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March 2017

Our Lenten Theme:  The Lord’s Supper, Our “Salutary Gift”

This year, I am using a set of resources from Concordia Publishing House to prepare our Lenten midweek services. The theme of those resources is “The Lord’s Supper: The Salutary Gift.” That expression, “salutary gift,” comes from one of the post-Communion collects that we pray after receiving the Lord’s Supper: “We give thanks … that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.” 

So where did this prayer come from, and what does “salutary” even mean?

The post-Communion collect from which we derive the expression “salutary gift” was written by Martin Luther. In the 1520s, a number of reformers were moving to introduce the use of the vernacular (i.e., the common language, the language of the people—in this case, German) into public worship, particularly the mass (what the weekly Communion service was called among the Reformers in those days). This was an unfortunate opportunity for zealous reformers with questionable theology to introduce their unique ideas into common use. There was also a risk that liturgical chaos might result, with each church using its own order of service. Imagine what it would be like if you never knew what a church service would be like from one congregation to the next!

In an effort to address these concerns, Luther prepared his own “German Mass” in 1526. His hope was that the order of service he prepared would be theologically sound and could help to stem the tide of multifarious practices throughout Germany. He introduced a metrical German version of the Sanctus (found in the Lutheran Service Book at No. 960, “Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old”), provided the tune for the Kyrie that we still use today in Setting Three, and provided tones for chanting the Scripture lessons and the various parts of the liturgy (we still use Luther’s tone for chanting the Words of Institution). Among the many contributions that Luther made in his German Mass, one that has proved to be of enduring value is his post-Communion collect:

We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

So what does Luther mean when he calls the Lord’s Supper a “salutary gift”? The word that Luther uses is “heilsame,” which we might recognize as related to our English word “wholesome.” The translation “salutary” comes from Latin, in which the word “salus” means “health.” A good English approximation of Luther’s meaning might be “healthy,” not in the sense that I am in good health, but in the sense that a wholesome meal is healthy, promoting good health.

What sort of good health does the Lord’s Supper promote? Luther explains that immediately after: the Lord’s Supper strengthens us in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. In other words, the whole of our Christian faith, both God’s promises that we believe and His commands that we keep, finds its source and its strength is the sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. The offer of forgiveness in Christ strengthens our faith, and it is our faith that gives rise to selfless works of love done for the neighbor. A salutary gift indeed!

This Lenten season, and throughout your Christian walk, may you find strength in the salutary gift of the Lord’s Supper!

Amen.

Pastor Neuendorf

 

 

 

 

 

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