In preparation for the Lord’s Supper we do well to engage in self-examination. Martin Luther’s “Christian Questions” help in this regard:
“Do you believe that you are a sinner?”
(Ans.): “Yes, I believe it; I am a sinner….”
“Are you also sorry for your sins?”
(Ans.): “Yes, I am sorry that I have sinned against God….”
“Do you also hope to be saved?”
(Ans.): “Yes, such is my hope….”
“In whom then do you trust?”
(Ans.): “In my dear Lord Jesus Christ.”
“What then has Christ done for you that you trust in Him?”
(Ans.): “He died for me, and shed His blood for me
on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.”
Note the personal nature of confession and the accompanying expression of faith and hope.
Part and parcel of blessed reception of the sacrament is personal acceptance in faith of what is received. As Luther quotes the words of institution spoken by “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul,” he recalls the real presence of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ “in, with, and under the bread and wine” (Luther’s Small Catechism, CPH, 1943, Qu. 299, p. 195).
In the catechism Luther reminds us, “He who believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.”
The wonderful miracle and blessing that is in the Sacrament boggles the mind and defies reason. But it is not for us to question how, but simply to believe the words and promises of our Lord, “This is My body given for you…this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins.”
Scripture says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9). Confession of sins is an integral part of the Christian’s daily life and worship.
In our regular Sunday worship service the pastor intones from Psalm 32: “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord,” whereupon the congregation responds, “And You [the Lord] forgave the iniquity of my sin.” This is followed by the pastor leading the congregation in its confession: “We poor sinners confess unto You that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against You….” Absolution follows with the announcement that the Almighty God, our heavenly Father, “has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us, and for His sake forgives us all our sins” (The Lutheran Hymnal, p. 5).
“…I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have offended You…But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them…and I pray You… to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being”
What a blessing to be assured that my fellow-communicants and I have been forgiven all our sins through Christ. This reflects the truth that the Lord does not desire the death of any sinner, and that Jesus has died for all people, as the Lord laid upon Him the sins of us all! (This Scripture truth is reflected also, as we would expect, in the liturgy of WS2000 (pp. 1, 22), both in the confession as well as in the absolution.)
Any liturgy including one that a pastor might write for a particular service should surely include a clear and unequivocal confession of sins and absolution.
In contrast to what some might see as a corporate confession of sins, the confession in the communion liturgy (TLH, p. 16; pp. 47, 48) is individualized. The pastor introduces the confession of sins from Psalm 32, after which the worshiper confesses “…I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have offended You…But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them…and I pray You… to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being” (cf. WS2000, p. 12).
Day by day the penitent Christian will go to the Lord confessing sin. As we believe the gospel, we may lie down in our beds, and ultimately in death, with peace and confidence. As the Sacrament is offered, the question for the penitent Christian is not really whether to receive or not receive the Lord’s Supper on a given day.
The absolution by the pastor follows, “Upon this your confession… I forgive you…” In the context we understand “your” and “you” as addressed to individuals. Whereas in the regular service the liturgy represents the Lord as saying, in effect, “Go in peace, My children, Your sins are forgiven” (cf. “them” in Leviticus 4:20,21), in the communion liturgy it is as if the Lord says, “My son, my daughter, be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven” (compare 2 Samuel 12:13, Matthew 9:2).
The difference between the two confessions does not lie in the substance of the blessing and assurance but only in the individualized nature of the pronounced absolution. In both cases, the worshiper may depart in peace, because (as the Catechism says): “…where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
Day by day the penitent Christian will go to the Lord confessing sin. As we believe the gospel, we may lie down in our beds, and ultimately in death, with peace and confidence. As the Sacrament is offered, the question for the penitent Christian is not really whether to receive or not receive the Lord’s Supper on a given day. Instead a Christian will say, “As one who sins daily and indeed deserves nothing but punishment (Fifth Petition), for my personal comfort and peace I will receive the sacrament today.”