Holy Communion - Taking Jesus at His Word

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.

What Does Baptism Mean for Daily Living?


One of the biggest pitfalls in understanding Holy Baptism is to view it as a one-time event, as a kind of fire insurance policy. There have actually been requests made of Pastors in these words, “Will you do my kid?”

It is healthier to view Baptism in terms of a journey, one that starts with the rite itself and ends with our physical death and burial. At death we can say that the person has completed their baptismal journey.

Luther poses the question in his Small Catechism, “What does Baptism mean for daily living?” He then answers, “It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.”

And for Scriptural confirmation of this understanding Luther points to Romans 6: “We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Baptism has been called the Rite of Initiation. One of the reasons for preferring that the rite take place during the worship gathering is so others in the Body of Christ can be on hand to welcome the new member. And as this reception takes place the assembled congregation pledges its support in the ongoing nurture of the new life in Christ!

It isn’t the case that God does his thing in Baptism then the rest is up to us. No, our salvation from beginning to end is his divine work. And as Paul says in Philippians, “he who begun a good work in you will bring it to completion.” It isn’t our work, but it is a process, indeed a journey. And the journey involves ongoing repentance. That is, confessing our sins and asking and believing in our Lord’s promise to forgive. I like the expression, “walking wet!” And we are to walk wet the rest of our lives!

Since You Asked…

What is the Christian’s Hope?

In a word, it is the resurrection of the body to life everlasting in the world to come. This is more accurate and complete than just saying “life after death.” It is also more helpful than saying “going to heaven.” When Jesus returns at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead, baptized believers will be raised bodily! They will share in a resurrection similar to Jesus’ resurrection. And being in his presence on that day and for all eternity is not just a matter of escaping to heaven, but living in his presence in the new heaven and earth. The Lord intends to renew and restore his creation. So our central hope is the resurrection of the dead, with believers inheriting the Kingdom.

Water With the Word


In discussing the outstanding gifts given in Baptism last week, I can only anticipate the objection. As Luther frames the question in his Small Catechism, “How can water do such great things?” Are Lutherans among those who make too much of a simple rite involving water?

As stated last week, we believe in Baptism God forgives sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe what he has promised.

So how does water accomplish all this? Luther writes, “It is not water that does these things, but God’s Word with the water and our trust in this Word. Water by itself is only water, but with the Word of God it is a life-giving water which by grace gives the new birth through the Holy Spirit.”

The question quickly becomes, where in the Scriptures is this taught? And the passage that Luther cites for this is Titus 3, where St. Paul writes, “He saved us … in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

An additional passage that I find convincing is from Ephesians 5 where St. Paul is referring to the relationship of a husband and wife in marriage. He tells husbands that they are to love their wives as Christ loves the church. He then goes on to describe this love of Christ as one where he “gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word!”

Now the washing of water alone would not sanctify, but Paul refers to a “washing of water WITH THE WORD!” The question that matters, is not whether God can use Baptism to give salvation, but whether we trust his Word and through faith receive the gift.

Since You Asked…

Are announcements necessary? And should they be included as a part of the liturgy?

Not all announcements are necessary! Nor should they be allowed to disrupt the rhythmic flow of the service. It is likewise important that announcements be kept to a minimum. But certain announcements are important. Information that will enhance participation in the worship, information pertaining to further Christian service, and information for regarding further opportunities for spiritual edification are such announcements of importance, and they are worthwhile to promote publicly to the assembly. We have chosen the beginning of the worship service as the most helpful and least disruptive placement for announcements.

Baptism - A Visible Word


This week we will consider the benefits of Baptism. And as we do so we will understand that for Lutherans, Baptism is a Sacrament. Christians today generally fall into two camps concerning Baptism. They either regard it as a Sacrament or as an Ordinance. Let me briefly state the difference.

As a Sacrament, we believe that there are certain benefits connected to this divinely instituted rite. That is, we believe there are certain gifts given or conferred in this action. For those who think of it as an Ordinance, the action is carried out as a matter of obedience. Jesus commanded us to baptize. But other than as a matter of obedience, the rite itself does not convey a gift or any favor.

