A second look at The Lord's Supper

I cannot help at times but feel uncomfortable with how Communion is viewed at church and at the larger Evangelical community.

Below is an account of the traditional Reformed position on the Lord's Supper which is held fast by most evangelicals:

In the Lord's Supper we are said to receive Christ and the benefits of His redemption to our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace. As our natural food imparts life and strength to our bodies, so this sacrament is one of the divinely appointed means to strengthen the principle of life in the soul of the believer and to confirm his faith in the promises of the gospel. By partaking of the bread and wine, the symbols of Christ's body and blood given for us, we are united to Him as our head, our life. He then works in us to will and to do of His own good pleasure. He works in us according to the laws of our nature in the production of everything that is good, so that it is from Him that all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works proceed. It is not, therefore, we that live, but Christ that liveth in us.

What our Lord said to the apostles He says in the most impressive manner in this ordinance to every believing communicant: 'This is my body, broken for you... this is my blood shed for you.' These words when received by faith fill the heart with joy, confidence, gratitude, love, and devotion, so that the believer rises from the Lord's table refreshed by the infusion of a new life.

The efficacy of this sacrament, according to the Reformed doctrine, is not to be referred to any virtue in the ordinance itself, whether in its elements or actions; much less to any virtue in the administrator; nor to the mere power of the truths which it signifies; nor to the inherent divine power in the word or promise by which it is attended; nor to the real presence of the material body and blood of Christ (i.e., of the body born of the Virgin), whether by the way of transubstatination, consubstantiaition. or impanation; but only to the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in them that receive the sacrament of His body and blood.

To summarize the Reformed position: The Lord's Supper is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ as a memorial of His death wherein, under the symbols of bread and wine, His body as broken and His blood as shed for the remission of sins are signified and, by the power of the Holy Ghost. sealed and applied to believers. Thereby their union with Christ and their mutual fellowship are set forth and confirmed, their faith strengthened, and their souls nourished unto eternal life.

In this sacrament Christ is present not bodily, but spiritually - not in the sense of local nearness, but of efficacious operation. His people receive Him not with the mouth, but by faith; they do not receive His flesh and blood as material particles, but His body as broken and His blood as shed. The union thus signified and effected is not a corporeal union, not a mixture of substances, but a spiritual and mystical union due to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The efficacy of this sacrament as a means of grace is not in the signs, nor in the service, nor in the minister, nor in the word, but in the attending influence of the Holy Ghost. 1

But somehow I feel as though as there is no communal element whenever we would administer this ordinance or Sacrament (if you may), this act was first instituted in the form of a dinner in celebration of the Passover, it was administered to an assemblage of men of whom (except Judas Iscariot) would become the first Christians to belong to the church. Rowan Williams tells of how: “the sacrament of the Eucharist as a the regular renewal of this charismatic identity is again primarily a witness to the divine invitation into the place where Christ stands, into Christ’s relation with the Father, opened to us by the paschal event, by his cross and resurrection.2

Also I believe that the Communion or the Eucharist should be looked at in the context of the Church as part of its communal witness to the world which is done be the communal act of worship that believers in a community of faith carries out our Divine affinity with God that was made possible through the Resurrection of Jesus, thus the Christian community is united as it gathers around the risen Lord and participates in his life; and the life of the community. 3

As Richard Lischer puts it:

“The church exists for the world, but it renews its identity when it gathers for worship. It speaks in the world, but it learns its ‘distinctive talk’ when its members come together around word and sacrament. Worship is often misconceived as a series of special ceremonies which are intended for the edification of the individual believer. Yet baptism is not an episode of private initiation but an action involving the entire church. Confession is not a formula for personal remorse but a moment in the ongoing mutual admonition and absolution of the brothers and sisters. Eucharist is not a ritual following the sermon from which one may excuse oneself, but the community’s meal with the risen Lord. Doxology is not a hymn to be sung but a life to be lived. Preaching is not a virtuoso performance but the language of the church that accompanies the laborious formation of a new people.”4

Perhaps the confusion lies at the fact that for most modern churches fail to look at communion “by virtue of the church’s inclusion in the totus Christus, the base-practices of the church (Baptism, Eucharist, the preached Word) which were instituted by Christ in his incarnation reveal and embody the eschatological telos of the final communio. The sacramental practices of the church participate in the christic and pneumatic dynamism of the immanent triune life which is the telos of the world in Christ.”5

Henri Nouwen in his last years wrote:

“The Eucharist indeed makes us church – ecclesia – which means people called away from slavery to freedom. Yes, we are family, we are friends, we are business associates. But more than that we are people of God journeying together to our home, the place where Jesus went to prepare a place for us.

There is much to enjoy in life, but unless it can be enjoyed as a foretaste of what we will see and hear in the house of God, our mortality will easily make all pleasure vain, transitory, and even empty.”6

Perhaps there is a great need for modern Churches to look at their ordinances in light of the proper Biblical context of their institution by Christ. Moreover we ought to look at it in light of being a community gathered around the reality of the risen Lord whom we look forward to His glorious appearing, also we should look at it as a Divine mystery upon which the Reformer John Calvin regarded as a visible sign of an invisible reality saying that he would rather experience the reality of the Supper than understand it. 7


1Hodge ,Charles An Overview of The Lord's Supper http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/etc/printer-friendly.asp?ID=367

2Williams, Rowan - Why Study the Past? p. 83.

3Myers, Benjamin - Theology for beginners (17): Church http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2006/09/theology-for-beginners-17-church.html

4Lischer, Richard A Theology of Preaching: The Dynamics of the Gospel p. 78-79.


6 Nouwen, Henri - Our Secord Birth: Christian reflections on death and new life p.25


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