Vespers, 1 Cor. 10:14–22

Partakers of the Body of Christ

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the Nicene Creed we confess: Christ ”came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary”. He ”was incarnate”, that is to say, He took on flesh. This means that Christ, the ”very God of very God” took on humanity, and ”was made man”. As a real man He also had a real human body of flesh with all of its members. He used the strength of His muscles when He worked at construction sites. His blood pumped through His arteries and veins, His human circulation system, when He walked through the country with His disciples.

But why did Christ assume humanity? He did it for the sake of us humans. He wanted to bear your ”sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24a), the sinfulness that is in you and your flesh. For this reason Christ Jesus gave His body, His whole self as a sacrifice for you, as an atonement for your sins. His body ”was pierced for our transgressions” (Is. 53:8) so that His ”precious blood” (1 Pet. 1:19) was shed on the rock of Golgotha. He did this so ”that” you ”might die to sin and live to righteousness,” and that ”by his wounds you” would be ”healed.” (1 Pet. 2:24b–c)

Now, in His holy Church, Christ invites you, His own, to His holy table. He says to you, His baptized, His brother and sister: ”this is my body” (Matt. 26:26), ”this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:28) Did you hear this? Christ says that in this bread and in this wine He gives you his very body and blood. The Gospel of Christ, the wonderful message of His atoning death and resurrection is not just some historical thing that we try to grasp by imagination. A historical fact it is, yes, but it is historical also because He brings all of this to you, a historical person. By the sacred gifts of His sacramental body and blood, Christ gives you the benefits of the sacrifice He gave on the Golgotha. He gives you the benefits of the sacrifice of His body and blood. Now, what are these benefits? Forgiveness of sins, your sins! This is what He gives you. And also: When you partake of the sacramental body of Christ, you, a human being with a body, partake of Him in a bodily manner. You are not a alone! You partake of everything that is His. Sure, the eternal life of Christ, His holiness and His righteousness are already yours through His Word and Baptism, in faith. And here, in His holy table He solidifies the bond between you and Himself. Here He strengthens you as partaker of everything that is His.

And what is even more: when you partake of the sacramental body of Christ, He grants you participation in His Body, the Church. Again, you are not a alone! Look at your own body: It does not consist of just one solitary member. It is also not a random collection of several solitary members bound together. No, the members are many, and together they partake of the one life of your one head. In the same way, when you, through the Lord’s sacramental body participate in His Body, the Church, you partake of the life of Christ, the Head. And in Him you also partake of the life of His that now flows in you and everybody else who partakes of Him. When you partake of the sacramental blood of Christ, you partake of the circulatory system of His Body, the Church. Together with all the other members of this sacred Body, you are vivified, strengthened in all the good works that He works in you through the Holy Spirit.

There was once an experienced Pastor who told his students: ”In your sermons you always have to have at least one story from real life.” Well, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this right here is your real story. Christ ”came down from heaven” for you. He ”was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary” for you. He did this for the very reason of granting you and me, bodily human beings, the membership of His sacred Body, the Church, and a share in His eternal life. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(Preached at the Vespers service, Corpus Christi Conference, Helsinki, June 29, 2016.)