Body and Blood; Body and Soul

In Lutheran Service Book, the most recent hymnal in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the prescribed (suggested?) dismissal from the Lord’s Altar runs like this: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.  Depart + in peace” (LSB 164, 181, 199, 210, 218).  This is significant because the previous LCMS hymnal had this form: “The body and blood of our Lord strengthen and preserve you steadfast in the truth faith to life everlasting.  Go in peace” (Lutheran Worship 152, 173).  Lutheran Book of Worship (primarily used in the ELCA, but used by some LCMS congregations) had a shorter (and lamer) dismissal: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and keep you in his grace” (LBW 72, 92, 115).  The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) had the dismissal in a sort of split form: “May this [body or blood] strengthen and preserve you in the true faith unto life everlasting!” and then: “Depart in peace” (The Lutheran Liturgy 24).  But theEvangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book (1931 ed.), published by Concordia Publishing House, had “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ and His precious Blood strengthen and preserve you in the true faith unto everlasting life” (14).  This seems to be a word-for-word translation of the dismissal in the Kirchenbuch I have (for which I don’t have a publisher or date, since those pages are missing; if anyone can check, it’s a black book with “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” on the front).

I do this exercise simply to point out the seeming novelty of the LSB dismissal.  Whatever their differences, none of the other hymnals have anything like the “in body and soul” of LSB.  (Although, interestingly, the modern Finnish Lutheran Mass has: “May the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve our spirit, soul and body [, the entire being of each of us,] [sic] until eternal life.”)  The question is, what does the novelty (and every novelty should be extensively interrogated) do?  I have heard one pastor oppose it based on the fact that my body is still dying, still subject to disease, still dealing with physical ailments after I receive the Supper.  Thus, the Supper applies to me only spiritually and not physically.

With (admittedly minor) apologies to that pastor, who wants to take seriously what we experience in this world and life, such a view raises a number of troubling questions: is salvation (and the Body and Blood of Christ can be nothing else) only for souls now, and for bodies only later?  What does it mean for Christ’s Body and Blood to preserve us unto life everlasting?  Do the Body and Blood of Christ, which we believe are actually and really eaten and drunk, only affect “half” of us?  How is that possible?  Is Jesus Himself present only according to His human spirit (or even His divine Spirit)?

The answers to all of those questions go to the heart of what it means to eat this Body and Blood and to be saved by this Christ.  And the LSB dismissal (whatever its provenance; someone with more resources at hand will have to see if it truly is a novelty in the Lutheran Divine Service) acknowledges what I take to be the serious implications of actually eating and drinking the fully divine, fully human Christ’s actual Body and Blood.

Regin Prenter, in his book Spiritus Creator, spends nearly 20 pages (in English, at least) describing Luther’s contention that the physical Jesus was present in the Supper (contraZwingli and any other spiritualizing interpretations), and that this has real implications for our physical bodies.  The foundation of this is the concrete Gospel: “[I]f we attempt to understand or to meet the omnipresent Christ in some other way than hidden in his humble humanity, in the bread and the wine of the Supper, then we speculate on theDeus nudus and we do not meet the divine majesty as our God but as our enemy who puts us to death” (271).  That is, God has revealed Himself by hiding Himself in the body of a Man, Jesus, and to try and get around this Man with His very real (and now resurrected and glorified) Body, is to try and find a God who comes not in mercy but in wrath against sinners.  Only in Jesus do we have a gracious God, and so Luther’s refrain that we have no God but this Man.

So when Jesus comes to us in the Supper, He is never less (or more) than this incarnate God.  Otherwise He is no longer the Jesus who was born from Mary, lived, suffered, died, rose again, ascended into heaven, and is coming back in glory.  “To deny the external sign in the signs of revelation [sacraments] as a lack of spirituality is therefore the same as to deny the incarnation.”

Both in the incarnation and in the signs of revelation the humanity of Christ is the cover for the majesty of God.  In both instances it is necessary that we find God not by our own speculations, but in a hard and offensive contrast to our own thought, by the Word of God, spoken by Christ: “Here ye shall find me!” … The external sign is a part of the incarnation.  The spirituality which fears or which takes a superior and complacent attitude to the outward things reveals itself as a denial of the incarnation, as an attempt to reach God by way of speculation or work outside the once bodily incarnated Christ and his repeated bodily signs of revelation. … For where there is real knowledge of Deus incarnatus, there the idealistic contrast between a “higher” spiritual nature and a “lower” bodily nature is forever abolished. (272, 273)

This is why it is necessary to have a Biblical, rather than a Greek or gnostic, view of spirit and flesh.  For Luther and Lutherans, “The whole man, ‘spirit’ and ‘body’ is ‘flesh’ in contrast to the Spirit of God.  The whole man, ‘spirit’ and ‘body,’ under the dominion of the Spirit of God is ‘spirit'” (273-274).

