Irenaeus was a second-century bishop who spoke out against false teachings in his work Against Heresies. One of the theological truths he emphasized is the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine in Holy Communion, which we learn about in an excerpt from Lutheranism 101: The Lord’s Supper.
In the 1 Corinthians and Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper, there is no word present that could be translated as “symbolizes” or “represents.” There is no indication that the words of Christ are picture language (for example, as John identifies the apocalyptic writing of the Book of Revelation). Rather, God’s Word clearly teaches that in the Lord’s Supper the bread and wine are a participation (communion) in the body and blood of Christ. God’s Word also teaches that those who misuse the Sacrament sin against Christ’s body and blood.
Neither the bread nor Christ’s body is imaginary. According to Jesus’ words, the bread is His body. Is (estin in the Greek) means “is.” The giving of His body with the bread is just as real as the giving of His body into death on the cross. The fact that bread is there in the Sacrament is evident to the senses—we can see it and taste it. The presence of Christ’s body is something we believe on the evidence of the Word—the Lord of the universe says it is there.
“Is.” It’s the linguistic version of an equal sign. Jesus said that in the Lord’s Supper the bread is His body. The wine is His blood. This is the big mystery at the heart of the Lord’s Supper: Under the bread and wine, we also receive Jesus’ body and blood—the same body that was nailed to the cross and the same blood that was shed for our sin. It is also the same body and blood that Jesus showed to His disciples after He rose from the dead. (Lutheranism 101, p. 150)
The same is true for the blood. That the wine is there is evident as we smell it and see it and taste it. That the shed blood of Christ, the blood of the new covenant, is there we believe on the evidence of God’s Word. Our efforts to understand this holy mystery cannot include the refusal to stand under the Word of God and, by that refusal, deny the mystery.
Devotional reading is from Lutheranism 101: The Lord’s Supper, pages 40–41© 2012 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Lord Jesus, who callest unto Thee all those that labor and are heavy laden to refresh them and give rest unto their souls, I pray Thee, let me also experience Thy love at the heavenly feast which Thou hast prepared for Thy children on earth. Keep me from impenitence and unbelief that I may not partake of the Sacrament to my damnation. Take off from me the spotted garment of the flesh and of my own righteousness and adorn me with the garment earned with Thy blood. Strengthen my faith; increase my love and hope; and hereafter make me to sit at Thy heavenly table where Thou wilt give them that are Thine to eat of the eternal manna and to drink of the river of Thy pleasures. Hear me for Thine own sake. Amen.
Prayer is from Daily Prayers, pages 100–101 © 1935 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.