Q 78. Do the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ?
A 78. No. Just as the water of baptism is not changed into Christ’s blood and does not itself wash away sins but is simply a divine sign and assurance of these things, so too the holy bread of the Lord’s Supper does not become the actual body of Christ, even though it is called the body of Christ in keeping with the nature and language of sacraments.
Q 79. Why then does Christ call the bread his body and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood, and Paul use the words, a participation in Christ’s body and blood?
A 79. Christ has good reason for these words. He wants to teach us that just as bread and wine nourish the temporal life, so too his crucified body and poured-out blood are the true food and drink of our souls for eternal life.
But more important, he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge, that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work, share in his true body and blood as surely as our mouths receive these holy signs in his remembrance, and that all of his suffering and obedience are as definitely ours as if we personally had suffered and made satisfaction for our sins.
Justification by Jesus Christ through faith is the cornerstone of the Christian religion. There is nothing more distinctly Christian than this doctrine. During the Reformation, there was one thing that was debated almost as much as this doctrine and that was the theology of the Lord’s Supper.
One of the main points of argument came from the attempt at interpreting what was meant when Jesus broke the bread and poured the cup saying “this is my body” and “this is my blood.”
The Catholic view at this time is a doctrine known as transubstantiation and held that, in the moment of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the physical bread and wine were transformed literally into Jesus actually body and blood. They believed that the actual loaf was Jesus’ actual body.
This, for the Reformers, was nothing more than “hocus pocus,” a belief that was intended to draw people to church for the purpose of communion. More than this, however, comes the notion that this didn’t follow with the revelation of Scripture or Jesus’ self-revelation either. Jesus also said that He was “the Good Shepherd” and that He was “the Gate.” Neither statement was meant to be factually accurate in that Jesus tended sheep or swung on hinges, but was in fact, a metaphor for the who Jesus was and what His ministry was about.
To this doctrine, the Reformers had several thoughts:
Consubstantiation: Jesus physical Body and Blood were present alongside the physical bread and wine.
Memorial Meal: The Lord’s Supper was meant to be a time of remembrance of the sacrifice that Jesus made.
Spiritual Presence: That Jesus is really present during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, that He indeed communes with us through the Holy Spirit, as we also remember Him. In this, we feast on Christ through faith and the experience of participating in the sacrament.
Why does this really matter, though? Each way of understanding it was trying to get at one thing: what does it mean when Scripture says that we are “participating” in the Body and Blood of Christ? How does that work and what purpose does that serve?
There are so many meanings and so much symbolism that is associated with the celebration of the sacraments. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal as well as a proclamation of the Gospel. It is a way in which we are spiritually nourished through a physical action.
Yet one thing that is uniquely important about celebrating Communion is that fact that it is a time in which we are invited to commune with God at His table. We are participating in exactly what we are: the Body of Christ. It is a reminder of who we are and of whose we are. It is a reminder that we are not in this alone, neither as individuals nor as a church. It is a confirmation of our identity as a child of God and as a part of His body through God’s grace, shown in Jesus one sacrifice, and accepted by faith in Him.