Lutherans believe communion is a sacrament, an ordinance or rite that our Lord Jesus Christ set aside himself as a means of God’s grace. Let me make this statement categorically clear: we believe that the bread and wine shared in communion are truly Jesus’ real body and blood. They are not symbols. They are not memorials. They are truly Jesus’ real body and blood. We don’t concern ourselves as some do with how bread or wine transform into Jesus’ body and blood. We don’t concern ourselves as some do that it looks like bread and wine but is Jesus’ body and blood. We rest confident in the Word of God, in Jesus’ proclamation to us, that this is his body and blood. We do not call Jesus a liar and try to say that it is something that it’s not, nor do we try to explain away the revelation of God as some might try to do. But at it’s heart is simply one thing—God’s Word.
“It is the Word,” Martin Luther writes, “that makes this a sacrament and distinguishes it from ordinary bread and wine, so that it is called and truly is Christ’s body and blood.” It’s God’s Word, the same Word that the prophet Isaiah tells us goes out from God and doesn’t return to him empty, but instead it accomplishes that which God purposes, and succeeds in the thing for which he sent it. And so when God’s Word says, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood”—it accomplishes just that.
But more importantly than that, it’s what this means for us.
What does it mean for us that God transforms simple bread and simple wine into something as remarkable as his own body and blood? And what does it mean that we eat this bread and drink this wine, that we take this flesh and this blood into ourselves as nourishment? That’s the really important question. Not the question of whether it’s blood or flesh or wine or bread, not the question of how or when the change happens—but rather difference it makes for us. What difference does it make for us that God takes something so everyday and transforms it into something so profound? Consider that as we go into the sermon today, as we consider what it means to lead a Eucharistic Life.
Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
From the ancient Greek adamas, meaning “unbreakable”—one of the world’s most precious, desired, costly gems. The diamond. Diamonds are thought to have been first recognized and mined in India, where significant muddy, silty river deposits of the stone could be found many centuries ago. Diamonds likely have been known for upwards of 6000 years in India.
Diamonds are the hardest natural substance known to us. They’re made of pure carbon, the same chemical element as graphite and coal. But diamonds are very hard and in crystalline form, unlike graphite which easily leaves behind a mark when scratched against something as simple as paper, or coal, which burns easily and creates soot and dust.
It’s strange that diamonds are so precious, so desired, and so costly when their close cousins graphite and coal are seem rather commonplace. To be sure, graphite and coal are more prolific than diamonds, but on a elementary level, graphite, coal, and diamonds are all alike. They are simply carbon, one of the basic building blocks necessary for all life to exist. All known life on Earth needs carbon. The difference between diamonds and coal and graphite is how these forms of carbon are structurally arranged, how the atoms are aligned within their structures.
Diamonds are made deep within the Earth where there is an intense amount of pressure and heat, but not just any kind of pressure and heat will do. The formation of diamonds needs specific conditions—exposure to high pressure, 4500-6000 times the pressure at the earth’s surface, at a comparatively low temperature, somewhere between 1600-2300°F, or about 20-30 times the temperature outside right now. These conditions are found in two places on Earth: in the liquid, rocky mantle below the continental plates, and at the collision site of any meteorite. These conditions make natural diamonds on earth actually something of a rarity when they are found—and even when they are found, they’re not the highly polished, burnished variety that we see in jewelry. A diamond in the rough, even though it might twinkle and shine, still isn’t ready to be sold by De Beers on Madison Avenue. It must be first be cut and polished against another diamond in order to reach that highly desired, exorbitantly costly, most precious state that is every girl’s best friend.
So what’s this all have to do with the Eucharistic Life?
Today we look at the first action of communion, the action of “taking.” “In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread…” The first action of communion is taking. After we share the peace with one another, we collect the offering and bring it forward to present at the altar. Nowadays that offering is normally monetary, although we have also collected other offerings as well and bring them forward at the altar. During Lent we gather food for people in our community who suffer food insecurity. Leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, we collect soup for the same reason. In the time leading up to Christmas, we collect toys to bring forward for a blessing to go to children living in foster care in our surrounding communities. These offerings, along with our offering of money, are offerings that we set apart for the ministry God calls us to do.
