Friday, April 19, 2019

Pure, Wholesome, Soothing Medicine

In Nomine Iesu
St. Luke 22:7-20
April 18, 2019
Maundy Thursday-C

Dear Saints of Our Savior~

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed—on this night!—took bread and wine and gave His church a priceless gift—a sacrament—for the forgiveness of sins. What is the Sacrament of the Altar? The Small Catechism tells us: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink. That’s
how, Luther says, the head of the household is to teach his family about this holy meal—in terms that are simple, and clear, and most certainly true.

But in his Large Catechism Luther broadened his approach as he sought to explain the six chief parts for pastors and teachers. In fact, Luther wasn’t opposed to using a good metaphor when it helped to teach the truth about God’s good gifts. And to help express the blessings and benefits of the Lord’s Supper, Luther used the metaphor of medicine. He wrote: We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also. (LC68)

This medicine metaphor is absolutely marvelous! For all of us—from the greatest to the least—have taken medicine. We’ve all benefited from an aptly administered pharmaceutical. It could be something as simple as aspirin for a headache or decongestant for allergies. Or it could be that you are alive and breathing today only because of the miracle of a modern medicine.

When it comes to the medicine of the Lord’s Supper, please note that it is “by prescription only.” The Lord Jesus is the one who gives this medicine; and you can’t receive it unless He gives it. And He gives it by the power of His Word. No mortar and pestle, no test tubes and Bunsen burners. This medicine is created exclusively by the Words of our Lord. Without His Words there is no medicine, no sacrament, no body, no blood. But with His Words—His Words of institution—we have the blessed medicine that heals us in soul and body: This is my body, which is given for you. This cup is the New Testament in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. It’s not the power of the pastor. Nor is it the power of our faith. It is by power of Christ’s own Words that this heavenly medicine can be offered among us on earth.

As with all medicines, so also with this sacramental medicine: You must take it as directed. Every med comes with directions and precautions. Otherwise, great harm can result—sometimes, even death. We heard earlier tonight that the medicine of our Lord’s body and blood is “for the special comfort of those who are troubled because of their sin and who humbly confess their sins, fear God’s wrath, and hunger and thirst for righteousness” (LSB 290). If you don’t think that you have any sins to confess, then this medicine is not for you. If you have no plans to change your sinful life with the help of the Holy Spirit, then this medicine is not for you. If you have no intention or desire to forgive others as you yourself have been forgiven by God—or if you do not believe the words of Jesus when He says, “This is my body. This is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” then this medicine is not for you. We are not playing. We are not pretending here. We are not simply engaging in an ancient ritual with symbolic meaning. We are receiving potent and powerful medicine which has the potential for great harm if received unworthily—but also the promise of great good and healing when received in repentant faith—the promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The blessings and benefits of this medicine when it is received in faith are amazing. Tonight’s readings all describe this medicine as part of the “new covenant,” or “new testament.” Jesus said, “This cup is the new testament in my blood.” Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord proclaimed the benefits and blessings of the New Covenant, summarized in these precious words: For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. The chief blessing of this New Covenant medicine is the forgiveness of sins. And not only does the Lord forgive our sins; but He remembers them no more.

Do you want to be freed from your shameful record of sin? Do you want those sins to be forgiven and forgotten—along with the power to forgive and forget the sins that have been committed against you? Do you desire to lead a holy life in word and deed—a holy life that corresponds to the Holy Baptism you have received? Do you need help and strength for the crosses you bear and the burdens you carry? Do you desire an antidote to the devil and his deceit? Do you want to be busy doing good, letting your light shine so that others may see it and give glory to your heavenly Father? Then receive the medicine that makes it all possible. Take the bread that is His body. Drink the wine that is His blood. Let your life be filled with His life.

What would you pay for medicine like that? Do you think you could afford it? Good medicine isn’t cheap. It never has been. And it sometimes seems like the more helpful and necessary a medication is, the more expensive it is. The medicine of our Lord’s body and blood—this pure wholesome, soothing medicine—this is medicine that money can’t buy. Only the precious life and death of our Lord could secure it for you. His sinless life in exchange for your sinful life. He Himself accepts the charges that you could never pay. He goes to Calvary’s cross so that this medicine might be yours—in the proper dosage, at the proper time, bringing you forgiveness, life and salvation.

Accept no substitutes. Don’t let anyone tell you that this medicine is not real—that it is not the true body and blood of Jesus. To believe otherwise is to make a liar of our Lord—to reject the clear and unambiguous words He spoke on the night when He was betrayed. And as for those who claim that this medicine is all just symbol and no substance—I wonder how many of them would go to their physician and say, “I only want the symbolic medicine.” Or, “Please, just give me the placebo. I’m fine with that.” No, sin and death are powerful enemies—a contagion that can only be treated and defeated by something more powerful: real body and real blood for our real sins, bringing real life that lasts forever.

The Lord’s Supper is, indeed, “a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine.” But I recently read somewhere that fewer people than ever before in our culture are receiving this medicine. The percentage of our population regularly receiving this pure medicine is shrinking down lower than it has ever been. It certainly explains a lot, doesn’t it? If it seems like the whole culture has gone “off its meds,” there may be some truth to that.

So, let’s take our medicine-with repentant joy. Let’s receive this medicine with deep thanksgiving to the Lord who gives it. And let’s hold fast to our confession concerning this medicine—without wavering—trusting our Lord, tasting His love, and receiving His healing.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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