By Rev. Deb Stehlin
I grew up in a faithful Catholic family.
Being Catholic as an Augsburg student was never really an issue until one Sunday when the choir sang at a Lutheran worship service. When it came time for Holy Communion, all my sister sopranos went forward, but I stayed seated, saying under my breath, “That’s not real communion. They don’t believe it’s really the body and the blood.”
I felt so smug.
So, imagine my surprise, learning in seminary, that, indeed, Lutherans believe in “real presence.”
Martin Luther, in his 1517 offering That These Words, ‘This is My Body,’ Still Stand Against the Fanatics, had strong words against anyone who would say otherwise.
“…Christ wills to be in us by nature, in both our soul and body, according to the word in John 6, ‘He who eats me abides in me and I in him.’ If we eat him spiritually through the Word, he abides in us spiritually in our soul; if one eats him physically, he abides in us physically and we in him… For he is not digested or transformed; but ceaselessly he transforms us — our soul into righteousness, our body into immortality. So the ancient fathers spoke of the physical eating.” *
A YOUNG MAN NAMED Ben helped me believe this more fully one Sunday many years later. He came up to me after worship at the mission church I helped start and asked, “Pastor Deb, what’s in that bread?”
He wasn’t asking for a recipe.
“Why do you ask, Ben?”
“When it came time for Holy Communion, all my sister sopranos went forward, but I stayed seated, saying under my breath, ‘That’s not real communion.’”
“Well, when I ate that bread, it was like a cage around my heart sprang open. What was that?”
“That was Jesus coming inside of you and freeing you, Ben.”
“Yes, it was,” he said.
Next time you receive the body and the blood, I invite you to revel in this reality. When you walk out the doors of the church building, you will be carrying the presence of Jesus inside you. Where will you go? Who will you talk with? What will you do with that presence?
Our bishop’s vision for God’s people and Christ’s church is “Real Presence.” We are living, breathing embodiments of the presence of Jesus in the place where our congregation is planted. Each one of us is also a living, breathing embodiment of Jesus’ presence as we live in relationship with friends, co-workers, and family members.
Let’s revel in that!