- Is Christ truly present in the Lord’s Supper?
- Does the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ?
- Most importantly, how should we approach and partake of the Lord’s Table?
There are many important things we could discuss about the Lord’s Table, but given the time, we’ll only focus this afternoon on some.
- The Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Table
- The Lord’s Table as a Sign and Seal
Point 1: The Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Table
TEXT: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25
- “received from the Lord…” — Obviously, Paul was not there when Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper with the 12 disciples. This must be a direct revelation from Christ.
- “Which is for you…” — Not just “given for you”. The language here speaks of substitutionary atonement. “my body, which is given in your place or instead of you.”
- “the cup” — Refers to the wine
Compare with Matthew 26:27-28:
- “… this is my blood”
- “… poured out” — Language of sacrifice, atonement
EXPLAIN: How should we understand the terms?
- “This is my body”… “this is my blood” — Are they literal? Or simply figurative (representation only)?
- How do we believers “eat the body of Christ” and “drink his blood” through the elements?
- This implies that Christ is in the Lord’s Table and received by believers—but question is, “in what sense or what manner?”
Four major explanations on the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Table.
- Trans-substantiation (SPELL) – Roman Catholic
- “Trans-” (related to “transform”) – Change, “Substance” = Change beyond the actual substance. Hence, the real substance of the bread and the wine turn into the actual body and blood of Christ.
- “This is my body… my blood” taken literally. But we know we can’t take it literally, because Christ even said, “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7). We must take it metaphorically. Meaning, the bread is not the actual body of Christ, but it signifies the body of Christ.
- Theological contradictions:
- Christ is now in the heavens (he’s no longer physically here). Hence, even in his glorified body, Christ’s human body cannot be divided and omnipresent anywhere the Lord’s Supper is being taken (e.g., here in the Philippines, USA, etc.)
- At the same time, if the bread and wine become actual body and blood of Christ, it implies that Christ’s body is being broken and blood being poured out as a sacrifice each time the Lord’s Supper is done. But read Hebrews 10:14, 18
- Consubstantiation – Martin Luther** (**there’s really no perfect theologian)
- Rejected transubstantiation but substituted “consubstantiation”
- “Con-” means together. For Luther, the bread and wine remains bread and wine, but Christ is locally present in, under, or alongside the elements. In that case, whenever a believer partakes of it, he is actually taking Christ.
- Christ said about the bread, “This is my body” not “This is accompanied by my body” or “This goes together with my body”
- At the same time, it doesn’t correct the Roman Catholic error on the local presence of Christ’s human body. (i.e., it is still being divided in various places at the same time)
- Commemoration (Remembrance)
- “Do this in remembrance of me” – 1 Corinthians 24-25
- Associated with Ulrich Zwingli (Swiss Reformer). This view rejects the bodily and local presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (against RC and Lutheran views).
- This view sees the Lord’s Table as mere sign or symbol of the spiritual truth, and just that. The Lord’s Table only figuratively represents and signifies the spiritual blessings in the body and blood of Christ—but it doesn’t actually give and seal those blessings in the believer.
- Hence, many churches today view it as mere “Ordinance” (i.e., something we just have to do) rather than a “Holy Sacrament.”
- Yes, Christ said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The Lord’s Table symbolizes and reminds us of Christ’s death and sacrifice… But Christ did not say, “This represents my body and my blood,” rather “This is my body and my blood.” Hence, it is more than just a symbol.
- The Reformed View
- Associated with John Calvin and the entire Reformed tradition.
- “This is my body and blood, which is for you… take, eat, drink, all of you. Do this often.” These words communicate that there is something deeply significant in the Supper.
As expressed in Belgic Confession, Christ did not institute the Supper for nothing. Hindi pwedeng sabihin na, “Wala naman talaga si Cristo kapag nagte-take tayo ng Lord’s Table.” Eh ano yun, para saan pa yun? “Symbolism lang, para maalala natin yung ginawa Niya?”
