What exactly happens when you have the Lord's Supper?
Most think that the celebration of Communion is just a memorial. That is to say, it is a time where you simply remember what Christ did on the Cross. However, such a view empties the word communion of any meaning. The truth is we do much more than remember and have a cognitive experience at the Table. We really do commune with Christ. Consider the following:
2. By faith we feed upon Christ
In John 6 Jesus expresses that he is the bread of life and that we must “eat his flesh and drink his blood.” While this passage was given before the institution of the Lord’s Supper, it is certainly informative of what happens in the Supper. Jesus expresses how eating and drinking go together with faith, something that is very much part and parcel of the Table communion. Note the following:
a) In verse 56 Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” This abiding is talking about our union and communion with Christ. When we partake of the elements in the Lord’s Supper we are granted communion with Christ by the Holy Spirit. Just as the physical elements enter our system and become one with us through the digestion process, Christ enters our system. He indwells us in order to supply us with the energy to live for him in this world (Letham).
b) In verse 57 Jesus introduces a Trinitarian nuance. "As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me." Christ lives because of the Father. In parallel to this Jesus says we live because we feed upon him. In the Supper the Spirit brings Christ to us that our faith may savor him.
3. Communion is a participation in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17).
The word Paul uses in this passage means to commune or fellowship with. The language is full of that robust union with Christ imagery. He thus expresses that there is a real fellowship that one experiences while at the table of the Lord. Christ is brought to us and we fellowship with him by means of the Spirit's working in our hearts.
In a similar fashion, Paul puts his discussion of the Lord’s Table in contrast to the pagan feasts. He says that one has fellowship with demons in the Gentile sacrificial feasts (1 Cor. 10:20-21). The reality that there is communion with demons when one participates in these pagan feasts is parallel to the communion one has with Christ in the Supper. Both are spiritual realities that actually occur.
4. The implication of unworthy partaking
Paul says that some of the Corinthians were partaking of the meal in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11:29-30). Those who were unworthy partakers had a curse applied to them. The Holy Spirit actually caused some of them to experience physical ailments, even death! It is as if the elements had become a poison!
If this is true for those who partake in an unworthy manner, then there must also be a parallel blessing that should accompany it for those who partake in a worthy manner. This spiritual advantage is assumed in the passage.
This communion with Christ that the Scripture emphasizes gives us great reason to come to the table with wide expectation and with deep reverence. We might not "feel" anything different or notice the presence of Christ, but the truth is very much real. Christ draws near spiritually to feed, nurture, and commune with us.
Robert Letham, The Lord's Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread.
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