A Communion Hymn–“What Is This Bread?”

Last Supper

This Maundy Thursday we sang a new Communion hymn titled, “What Is This Bread?” (LSB 629).  They copyright on the song is 1991, which is very new in our LCMS circle.  To put it into perspective a bit for some of you uber-contemporary folks, this hymn is across the page from a hymn by Thomas Aquinas dated in the late 13th century.  Anyway, this is a great hymn, with a beautiful tune and lyrics that teach a wonderfully rich, unashamedly Lutheran theology of the Lord’s Supper:

What Is This Bread?

What is this bread?
Christ’s body risen from the dead:
This bread we break,
This life we take,
Was crushed to pay for our release.
O taste and see–the Lord is peace.

What is this wine?
The blood of Jesus shed for mine;
The cup of grace
Brings His embrace
Of life and love until I sing!
O taste and see–the Lord is King.

So who am I,
That I should live and He should die
Under the rod?
My God, my God,
Why have You not forsaken me?
O taste and see–the Lord is free.

Yet is God here?
Oh, yes! By Word and promise clear,
In mouth and soul
He makes us whole–
Christ, truly present in this meal.
O taste and see–the Lord is real.

Is this for me?
I am forgiven and set free!
I do believe
That I receive
His very body and His blood.
O taste and see–the Lord is good.

There are many wonderfully rich truths taught in this short hymn.  In fact, one could use it as a great catachetical tool to teach the basics of a Lutheran understanding of the sacrament.

As we were taking Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday evening, however, I was struck by a line in the third verse, “My God, my God, why have You not forsaken me?”  It is a subtle twist on Jesus’ words from the cross and Psalm 22…and it echoes the recurring sentiment of my sinful heart.

There is no direct reply in the verses that follow, which is fine, because the sin-burdened heavy heart does not need a theological treatise on God’s presence with us.  What follows is better–the promises of God, through the Word, that he is both ever-present with us and that we are forgiven and freed from our sins.  Amen.  Thanks be to God!

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Interesting Thoughts on Ascension Day

With respect to Reformed and Lutheran differences in understanding, Dr. Gene Veith has made some interesting observations about the significance of Christ’s ascension into heaven.  He writes:

It’s odd that the significance of Christ’s ascension is taken in two opposite ways: The Reformed say that it means Christ is ABSENT, no longer on earth, so that His real presence in the sacrament is impossible. Lutherans say that it means Christ, at the right hand of Power, His human nature assumed into the Holy Trinity, can now be omnipresent, so that He CAN be on every altar.

Much of this tracks directly to Calvin and Zwingli’s philosophical understanding (and presuppositions), which creates marked theological differences between Lutheran and Reformed theology.  Dr. Veith, without a doubt, has succinctly captured the essence of these differences and their consequences in his practical and easily understood words.

“Cost of Discipleship” Part 1, Cheap Grace

Unlike many contemporary preachers that feel the need to start off with pithy, humorous, non-confrontational ‘ice breakers,’ in “Cost of Discipleship” (hereafter CoD) Bonhoeffer comes out swinging like a prize-fighter from word one. He begins with the assertion, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.” His very term ‘cheap grace’ with its deliberately ugly connotation sounds like a concept we could all line up in opposition to…until he begins to unpack this beast:

Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the gross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Stated in those terms, Bonhoeffer’s words are apt to get us a little more worked up. As much as we Evangelicals talk about the freeness of grace in Jesus Christ…and we must speak of his grace this way for this is the reality of the matter…these words tend to hurt quite precisely because Bonhoeffer’s description of Lutheranism in Third Reich Germany unfortunately also perfectly describes Evangelicalism in contemporary America.

Let us look at each of his accusations… Continue reading