The Eucharist

Even for Paul there was mystery in the Christian faith, especially when it came to the work of Christ on behalf of his church. Speaking in the context of marriage he would say, this mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). The preface to his summary of the rudimentary facts of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension reads like this: Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16). Christianity is not in opposition to a healthy and vigorous life of the mind; nor is it in opposition to mystery. It is opposed to stupidity and ignorance on the one hand and to rationalism on the other. When we come to the topic of the Eucharist we come to a topic of great mystery. Perhaps this is why the New Testament writers consider the Lord’s Supper from so many different angles. There are at least five of them.

We eat. We drink. We enjoy.

First, we find the New Testament speaking of this covenant meal as a feast of thanksgiving. Even the word the church has chosen to use to refer to this meal bespeaks this. The word Eucharist is brought directly into English from the Greek word eucharisteo, which means “to give thanks.” Sure enough, then, we hear of the early church, And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46).

Second, the New Testament writers look upon this covenant meal as a meal of communion or fellowship. Hence this meal is often referred to simply as communion. It is interesting that many who refer to this meal as communion don’t believe that communion is actually taking place. Paul sees this as a meal of sharing (koinonia) in Christ’s blood and body (1 Cor. 10:16-17). This truly is a means by which God communicates his grace. Perhaps more than any place, here is the mystery.

Third, the Eucharist is viewed as a time to remember Christ and his work on our behalf. In fact, this is one of the more prominent aspects of the Supper.

Fourth, is the idea of sacrifice. Not the idea, of course, that Christ is somehow re-sacrificed during the Eucharist (interestingly enough, not even Catholics believe that, though uninformed and ignorant Protestants often accuse them of such teaching). Rather, during the communion meal we are reminded of Christ’s sacrifice, that he was both victim and priest—offered and offering (cf. Heb. 9:14).

Finally, there is the idea of presence. This is where the Reformed doctrine truly excels. Christ is spiritually present in the bread and the wine, so much so that Jesus had the audacity to use the word “is” in relation to them. I like to think of state of being verbs like equal signs. Just think of the sentence, “This is he.” Now replace the “is” with “=” and you got it. Christ is spiritually present in the bread and wine.

All of this brings us to the profound mystery of this holy meal. All of this reminds us that the meal is really more relational than it is rational. We eat. We drink. And we enjoy. Thank you, Lord, for feeding us so richly.