several hymns appropriately refer to the Lord’s Supper as “bread from heaven” or “living bread.” Stanza 1 of LSB hymn 625 naturally reflects this: “Lord Jesus Christ, life-giving bread, May I in grace possess You. Let me with holy food be fed, In hunger I address You.” These words remind the communicant who hungers and thirsts for righteousness (cf. Matthew 5:6) that God has lovingly prepared for him in the Sacrament a nourishing meal to strengthen him in his lifelong journey towards the promised land of heaven.

Drawing upon the scriptural themes of healing, some of our hymns depict the Lord’s Supper as a healing balm or medicine. A classic example of this is David W. Rogner’s hymn “Jesus Comes Today With Healing” (LSB 620). Stanza one emphasizes the healing benefits of Christ’s body and blood: “Jesus comes today with healing, Knocking at my door, appealing, Off’ring pardon, grace, and peace. He Himself makes preparation, And I hear His invitation: “Come and taste the blessed feast.” Christians who are suffering from bodily ailments may take comfort in considering the Lord’s Supper as a healing medicine, seeing that the complete healing of their bodies in the resurrection begins now with the healing of the soul in the Sacrament of the Altar.

More examples will be developed throughout the course of this Lenten series. The goal of this series is to set before our eyes the many blessings and benefits of the Lord’s Supper, chief among which is the forgiveness of sins. Our hymns help us in this regard by making connections that we might not otherwise make. They draw upon the themes of Holy Scripture and teach us to appreciate the full range of blessings that are present when the faithful are gathered around the life-giving, nourishing, and salutary gift of our Lord’s holy body and precious blood.

See you Wednesdays!


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