Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)
+ + +
Through a pen-pal program, Juan and Harold became friends. Juan lived in Mexico while Harold lived in Minnesota. After many years of writing back and forth, Harold decided to take some vacation time and see exactly where Juan lived in Mexico. The trip south was non-eventful. Juan wanted to take Harold out in order to show him the gorgeous landscape of Mexico by horseback. Harold had never been on a horse before, but decided to give it a shot.
Juan took Harold out and showed him ancient ruins and forests; then he showed Harold towering mountains. Finally, Juan showed Harold a barren desert. Harold had a great time and he ate and drank only the fruit and water which He saw Juan eating and drinking.
It didn’t take long before Harold began getting sick. Within days, Harold died. An autopsy revealed parasites and bacteria in Harold’s body which had caused his death. Juan, who had eaten and drunk the same things as Harold, was unaffected. Juan, having grown up drinking the water and eating the fruit, had become resistant to the bacteria and parasites which killed Harold. Because his body had been prepared, Juan could safely eat and drink. Harold could not. What was safe for Juan and actually nourished his body was deadly to Harold.
+ + +
Holy Communion is given as a gift to nourish us as God’s children. As Saint Matthew reminds us in chapter 26, it gives the blessing of forgiveness! However, what nourishes us is damning for others. See what Saint Paul writes, “Anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod teaches (according to Scripture) that Jesus’ body and blood truly are present in Holy Communion (Luther would explained it saying that Christ is present “in/with/under the bread and wine”). There are many churches which teach that only bread and wine are present – they teach and confess that the body of Jesus is not to be found with the bread and wine: they eat and drink without recognizing the body of Christ Jesus.
What nourishes us is harmful to others, even though they might be our family and friends. Often times we have family and friends visit us in church. Is it loving or unloving to feed them the body and blood of Christ, knowing they do not believe that Jesus is present with the bread and wine (or perhaps knowing that they have joined a church that does not believe the bread and the wine is Christ’s body and blood)? Or, to put it another way, if the situations were reversed, would you rather have your friend keep you from drinking something that is dangerous, or would you be offended that they didn’t offer you something to eat and drink, even if it was dangerous to your well-being?
As Christians, we are called to believe in God and love our neighbors. We, as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, practice closed communion, withholding the Holy Sacrament from those whom it may harm. Do we show our friendship and love to our family and friends by allowing them to eat and drink with us? Or do we show our friendship and love by keeping them from eating and drinking to their condemnation?
In the opening story, Harold died after drinking water that was harmful to him. Because many people have been harmed from drinking the water in Mexico, travelers to that region are warned, “Do not drink the water in Mexico. Drink bottled water.” It is a warning given in order to protect the travelers. It is a prohibition given out of love or concern for someone’s health. Without a doubt, Harold would have preferred to be warned and forbidden from eating and drinking something that was detrimental to his body and life than to have table-fellowship with Juan. May we continue to hold fast to the word of God, and may we continue to love our neighbor.
-- Pastor Lorenz