The First Sermon: On the Substance of the Supper

by Johannes Brenz
translated by Andrew Hussman

This sermon comes from a book of sermons by Johannes Brenz that was published in 1556. It is the first of three that he preached on Maundy Thursday on the doctrine and applications of the Lord's Supper. In this first sermon Brenz expounds on the truth of Christ's real presence in the Lord's Supper and assures us of the confidence we can have in our omnipotent God who keeps his promises. The other two sermons, which will appear in later issues, will cover the blessings of the Lord's Supper and the proper preparation for receiving it.

The First Sermon: On the Substance of the Supper, What it is

For I received from the Lord what I also handed down to you, that our Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, he broke it and said, “Take and eat. This is my body, which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me. . . (1 Corinthians 11:23-24)

Since more people go to the Eucharist according to tradition these days than at any other time of the year, and since the very topic requires that a sermon on the Lord’s Supper should be given on some day of the year, let me undertake a sermon on the venerable sacrament of the Lord’s Supper so that we may learn what a great treasure Christ has given to the Church in his supper and take it in a worthy manner. We will not discuss at this time the question of whether the sacrament should be taken under one form, as they say, but we will discuss what the Lord’s Supper is, then the use for which it was instituted by Christ, and the benefit which it brings to us. If we learn these things diligently, we will see how boundless Christ’s mercy is toward men, and we will strengthen our faith in all adversity, and we will be kept in obedience to God until everlasting happiness.

To begin with, therefore, we will consider the words with which the Evangelists and Paul describe Christ’s Supper, so that we may explain what the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is. They say, “He took the bread and the cup, distributed them to his disciples and said, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. This is my blood which is poured out for you and for many.’” From these words we know that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is bread and wine which has been ordained and consecrated into his body and blood by the word of Christ. For this bread is not only bread, as common bread, but it is also the true body of Christ; and the wine is not only wine, but it is also the true blood of Christ. For he who said these words, namely, “This is my body, this is my blood,” is not a plain, lowly man, but he is our Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, Christ cannot be a liar. “What is from flesh, is flesh. But what is spirit, is spirit and truth” (John 3:6). And about Christ it is written, “He did not sin, nor is there deceit in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). And elsewhere he says, “He who sent me is truthful, and what I have heard from him I speak in the world” (John 8:26). Therefore what Christ said in the Supper is not the word of a lying man, but of the true God. Accordingly, Christ who said this is so powerful that he can also accomplish what he said. For he is the Son of God almighty, of the same majesty with God the Father. He is the very Word of God, through whom all things were created. Genesis 1: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” And Paul, “He calls those things that are not, so that they may be” (1 Corinthians 1:28). Accordingly, since he who said these words, “This is my body, this is my blood,” is true and powerful, it follows most certainly that the bread truly is the body of Christ, and the wine truly is his blood. So also Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16, “Is not the bread which we break a partaking, that is, a distribution of the body of Christ? Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a partaking, that is, a distribution of the blood of Christ?” And afterwards (v.29), “Whoever eats and drinks in an unworthy manner, eats and drinks judgment on himself, since he does not discern the body of Christ.”

But when these things are taught, different things tend to come to mind for different people. For you will say, “I believe that Christ as the almighty one can make it so that the bread is his body, but does he really also bring about that which he is able to do? He can make an ax cluck like a rooster, but does an ax therefore cluck? He can make a stone become bread, but does the stone therefore become bread?” I respond: I know that God does not bring about everything which he is able to, but it is certain that he accomplishes what he says and promises that he will bring it about. Now, he says that the bread is his body, but he does not say that an ax clucks. That is why he does not bring about the latter, but he does bring about the former.

But again something like this comes to mind, “Even though Christ accomplishes that, nevertheless, a human minister of the Supper cannot accomplish it. As God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light—but if a man should say the same words, there would not be light because of it.” You observe correctly that a man cannot by his own power do this, but he can through the command and word of God. He did not tell man to create light, therefore he is not able to create light. He did, however, tell and command the ministers of the Church to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and he ordered them to do what he himself did. For he said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). And Paul said, “What I received from the Lord I also gave to you” (1 Corinthians 11:23). Therefore, it is not through man’s power that the body of Christ is in the Supper, but it is through the power of the word, or of the institution and ordinance of Christ.

