Unveiled for Us
Thursday of Pentecost 22
20 October 2016
While in Coburg, Germany on a recent tour, we saw the Coburg Castle where Luther stayed during the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 for his safekeeping. The castle has undergone extensive renovations since the sixteenth century, however the room in which Luther stayed during the Imperial Diet in 1530 is thought to have been preserved. The castle, which was a royal residence right up into the twentieth century, also included an extensive collection of medieval armor, furniture, and art from various periods; including the work of Luther's friend, Lucas Cranach. However, the art object which I found most intriguing was a seventeenth century painting of the Lutheran service. Artistically, the image was not attractive. It was un-labeled by the curators. I was unable to determine its provenance. But it was attractive nonetheless, because it told a powerful theological story. The artist had lettered the title on the canvas: "The Rites of the Lutheran Church" in case there was any doubt.

The painting, which was approximately five feet by three feet, depicted preaching, the sacrament of baptism, holy absolution, and the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper and holy baptism are in the foreground of the image and absolution and preaching are in the background. What I found most interesting was the depiction of the Lord's Supper. Pastors are serving kneeling communicants on either side of the altar; receiving the body of Christ on one side and the blood of Christ on the other. Where the body of Christ is being distributed you can see an altar boy with a communion-plate held at the chest of the communicant while he is receiving Christ's body, to catch the host (or some part of it) should it be dropped. This practice, which most modern Lutherans would consider "Roman Catholic," presents the high sacramental theology of our Lutheran forebears. Dear God, grant us such a high sacramental piety.

 Yet this is not yet the most striking aspect of the painting. The altar servers appear to be the apostles Peter and Paul who are themselves replenishing the chalice and the paten with the body and blood of Christ their Lord. And between the apostles holding a large placard pointing to the words of institution emblazoned on it is Jesus Himself. Our communion is nothing less than a contemporary presentation of His body and blood at the hands of Jesus Himself. To have His Word presented among us is to have Him. To have His words of institution is to have what the words say are present; His body and blood. Christ Himself stands behind every altar where His words are intoned to effect the presence. This art is a testimony to the principle that our practice should follow our theology. We do what we believe (or should). What we do is a confession of what we believe.

We believe and confess that the bread is nothing less than the body of Christ. We believe and confess that the wine is nothing less than the blood of Christ. What communicants receive in their mouths at the hands of their pastors is made present by Christ Himself through His Word. Those who receive in faith these heavenly gifts are given the forgiveness of sins, and assured of eternal life and salvation. This painting of the Lutheran practice of Holy Communion in the Coburg Castle is an artistic unveiling of what the Lutheran Church believes about what is happening at the communion table and altar rail. Let us pray that the Lord gives us the strength to believe what has been unveiled for us.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"I again confess here before God and all the world that I believe and do not doubt, and shall also with the help and grace of my dear Lord Jesus Christ adhere to this confession until the last day, that where mass is celebrated according to Christ's ordinance, be it among us Lutherans or under the papacy or in Greece or in India, even if it is also only under one kind (which is nonetheless wrong and an abuse) as is the case under the papacy at Easter and otherwise during the year when they provide the sacrament for the people, nevertheless, under the form of bread, the true body of Christ, given for us on the cross, under the form of wine, the true blood of Christ, shed for us, are present. Furthermore, it is not a spiritual or imagined body and blood but the genuine natural body and blood derived from the holy, virginal, true, human body of Mary, conceived without a human body by the Holy Spirit alone. This body and blood of Christ are even now sitting at the right hand of God in majesty, in the divine person called Jesus Christ, who is a genuine, true, eternal God with the Father of whom He was begotten from eternity, etc. This body and this blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, not only the holy and worthy but also sinners and the unworthy truly administer and receive bodily, although invisibly, with their hands, their mouths, the chalice, paten, corporal, and whatever they use for this purpose when it is administered and received in the mass."

Martin Luther, A Letter Concerning His Book on the Private Mass
1 Corinthians

In the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (ESV)
Dearest Jesus, You stand behind the altars of our churches that we might receive Your most holy body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Keep us from impenitence and unbelief about what is received at the hands of our pastors. Help us to receive with great reverence and thanksgiving such holy things. Free us from our own blindness that we might see what you have said to us through the words of institution; in your name we pray. Amen.

For those who are struggling with financial challenges, that the Lord of the church would grant them lucrative labor

For all police and public safety officers, that they may be kept safe in the fulfillment of their duties and that we would honor them for their life of service and sacrifice

For those who are offended by respectful church practice as we handle and distribute the holy body and blood of Christ our Lord, that they may be led into the truth of God's word and receive these great gifts with thanksgiving and joy
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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