This is the second of three sermons on the Lord’s Supper by Johannes Brenz. After discussing in the first sermon what the Lord’s Supper is, he now proceeds to explain its use as a reassurance of the forgiveness of sins and provides several examples of how it can be applied.
Although I recently examined as much as seemed necessary at the time regarding the Lord’s Supper, namely what it is and for what use it was instituted, nevertheless, because the Lord’s Supper is being celebrated publicly on this day, it does not seem inconvenient even now to say a few things on this matter. For Christ left this Supper to the Church as a great treasure, and it is most shameful for Christians to ignore their own treasure. And the use of this sacrament is necessary for infirm and weak consciences, if someone is able to take it,1 and it is never useless to examine necessary matters. Therefore, let us diligently hear about this sacrament.
We recently examined the substance, what the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is. So now we will be rather brief concerning the same evidence. For when Christ instituted this sacrament, he called the bread his body and the wine his blood. To be sure, it seems very unusual to human reason, and not so much astonishing as impossible, that the human body should be contained and distributed in such a small vessel,2 and simultaneously sit on one table and yet be distributed to each disciple. Similarly, it seems impossible that he is now in heaven and yet is distributed in every Lord’s Supper that is observed according to the words of Christ. But we need to consider first that we ought not to judge this sacrament according to human reason, but according to the word of God and Christ his Son. For he said, “This is my body.” He who created heaven and earth, in whose mouth deceit was never found––how could he deceive and be a liar? Certainly he has his old power and strength. For this reason, his word must not be doubted at all.
Second, if we consider the chief article of our religion, the incarnation of the Son of God, it will not be difficult to learn also about this sacrament correctly. For John says, “The Word became flesh,” that is, the Son of God took on man in the unity of his person. But if God and man are one person, it necessarily follows that wherever God is, there also can be that man, who was taken on in unity with God. But no one denies that God is in the Lord’s Supper. Since he fills all things, how would he not also be present in the Supper? Therefore it is clear that he can also bring along with himself (as I say like this) the man who has been taken on in the unity of the person, and he can show his body is present.
But here some cry out: “Christ the Son of God took on man, and his body was affected by human weaknesses, and among human weaknesses is also this one: one body cannot be in two places at the same time, in the place where he sits and in the bread. Likewise, it cannot be in the Supper and in heaven.” I respond: It is certainly true that Christ took on a natural body that was affected by natural weaknesses or qualities (yet was without sin). But, first, with God places are not separate in the way that they are with humans. Second, even though a body, while it still lives on this earth, is affected by natural qualities, yet, because it was the body of God’s Son, God could equip this body with supernatural qualities. This is something demonstrated in Christ’s body in many ways. For the body of a man naturally has this quality of being unable to stay alive without food and drink at most for eleven days. Yet Christ’s body stayed alive for forty days and nights without food. Further, a man’s body is naturally heavy and cannot stand with his feet on water, yet Christ walked on water in his own body and did not sink. Further, the body of a man is naturally visible, yet Jesus hid himself with his own body in the Temple before the Jews, as it is written in the eighth chapter of John. Moreover, the body of a man cannot naturally rise from death, nor ascend into heaven, yet the body of Christ rose from the dead and ascended on high while his disciples were watching. And there are many other things which were done supernaturally in Christ’s body.
Therefore, it is not astonishing that in the Lord’s Supper Christ’s body has a supernatural quality and is truly distributed and present according to Christ’s words. And these things need to be observed with regard to the substance of the Lord’s Supper. But if some teach differently somewhere, they teach wrongly and contrary to Scripture and Christ’s understanding.
Therefore, let us now see for what use above all the Lord’s Supper was instituted. And here many err in numerous ways. First, so far we have considered the opinion that the Lord’s Supper was instituted so that the mass might be made out of it and, once it had been celebrated, might atone for the sins of the living and the dead. This is a wicked use. For if Christ had thought this, there would have been no need for him to endure suffering after the institution of the Supper. But all of Scripture testifies that Christ’s unique work, Christ’s unique sacrifice which was accomplished on the cross, is satisfaction for our sins. Therefore Christ did not want to institute the Supper so that the mass for the sins of the living and the dead might be made out of it.
