We have already explained what happens in the Lord’s Supper. In this chapter, we will expand upon the previous chapter. Some illustrations will be used to give you some hints into what really is happening at the Lord’s Supper.
The Spirit’s Work
Whatever should happen to us can only happen to us on account of the Spirit’s work. He takes of Christ and makes them known to us (Jn. 16:13-15, cf. 15:26; also, 1 Cor. 2:12-13). That is His role in the life of a believer. Though the Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned in 1 Cor. 11, He is assumed because the New Testament establishes the simple truth the Lord Jesus is united to the Spirit and that the Spirit’s ministry is united to Christ.
The distance between the believer and Christ in heaven is vast. How do we get this Christ who is in heaven? As we exercise our faith in Christ, the Spirit bridges the gap. Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (Jn. 14:18, 28) How does He come to them? The passage makes it clear that Jesus speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit. He says it is necessary that He go so that the Spirit could come (Jn. 16:7). The Holy Spirit is the one who will bring the things of Christ to believers; to have the Spirit is to have Christ.
The Spirit brings the reality of the person and benefits of Christ to believers. When we eat the Lord’s Supper, those benefits of our Lord are brought home to us by the Spirit. A few illustrations may be of help here.
It is like a handshake and a hug
The Lord’s Supper is like a handshake and a hug. Of course, the Lord’s Supper is something more than a handshake. Yet, a handshake reveals one important truth to help us understand the Lord’s Supper. When we shake hands with a dear friend whom we have not seen for a long time, we are reacquainting ourselves with him. We are also fellowshipping with him at the same time. The relationship we’ve had is both re-established as well as acted out as we hug the friend. That is, we are actually experiencing the relationship as well as re-establishing it. The handshake and hug represents the relationship. The handshake and hug are also the expressions of the reality of the relationship — the friends are experiencing the relationship all over again.
So, the Lord’s Supper helps us to experience the relationship we have with Christ. The Supper not only represents our fellowship with Christ, it also ignites or conveys it as well. The Supper does not only point to the fellowship but we actually fellowship with Him in the Supper.
We get Him better in the Lord’s Supper
We have already said that we get no more in the Supper than what we get in God’s Word. But that is not to devalue the Supper. In the Supper, we get the same Christ we get in the Word but we get Him better. That is, the Word and the Supper end up enabling us to receive the same Christ better because this duty of celebrating the Supper has been appointed by God for that purpose. Let me explain.
We can drink water out of glass. It is quite simple. We can also drink water with a straw and this helps us bring it in faster. The Lord’s Supper is something like a straw in this example. There is still another example that may help.
Farmers used to get milk directly from a cow. It was always available to them and to us but only from a cow. But now, we can also get milk at the grocery store. It is packaged, sterilized and ready to drink. We can get milk either directly from a cow or from the grocery store. Of the two, which is easier? The one, you have to work at it to get the milk and it requires several steps to get it. At the grocery store, the milk is packaged and ready to receive. The Lord’s Supper is like the milk in the container — ready to be received. These are only analogies and like most analogies, they have their limitations.
Union and Communion with Christ
When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we fellowship with Christ. We participate or fellowship with his body and blood (1 Cor. 10:16). The two elements represent Christ and His work. We fellowship with Him and what He has done for us (His person and work).
An analogy, taken from John 15 is helpful here. We are branches abiding in Christ. As we abide in Him, like all branches on the plant, we derive nutrients, sustenance, life, etc. from that connection. Like that, as we partake of the Lord’s Supper, the reality of our relationship to Him becomes more focused. We are drawing from Him by faith all that we need.
Believers are united to Christ by faith and the Lord’s Supper heightens that reality. It does not create it but highlights it. We fellowship with his body and blood. The body and blood both represent Him as well as His sacrificial work on the cross. So when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are communing or fellowshipping with Jesus.
Communion: His Benefits
Let me distinguish between Christ and His benefits though the two should not be separated. Our Confession teaches that “we receive, and feed upon [spiritually], Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death.” The benefits of his death are the blessings that He earned for us (forgiveness of sin, propitiation, access to the Father, etc.).
As we noted, Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:16 we are participants of Christ’s body and blood. As we are united to Christ Himself, we derive from Him all that He has accomplished for us by His death. The Lord’s Supper points to the death because it was at the cross his body and blood was offered up to make atonement for us. In the Supper, we receive “the benefits of his death.” The Supper points to what He did — “we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes ” (1Cor. 11:26).
Communion: Our Strengthening and Encouragement
Anytime believers focus on and exercise faith in Christ, they are strengthened and encouraged. The Lord’s Supper is like a floodlight to Christ and His finished work on the cross. It helps us to zero in on what He has done! As that is done, as faith is exercised, each simple child of God is strengthened in the Lord and encouraged to live and die for Him.
That means the Lord’s Supper should be a source of great joy to us. When we are forced to look at our failures and disobedience at the Supper, we must not stay there. He says that we are to do this in remembrance of Him and not in memory of ourselves. When we do that, being honest, humble, and full of repentance and faith, we are encouraged because the Supper serves as a visible sermon to us — Christ died for me though I’ve act treacherously against Him. I am strengthened by the fact that all my sins have been forgiven and encouraged because He accepts me on account of what He has done.
Communion: Our Obligation
The Larger Catechism (#168) talks about how the Supper renews our “thankfulness, and engagement to God.” As we reflect on what Christ has done, as we by faith look to Him, and as we by faith eat and drink, we are grateful (eucharist) for what He done and are stimulated to follow hard after God.
Certain songs, smells, incidents trigger our memories and experiences. The smell of certain foods causes us to salivate while some songs excite us. The Lord’s Supper, by the power of the Spirit — even as we look to Christ by faith — stimulates our hearts to be thankful and to want to be closer to our Savior and to obey Him. The elements don’t do that but the Spirit takes all that the elements represent and triggers and engenders a thankful heart and a yearning desire to want and obey our Redeemer.
Communion: Love to my Christian Brothers and Sisters
The Lord’s Supper also testifies and renews our “mutual love and fellowship each with other, as members of the same mystical body.” Any anger, bitterness, etc. we might have had before the Supper, we are required to set aside and repent of our sins. The Supper reminds us that all of us are united to the same Savior and that we are untied to one another. As we by faith reflect on these things, the Spirit enables us to love each other that much more.
Again, let us illustrate this. Some married couples remember songs on the radio or certain events or meals with fondness. It “brings back memories” they might say. It can also engender greater love for their spouse at that moment. The Supper does that to believers — the Spirit engenders love for one another — not wrath. This is one of the ways we can know if we have profited from the Lord’s Supper.
1. What is the Lord’s Supper like a handshake or a hug?
2. Explain how the other two illustrations (straw and milk) show that we get Christ better in the Supper?
3. How does John 15 help us to understand the Lord’s Supper?
4. Explain how the Supper can be used by the Spirit to “renew” thankfulness and engagement to God”?
5. What is one of the ways we can know we have profited from the Supper?