As we consider the Lord’s Supper, it is important for us to realize that, as in baptism, there is more going on in the sacrament than a memorial. We are, in fact, nourished by the body and blood of our Savior when we eat the bread and drink the cup in memory of His sacrifice. This is the teaching of Scripture, we shall see, but it is also the view affirmed throughout church history.
In the Heidelberg Catechism, for example, we are told that in the Supper, Jesus “nourishes and refreshes [our souls] for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood” (Q&A 75). The Westminster Confession explains that “worthy receivers . . . really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of His death” (29.7). Matthew Henry calls the Lord’s Supper a “spiritual diet” that “should be taken often.”
We will discuss the meaning of all of this over the next week, but let us note today how the elements of the Lord’s Supper themselves point to the fact that real nourishment occurs whenever we partake of the bread and wine in faith. Our physical bodies cannot survive without food and drink, and Christ’s use of food and drink in the Lord’s Supper is surely meant for us to see, by way of analogy, the sacrament as spiritual sustenance that is vital to the health and well-being of our souls. We do not want to commit the error of those who elevate the Lord’s Supper to the most important aspect of Christian living and piety. At the same time, we do not want to commit the opposite error of neglecting the importance of the sacrament in our Christian growth. Physically speaking, we do not live to eat but we eat to live. Spiritually speaking, we do not live to take the Lord’s Supper but we partake of the sacrament so that we might live for Christ.
There is, indeed, a great deal of mystery here, but we hope to shed light on what happens in the sacrament in the days ahead. In any case, we are nourished in the sacrament, and we are nourished so that we might proclaim the mercy of the Lord. We truly proclaim Him as we eat and drink in His name, as today’s passage indicates (1 Cor. 11:26), and the strength we receive from feeding on Him spiritually in the sacrament empowers us to go forth and proclaim Him to the world.
We cannot live without food and drink, and the use of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper is to remind us that we cannot survive without the death and resurrection of our Savior. As we eat the bread and drink the cup, we should think on how much we need Jesus and His work in our behalf. Moreover, we should thank Him that He has provided an atonement to meet the needs of our souls just as He has provided food to meet the needs of our bodies.