A Feast of Love: We Cannot Yield
CFW Walther’s Maundy Thursday Sermon from 1868 is a treasure. The introduction, reproduced below, offers a glorious rhetorical defense of the true Body and Blood of Christ as the Feast of Love and unity, and at the very same time the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s practice of closed communion.
In Christ Jesus, dear Christian friends!
The Holy Supper, whose institution we today celebrate, is according to its origin as well as its purpose a feast of love. First of all, out of inexpressible love to His own Christ Himself instituted it. When John reports the last supper that Christ ate with His disciples, he begins this report with the words, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end’ (John 13:1). He wants to say: “Not even the nearness of His painful death has caused Christ to forget His disciples nor did His love for them weaken. Rather He felt this way: At His very departure from the world, He wanted to institute and leave behind for His own the greatest memorial of His love.” Christ specifically said this, when for the last time He sat down at the table with His disciples to keep the last meal He said, as Luke reports, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). Though the Savior had been filled with anxiety before His baptism of blood, yet with such ardent longing He had also awaited His last night of suffering. In this night He would repeal the old covenant meal and would institute a new one.
The Holy Supper is a feast of love not only because Christ Himself instituted it out of burning love for His own but, as was said, because of its purpose- to be the source and bond of the most intimate, brotherly love among Christians. Thus the apostle Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). He also adds, “We were all made to drink of one Spirit” (12:13). He means to say: “Because we Christians partake of the consecrated bread that makes us partakers fo the Christ’s body, and the consecrated cup that makes us partakers of Christ’s blood, we all become one body, and one spirit, almost one person, one individual.” All communicants do not divide Christ’s body and blood, not even one part of Christ’s body and blood. All partake of the one and the same complete body of Christ and the one and the same complete blood of Christ. They thus become intimately united with one another as their body with their soul.
Is not the Holy Supper, then, really a feast of love? Beyond a doubt. As little as it is possible for a person not to love himself, so little is it possible for a communicant, who heartily believes in the mystery of the Holy Supper, not to love his fellow communicants, for he knows that the same body and blood is in them which is in him. We read that because the first Christians continued “in the breaking of the bread” they actually were “of one heart and of one soul”.
Yet has this not very Holy Supper since the time of the Reformation been the subject of strife, war, estrangement, separation, and division instead of being a feast of love, which should most intimately of all unite Christians? Has not the Church that left the papacy split over this Holy Supper into two warring parties? And is it not especially our Evangelical Lutheran Church that wants to make no peace?
Is it not also true that our Church would rather remain with her teaching of the Holy Supper and sacrifice the peace of the Church than this doctrine? Should she not surrender this point, so that in brotherly harmony she can celebrate the feast of love with all who call themselves Christians? Would it not be in conformity with Christian love, if we Lutherans would let everyone believe and teach about the Holy Supper what he considered right and appear with him at the Lord’s Table in peace? Should we not at least at the altar lay our weapons down? Should not all hostility cease at least at the feast of reconciliation?
Or is the true doctrine of the Holy Supper actually so important that we cannot yield? That we must hold fast to it in inviolable faithfulness no matter what the results might be? Yes, my friends, we dare not, we cannot, yield as dear as we hold God’s Word, Christ’s majesty and honor, our salvation, and the salvation of all men.
This is the point that I propose to lay on your heart on this day of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Walther’s Works: Gospel Sermons, vol. 1. Trans. by Donald E. Heck, Concordia Publishing House, 2013. pp. 210-211.