Doctor Luther, when commenting on the liturgy, came to the Words of Institution and drew our attention, not to the ceremony or the elements or the communicants, but to the Words of Christ. He bid the reader look at those plain, clear Words and focus on each one of them. “Everything depends,” he wrote, “upon the Words of the Sacrament. These are the Words of Christ. Truly we should set them in pure gold and precious stones, keeping nothing more diligently before the eyes of our heart, so that faith may be exercised.” (AE 53:79-80). And in the Large Catechism he writes, “With these words Jesus institutes the Sacrament, mandates its use and reception, consecrates the elements, informs the Christian of what he receives, strengthens the Christian’s faith and conscience, while providing sustenance for the Christian’s soul and body.” (LC V 23)
Why the emphasis upon the Words of Institution? Because the Word makes the Sacrament. They are the last will and testament of Jesus that perform exactly what He says. Jesus says, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood,” and we take Him at His Word and cling to that Word. Just as someone’s will cannot be altered after their death, Jesus’ Words instituting this Sacrament cannot be altered. Since such great emphasis is given to the Word, it does us well to consider those words we hear each Divine Service, words we long to hear again soon.
Our Lord Jesus Christ
The One who is fully God and fully Man, the One who by a Word created all things, Who orders all things, to Whom the eyes of all look, this Lord has come for us who were born in sin. He comes as our Savior. His title, “Lord,” shows His divinity, while His name, “Jesus,” reminds us that He has come to save His people from their sins. The Supper He institutes brings together His title, His name, and His work, because here He dispenses the forgiveness of sins that He came to win for you.
On the night when He was betrayed
This word “betrayed” is rich. While it can mean “to betray,” it also means “to hand over,” as with a gift. While this gives historical context to the institution of the Sacrament, it also points us to what the Father did on this night. He handed over His Son, and the Son went willingly, to those who would crucify Him, to those who would see that what John the Baptist proclaimed Him to be, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, would come true. In ultimate love for His creation, He allowed Himself to be given over into the hands of sinful men.
To be beneficial, bread requires death. Speaking to the disciples, Jesus said: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (Jn 12:24). Grain has to die and be buried to produce more grain, which is milled and turned into flour, which makes bread. So, too, will Jesus, the bread of life, go the way of a grain of wheat. He will be buried in the earth, only to spring to life again and produce a living crop. As bread is made from countless grains of wheat, so by this Bread are many made one.
And when He had given thanks
Jesus could have commanded that stones become bread, but did not. He gave thanks over five barley loaves and fed them to 5,000. Again, He takes ordinary bread, blesses it, and it feeds countless souls. Only now, the bread He blesses does not satisfy physical hunger, but spiritual. It gives forgiveness and life to the multitudes of the redeemed, who, in faith, hunger to eat Christ and long for the saving Food He gives.
He broke it and gave it to His disciples
Just as God gave manna in the wilderness, so He distributes miraculous bread to His people to satisfy their desire. But just as a loaf of bread must be broken to be shared, so must Christ be broken to give life to the world.
And said, “Take, eat”
If one does not eat, he dies. Through eating comes nourishment and life. To eat the Sacrificed Body of Jesus is to be nourished by its benefits. Just as the Old Testament priests ate of the sacrifices and received their benefits, so now the Lamb of God, the once for all Sacrifice, bids you eat, so that by eating He can deliver to you all He has died to bestow.
THIS IS MY BODY
This Word of Christ is the centerpiece of the Sacrament. Not eating, not thanksgiving, but the definitive Word of Christ, “This is My Body.” This is not metaphorical language. Though it is a mystery, it is the very Word of Jesus and is to be taken for all that it is. The One who was born of Mary, who healed the sick and raised the dead, and who suffered and died, has given you His Body to eat, to feed your faith, to unite you to Himself and to all those who eat and drink, and to sustain you in this life. And, where Christ is present, there is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. And in His Body with the bread, all of these saving benefits are given to you.
Which is given for you
Jesus gives what we cannot. He pays the price of our redemption, the price for our sins. What He gives, He gives in love for His children. He gives His Body as He goes forth to the cross and the tomb.
Do this in remembrance of Me
This is far more than “think of Me when you eat this.” As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. To eat and to drink is not simply remembering what He has done, but receiving what He has done. As we eat and drink in remembrance, we proclaim His death, and receive the fruit and benefit of His death. This is not a mental exercise, but a physical reception of what He has done.
In the same was also, He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them
Jesus gives the cup of salvation, but knows He is about to drink the cup of wrath. He cannot give His Blood without His Blood being shed. He knows what comes next. But He gives thanks, willing to drink the bitter cup of the Father’s wrath, because by doing so He can give you the cup of salvation.
Saying, “THIS CUP IS THE NEW TESTAMENT IN MY BLOOD, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
The life is in the blood. Therefore, there can be no forgiveness of sins, no life, no salvation without the shedding of blood. The Old Testament was sealed in Blood. Blood was sprinkled on the people and Moses said, “This is the blood of the testament which the Lord has made with you.” But now, the new testament has come, and it is also sealed in blood. But this blood is unlike the previous, because it is a better blood than that of bulls or calves, because this is the sinless Blood of God. In this new testament, sealed with His Blood, your sin is forgiven, remembered no more. His Blood is shed to do more than hide it, but to wash it away. You are sealed with His Blood for salvation and eternal life.
This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.
We hear these words, we share in this meal often. We know that it is more than a remembrance, but a physical presence of Jesus. When we long for forgiveness, for encouragement from Our Lord, for strength for the fight, we go to the very place where He has promised to be. He has promised to be present on the altar, in His Body and Blood, so we flee to Him as often as is possible, longing for this needed food, this medicine of immortality. We eat the bread and drink the cup, glad to receive the gifts He has come to give.
These divine Words, which give what they say and work that which they promise, are Words that transcend time and space. Those same Words that Jesus spoke 2,000 years ago give to us the same Body and Blood that He willingly gave 2,000 years ago. He bids us take, eat; take, drink at this Meal, in remembrance of His Passion, to receive the forgiveness of sins and new life He has won. In this feast, the Shepherd feeds the sheep with Himself. May He withdraw this plague from us and grant us a swift return to this Altar so we can again be fed and nourished in body and soul to life everlasting.