Emily over on Children of God touches a rather sad point about her experience of Lutheranism: the lack of the Eucharistic fast. I confess to being more than a little astonished that something that is praised as "certainly fine outward training" in our Small Catechism has come to be so neglected among us. The Catechism couldn't be clearer that fasting does not render a person "truly worthy and well prepared." Faith alone in our Lord's promise: "for you, for the forgiveness of sins" does that. Yet the Catechism DOES speak highly of fasting precisely as what it is: "a fine outward training."
What does this "outward training" refer to? As usual, if we go to the Large Catechism it can give some help: "Since this treasure is entirely presented in the words, it cannot be received and made ours in any other way than with the heart. Such a gift and eternal treasure cannot be seized with the fist. Fasting, prayer, and other such things may indeed be outward preparations and discipline for children, so that the body may keep and bring itself modestly and reverently to receive Christ's body and blood. Yet the body cannot seize and make its own what is here given in and with the Sacrament. This is done by the faith in the heart, which discerns this treasure and desires it."
Now by mentioning, "for the children" Luther by no means suggests that as adults we give it up! He means that we train the young people that in this way we discipline our bodies to reverence the great gift of the Supper. It is a way of confessing bodily that "all we need is the Eucharist - the very Body and Blood of our Savior, given for our salvation." Coming hungry to the table we remember the Beatitude He once spoke: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled."
And yet no amount of calling for the reverent and appropriate use of fasting can ignore the words of our Lord Himself that calls us to eat and to drink His body and blood for our forgiveness. He does not add "you who have kept the fast." His forgiveness is for all and is received by all who approach the Holy Sacrament in true faith. This ought not in any way lead us to neglect the "bodily training," but rather to put it in its place. Our body can use this reminder that the hunger behind all hungers is ultimately the hunger for Christ Himself.
Surely, surely it is possible to exhort our people to the discipline of the flesh without in any way falling into the error of assigning merit to our "fine outward training."