Just as Baptism is variously understood among Christians, the same can be said about Holy Communion. And again, a major difference is between those holding to an understanding of Holy Communion as a sacrament and those understanding the meal as an ordinance. As a sacrament Lutherans believe that God gives a gift as we commune. As an ordinance other Christians believe that Christ wanted us to share this meal, not that anything supernatural takes place, but so that we would thereby remember Jesus’ death on the cross as a sacrifice for sins.
Dr. Luther in his Small Catechism can be trusted to give us a simple definition of Holy Communion. He writes, “Holy Communion is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given with bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us to eat and drink.”
And then the good Doctor cites Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul as the source of his definition. Together they provide our Lord’s words of institution. Hear them once more! “In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.”
It is easy to assume that Jesus is using figurative language here, because we have been preconditioned in our age to think that material thing can not be the bearers of spiritual gifts, and because we do not visually see Christ’s mystical body and blood in the meal. But if we take Jesus at his word, then the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10 make sense, namely that the bread is a participation in Christ’s body, and the cup a participation in Christ’s blood.
Since You Asked…
What is the meaning of the Incarnation?
The word incarnation is taken from Latin term incarnatio. It literally means “taking flesh” and in the Christian Faith it refers to God becoming human. In John 1:14 we learn of God the Son becoming flesh with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed the child born to Mary was a man, but it is the insistence of the Christian Faith that Jesus was also fully God. He is sometimes called the God-Man. Without ceasing to be fully divine, inseparable and equal to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; God the Son also fully assumed our humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In this way Jesus mediates God to man and then also represents man to God. The mystery of the Incarnation becomes a necessary means by which Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplishes our salvation.