From this position about what the Supper is comes the understanding of what the Supper does.  If the Supper is Christ, both body and soul, both God and Man, giving His Body and Blood to those who eat and drink, then the Supper must be for all of me, and not just my “higher” soul.  God did not create bodiless souls, nor did He redeem bodiless souls; therefore, when you are baptized, when you are absolved, when you receive the Supper, you–body and soul in the Spirit–are being given these gifts; not just your body, not just your soul, but you, created and redeemed by the Triune God.

This is directly related to the entire hope of the Christian Faith: “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”:

Because Luther does not know a Christ who is not the bodily incarnated God, a purely “spiritual” Christ, therefore he does not know a mode of receiving Christ, which is only spiritual without simultaneously being bodily.  He does not know of any reception of forgiveness of sin which is not simultaneously a hope about the resurrection of the body.  If it is really incarnate Christ we receive, then we receive a whole (spiritual-bodily) Christ as whole (spiritual-bodily) human beings.  …  Luther’s concept of the contrast of the spiritual and bodily is so different from that of the spiritualists that for Luther a spiritual celebration of the supper always contains the bodily fruit.  In contrast to a modern spiritualistic-Protestant relinquishing of Luther’s clear and logical insistence on the thought of a bodily fruit in the celebration of the Supper it is possible to be so radical that we insist (and this is entirely within the realm of Luther’s thoughts) that a celebration of the Supper which does not contain the assurance and hope of a bodily fruit is not a spiritual celebration at all.  A celebration of the Supper which does not include the thought of the bodily fruit, commemorates another Christ than the one who is really present. … What is eaten is changed to body in the one who eats, but this is very different with the spiritual flesh.  It changes the body who eats it to itself, that is, to spirit. (276-277, emphasis in original).

But Prenter goes on to clarify this thought.

The idea of our body being nourished by the spiritual body of Christ must be understood eschatologically, not from the naturalistic-philosophical point of view. … Luther does not think of the communion between our mortal body and Christ’s spiritual body in such a way that our mortal body receives into itself a substance of immortality which changes it, but rather than the living Christ receives into himself the whole of man and, therefore, also gives this poor mortal body hope about resurrection.  … There is therefore no contrast between Luther’s general faith in the resurrection and the idea of a bodily fruit in the Supper.  The two thoughts are identical.  The bodily fruit of the Supper is the resurrection in the last day, not a transformation of the human nature to immortality before death and outside of death. (279)

We might ask Prenter at this point whether the reality of the Resurrection for us now, because we have already died with Christ and been raised with Him, means that there is bodily fruit here and now as well.  There is, in fact: the bodily fruit of love for our neighbors in their bodies.  The incarnate Christ gives us His real Body and Blood, in which He has already taken up our bodies and souls into Himself, and we give ourselves, body and soul, to our neighbors, who have real physical, and not just spiritual, needs.

In the realm of the Spirit man is not walking up toward God on the ladder of speculation or work, but he is on the way from God out toward his neighbor as an instrument of God’s creative and sustaining work in favor of the neighbor. … In the genuinely evangelical understanding of salvation it is impossible, because of the position of the neighbor, ever to accept the spiritualistic degradation of the outward and the bodily. … If we then get away from the mortal body…God in his condescension is not permitted to care for the mortal body. … The Spirit takes all on this way to Christ and in Christ to the neighbor.  The milestones of this way are: baptism (with real water!), verbum vocale [preached Word], the bodily celebration of the Supper, work for the neighbor in the earthbound vocation, the resurrection of the body.  This is all external sign. (283, 285, 287)

So when the pastor proclaims that the true Body and Blood of Christ strengthen and preserve you in both body and soul unto life everlasting, that is because Christ has just given you His resurrected and living Body and Blood, and the only possible outcome of such a gift is the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  This is faith, not sight, but it is no less real because we cannot see it or experience it with our limited perception.  It only means that, in the midst of sin, death, struggle, and cross, Christ’s word and promise is the only thing that matters to the Christian, because it is the only thing that is finally true.


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