Eh may Word of God naman, para ipaalala satin yung ginawa niya. Bakit pa kailangan tinapay at alak? Bakit hindi na lang re-enactment nung pagkapako Niya sa krus (or manood tayo ng movie)?… At kung wala ang tunay na presensya ni Cristo, eh bakit pa niya sasabihin “This is my body and my blood” at bakit pa tayo kakain ng tinapay at alak? Ano yun, para lang may makain at mainom tayo?
- When Christ said, “This is my body and blood, take, eat, drink…” these words express that there is a real and actual benefit received whenever believers eat and drink the elements. And therefore, Christ is really present and he is the one truly received (not a mere bread and wine).
- Christ uses the language of sacraments. What is a Sacrament? Visible signs and seals of invisible spiritual realities attached to it. (To be more discussed later on)
So the bread and wine doesn’t change, nor locally accompanied by the physical body of Christ. It symbolizes the body and blood of Christ… but it is more than that, more than just a sign & symbol that makes us remember what Christ did in the past… It also gives us and seals to us the true body and blood of Christ now.
How could that be possible? By the work of the Holy Spirit within believers.
See the same language John 6:56
- Louis Berkhof puts it well:
The body and blood of Christ, though absent and locally present only in heaven, communicate a life-giving influence to the believer who receives the elements. That influence, though real, is not physical but spiritual and mystical through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the enjoyment of its spiritual benefits depends on the measure of faith by which the believer receives Christ.
- Ang nakikipag-isa (or nag-u-unite) sa atin sa katawan at dugo ni Cristo ay hindi yung pisikal na tinapay at alak, kundi ang Banal na Espiritu na Siyang Espiritu ni Cristo at nananahan sa bawat mananampalataya. At dahil dito, hindi rin naman po tayo magkakamali kung sasabihin natin na tuwing Lord’s Table ang kinakain at iniinom natin ay ang tunay na katawan at dugo ni Cristo. Pero yung paraan kung paano nangyayari yun ay hindi sa pisikal na paraan, kundi sa espirituwal na paraan—sa pamamagitan ng pananampalataya.
- So while we eat and drink the bread and cup through our mouths—which nourishes our bodies, we eat and drink Christ himself through faith—which nourishes our souls.
- IMPLICATION: Therefore, we have this immediate implication that whenever we gather together in the Lord’s Table, we’re not only gathering for a piece of bread and the wine. We’re gathering for Christ and with Christ himself. Though he is not locally present, by his Spirit indwelling in us believers—he is present and enjoyed in his whole person, both body and blood.
- APPLY: That’s why we must approach it with sincerity in our hearts and with expectation that through the Spirit, we will receive everything presented and promised to us through the Sacrament.
What then is presented, promised, and given to us through this Sacrament?
Point 2: The Lord’s Table as a Sign and Seal
TEXT: 1 Corinthians 11:26
- The sacrament symbolizes the Lord’s sacrificial death.
- In the words, “This is my body, which is for you,” some manuscripts say, “this is my body which is broken for you.”
TEXT: Matthew 26:28
- Christ said: “This is my blood… which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (the purpose & outcome).”
With these words, Christ wants us to understand that the whole Sacrament (i.e., actions of breaking and pouring, the eating and drinking) signifies and seals to us certain truths concerning his death and all its benefits.
As visible and outward signs, what does the Lord’s Table signify to us (4 things):
- Symbolizes the Lord’s death — As mentioned already, the broken bread and poured out wine represent the sacrifice that Christ gave for our benefit, for the benefit of his people.
- Symbolizes our participation in Christ’s death through faith — As we eat and drink the elements, we are figuratively “eating the flesh of the Son of Man, and drinking his blood” (John 6:53). It signifies that Christ is given to us, and by faith, we are receiving him and his benefits.
- Symbolizes the effects of this participation in Christ’s death — Not only the death of Christ and our union with Christ through faith. It also conveys the life, strength, and joy that we receive in Christ.
- Symbolizes our communion with one another — Read 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. Because we partake of Christ and become united with him through faith, we are also united as his body. And that’s what it signifies whenever we gather and commune together.
Through the indwelling Spirit, all the truths signified in the Sacrament becomes actual and real to the believer.
What does it seal (4 things)?
- It seals the love of Christ — It doesn’t only testify about the death of Christ, but it also assures us that Christ died for us. It assures us that his body is broken and blood poured out “for us.”
