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“Reflection on the Lord’s Supper” by Joe Ellis — June 2, 2024

Today, we are reflecting on what’s happening when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. When I speak about the Lord’s Supper, I certainly have my own convictions that I want to get across — specifically, I want to push against the view that the Lord’s Supper is only a symbol and that there is nothing really spiritual going on when we participate in the sacrament. I really appreciate what the Southern author, Flannery O’Connor’s said about the Lord’s Supper. She said, “If its just a symbol, to H... with it!” I’m sure she was using the word ‘hell’ in its technical and theological sense.

Let me tell you why her quote hits home personally — for a few years I worshiped and worked at a church that was a part of a denomination that viewed the Lord’s Supper as completely symbolic. When we celebrated the Lord’s Supper I was always grieved by how bored people seemed — I wanted to shout, “Buckle up and put on your crash helmets, you are not only encountering, but consuming the Living God in Jesus Christ!”

But it is nonetheless true that the Lord’s Supper is deeply symbolic — after all the bread is still bread and the juice or wine still that — but it’s equally true that when we come to the Lord’s Supper with believing faith, through the Spirit, the Lord’s Supper becomes far more than what we see, touch and taste. This is a mystery, but through this mystery, the Lord’s Supper becomes an encounter. I find the Heidelberg Catechism really captures this tension beautifully.

The Heidelberg Catechism is a wonderful set of teachings that Reformed Churches across history have embraced, believing that the Catechism captures the essence of our faith in a true and simple way. And really, the teachings in the Heidelberg Catechism are, for the most part, in lock step with other orthodox Christian church’s throughout the ages. So, I invite you to listen and reflect on what the church has taught about what is happening in the Lord’s Supper.

Q & A 75

Q. How does the Holy Supper remind and assure you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and in all his benefits?

A. In this way:Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat this broken bread and to drink this cup in remembrance of him. With this command come these promises:

First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup shared with me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross.

Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the one who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood.

Q & A 76

Q. What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood?

A. It means to accept with a believing heart the entire suffering and death of Christ and thereby to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But it means more. Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us, we are united more and more to Christ’s blessed body.

And so, although he is in heaven and we are on earth, we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. And we forever live on and are governed by one Spirit, as the members of our body are by one soul.

Q & A 77

Q. Where does Christ promise to nourish and refresh believers with his body and blood as surely as they eat this broken bread and drink this cup?

A. In the institution of the Lord’s Supper: “The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is [broken]* for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, 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.”

This promise is repeated by Paul in these words:

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

Q & A 78

Q. Do the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ?

A. No. Just as the water of baptism is not changed into Christ’s blood and does not itself wash away sins but is simply a divine sign and assurance of these things, so too the holy bread of the Lord’s Supper does not become the actual body of Christ, even though it is called the body of Christ in keeping with the nature and language of sacraments.

Q & A 79

Q. Why then does Christ call the bread his body and the cup his blood,or the new covenant in his blood, and Paul use the words, a sharing in Christ’s body and blood?

A. Christ has good reason for these words.He wants to teach us that just as bread and wine nourish the temporal life, so too his crucified body and poured-out blood are the true food and drink of our souls for eternal life.

But more important, he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge, that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work, share in his true body and blood as surely as our mouths receive these holy signs in his remembrance, and that all of his suffering and obedience are as definitely ours as if we personally had suffered and made satisfaction for our sins.


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