Hounded by Sin, Welcomed by Christ
We force no one to go to the Sacrament. But many take it by force. No, this is not about the perennial problems associated with closed communion. Rather, it is a reminder from Luther’s mouth and pen about the willingness of Christians to run to the kingdom of heaven in the Sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood. When you believe what Jesus says in regard to this Sacrament, you will press toward it.
Luther taught this on the basis of Matthew 11:12, which just happens to be one of the options for the Gospel Lesson on Reformation Day. Insisting that it makes matters worse when we try to force folks into loving the Lord’s body and blood, Luther more than once says that it is the other way around. Faithful Christians take the kingdom by force.
In his 1521 Sermon on the Worthy Reception of the Sacrament he writes:
God neither wants to nor will he grant this grace to those who were forced, pressed, and driven to the sacrament by commandment and law, but only to hearts that long and pine and thirst for it, to hearts that come voluntarily. In Matthew 11 [:12] Christ says, “Since the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence took it by force.” That is to say: Since John showed the people their sins and shortcomings, which all pastors should do, they longed so for the kingdom of God and its help that they immediately and forcefully pressed toward it and seized it. God loves such guests; they who are thus hounded by their sins and transgressions are welcome to him. Psalm 39 [42:1] reads, “As a hunted hart longs for a fountain of fresh water, so my soul longs for thee, O God.” (AE 42:176)
Similarly, in his 1530 Admonition Concerning the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord, Luther wrote:
[T]he sacrament has been instituted to attract, entice, and draw the people, so that they might come willingly and gladly, yes, so that they might afterwards run with might, wrestle, and strive, as Christ says in Matthew 11 [:12]: “The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.” He does not want the weary, bored, satisfied souls, but the hungry and thirsty who press forward and struggle for it, as he says in Matthew 5 [:6]: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (AE 38:101-102)
With such vitality the Christian heart longs for what Christ gives in the Sacrament: His body and blood for our forgiveness. We pastors will not force you to partake. But we pray that more and more of our parishioners will take it by force as Luther teaches, seeing themselves hounded by sin but welcomed by Christ.