The same can be said of his understanding of the activity of the Holy Spirit. It is always the cross which illuminates all chapters of theology because the deepest nature of revelation is hidden in the cross. This being so, Luther’s theologia cruciswants to be more than one of the many theological theories which have appeared in the course of the history of the Church. It claims to be, in contrast to another theology, which now prevails in Christendom and which Luther calls the theologia gloriae, the correct, the scriptural theology with which the Church of Christ stands and falls. Only of the preaching of this theology, Luther thinks, can it be said that it is the preaching of the Gospel.
The theology of the cross obviously does not mean that for the theologian the whole church year shrinks to Good Friday. It rather means that one cannot understand Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost without Good Friday. Luther was, alongside Irenaeus and Athanasius, one of the great theologians of the incarnation. He was that because he saw the cross behind the manger. He understood the victory of Easter as well as any theologian of the Eastern Church. But he understood it because he understood it as the victory of the Crucified.
We must be clear about the fact that there is a profound difference in the understanding of the Lord’s Supper here. Not only is the meaning of the Words of Institution in dispute between Lutherans and Reformed, but from this difference also emerges a totally different understanding of the practice of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper can and must have a different purpose in the Reformed Church than among Lutherans. It can and must, as a human act of confession, become a means toward union. That is what it has become in the Reformed and in the Crypto-Calvinist churches of our day. While for us Lutherans—just as for the Catholic Churches of the East and West—the Sacrament of the Altar can only be the goal of unification, it stands firm for all Reformed Churches and those churches influenced by the Reformed spirit that it is the means of unification that Christ willed.
If our church right at this point has always taken this most seriously and has not admitted to the Lutheran celebration of the Lord’s Supper those who reject the Lutheran doctrine of the Sacrament, it has not thereby anticipated the last judgment. In the ancient church the communicant, to whom the consecrated elements were given with the words “The body of Christ” and “The blood of Christ,” answered with his “Amen.” How can one who is Reformed say Amen to the Lutheran distribution formula? He must take offense at it. Who gives us the right to mislead someone into an unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper in that he does not discern the body of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:29), and to whom would we want to be accountable for it? Is that Christian love?
Something else also belongs in our instruction of the congregation about the Sacrament of the Altar according to Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession: “The people are also given instruction about other false teaching concerning the sacrament.” That is not to be avoided. The condemnations cannot be separated from the positive explanation of the doctrine.
What totally new substance our confirmation instruction would receive if it again became sacramental instruction and the Fourth and Sixth Chief Parts did not just make up a more or less unrelated appendage. And don’t let anyone come up with the excuse that the children are not yet mature enough or that they would misunderstand it. Where that sort of thing is said, it may be assumed that the teacher is not yet mature enough. How one can say these things to children one can learn, with the necessary changes, from the Catholic instruction for First Communion. That is what we can do. The rest God must do: awaken the hunger and thirst for the Sacrament, which is always at the same time a hunger and thirst for the Word of God.
Here we can learn from the liturgical movement of our time. On this point they are clearly right. Our people should know the meaning of the Gloria, the Preface, the Sanctus, the Benedictus and Hosanna, the Consecration as it is expounded in the Formula of Concord, the Agnus Dei, and the Communion. We can explain it to them in special lectures, but we can also do it in sermon and Bible class.
Our first task is to celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar again and again quite seriously but also with the blessed joy of the first Christians (Acts 2:47). Moreover, we Lutherans have the great freedom that exists, as was already mentioned, in the celebration of the Roman Mass. It can take place in utter simplicity but also with the full splendor of the ancient liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, which Luther preserved and the Lutheran Church kept for two centuries with such great love as a priceless treasure.