When asked what benefits God gives in Baptism, Luther responded, “In Baptism God forgives sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe what he has promised.” And what Scripture backing does the good Doctor cite for this claim? He quotes Jesus in Mark 16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Interestingly, Lutherans are among those who take Scripture at face value. We have not already concluded, like some, that it is impossible for God to use physical means to deliver a spiritual benefit. We know that Christ’s death on the cross is what earned our salvation. And we also know that we receive the gift of salvation by faith. And further still, we know that God uses physical means to deliver the gift of salvation to each of us. He uses the preaching of the Gospel. And as he directed the making of disciples by baptizing, we take Scripture at face value, that Baptism bestows the gift of salvation.

St. Augustine called Baptism a “Visible Word” of God. And for Lutherans, Baptism employs the three criteria for being a sacrament: 1) It is commanded by Christ, 2) It uses something physical (water), and 3) it has the clear promise in the Word of bestowing forgiveness.

Since You Asked…

Does the receiving of money offerings play a significant role in the worship service?

Yes, more than you might think! Cash is one of the strongest symbols in modern culture. When we offer our money on the altar it should represent our time and effort – our very selves. In early Christian worship gifts-in-kind were handled during the weekly assemblage. In our post-industrial societies, we now exchange in paper or metal symbols. The offering of our selves upon the altar is in response to God’s love proclaimed in the Good News and in anticipation of how God offers back that which is entrusted to him. During the moment of offering we also offer bread and wine upon the altar, and in return these gifts are offered back to us as the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Baptism - The Word of Promise Becomes Visible


In the last newsletter we began to look at the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. I commented on how we have been commanded as Christ’s disciples to baptize in his name. And this is how we have been instructed to go about making disciples. We are to baptize in the Triune Name of God and to catechize (Matt. 28:19-20).

This week I want us to understand what we are talking about when we use the term “baptize”. Interestingly, the English word is drawn from the Greek baptizo which literally means to wash or make clean with water. It is the same word used when cups and dishes are washed. But this common word is employed by our Lord to have a very special meaning when used as a rite in making disciples.

To recall what I shared last time, Luther says of this rite, “Baptism is not water only, but it is water used together with God’s Word and by his command.” It is important to emphasize here, that this is not a man-made rite! Human ingenuity did not dream up a creative way to have a rite of initiation. Nor did human imagination design a picturesque way of illustrating the dying to sin and rising to new life that occurs when a person comes to Christ! Instead, our Lord Jesus himself gave specific instructions and orders of how to go about evangelism.

Of course Christian Baptism was already in the making with the divinely inspired baptism that John the Baptist was proclaiming. And with his baptism we learned of the need to have our sins washed away.

That God works in and through his created order to mediate his grace is not surprising! After all, his Son became Incarnate, assuming our humanity, so that through him the Invisible God became visible! Baptism becomes a chosen means where the Word of promise becomes visible, along with being audible, so that we might come to trust in Christ’s work on the Cross.


What is the meaning of “Lent”?

The English word “Lent” means “springtime”. Lent is the six-week period of spiritual discipline before Easter (40 days not counting Sundays). At an early period in the Church’s history baptisms might only be celebrated once a year at the Easter Vigil Service. Accordingly there was a period prior to this of introducing and training candidates for baptism. In time the training for baptismal candidates grew to a six week period, and this training involved fasting. The 40 days was, no doubt, modeled on the 40 days of our Lord Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness before his temptations by the devil. As the years passed the Lenten fast began to be applied, not only to the baptismal candidates, but to the church as a whole. Church members were encouraged to approach Easter in the same manner in which they had solemnly prepared for their baptisms. That is why the Season of Lent has finally developed as a time for fasting, study, prayer, acts of love, and humility. (with help from The Westminster Dictionary of Worship, edited by J.G. Davies, The Westminster Press.)

Baptism: Not Just Water


This week we move on to the Fourth Part of Luther’s Small Catechism. Thus far we have looked at The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and The Lord’s Prayer. With the Fourth Part we will consider the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. We will also reflect on Confession and Absolution.

With the Ten Commandments we are taught what God expects of us. And accordingly, as in holding a mirror before us, we see we fall far short of these expectations. With the Apostles’ Creed we are taught what God has graciously done, and continues to do, for us – even though we fall short of his expectations. With the Lord’s Prayer we are taught how we are to live for the One who has so graciously acted, and still acts, for us. And by praying, we acknowledge that it is only by his grace that we can live for him.

Now with a meditation on the Sacraments, we will discover and be reminded of important resources God provides us with to live in and for Him!

