When I was still dating my now wife, we had made plans about a week in advance for her to cook dinner on an upcoming Thursday. This was to be the first time she ever made me dinner, so she made sure to prepare her best. When the day finally arrived she crafted the spread and then waited, and waited, and waited. See, I wasn’t there. I had forgotten about our plans that evening and was off doing something else. She never called, I never remembered, and she ate alone. We carried on in our relationship. She never even brought it up to me until long after the fact, and both shame and utter embarrassment overcame me once I learned of my folly. Yet ironically a great many Christians whom partake in the Lord’s Supper assume from the onset God isn’t there in the meal. They are willing to call it communion and yet don’t take stock into how we are tangibly connected to Him while partaking. They assume God is out of it entirely, for those of this opinion logically He only wants you to stare at the food and remember He exists. There are also those whom believe God is there physically. That He becomes the meal in very flesh of very flesh. I will quickly examine both of these extremes and then consider the middle ground – which is a meal of God with us.
To those who acknowledge a purely memorialist view (The idea that communion is just an action to recall), they do malice towards the clear teaching of scripture of God’s spiritual yearnings and presence in our lives. We are commanded by scripture to come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). We are informed by Jesus in Matthew 18:20 that even a company of two can gather together in His name, and He is there with them. We are even told that we can be unseen by any other, and yet God still hears our prayer (Matthew 6:6). The pure memorialist does injury to the very attentive, intimate, and present nature of our bridegroom. It is a view that is presuming God is not in the meal – that God’s presence is absent within the tangible gift of communion.
The supper as a sacrament is both a sign and seal. The sacrament points forward and backwards, but also to an active communion in the moment. The Jewish origins of our faith saw remembrance not just as something to recollect, but we are in remembering, experiencing the reality in the present. So for us today in looking back we can remember the words of our savior, which state this is my body and this is my blood and treat those statements as honest ones by accepting them as spiritually true (Matthew 26:26-30) and by connecting them to His cross, and we also can look forward to the one who physically sits upon His throne in heaven and will dine with us in the ultimate marriage supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:6-9), but lastly we can look at the present and be assured that God is in the gift of the meal through the power of His spirit. As 1 Corinthians 12:4 reminds us, God has a variety of gifts he bestows upon us, and all those gifts are of the same spirit – and He has labored on our behalf so we can spiritually partake of him today!
When it comes to the physically present position, those who hold that position do malice to the reality of the incarnation. God took on human flesh and that flesh still has a body. It is seated in the heavens (Ephesians 2:6) and as we confess in our earliest creeds He will come again to judge both the living and the dead. The physical presence view first off has a continuity error because Jesus would be physically returning to earth continuously through the sacramental worship of His church through constant ‘micro’-incarnations occurring all around the world. When we take the time to acknowledge this, we can begin to see a real problem with holding this view both eschatologically and theologically.
But lets also quickly look towards the upper room itself. When He first offers the meal, He does so to old covenant Jews. These are Jews still under the Mosaic law. The Mosaic Law prohibits the physical drinking of human blood and consuming human flesh [Obviously, this is still a good one to keep!] (ex: Deut. 12:23-25, Leviticus 17:14). If they were taking Jesus literally and understanding they were about to eat a part of Him (while He physically stood before them), Jesus was causing them to sin against the Mosaic Law. Hence, if physical presence is correct He caused the disciples to sin and transgress the law, and has established for the church an ordinance that violates the law He fulfilled, until He comes again.
Our God is not physically scattered into pieces, He’s physically in heaven, and yet also our God is not spiritually absent – He is spiritually present within the meal (unlike my absent-minded college self). He’s the God who is there, and this most especially includes the gift of the Lord’s Supper. Its means are not void of His Spirit. He has poured His life and Spirit out in order to give us gifts beyond measure, which most certainly includes the sacraments we have received from His hands.