This summer I’m going to be preaching
a little differently—I’m going to be preaching topically, specifically on topics related to questions the
congregation submitted to me during the last month. This sermon series began
last week when Pastor Jim answered questions about the Lord’s Prayer and
Discerning God’s Will.
Today I will be preaching on two
is the significance and meaning of the procession of the cross at the beginning
and end of the service?
we as Lutherans believe the bread and wine literally change into Jesus’ body
and blood? I assume different Protestant sects believe different things in this
regard. I believe Roman Catholics do believe it changes.
I will tackle these questions bit by
bit. First I will deal with the procession of the cross into church and then we
will process the cross into the worship space here today
Next, during the typical time of the
Sermon I will tackle the communion question.
Then, finally, before the recession of
the cross, I’ll cover the significance of recessing the cross.
We process in with the cross in order
to acknowledge the symbol of our redemption—the Cross of Christ. We remember
the life giving act of God’s son for our sake, his death on the cross.
By beginning the service in such a way,
we remind ourselves what kind of community is gathered here. It is a cross
shaped community, a community immersed in Christ’s death, and made alive with
Christ in his resurrection.
Entering with the cross reminds us
that we are a community defined by our Baptism into that death and resurrection
That in fact, is why the next thing we
do in worship, after processing with the cross, is that we return to the font,
where we were Baptized, either through confession and forgiveness like we will
do today, or in a more literal sense with Thanksgiving for Baptism.
We process the cross to remind
ourselves we are a cross people. A+A
The official Lutheran answer to the
question asked today about communion can be found in the Smalcald Articles as
well as in Luther’s Large and Small Catechism.
In the Smalcald Articles it is
transubstantiation, we have absolutely no regard for the subtle sophistry of
those who teach that the bread and wine surrender or lose their natural
substance and that only the form and color of the bread remain, but it is no
longer real bread. For it is in closest agreement with scripture to say that
bread is and remains there as St. Paul
himself indicates “The bread that we break” and “Eat of the bread.”
And yet, we also affirm the words of
Luther’s Large Catechism:
is the true body and blood of the Lord Christ, in and under the bread and wine,
which we Christians are commanded by Christ’s words to eat and drink… the sacrament
is bread and wine, but not mere bread and wine such as is served at the table.
Rather, it is bread and wine set within
God’s Word and bound to it.”
is true, indeed, that if you take the Word away from the elements or view them
apart from the Word, you have nothing but ordinary bread and wine. But if the
Words remain, as is right and necessary, then by virtue of them the elements
are truly the body and blood of Christ. For
as Christ’s lips speak and say, so it is; he cannot lie or deceive.”
So, what’s going on here? Luther is
threading the needle between two different understandings of the Lord’s Supper
which rely on Logic instead of Faith.
In the first case, Luther is standing
against Medieval Roman Catholic understandings of the Lord’s Supper, which rely
on the science of the time, Aristotelian Logic, in order to explain what
happens during communion.
This way of looking at communion makes
the claim that we are assured that Jesus is present with us in communion, because all things in the universe have
accidents and substance. The accident of the thing is that which can be
seen, touched, felt, etc, and the substance of the thing is what the thing
So, for example, a fun joke you can
play on your friends when you are in the hospital, is to get a Urine Sample Cup, fill it with apple
juice, and drink it in front of them.
In that case the accident is Urine,
but the substance is Apple Juice.
Just so, Medieval reliance on
Aristotilian Logic insists we know Jesus is in communion because bread and wine
are the accident and flesh and blood are the substance.
Luther hears this argument and says,
“That’s all math to me… we should believe Jesus is truly present in communion
because he truly promises to show up, and Jesus doesn’t lie.”
In the second case, Luther is standing
against other protestant reformers like the French John Calvin and Swiss
Huldrich Zwingli. They too, he felt, clung to logic instead of faith.
When they debated with Luther about
the Lord’s Supper they clung to a literal understanding of
scripture—specifically that Jesus is at the Right Hand of the Father… which to
them meant Jesus clearly couldn’t show up in bread and wine here on earth,
because he was up in heaven.
Luther countered that The Right Hand
is a Hebrew way of saying strength or power, and so the Traditional
understanding of that power involves the ubiquity of Christ—at essence, Jesus
isn’t bound to any one place.
For example, if you read the end of
several of the Gospels, Jesus walks through walls, shows up on the road to
Emmaus, and so on. So clearly he’s not stuck on a cloud somewhere, clearly he
can show up in bread and wine if he promises he is going to.
So convinced was Luther of the real
presence that he met with Zwingli in Malburg and they went round after round
for days and days about the real presence and Luther began to etch into the
table they sat at “Est ist est.” That is “Is means Is.”
As I read in the gospel today Jesus
says, “this IS my body” and “this IS my blood.”
So the question quickly becomes, why
isn’t this common knowledge among Lutherans?
To paraphrase the eminent theologian
Mel Brooks: “I blame the Irish.”
During the American Civil War tons of
Protestants were dying left and right, just as Immigration from Catholic Ireland
was picking up.
And Samuel Schmucker, a Princeton Grad
and one of the founders of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, saw this and
lost his head. He believed the only way to keep Roman Catholicism from taking
over America was to join Lutheran Protestants with Calvinist Protestants by
chucking our understanding of Holy Communion.
In response to this move away from
traditional Lutheranism, a cadre of Faculty left Gettysburg
and started up a new seminary in 1864, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
Similarly, Lutherans in parts of the
country in which everyone is either Lutheran or Catholic—especially in the Midwest—tend to downplay or even misrepresent our
understanding of Communion in order to make a greater distinction between us and
our Roman neighbors.
But that’s all a lot of history and
maybe a little dry. The important thing to know is this, Jesus shows up in the meal, he is really present. We know this to be
true because he promises to show up, and Jesus doesn’t lie!
If your beloved promised to meet you
at the train station, would you sit at home wondering if mathematics can prove
her arrival? Would you spend your time fretting over how she made it to the
train station? No, you would run stop
lights to get there and see her!
So too with Jesus, he promises to meet
us in the meal! Rejoice, he will be there! Rejoice! His words point us to the
reality of his forgiveness—in the meal Jesus promises us forgiveness, life, and
When we recess with the Cross, we find
ourselves between the rich meal of Communion and the cross of Christ.
and now following, bringing with us that promise we received in the Body and
Blood of our Lord, to be shared with a hurting, crucified, world.
We are led out into the world to find
God in unexpected places, God on the cross, following Christ wherever he may