The Fourth Part begins with Holy Baptism. The first question posed in the Catechism is, “What is Baptism?” And Luther’s explanation is, “Baptism is not water only, but it is water used together with God’s Word and by his command.” Then Luther substantiates this with Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

And so why do we baptize? For starters, our Lord Jesus has commanded us to baptize. And because we are commanded to do so, that means that we are authorized to act on his behalf. Jesus says as much when he commands us to do the baptizing “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Importantly, our Lord is the one who washes away our sins! And he does this through his proxies, that is, through his followers, his Body the Church. And we do so in his name!



Since You Asked…

What is the purpose and meaning of our Votive Prayer Candles?

To “light a candle for someone” means that you will say a prayer for them. The candle symbolizes your prayers. When we light a candle it is a sign of attentiveness and that we are being purposeful in offering intercessory prayer. It is an important act in which we are involved! To be in prayer is to be spiritually awake and vigilant. And as the candle continues to burn it symbolizes our ongoing prayers. It is a sign to others that prayers are being offered. In such an atmosphere, indeed the darkness gives way to light.



We have considered the Seven Petitions of the Lord’s Prayer in our journey through Luther’s Small Catechism. But before we move on to a reflection on the Sacraments, we have one more important part of the prayer to touch on. The Lord’s Prayer concludes with the “Doxology”.

The Doxology goes, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.” In his explanation Luther hones in on the word “Amen”. The explanation reads, “Amen means Yes, it shall be so. We say Amen because we are certain that such petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven and are heard by him. For he himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us.”

What a comfort it is to know that our heavenly Father wants us to be confident in our praying! It is a comfort because we might otherwise be full of doubt and despair, wondering if God listened to our prayers. That Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, taught and commanded us to pray surely means that God wants to hear our prayers!

And when we are full of doubt and lack confidence we can be thankful for the great gift of the Lord’s Prayer. Even when we can’t find the words to speak, our Lord provides us with the words! We can pray the Lord’s Prayer verbatim, as suggested in its rendering in Luke’s Gospel. It can also serve as a model prayer, as suggested in Matthew’s rendering.

Don’t be hoodwinked by those who belittle the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer! Recitation does not preclude the petitions coming from our hearts. Proof of this is how the singing of a familiar hymn can be heartfelt. It is our sinful nature, the world, and the devil that would like to steal away this great gift from us. Little wonder we conclude this prayer by lauding God’s name with praise, and then say Amen!

Since You Asked…

Why is incense used in some churches?

The use of incense is not unique to Christianity or Judaism and is used in many of the world’s religions to enhance special times and places by sight and smell. In Christian worship incense is effectively used at the beginning of the Service of the Word and in preparing for receiving Holy Communion. The burning of incense is associated with the prayers of worship rising before God (cf. Psa 141:2; Rev 8:4). Good worship should engage all the human senses. In this connection it should be pointed out that the olfactory sense is perhaps the most sensitive of the five senses; it continues to function even during sleep. (Indebted to Aidan Kavanah in his “Elements of Rite”.)

Deliver Us From Evil


The Seventh and final Petition to the Lord’s Prayer actually dovetails quite nicely with the Sixth Petition. The Seventh Petition reads, “But deliver us from evil.” Previously, in the Sixth Petition we had prayed, “And lead us not into temptation.” This is something, we were reminded of last week, that God would never actually do! But there are elements that would lead us into temptation. And with the Seventh Petition we ask to be delivered from this peril.

As usual, we will consider Dr. Luther’s explanation. He writes, “We ask in this inclusive prayer that our heavenly Father would save us from every evil to body and soul, and at our last hour would mercifully take us from the troubles of this world to himself in heaven.”

Who can count the evils of this present age! Luther listed two disastrous ones in the explanation to the Sixth Petition, namely, false belief and despair. The Ten Commandments would help us come up with a good summary of various evils. That list would include idolatry, blasphemy, disdain for God’s Word, rebellion against parents and other God appointed authorities, murder, adultery and other sexual sins, thieving, lying and defaming, and coveting. The classic Seven Deadly Sins could also be listed: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. The list goes on. No wonder Luther emphasizes that this petition is an inclusive request to be delivered!

You might be surprised to learn that the Lutheran Confessions differentiate between venial (forgivable) and mortal (deadly) sins! But the difference is not in the category of the offense, but in our treatment of the sin. Any sin for which we refuse to repent becomes a mortal sin to us. Conversely, even the most heinous offense has been atoned for by Christ on the Cross and the forgiveness can be received by repentant sinners.

And so as repentant sinners, we ask to be delivered from evil!


