The Two Things to be Considered in the Sacrament of the Altar

Lent 3 Saturday

John 4:20-24

[The woman said:] “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you say the place where one should worship is in Jerusalem. Jesus said to her: “Woman, believe me, the time will come where you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor at Jerusalem. You do not know what you worship; but we know what we worship; for salvation is from the Jews. But there will be a time, and it is already now, that the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. For the Father wants to have those who worship him in this way. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth.”


Those who argue over whether Christ is to be worshiped in the sacrament get off the right path: By letting go of the words of Christ, they turn to the sacrament. This is how the sacrament becomes a work, and faith disappears. For while they focus on how to honor and serve Christ in the sacrament, they fail to consider what he does for them in the sacrament and what they are to receive from him there, as if the sacrament existed only to worship and serve him. What is wrong here is that we look to no work besides our own that we do for him in the sacrament. We do not consider the works the sacrament should do for us. Therefore … these two things should be carefully considered in the sacrament, namely, first, the Word; then, bread and wine. The words teach you to seek and be attentive to why Christ is present in the sacrament. These words will also make you forget your own works and wait only for his works. For a sacrament is a matter of faith where nothing but God’s works should take place by means of his Word. Therefore, those who thus perceive the sacrament in the Word, forget both worshiping and honor, as the apostles did in the first Lord’s Supper, while they doubtlessly were most pleasing to God and rightly honored him. This is as it is in the case of the gospel, the Word of God. This Word is due the greatest honor because God is closer in it than Christ is in bread and wine. Still, everyone forgets to bow before the same but sits still, and while he listens, he does not even think about what honor he wants to show to the Word. Bread and wine, or body and blood of Christ, considered apart from the words, will teach you to seek and pay attention to your own works; they will drive you from God’s work and from the reason why he is present in the sacrament. You will then be concerned about how you can do much for him while not letting him do anything for you. This is how the sacrament becomes nothing but a matter of works. But when you first properly exercise faith in relation to the first part, that is, the words, the worshiping of the sacrament will then follow nicely by itself – and even if it did not, it would be no sin. … There are, then, four classes of people in this matter. The first are those who only deal with the words of the sacrament: They nourish their faith and take Christ’s body and blood with bread and wine as a sure sign of that Word and faith. They are the safest and best; perhaps rarely they stoop so low as to be concerned about worshiping and honoring; for they perceive God’s work on them and forget their works regarding the sacrament. The second class are those who, after they exercised their faith, stoop down to their works and worship Christ spiritually in the sacrament, that is, they inwardly bow with their heart and confess him as their Lord who works all things in them, and who also bow, bend, and kneel outwardly with the body to give evidence of their inner worship. The third class are those who worship him only inwardly. The fourth are those who worship him only outwardly. The last class are utterly worthless, as has been said in sufficient detail.


St. Louis ed., 19:1328-1329.

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