And along with these offerings, we bring forward the bread and wine that will become for us the body and blood of Jesus. This bread and wine comes forward, along with our other offerings, as the means by which we offer up to God what he has first given us in blessing, so that he might once more reach out to us in blessing with his true, incarnated presence—both in himself and in each other. At the offering, we present our gifts—not gifts that we give, but gifts that have been given to us. We present these gifts to God to use once more as means of blessing—blessing for us and blessing in our lives. At the offering, we take what we have been given in blessing. We bring them forward to God, and we ask God to bless it once more for the work of ministry, set apart that they might be used as the means by which God extends his blessing in Christ through and beyond us—or perhaps, “through him, with him, and in him.” At the offering, at the presentation of the gifts, the communion liturgy begins.
But the communion liturgy begins with simple, ordinary things. The gifts we bring forward, the gifts of God that we set apart for the work of ministry—these are ordinary things that we use in our day-to-day lives.
We all eat it, every day.
Kids play with them with them all the time. Even our pets have toys!
So commonplace there’s a reason we say, “Money makes the world go round.”
And bread and wine.
These are common, everyday elements that God sets apart as Jesus’ body and blood for our sake—nothing special in their own right, yet hugely, transformatively special when touched by God’s goodness, mercy, and purpose. God uses these common things to convey the sacred truth—his love for us is so unbreakable that even the depths of the earth can’t shatter it.
When we participate in communion, we first come to communion. We take our whole selves to communion—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We bring the joy of celebrating our son’s new marriage with us to the communion, and we bring the sorrow of our spouse’s recent death to communion. We bring the anxiety of a new cancer diagnosis to communion, and we bring the excitement about a college acceptance to communion. We bring our whole selves…Our whole, ordinary selves. We come to God’s altar, to Jesus’ table, as unpolished diamonds in the rough. Within us is the power of God, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit in God’s gift of new life, in the gift of baptism, baptism in Christ’s death and resurrection—the same death and resurrection that we remember at communion. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Within us is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and is at work in us. We bring that same power with us as we come to communion, as we take ourselves and what God has given us, everything he has given us, and we come to communion as we are—simple, yet deeply precious, ordinary, yet greatly desired, common, yet infinitely costly, so infinite it cost God his life on the cross for our sake. When we faithfully, truly, and really come to communion with God and with one another, we take with us all that we are and God transforms us from mere ordinary mud formed out of the dust of the earth into extraordinary people, living people, filled with the breath of God and nourished with God’s very own self, Jesus’ body and blood, itself revealed for what it truly is behind the veil of simple bread and wine.
Like the bread and wine we bring forward to be set apart at communion to become for us the body and blood of Jesus, we take ourselves with us to be set apart by God at communion to become Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, his real presence sent as the Father sent him into a world he so dearly loved. We are diamonds, diamonds in the rough. In God’s eyes, we are precious, desired, and oh-so costly. God takes us, in communion with himself and with one another, polishes us with the power of his Spirit and the warmth of his love to become something reworked, something reborn. God takes us, in communion with himself and with another, and transforms us in who we are and sets us apart, in all our ordinary, everyday mundanity and uses us and all that we are for the extraordinary, sacred work of being Jesus’ body for the sake of the world—of bearing God’s creative and redeeming love wherever we go, to whomever we meet, whenever we are called upon.
We are God’s diamonds, diamonds in the rough. Precious, desired, and costly—and so as we twinkle and shine in the midst of our ordinary lives, we reflect the extraordinary light of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose life we share and take with us wherever we go. We take with us God’s unbreakable promise, a promise harder than diamonds—the promise that nothing separates us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. And it’s this promise, this unbreakable promise, that makes us twinkle and shine with all the luster of a gemstone—simple, yet deeply precious, ordinary, yet greatly desired, common, yet infinitely costly.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.