Christ as Spiritual Food Offered in Communion
January 19, 2017 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
The elders of Oak Hills have decided to transition our observance of the Lord’s Supper from a monthly occurrence to a weekly occurrence. The ultimate reason behind this decision is our understanding of the meaning and significance of this meal. We understand that some may have questions and even concerns about this change. I am using these few weeks of Touchpoint articles to unpack our reasoning behind the switch and try to address some of the common questions. We will also provide a time to ask questions at our annual congregational meeting on January 29.
Last week we started this discussion by looking at what the Westminster Confession of Faith says about the meaning of communion. We saw in the first paragraph of chapter 29 on the Lord's Supper that this meal is a remembrance, a seal, and a bond. This week I want us to consider another statement from the WCF on the significance of communion. WCF 29:7 states:
Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death.
I'll admit that this is a dense sentence, but it is important to our understanding of what happens when we receive communion. The writers of the WCF wanted to affirm that there is a grace present in the receiving of communion. In communion we "feed upon Christ crucified" and are, therefore, spiritually nourished.
This understanding of communion is seeking to explain Jesus' teaching on being the Bread of Life. Jesus says in John 6, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst... I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh" (v. 35 & 51).
Jesus presents himself as spiritual food that leads to eternal life. By offering his body on the cross as our substitute, to take on himself the just penalty for our sin, Jesus' flesh becomes the source of life for us. In communion, we ate a morsel of bread that signifies Christ’s broken body. So, while we eat the physical bread, by faith we are “eating” the spiritual nourishment of Christ’s sacrifice.
John Calvin wrote a century before the Westminster divines and influenced their understanding of communion. Calvin writes, “Christ is the only food of our soul” (Institutes IV.17.1). As he addresses the topic of communion, Calvin points out that the only thing (or one) that feeds us spiritually, gives life to our souls, brings spiritual transformation, and renews us in the image of Christ is Christ himself, and, more specifically, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Only in the cross of Christ is our sin forgiven and wiped away. And only in the cross of Christ are we reconciled to God and gain access to new life in Christ. Therefore, Calvin contended that “Christ is the only food of our soul.”
Calvin then goes on to explain how this impacts our understanding of communion. The meal is not only a reminder of what Christ has done for us, but an opportunity to be satisfied all the more with the broken body and shed blood of Christ as our spiritual nourishment. He writes, “For as it is not the sight but the eating of bread that gives nourishment to the body, so the soul must partake of Christ truly and thoroughly, that by his energy it may grow up into spiritual life” (IV.17.5). The bread and cup are signs. In receiving the physical signs in communion, by faith we spiritually feed on that which is signified: Christ’s broken body and shed blood.
This means that communion is more than an opportunity to remember and be thankful for what Christ has done for us. Communion is the opportunity to be fed by Christ, to receive spiritual nourishment. One of the main reasons the elders want to serve communion on a weekly basis is that we want you to be nourished by Christ. He is the only food for your soul.
Next week I’ll address some of the main concerns and questions we have heard about weekly communion.