April 2, 2017
I don’t know about you, but there are times throughout the week that I long to gather for worship. Times when I feel drained and know that I need to be fed by God’s Word in community and to be with you as we break the bread and drink the wine. It is in this that my longing, our longing, for God in our lives is fulfilled. We are renewed in the elements at the table, where all are welcome.
The worship planning team chose to have us sing All Are Welcome as a gathering song throughout the entirety of the Lenten season for a reason. Our gospel lessons this season have spoken of inclusion and are an invitation for all people. After Jesus exits the wilderness, he encounters Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, and this morning Lazarus. All of them could be thought of as outcasts at one point. Yet, Jesus welcomes them into his flock and reminds them that they are loved. The hymn, All Are Welcome, is a wonderful witness to the love that flows in the community of Christ. In the third verse, we have the promise that comes to us in the sacraments.
Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine, and wheat: a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet. Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space; as we share in Christ the feast that frees us: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
We have used four weeks to wind our way through, the briefest understanding of the Small Catechism. If we wanted to, we could have entire sermon series’ that focus on just the Ten Commandments, or the Apostles Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer. We have yet to touch upon the sacraments that Luther raises up in the catechism. The sacrament of Baptism and the sacrament of the Altar could also have a sermon series devoted to them alone. However, I will try to do justice to them both in this sermon.
When we encounter water, and when we encounter bread and wine, it is simply that. However, when we encounter them within our setting of worship it is not just mere water or mere bread and wine. In the sacraments of Baptism and the Altar, the water, bread, and wine are set within God’s word and are bound to it.
The majority of us, encounter the waters of baptism first. In the water we are reminded of the saving grace of God and are born again into a life with Christ. A baptism that can never be invalidated, regardless of the errors that we make along the way. It is not our faith that makes baptism, rather our faith receives the baptism, and it is in this that we baptize our children when they are yet infants. In this, baptism is built upon God’s word and command. The significance in baptism with water is stated in Luther’s explanation that, “It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
While we only encounter the waters of baptism once in our lives, we can be reminded of it on a daily basis. In the morning as we take a shower and let the water run over our heads, we can be reminded that we too were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can be reminded when we wash our face. We can be reminded when we allow our inner child to come out and play in the rain! These are all reminders of God’s word that works in the baptismal waters.
It is at the altar too, that we encounter the Word of God working in the midst of ordinary elements. In the bread and wine we find that Christ has never abandoned us. He is there present in the bread and the wine as we come forward, even when we don’t feel worthy. As in baptism, all are welcome at the Lord’s table. This was not always the case. In late medieval-time, the Lord’s Supper was a feast for the eyes and a ceremony for the dead around a mass. Luther brought the meal back to the people and insisted that it was a feast for all, meant to be eaten and drunk while hearing the word and Christ’s forgiving presence.
It has been funny to hear of the transition of the Lord’s Supper throughout the history of the Lutheran church. There were times that people would only receive it once a year. There would be times that maybe it was once a quarter, or even a couple of times a month. In Wittenberg, Luther made sure that communion was celebrated on a weekly basis! Why? Because it is needed!!!
While we are saints, we are also sinners. It is in the Lord’s Supper that we are truly able to encounter Christ on a weekly basis. It is “for times like these, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us strength and refreshment.” It is in the words “given for you,” and “shed for you,” that “show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
This journey with the small Catechism during our Lenten days has gave us the opportunity to worship and proclaim God’s Word through the lens of Martin Luther. It is in his questions of “what is this,” and “what does this mean” that we are able to pause and think about our common Christian belief and practices that we may perhaps take for granted. The Catechism became the basis of one’s education in the Christian faith and it would quickly be translated into several different languages with each printer sometimes adding their own personal touch. In 1542, a Liepzig printer included Luther’s “children’s hymn” as a fitting conclusion to the small Catechism:
Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word;
Curb those who by great craft or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from your Son
And set at naught all he has done.
Lord Jesus Christ, your power make known,
For you are Lord of lords alone.
Defend your lowly church that we
May sing your praise eternally.
O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace, send unity on earth.
Support us in our final strife,
And lead us out of death to life. Amen.