Since You Asked…

Why do we say in the Creeds that Jesus Christ “is seated at the right hand of the Father”? Does this mean that our Lord is far away from us?

This has little to do with Christ’s physical location. Instead it has to do with the authority he assumes. For a King to be seated on a throne is a symbolic gesture of his rule and authority. Heaven itself is a reality that transcends time and space. It is the unseen and timeless realm that underlies the visible and temporal world. We confess Christ to be seated at the right hand of the Father because we believe him to be the rightful King of the universe. Indeed, Jesus is Lord!

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

This week we are considering the Sixth Petition to the Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation.” And Luther’s explanation reads, “God tempts no one to sin, but we ask in this prayer that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins. And we pray that even though we are so tempted we may still win the final victory.”

Luther is certainly on the mark when he reminds us that God himself does not tempt us to sin (see James 1:13). The identity of the tempter is threefold: the devil, the world, and our sinful self. So we might ask, why would we ask God not to do something that he in fact has no intention of doing?

I think the answer, at least in part, is to remind us that we can rely upon the Lord to protect us from those elements that would lead us into temptation and then have us succumb to them. For far from leading us in that direction, God will deliver us from temptation and lead us in the path of life.

It is also interesting to note the two temptations to which Luther directs our attention. They are false belief and despair. On the surface they may not seem so serious. But Luther recognizes that the effect of either of these two can lead to damnation!

Even other great and shameful sins can be forgiven you if you retain right belief, and do not knuckle under to despair. For false believe can lead us to bark up the wrong tree for the fruit of forgiveness. Christ’s death alone atones for our sin. And despair blinds a person to the love of God and his outstretched arm of mercy. It is the antithesis of faith and hope.

And so that we don’t take our salvation for granted, we are taught to continually pray that we not succumb to temptation, especially false belief and despair.


Since You Asked…

What is the Significance of The Baptism of Our Lord?

John the Baptist came proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Since Jesus was sinless he had no need to be forgiven. The human race, however, is sinful. And our need for forgiveness is great indeed. In explaining why he should be baptized by John, Jesus said, it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. In other words, Jesus came to stand with us and accomplish on our behalf all that God requires of us, including repentance and the forgiveness of sins! At his baptism there was a revealing (an epiphany) of the Holy Trinity. And at his baptism, Jesus took our humanity which he assumed in the Incarnation and lowered it in the cleansing water of Baptism. His public ministry would commence with this public rite.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses


The Small Catechism tour resumes this week with a consideration of the Fifth Petition in the Lord’s Prayer. The request goes, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And Luther’s explanation reads, “We ask in this prayer that our Father in heaven would not hold our sins against us and because of them refuse to hear our prayer. And we pray that he would give us everything by grace, for we sin every day and deserve nothing but punishment. So we on our part will heartily forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”

We are not always aware, but our greatest need is the forgiveness of sins. We more readily cry out for help in response to the perceptible distresses in our lives, such as pain, illness, hunger, thirst, loneliness, grief, poverty, fear, being under some kind of attack, and the like. But all these miseries have their basis in sin!

Adam and Eve’s first sin unleashed a chain of disastrous consequences. Shame, blame, discord, envy, suspicion, and alienation are some of those consequences. Tragically, along with pain in child bearing and labor by the sweat of one’s brow; sickness, dying, and death (returning to the dust) are where the consequences culminate! Adam and Eve were ushered out of Paradise. They no longer had access to the Tree of Life!

Our redemption involves absolving the sin problem. As Luther says elsewhere in the Catechism, “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” And good for us, the forgiveness of sins is the main element of the Christian Faith! Jesus came to forgive sinners! That’s what his death on the cross is all about.

We ask for forgiveness of sins, because he promises to forgive! We are to continually ask, because unfortunately, we continue to sin. And our willingness to forgive others is proof positive that we recognize our own need for forgiveness, and that we are grateful for having been forgiven.

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of the Epiphany and the Season that follows?

The word Epiphany means “manifestation” or “a revealing”. Since light helps to reveal and make manifest, on January 6 we recall the Magi led by the light of the star to the manger to worship Jesus, “the Light of the World” given birth by Mary. We will go on in the Season that follows to commemorate the manifestation of the Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River, where the voice of the Father spoke, and the Holy Spirit descended and alighted on Jesus as he came forth from the river. The voice identifies Jesus as God’s Son in whom the Father is well pleased. The Season after the Epiphany closes with the Transfiguration whereby a future glimpse of the Resurrected glory of Christ was revealed.