The Lord’s Supper: A Different Understanding

Lutheran’s think about the Lord’s Supper differently than either Roman Catholics or other Protestants. We differ from most Protestants in that we believe that the body and blood of Christ are truly present in the sacrament and are received orally by the communicants–whether or not they come in faith.

In taking this position we are simply believing Christ’s words: “This is my body” and “This is my blood.”

It is significant that while the Bible’s four accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper differ markedly, the phrases “This is my body” and “This is my blood” appear in all four. What God has said four times should not be ignored or explained away.

We differ from the Roman Catholics by refusing to say that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.

Lutherans point to the references in 1 Corinthians chapters 10 and 11 where the consecrated bread is referred to both as bread and as the body of Christ. Therefore, the bread and Christ’s body, Christ’s blood and the wine, are all present. The bread is not changed into the body of Christ, but carries it so that we may receive it. Likewise, the wine is not changed into the blood of Christ; rather, the blood of Christ is present in and under the wine so that we may receive it.

A Different Purpose

We also differ in our understanding of the purpose of the sacrament.

Most Protestants restrict the purpose of the sacrament to that of a memorial commemorating Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Such a remembrance has a basis in scripture. Jesus did say, “Do this in remembrance of me” and the apostle Paul wrote, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Lutherans do remember and proclaim Christ’s death for our sins, but we also remember that Christ said “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” According to Christ’s words, we are to eat the body that was given into death for us and we are all to drink the blood that was shed for our forgiveness. In this way, the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin.

The Roman church teaches that the sacrament is a sacrifice presented to God by the priest on behalf of the living and the dead. Lutherans object that this reverses the action in the sacrament.

When he instituted the sacrament, Christ gave thanks and offered the bread to his disciples. In the same way, after supper, he gave thanks and offered the cup to them. The pastor does what Christ said to do when he gives thanks to God, speaks Christ’s words, and offers Christ’s people the bread and cup to assure them that their sins are forgiven.

What then is the sacrament? It is the true body and blood of Christ in and under the bread and wine. It was instituted by Christ himself for Christians to eat and drink.

What benefits do we receive when we eat and drink of the sacrament? Christ’s own words declare that his body and blood are given to us for the forgiveness of sins. Where there is forgiveness of sins there is also eternal life and salvation.

Why It Matters

These differences between Lutherans and others are profound and important. That is why we do not generally permit non-Lutherans to commune at our altars.

Finally, you should note that what a church teaches about the nature and benefits of the sacrament demonstrates clearly whether their theology is drawn from the words of Christ or from human thoughts and traditions.