by Rev. Jonathon T. Krenz

St. Paul writes, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28; ESV). Why? Because, says Paul, anyone who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner will be guilty of concerning the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27), and anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks to his own judgement (v. 29). The Lord’s Supper is a big deal. It is a powerful gift from Jesus, His true body and blood under bread and wine, given and shed for us, for the forgiveness of sins. We should receive the Sacrament with joy, but we should not receive it thoughtlessly or carelessly. “Let a person examine himself…” Before eating and drinking, it is good to be prepared.

For this reason, Martin Luther wrote his “Christian Questions with Their Answers Prepared by Dr. Martin Luther for those who intend to go to the Sacrament.”[1] What ought a Christian to know and believe before receiving Jesus’ body and blood in the Supper? He ought to know who he is before God apart from Christ, and how he has been saved. He ought to know what the Sacrament is and why he needs it and should desire it.

“1. Do you believe you are a sinner? Yes, I believe it. I am a sinner.” The line of questioning grows out of this foundational question and answer, which at once and succinctly exposes our standing before God apart from Christ and our great need for His salvation. The Ten Commandments show us that we have not kept them. We have not lived up to God’s will for us. “3. Are you sorry for your sins? Yes, I am sorry that I have sinned against God.” Repentant sinners are grieved that they have offended their God and separated themselves from His fellowship. We know that we deserve only wrath from God, death, and eternal condemnation. We know we cannot save ourselves. Dead men cannot raise themselves from the dead. Sinners cannot make themselves righteous. If we are to be saved, God must do it.

And He does. “5. Do you hope to be saved? Yes, that is my hope.  6. In whom then do you trust? In my dear Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith does not hope in salvation from anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Faith does not look to its own worthiness or works. It looks to Jesus on the cross and risen from the dead, for you, for the forgiveness of sins. There is only one God, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the Son who took on flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, who “died for me and shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.” The Father did not die for me. The Father did not become flesh, as did the Son, and so could not die. He “is God only, as is the Holy Spirit; but the Son is both true God and true man. He died for me and shed His blood for me.” I know this from the Holy Gospel, and particularly the words by which Jesus instituted the Sacrament, and what He gives by virtue of these words, namely, His true body and blood under the bread and wine.

Here Dr. Luther has us recite the Words of Institution. These words answer all the Christian Questions: Who am I apart from Christ? How am I saved? What is the Sacrament and why do I need it? Here we learn that this bread is His body, the wine is His blood. Jesus gives it to real sinners, who are to take it and eat it, take it and drink it, for the forgiveness of sins. The sinner cannot make himself righteous. Here God makes you righteous with the righteousness of Jesus. These benefits are given to those who “discern the body,” as Paul says. The Words of Jesus in the Sacrament give faith to discern the body of Jesus under the bread, His blood under the wine. The Words of Jesus are the heart and center of the “Christian Questions with Their Answers.” They are the touchstone by which you examine yourself in preparation for the Supper.

And there is also this: You eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus, and as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26). Eating and drinking in remembrance of Jesus isn’t just an exercise in calling Him to mind, as if you’d forgotten. According to St. Paul, it is actually a participation in His body and blood (1 Cor. 10:16). And it is a confession to all present that Jesus died for your sins, and is risen, and lives and here places in your mouth His very body and blood for your life and salvation. “16. Why should we remember and proclaim His death? First, so that we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins. Only Christ, true God and man, could do that. Second, so we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and to regard them as very serious. Third, so that we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.”

Christ died for you out of His great love for His Father and for you, to save you, and in the Supper He distributes all His saving benefits. This ought to drive you to the Sacrament often, for Christ commands this for your good and invites you to receive it, and you know that you need it. The body and blood of Jesus are the saving medicine for the wounded conscience and the broken heart, mind, body, and soul. So what should you do if, upon self-examination, you do not hunger and thirst for this Sacrament, or feel your great need? First, Luther says, touch your body and see if you still have flesh and blood. And if you do, “believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.” Second, look around and see if you’re still in the world, “and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.” Third, remember that the devil will let you have no peace. “With his lying and murdering day and night,” he will not relent, “as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.” Perhaps a quick review of the above Scripture passages would be in order as part of your preparation.

Having thus examined yourself, you now know what you ought to know before receiving the Sacrament. You are a sinner condemned to death and hell, but Christ has saved you by His innocent suffering and death on the cross. He is risen from the dead, and in this Sacrament, He gives you the same body that was nailed to the cross for you, the same blood He shed for you. He does this for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. He gives you these gifts, hidden under bread and wine. The aim of this preparation is best summed up in Luther’s explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar: “that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’” Therefore, thus believing, go joyfully to the altar, where Christ gives you Himself.

The Rev. Jonathon T. Krenz is pastor of Messiah Lutheran + Moscow Mission in Moscow, Idaho.

[1] My quotations are from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).  Cf.  Though authorship is attributed to Luther, the “Christian Questions with Their Answers” were appended to the 1551 edition of the Small Catechism, five years after his death.