- It seals our participation in Christ — It assures us that we have a personal claim on all the covenant promises of God. That Christ is indeed your Savior. As you personally hold the bread and wine in your hands, it assures you that Christ and all his benefits are yours… And that is why…
- It seals our actual possession of Christ — EXAMPLE: As Christians, we can ask ourselves, “How do you know that you are forgiven? How do you know that Christ is yours?” He declares it to us in his Word, and he confirms us through the Sacrament. That as we take in the visible bread and wine, the Spirit assures us that we actually possess within ourselves forgiveness and eternal life.
- It seals to us our identity in Christ — As God gives to us his covenant promise, it also becomes our badge of profession, testifying and assuring us that he is our King and we are his people.
And in all of these assurance, the Holy Spirit refreshes and strengthens our faith. That is why it is a means of grace.
Again, how is it possible? Through the Holy Spirit who works out and seals those truths in us through faith. How exactly it happens? It is spiritual, it is a mystery.
It’s hard to fully comprehend, yet true believers know this. Whenever we miss the Lord’s Day, it weakens us, but whenever we partake it, it strengthens our faith.
That’s why without faith, the Sacrament is useless. As mentioned in Belgic Confession Article 35, the wicked and unbelievers may take the elements itself but not the truths and realities conveyed in it.
Final Implications and Application
Read 1 Corinthians 11:27-29
If you are conscious for yourself that you are estranged from God and his people because of your sinful lifestyle, do not take it… The same goes to some of our covenant children, who are not yet allowed until you clearly profess repentance and faith in Christ.
But let it not discourage you, rather long that God will make the gospel clearer to you. It is not the sacrament that will create faith in you. It is through the Word of God. Long that God will give you true repentance and faith in Christ (and restoration to those under discipline). That you may come and enjoy the communion.
For believers, in everything we discussed, is this how we understand (and not just understand, but approach and partake) the Table of the Lord?
Admittedly, not all the time. The tendency to have everything as mere ritual, mere symbolism. Tendency to view it as merely about a bread and wine.
APPLY (4 things): So how do we sincerely and properly regard and approach the Table?
- Do not miss the Lord’s Table.
It’s not just bread and wine. Something real happens in the Lord’s Table. It is the very means the Lord instituted for our spiritual nourishment.
- PRAY and prepare yourself (mind, heart). Remember the truths of the gospel.
Everything we do in the Lord’s Table reminds us that Christ was broken and poured out for us, He was pierced and crushed for our transgressions (Isaiah 53). He sacrificed himself in order to give us sinners forgiveness and eternal life.
And it also speaks to us the reality, that through his Spirit, Christ continues to nourish us with himself. As the Puritan William Gurnall said, “We are not only made alive by Christ, but we live by Christ.”
That’s why we partake the Lord’s Supper regularly. And it conveys to us the reality that we persevere not because we are in ourselves strong and wise, but because it is Christ who continues to keep and sustain us.
- Take it with faith and joy.
Some would ask, “Do I have enough faith to come to the Table?” Well, do you repent and mourn over your sins? Do you believe in Christ and desire more and more to live for him? Then this is for you, to strengthen you. Take it, for the promise of Christ is given not because you are perfect or worthy, but because God is gracious.
Believe what Christ said in John 6:54-58, that “whoever feeds on his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life.” Believe it, embrace it, and rejoice in it. The Lord’s Table is a celebration of the goodness of God.
- Sanctify yourselves.
In the end, Christ gives himself to us, and we respond in gratitude. If we are partakers of Christ—we cannot be partakers of sin and this world?… But more than that, the Lord’s Table assures us that Christ continues to strengthen and sustain us through his Word and Spirit. Let that be our encouragement for holiness, knowing that he provides every strength and comfort we need in this life to glorify him and enjoy him forever.
Reuel Dawal is the Minister of the Word and Sacraments at ZCRC. He was an intern prior to being ordained and installed as the church's new pastor. He is currently finishing his Biblical and Theological Studies at the Miami International Seminary (MINTS) online. He and his wife Yeng are married since 2017 and lives in Imus, Cavite.