LORD’S SUPPER: The Lamb’s High Feast. By Arnold J. Koelpin.
LORD’S SUPPER: The Lamb’s High Feast. By Arnold J. Koelpin. People’s Bible Teachings series. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2007. 144 Pages. Paper. $12.99.
Reviewed by Timothy Maschke, Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, WI.
The Lord’s Supper remains a topic for constant congregational catechesis and strong biblical teaching in Christian churches throughout the world. With the increased emphasis upon congregations offering Holy Communion every Sunday, this little book provides encouragement for pastors and laity to consider the blessings of this festive feast of our faithful Lord.
In five carefully crafted chapters, Arnold Koelpin, retired pastor and professor at Martin Luther College, explores and explains the precedent, purpose, and practices associated with our Lord’s holy institution and festive meal. Drawing on his classroom experiences, he illustrates and explains the blessings of the Lord’s Supper in sufficient detail without becoming overburdened with technical or theological verbiage. Two appendices conclude the book—one quoting Luther’s Small Catechism on the Lord’s Supper and one with two citations of Articles X and XIII from the Augsburg Confession—along with a few suggestions for further reading, a Subject index, and a very thorough Scripture index.
Many Lutherans forget the Old Testament roots of Jesus’s institution of Holy Communion in which he transforms a Passover meal on Maundy Thursday into his Holy Supper. Keller notes that “the change from Passover to the Lord’s Supper was a final fulfillment of previous prophecy” (22). But more than a ritual change is the transformation or the “great exchange.” “In his Supper, God reveals his love to us by hiding it under Jesus’ blood” (33). The Levitical sacrifices have become the Lamb’s high feast.
Outsiders may wonder, “Why do Christians go to the Lord’s Supper?” The answer to this question, which also serves as the title of the second chapter, provides the following four simple answers: “Jesus invites us” (35); “To receive an inheritance from the Lord” (39); “To come into the presence of God” (44); and “To celebrate life with God” (48). Each of these answers is carefully supported with Bible references and clear explanations which can be offered to anyone seeking an answer to this common question.
The third chapter deals with the liturgical setting of the Supper and particularly an exploration into the significance of the Words of Institution. Perhaps the weakest chapter, Keller correctly affirms the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, yet he does not explain why it is necessary that Christ’s body is “a real body, not a picture, an illustration, or a product of our faith” (56). He describes the full action of consecration, distribution and reception, but could have affirmed the veracity of Christ’s words more certainly and thoroughly.
How does the Lord’s Supper serve the church? That is the intriguing question and title for the fourth chapter. Koelpin, in the longest chapter in this booklet, explicates the sacrament as an exquisite mark of the church and as a comforting visible seal of God’s love. Here his WELS’ ecclesiology is uncovered as he states, “Wherever Christians gathered . . . the assembly of believers was a church, and church meant nothing more than a believers’ assembly (Galatians 1:2)” (69). The comfort of the sacrament comes in its divine mystery unveiled and revealed in the person and presence of Christ. Implicitly addressing various aberrations or misunderstandings of the sacrament—e.g. Nestorianism, transubstantiation, representation, nominalism, and Calvinism—Koelpin pastorally underscores the reality and necessity of Christ’s real sacramental presence.
Yet, with all that said, celebrating the Lord’s Supper is really about Jesus’s gifts. That’s the focus of the final chapter. Addressing the topic of close communion (although not clearly describing “closed communion”), Koelpin warns against approaching the festive table either as “pigs” or “peacocks” (103). Rather, he affirms that “the door to life with God stands open for the penitent and downcast but is closed to despisers and doubters” (108). One would have hoped for a more definite exposition and explanation of the biblical and pastoral rationale for closed communion here. Faith in Christ alone makes one worthy, he concludes, with an alliterative triple reference to Christ as “our vicar . . . the victim . . . [and] victor . . .” (123).
More than any other doctrine, our Lord’s teaching about his Holy Supper needs clear and careful explanations. Koelpin has done that in a wonderfully winsome way. While a few will disagree with some of his views of ecclesiology, receptionism, and close communion, among others, the overall value of the book is that it provides a discussion tool for Lutheran laity to consider the blessings of every Sunday communion. I highly recommend this inexpensive volume for new member classes and for high school youth and for adult Bible classes as a review of their catechetical instructions. You will enjoy the Lamb’s High Feast so much more!