When from the balcony I look at this church on Sunday and out into the congregation gathered for the Divine Service, my eyes cannot distinguish this gathering from a worldly gathering or of the gathering of any other religious cooperative of the world. And yet I know: In, with, and under the outer gathering there is the Church of God. I know it certainly enough, because the means of grace are there: the Holy Gospel, Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar. Where the Gospel of the grace of God is proclaimed, the justification of sinners, completely free, without works of the Law but by faith alone, there Christ is present in his Word. There he forgives sin. Where a child of man is baptized, there Christ is present. There he, who is the true Father of all, speaks what the children in heaven and on earth call his great word of grace: “I have called you by name, you are mine” [Isa. 43″1]. Whatever becomes of these children of men, if they remain with Christ the Lord or leave him, if his way leads to eternal life or to eternal death, what was said to him there in the hour of Baptism remains valid as God’s offer and is meant seriously. As deep as baptized souls may fall, as far as he may flee from God, the fatherly arms of God remain open for him, as long as this life remains. And the forgiveness that the Lord Christ has acquired for him is certain when he returns to his Baptism with sincere repentance. And where a congregation celebrates the Lord’s Supper according to his institution, there Jesus Christ is truly present according to his divine and human natures. He serves the sinners with his true body and blood, and with these he incorporates them all into one, he incorporates them anew as members of his Body.
Where the means of grace, the Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are, there Jesus Christ is really present. Our eyes don’t see him. Yet he is there, so real, so near, as only he is in his own. And in the inconspicuous means of the Word, Baptism ad the Lord’s Supper he performs the great miracles of his saving mercy. A miracle is not merely such a thing as the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter [Mark 5:22-24, 35-43] or the stilling of the storm [Luke 8:24]. A miracle is the rebirth of Baptism. A miracle is the eating of his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. These great things are hidden under the inconspicuous means of grace. The world does not see this and cannot see it. Our natural eyes perceive nothing of it, and yet the real present of the Lord is there, the reality of his miracle, the reality of his Church.
That is the deepest essence of the Church as Luther understood it. The Church that Luther believed was the Church of the real presence. He believed in the Church because he believed in the real presence. Perhaps there are many among us who have wondered about that and perhaps have taken offense that Luther remained so stubborn in the strife over the Lord’s Supper concerning the meaning of the words of institution: “This is my body.” That is not his obstinate nature, but his great worry that the Church of the Reformation would lose that upon which the Church has always lived, faith in the real presence of Christ. If Christ is in a heavenly location far from this world, where he has only left behind authoirty, orders and commands; if we confuse him with our fantasy, and must visualize him with our faith; if he is only present according to his divine nature, and not also according to his human nature as the God-man, who has taken on our poor flesh and blood, and is present with us according to his humanity, as he is present with the Father according to his divinity, then we are a lost little band in this world. Because, we have to admit that without him we are nothing, that without him and his presence, the Church is helpless, poor, despairing band of men.
Hermann Sasse “Witness: Erlanged Sermons and Essays for the Church 1933-1944″
trans. Bror Erickson
Luther’s Faith in the One Holy Church
Augsburg His Peace Festival
August 8, 1943