“Is the Lord present when we participate in the Communion?” someone asks. “If so, is he ‘really’ present or only symbolically? Why do many churches not call the bread and wine what Jesus and Paul called them, namely, the body and blood of Christ?”
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Can’t we leave some room here for sheer mystery? Why do we think we have to be able to explain everything? I fear that many of us have focused so narrowly on the “Sola Fide” (“faith alone”) of the Reformation that we neglect or even despise the physical elements by which Christ promises to encounter his believing people, whether the water of baptism, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist), or the anointing oil in praying for the sick. This over-reaction to an unbiblical kind of sacramentalism borders on the ancient gnostic heresy which denied that deity became flesh in the man Jesus Christ. Faithfulness to Christ’s ordinances does not negate faith, but rather expresses it.
This statement is thoroughly evangelical, if we go on to say that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are spiritually beneficial only when they are accompanied by confidence in the saving work which God accomplished through Jesus Christ. It is not biblical to think that any sacrament mediates grace apart from the recipient’s trust in Jesus Christ’s offering of himself, once for all time, for the sin of the world. Nor is God limited to the sacraments in dispensing his grace, although he promises always to bless graciously anyone who meets him in these divinely-ordained events.
But exactly how is Christ present in Communion? I like the way Queen Elizabeth I expressed it, admidst heated controversy between Catholics and all sorts of Protestants. “His was the word that spake it; He took the bread and brake it; And what His word doth make it; That I believe and take it.” In other words, only God knows for sure, and I trust him!
So I will continue to say, when presiding at the Eucharist — “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. Take this and eat it in remembrance that Christ’s body was given for you, and feed on him in your hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving.” . . . “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. Take this and drink it in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you. And be thankful.”