“But what shall we say about the article of Christ’s ascension into heaven? Did not Christ ascend into heaven with his own body, and is he not sitting at the right hand of God the Father? How then can his body be and be distributed in the Supper?” Right. But that his body is in the Supper and in heaven are not contradictory. That Christ ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God does not mean that Christ is fixed to one spot in heaven corporally, just as a man sits in a chair. Rather, it means that Christ received the heavenly kingdom and omnipotence and the majesty of God the Father. For the right hand of God means the omnipotence and majesty of God, just as Scripture testifies. Moreover, it is clear that God’s omnipotence and his majesty are not only in one place, but they occupy and fill all places. “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is the footstool of my feet” (Isaiah 66:1). “I fill heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 23:24). Therefore, since Christ with his ascension into heaven took this majesty of God also to himself, as it pertains to his humanity, it follows that he thus ascended into heaven so that he might now fill heaven and earth. Paul also interprets the ascension into heaven this way in the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, saying, “He descended to the lowest parts of the earth and ascended up to all the heavens to fill all things, namely, all things above and below” (Ephesians 4:9-10). And Christ is man and God in the unity of his person. Therefore where God is, there man necessarily is also, lest his person be separated. Even though this is wonderful in our eyes, nevertheless if we perceive Scripture in faith, it is not absurd. For as time is in God’s eyes, so also is place. Concerning time it is written in Psalm 89 [90:4] and 2 Peter 3:8, “A thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years before God.” So also a thousand places are as one place, and one place as a thousand places in the sight of God. Therefore, although it is said that the body of Christ is in heaven and in the Supper, it is not then in different places. It is added here that the Supper is also a heavenly matter, not an earthly one. Wherefore, Christ is in heaven and above all the heavens as much as he is also in the Supper, where it is also fitting for heaven to be. And it is not so astonishing that Christ’s body is in heaven and on earth at the same time, since the same thing happens naturally to many created things: they are in only one place but are found in many. In all events, take the example of the human voice, which is one with the speaker, yet the same voice is in the ear of many listeners. Therefore, even if the body of Christ were only in one place in heaven (we showed above what kind of body he has), God could nevertheless find some way in which it would also be in the Lord’s Supper simultaneously.

Finally, even though it seems contrary to the nature of a body to be in the bread of the Lord’s Supper, nevertheless many other things happen to the body of Christ which are contrary to nature. For it is contrary to the nature of the human body to walk upon water, to rise from the dead, to ascend into heaven, to be invisible and intangible, but all these things happen in the body of Christ. And there are many properties in other creatures, whose mode (as I will say) of existing we do not know, but they are there through the word of God. For example, a large tree lies in the smallest seed of fruit. We do not see the tree in the seed, but we know only by experience that a large tree will grow from this seed. Therefore it was previously in the seed. How? We know nothing except what we know the word of God says: “Let the earth sprout forth fruit-bearing trees.” So in Adam we all have sinned. Therefore we were in Adam when not even one of our bones existed yet. We do not know how this happens, but the word of God says: “Increase and multiply.” So also God finds a way in which the body of Christ is in the Supper. Let us just believe his words.

There you have it—that’s what the Lord’s Supper is. Now let us hear about its use and benefit. John asserts in his Gospel: “The flesh profits nothing” (John 6) but Christ is not speaking about his own flesh in this sentence. And it is true that all of Christ is of no benefit to unbelievers. But as it benefits believers, so also his body and blood are very beneficial. But he himself explains in the institution how much the Supper benefits. For he calls this Supper his own testament. “This cup,” he says, “is the new testament in my blood.” For as men who are about to die present their testaments and give to heirs and friends an inheritance and legacy, so also before his death Christ presented his own testament in the Last Supper. But what did he bequeath to his own friends and heirs? He did not bequeath to them earthly goods, for he did not possess these things externally. He was so poor that he did not have a place to rest his head. He would not have made satisfaction for our salvation even if he had bequeathed to us earthly goods, like bodily health, riches, honor, and rule, because all these have their own are misfortunes. On the contrary, he bequeathed to us what he had and what was sufficient for our true happiness. Moreover, he bequeathed to us not only bread and wine, but his own body and blood in them. And in his body is life, because he gave his body for the life of the world. In his blood is the remission of sins, because it was poured out for our sins. Moreover, since we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, we have all happiness.

Further, when one makes a testament, it is not done only with words, but also with letters and seals. So also Christ, in making his own testament, appended to his words a seal engraved with his own body and blood. Therefore, as sealed letters of testaments, or of registrations by their own reckoning, benefit us, so the Lord’s Supper benefits us. Moreover, sealed letters are beneficial in that they reassure us of the blessings which are contained in them. So also the conscience is reassured, if it has been tested with regard to heavenly blessings. But in particular it is tested with regard to the wrath of God and to our sins. For whoever is overwhelmed in weakness, or in poverty, or in death, he is tempted in his conscience to think that he does not have a gracious God. But the cure for this temptation is receiving the Lord’s Supper.

And it is because of this that the ancients took the Lord’s Supper when they lost dear friends. Masses for the dead arose from this. But what they did piously, these sacrificing priests have imitated impiously and superstitiously. The same happened when they received troublesome weather, from which arose masses for the sky’s storms, or when they were tested with regard to death. And so they did these things piously so that their consciences might be comforted, but the ones who came after them imitated them superstitiously and impiously. Therefore, in all afflictions in which we are tempted with regard to our sins and the wrath of God, we should receive the Lord’s Supper, so that we, strengthened through it in faith, may pursue everlasting life in Christ Jesus our Lord, who is God worthy of praise forever. Amen.