Second, there are those who think the Supper was instituted so that there might be an external mark of Christianity, by which a person might be recognized as a Christian. And it is certainly true that the reception of the Supper is in some respects a mark of Christianity. However, it was not instituted chiefly for this purpose. For it is an unreliable mark, since many wicked people can take this sacrament, who nevertheless are not Christians but have only the appearance of being Christian. Moreover, he instituted another, more powerful sign of Christianity in the thirteenth chapter of John saying, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In addition, there are those who think the Supper was instituted to be a symbol of love for one another. And this by itself is not spoken wickedly: for just as one loaf is made from many grains that have been crushed by a millstone, so we all ought to grow together as one in love. And just as we eat from one loaf, so also it is fitting that we have one heart and one mind. But it was not instituted chiefly for this reason.
Finally, there are those who think they obtain from the work or the merit of the work the remission of sins and eternal life if they take the Lord’s Supper. But it was not instituted for that reason.
What, then, shall we say? What is its true and legitimate use? I respond: The Lord’s Supper was instituted above all for this reason, that it might assure the conscience or faith of the remission of sins and eternal life. From this it follows that it was instituted as a remedy for all adversities, both bodily and spiritual. But you ask, “Is it then a remedy for poverty, hunger, fever, gout, plague, and death?” Yes it is, but in its own certain way and rightly understood. For in any affliction at all, whether bodily or spiritual, whether public or private, we not only suffer from adversity, but we are also tested with regard to sins, the wrath of God, and our damnation. For example, is someone afflicted with poverty? He will find a remedy in the Lord’s Supper. How? Is some amount of money given to him? Not at all. But the one who is gifted with some piety and afflicted with poverty reflects on his own sins and how he deserves poverty because of his sins. From this comes the consciousness of God’s anger, of God’s forsaking him, and of everlasting damnation. Therefore, he should learn the promises of God so that he does not despair in his poverty. He should hear the Gospel and take the sacrament of the Supper so that his conscience is strengthened with regard to the forgiveness of sins and God’s favor. And when this is done, poverty is endured with a calm mind.
Another example: someone is afflicted with bodily illness. He will find the remedy in the Lord’s Supper. How? Is rhubarb3 given to him there? Not at all, but the illness warns men about sins, and sins warn them about the anger of God and damnation. Therefore, he should take the sacrament so that his faith is strengthened.
Another example: something public rages, whether a plague or severe weather, and the remedy is found in the Lord’s Supper. How? Does taking the Lord’s Supper clean the air? Not at all, but we are tested in public disasters in regard to God’s anger and our damnation. Therefore the sacrament is taken so that faith is strengthened in adversity. And from this arose that wicked abuse of celebrating masses against the plague. Undoubtedly the hypocrites saw our ancestors’ communion in the Supper during public disasters and imitated the form of the work, not the faith of their ancestors.
Another example: a wife loses her husband in death, and in turn a husband loses his wife in death. They will find remedies in the Lord’s Supper. How? Do they regain their spouses in the Supper? Not at all, but the one who loses his spouse considers himself forsaken and rejected by God on account of his sins. Therefore he should take the Lord’s Supper so that his conscience is strengthened with regard to the forgiveness of sins. The wicked practice of saying masses for the dead also came from this. The hypocrites saw what their ancestors did and did not imitate their faith, just their works.
In the same way it should be said of those who lie in the bed (as they say) of death, and are tested because of death. We must hasten to help them with this sacrament. Christ teaches this use when he says, “Which is given for you,” and also, “do this in memory of me.” Further, he says, “testament.” And Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 says, “[is not] the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” So far on the use of the Lord’s Supper. May God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, with his Holy Spirit, lead us to use this Supper in a worthy manner. Amen.
Brenz is conceding that the Lord’s Supper may not always be readily available, due to special circumstances. ↩
Latin organum, i.e., the bread and the wine. ↩
Rhubarb is recorded as having medicinal uses as early as the third millennium BC. ↩
One of three Maundy Thursday sermons preached by Johannes Brenz.
Apr 19, 2011