At a basic level, it is important for a Christian to remember that when Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead, God pardoned us of all sin. As Scripture puts it, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them….” (2 Cor. 5:19). Objectively, we have already been forgiven of our sins, those that we have done in the past and those that we will do in the future. This is what makes the work of Christ such good news! The means of grace are the channels through which we come to know and believe this good news, and the means through which the forgiveness of Christ is continually made known and given to us. Paradoxically, what is already ours becomes ours. Like water that already belongs to us in a storage facility, it becomes ours continually when it is piped into our house so that we can drink it. One Lutheran theologian has written, “If God had not forgiven all sins, there could be no means by which the forgiveness is offered.” This is exactly correct.
The Gospel and the Sacraments, including the Lord’s Supper, are the divinely ordained ways in which the merits of Christ are revealed, offered, and imparted to us. The words of institution in the Lord’s Supper, then, are God’s way of saying to us: “Your sins have been forgiven already, and again I am giving you anew this wonderful blessing. Be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven.” In this way we can go our way with a clear conscience and a renewed heart.
“In addition to the words of Christ and of St. Paul (the bread in the Lord’s Supper ‘is true body of Christ’ or ‘a participation in the body of Christ’), we at times also use the formulas ‘under the bread, with the bread, in the bread.’ We do this to reject papistic transubstantiation and to indicate the sacramental union [emphasis added] between the untransformed substance of the bread and the body of Christ…..so in the Holy Supper the two essences, the natural bread and the true, natural body of Christ, are present together here on earth in the ordered action of the sacrament, though the union of the body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine is not a personal union, like that of the two natures of Christ, but a sacramental union” (emphasis added; 35-38).
The language of “in, with, and under,” which is found also in Luther’s Small Catechism, was carefully chosen and was directed at specific errors encountered by the Lutheran confessors (for example, “in” was chosen to reject impanation and “with” to reject transubstantiation). Moreover, the expression “sacramental union” is used as a technical designation for the Lutheran understanding of the Real Presence. The word “under” in the phrase “in, with and under” used to express the Lutheran understanding of the sacramental union serves as a reminder that Christ’s true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper are “hidden under” the earthly forms of bread and wine (like a “mask” hiding someone’s face–the face is “under” the mask). In fact, Luther often used the term “mask” to describe how God “hides” his work under humble, earthly, external means (sacramental and otherwise).