Given that transubstantiation and consubstantiation are found wanting, it remains for us to try to define how Jesus is present in the Lord’s Supper. Some believe the Lord’s Supper is only a memorial; thus, Christ is not present in a unique way when we take the sacrament. Yet more is going on in the Lord’s Supper than the remembering of our Savior’s death, as important as that may be. For example, today’s passage speaks of participation or fellowship in the body and blood of Christ when we come to the Lord’s table (1 Cor. 10:16). Something is happening besides the simple remembrance of the cross. Moreover, as Dr. Keith A. Mathison observes, the fact that many of those who took the sacrament in Corinth unworthily became ill or died (1 Cor. 11:29–30) proves “that there is much more to the sacrament than mere symbolism and subjective acts of mental recollection” (Given for You, p. 234).
The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes the biblical teaching on Christ’s special presence in the Lord’s Supper, saying that worthy receivers feed on Jesus “not carnally and corporally, but spiritually.” Christ is spiritually “present to the faith of believers,” and we feed upon “Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death” (29.7). The confession affirms that in the Supper we commune with Jesus, both in His humanity and in His divinity, in a way not possible at other times. As we eat the bread and drink the wine, we by faith commit ourselves anew to Jesus and renew the covenant, showing that we need His physical body and blood to save us as much as we need food to nourish us. We meet with Jesus as a whole person, and He strengthens us for the journey from the resources He has both as the Son of God and as a glorified human being.
This is possible because of our union with Christ by virtue of the Holy Spirit. In the final analysis, it is a mystery as to how all this happens. But it is to this mystery we have been called to partake of regularly, participating in faith, believing that God has accomplished through His Son all that the Passover in Egypt and the giving of the covenant at Sinai pointed to, namely, the inauguration and consumation of a new covenant.
The Lord’s presence in the Lord’s Supper is not easy to conceptualize, but we do affirm that He is truly present every time we take the sacrament with other believers. It behooves us to remind ourselves of this fact and realize that the sacrament is not an afterthought, it is a means of grace that conveys to the faithful the benefits we need to progress in holiness. As you take the Supper, consider the presence of Christ and the way He meets all our needs.