O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on 1 Cor. 10:16-17 and Mark 14:12-26
Preached on Maundy Thursday - April 5th, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints, when we talk about fellowship in the Church, what do we mean? Do we mean getting to know one another better by spending time together? Is this fellowship? Certainly - spending time together is an important kind of fellowship, but this is not the kind of fellowship that we hear about in God's Word. This is not the kind of fellowship that we would talk about on Maundy Thursday when our Lord transformed the Passover into the new covenant of His Holy Supper. When the Bible talks about fellowship, as it does in our readings tonight, it uses a special Greek word. The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. Koinonia. And what a word! There is so much packed into this word koinonia that it is difficult to render using a single English word. We tend to translate koinonia as fellowship or participation in an attempt to capture all that it means. But to put it into English, Koinonia is fellowship with both a heavenly and earthly dimension. It is a deep spiritual participation with God and with every other believer that shares in it. Fellowship is not something we do. It is not something we choose. It is a gift of God, a sharing of holy things for those with the same faith. Yes, in this fellowship, something other than time is being shared. For whenever we hear the word koinonia in the Holy Scriptures it is connected to the Lord's Supper. Fellowship is one of the gifts that God gives us in the meal of His Son's body and blood.
And that is why we are here tonight, isn't it? We are here to participate in the glorious thing our Lord has done. For if our Lord had not shed His blood on the cross we could not have koinonia with God or with one another. Our sin would keep us from being spiritually connected to Him. It would always get in the way of the deep spiritual connection we want to share with one another. But Christ has created a new koinonia, a new spiritual connection with God, and the link is His blood. By His blood, Christ has brought together the real presence of Almighty God and the sin of the whole world. By His holy, innocent and precious blood, Christ brings His eternal holiness down to you and pours it into your mouth, only because it was that very blood which He shed as the payment for your sin. His blood is where we can be united with each other, and it is where we are all united with God. We have fellowship with God in the blood of this altar.
But this is the mystery behind this fellowship - this koinonia - isn't it? The mystery lies in what we share. To steal from the catechism, "What is 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.
Many people, even Christians, have a hard time with this. They find themselves asking the same question that Mary asked when she was told that God would be born from her womb. "How can this be?" How can God make His human body present on altars all over the world at the same time? But is this really so surprising? We don't have a hard time understanding how the Spirit of God can be everywhere. Why then God's body? Particularly when we hear St. Paul say that God, "raised [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places…and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." Christ fills all things not only as God, but now as a man also. His human blood is what gives us fellowship with Him and all His saints no matter where we are scattered about the earth.
But some will say, how can Christ be everywhere if He is seated at God's right hand in heaven? Is God's right hand a physical place that Christ is forced to sit until we join Him? Do we understand God's right hand to be confined to one place, or do we understand it the way His Word describes it in Psalm 139? "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me." Now I am not suggesting that we follow the winds of the morning and go have the Lord's Supper in the middle of Lake Winnipeg, but surely the right hand of God is there, surely Christ fills that place also. And so we see that the real presence of Christ's body and blood is not understood by our senses or our reason, but only by our faith.
Faith is what understands that Christ's body and blood are being received in your mouth. Faith is what knows that the benefit of eating and drinking is the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Faith is what trusts that this blood has been shed for you - that Christ had you in mind when He bled on the cross - and He has you in mind now when He offers Himself to you. This kind of fellowship makes sense - one that God has created to keep you connected to Him and those that have the same faith.
We see this in our Gospel reading this evening. Jesus did not invite all of His followers to His Last Supper. No, He arranged for the Passover to be eaten at a secret location in Jerusalem with His closest disciples. There was all this rigmarole about entering the city and meeting a man carrying a jar…etc. etc. etc. Christ was practicing what we call "Close-Communion." He was admitting some to the table, but not all. Not because His other followers had no faith, but because they were not ready to receive what He was prepared to give.
When we talk about "Close-Communion" or the fellowship of the Altar - koinonia - there are two things we need to know.
First of all, the body and blood of our Lord is present and powerful regardless of who receives it. His Word creates the Supper, not our faith. His Word says, "This is my body. This is my blood" and that makes it so. His presence is here because He says it is, not because we believe it. Our faith only determines whether we receive the benefit.
This means great care must be taken in determining who receives such a powerful presence. For as St. Paul says, it is possible to be worse off after eating, if one eats unworthily. He says, "Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself." This was the case with Judas, who ate without faith and discernment. He did not give the Supper its full weight, and so was crushed by his sin. This is why we examine ourselves before we commune - why we put our children through intensive catechesis - why we do not commune everyone who walks into the building - because great harm and condemnation can befall them by our hand. Those who are unrepentant of public sin, or who do not publicly confess the real presence of Christ's body and blood should not commune until repentance and faith are confessed. At that time, God welcomes them to the koinonia with us.
The second thing about "Close-Communion" does not pertain to the faith of an individual, but to the faith of a church body. Individuals are members of bodies. We are members of Lutheran-Church Canada who is in koinonia or altar fellowship with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Our church bodies teach the same thing and have the same fellowship. "Close-Communion" means that we do not commune at altars outside of our fellowship. We should not commune at a Roman altar or at the altar of Lutherans of the other synod, for we would lying about what we believe. Similarly, those outside of our fellowship should not commune at this altar. We don't do this out malice, but out of respect for what they believe, and for the fellowship we share here. Nobody wants to make a liar out of anyone, so we commune at our own altars.
St. Paul is the one to thank for this tough teaching, for he said, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons." Lutheran-Church Canada is not in fellowship with any church body that publicly teaches contrary to the Scriptures. When the Evil One introduces false teaching into a church body, we are not to remain in fellowship with them. Likewise, we are not to commune here one week, and there another.
There is a story from the early Church which captures the heart of "Close-Communion." There was a heretic named Cerinthus who was mixing the teachings of Christ with some pagan teachings. One day, St. John, the last living apostle, whose last admonition in his letters was "little children love one another," entered into a home to come face-to-face with Cerinthus. Upon seeing him, he turned swiftly on his heel and ran from the building. He wouldn't even be in the same room with him. This story is an excellent illustration of how love for Christ and strict rejection of heresy belong together. We practice "Close-Communion" out of love for Christ, and out of respect of what people believe.
However, tonight, we are here to have koinonia with Christ and one another. We are ready to share His real presence. To meet in His blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. His disciples needed His Supper to strengthen them that night, for the darkness that lay ahead was great. The same is true for us. Christ comes tonight to bring us peace in our hearts, strength in our minds and perseverance for our souls. For tomorrow is the day of the crucifixion, and we need all the strength He will give. Come fellow baptized saints, Christ gives you koinonia in His life-giving blood.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr