The presence of the Lord’s body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper is real though spiritual and mysterious. This koinonia, communion by intimate participation (Cf.1 Cor. 10:15-17), with the body and blood of Christ is not a mere object lesson or heightened remembrance about a gift, it is the body and the blood.
When we gather for Lord’s Day worship, we have a mystical experience with our union with Christ. In worship we are ushered into the heavenlies by the Holy Spirit having come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem where innumerable angels gather festively, this is the assembly of all who are enrolled in heaven (Heb 12.22-24). This is not a spatial transportation of our disembodied souls into heaven, but a breaking in of the age to come upon this present age by the Holy Spirit who indwells and maintains our union with Christ in heaven. Already we are mystically united to the body and blood of Christ through faith so our participation in His body and blood in the supper is an experience of this mystical union.
In the Lord’s Supper, we feast on Christ by the person of the Holy Spirit, partaking of Him not by the mouth, but by the Spirit through faith. But make no mistake, we really are partakers of His true body and blood by the working of the Holy Spirit. Now you might ask, how does this exactly happen? Well, with John Calvin, we will say, “It’s a mystery. We cannot explain it, but we believe it.” Our partaking of the Lord’s Supper is a spiritual connection with the past work of Christ on the cross but also with the present spiritual work of Christ, alive in Glory. So while Christ is not bodily or locally present in the Supper (His Body is only locally in heaven since His Ascension), the entire person of Christ is yet spiritually present and His Body and Blood are enjoyed in true fellowship with Him.
The Lord’s Supper is a life-giving, grace-imputing influence to the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit which is accessed by the believer’s faith recognizing the Body of the Lord in the elements and accompanied by real cautions against a casual or indifferent attitude (cf. 1 Cor. 11:27-29). While it is quite a mystery something very real, spiritual and efficacious is happening in the grace received in the Supper of an ever closer fellowship with Christ and ever increasing assurance of Salvation.
We’re all familiar with the words instituted by Christ on the evening of the First Lord’s Supper. Paul gives these words in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26,
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Historically, the church has developed different understandings of the meaning of Christ’s words, “This is my body.”
- The Roman Church teaches a view called transubstantiation where the substance (what the thing is in essence) of the bread and wine transform into the physical body and blood of Christ. In Rome’s view the essence of the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ while its accidents or appearances to our senses remain like bread and wine. So, even though it looks, smells, and tastes like bread and wine, it is, according to Rome, in its essence the physical body and blood of Christ, miraculously transformed.
- In his view of the Supper called Consubstantiation, Martin Luther attempted to describe the nature of the bread and wine in concrete metaphysical terms by saying that the fundamental “substance” of the body and blood of Christ are present alongside the substance of the bread and wine, which remain present. In this view, the substance of Christ’s body and blood exist in, with and under the simultaneously-existing substance of regular bread and wine. Thus, the body and blood of Christ are truly received in the Lord’s Supper making it a means of grace for the Christian’s sanctification.
- Most evangelicals hold to a view espoused by Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli which is called the Memorial view. This view denies the bodily presence of the Lord in the Lord’s Supper and seeks to give a figurative interpretation of the words of institution. The Lord’s Super is seen primarily as a commemoration or a heightened remembering, but is virtually an empty memorial. It is not an experience with the body and blood which are in heaven and therefore not a means of grace.
- Most don’t realize that there is at least one other important and widely- embraced view of the Lord’s Supper that just might capture the real intentions of the Savior’s words. This is the view articulated by French Theologian and Swiss Reformer, John Calvin called the Real Presence which is more of an intermediate view between Rome and Luther on one side and the Memorialists on the other. Importantly, Calvin’s view of the Real Presence keeps Christ’s body in heaven at the right hand of God until His glorious return therefore rejecting that there is a transformation of substance or essence of the elements. But he also rejects that all we are doing is remembering a past event using merely empty symbols and figurative language. Calvin’s view insists on the real, though spiritual presence of the Lord in the Supper. The Lord’s Supper is an actual means of grace which is a way or agency that the Lord uses to impart His sanctifying grace to the Believer who in faith enters the Lord’s Supper. The Real Presence teaches that the believer does receive Christ’s body and blood in the Supper as Scripture plainly teaches. This is not a mere figurative or metaphorical receiving, it is a REAL RECEIVING. Only Real Faith can conceive That the Holy Spirit unites Christ’s body and blood with the elements even though they are separated by space.
More on the REAL PRESENCE tomorrow….
On the Festive Day of Rest, called the Lord’s day there is a standing invitation to all those who love the Lord to share in His Fellowship and Worship. And on this day, He often hosts a spiritual banquet for us to experience a greater intimacy with Him. We call this banquet The Lord’s Supper.
But what’s going on in the Lord’s Supper? Is it simply a heightened remembrance of what Jesus did for us 2000 years ago or is it something else? When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, the biggest mistake that most evangelicals make is that we underestimate its meaning, power and purpose. Paul writes to the Corinthians,
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1Cor. 10:14-16)
Interestingly, the Greek word translated “participation” is a familiar one to many, but perhaps we our familiarity has bred some boredom with it. The Greek word is
koinonia which means “communion by intimate participation.” Paul is saying that in the Lord’s Supper we commune by intimate participation with the Body and Blood of Christ. We have koinonia with Christ’s Body and Blood in the Supper. It is a mutual sharing and an intimate experiencing. So the, the Lord’s Supper is an intimate banquet of koinonia with the body and blood of Christ, a spiritual banquet whereby we are refreshed by partaking of Him. The Lord’s Supper makes our secret union with Christ as certain for us as if we had seen it with our own eyes. In The Institutes, Calvin describes the Lord’s Supper as,
“This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us.”
In the Lord’s Supper, we have the full witness of everything that Christ has done for us and it gives us the opportunity to experience them as if Christ were present Himself, sitting right before our eyes and touched by our hands.