Heidelbasics: Weekly Reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev. Chuck Muether
78. Do, then, the bread and the wine become the real body and blood of Christ?
No, but as the water in Baptism is not changed into the blood of Christ, nor becomes the washing away of sins itself, being only the divine token and assurance thereof, so also in the Lord’s Supper the sacred bread does not become the body of Christ itself, though agreeably to the nature and usage of sacraments it is called the body of Christ.
79. Why then does Christ call the bread His body, and the cup His blood, or the New Testament in His blood; and the Apostle Paul, the communion of the body and the blood of Christ?
Christ speaks thus with great cause, namely, not only to teach us thereby, that like as the bread and wine sustain this temporal life, so also His crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink of our souls unto life eternal; but much more, by this visible sign and pledge to assure us that we are as really partakers of His true body and blood by the working of the Holy Spirit, as we receive by the mouth of the body these holy tokens in remembrance of Him; and that all His sufferings and obedience are as certainly our own, as if we ourselves had suffered and done all in our own person.
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is amazingly relational. “Do this in remembrance of me” is a physical activity that those who profess Christ do, which is predicated upon Christ’s Spiritual activity and that which He had done in His person and work.
Communicant members receive His teaching by Word and Spirit and partake of the elements because of His Spiritual direction. The error in the false church presumes to take Christ off His triumphant throne and affix Him back on the cross as if he is being crucified all over again. The Lord’s Supper does not bring physically Christ down, but spiritually lifts the participant to Him.
This sacrament becomes an effectual means of salvation, not by any power in the elements, or any virtue derived from the piety or intention of him by whom it is administered, but only by the working of the Holy Spirit, and the blessing of Christ, by whom it is instituted.
It truly comes down to this: there are two parts of the sacrament that one must understand. First is the outward and sensible sign, used according to Christ’s own appointment, the bread and wine, and second an inward and spiritual grace thereby signified–that grace which comes from Christ, from His actual spiritual presence. Together these two parts make up what is understood to be the sacramental union.
For the sacrament to be of true benefit, both of these parts must be together–the sign and its signified grace, and this sacramental union is the substance of Christ’s physically showing and teaching His disciples (and the church today) the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
If the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper nourishes our souls on the basis of Christ’s Word and ultimate sacrifice, how does the believer technically benefit from partaking of the elements?
The bread is the body and the cup (the wine) is the blood and both point to the cross. The Lord gives the church this ordinance to us with eternal, relational significance! The sacrament is true soul food. Just as bodies need physical replenishment, so do souls.
The Lord’s Supper is for those who are spiritually hungry for Christ, for those who desire to relate to Him and to God. The sacrament is for those who recognize their sin, desire to mortify the old nature, and cling to what is good, noble, and true.
In the Reformed church at large, denominations differ on the frequency of this sacrament’s administration as do they differ in their approaches on preparation, but all faithful churches are eager for their members to think personally and hard on these questions:
Do you even know your hunger? Do you desire a closer walk with God by relating to Him through His Word, by what He reveals?
Jesus desires that we know Him through the Word and sacrament. The Table reminds all that if Christ did not come into this world to save us from our sins, we could never relate to the Father. The Lord brought us to the Father by His sacrificial blood and continues today to mediate on our behalf, so that the believer’s words are perfected and made suitable to a holy and just God.
Do you desire to be nourished by this meal, and if so how did you prepare for it? Have you examined your heart, searched your soul: what is your relationship to Him who saved you?
One of the delights of the evil one is to have believers so preoccupied that they fail to see themselves spiritually starving, and in their spiritually emaciated state they neglect their relationship to God and to each other.
In Luke 22 Christ taught the disciples as He teaches us today: Do this in remembrance of Me. If anyone fails to heed His teaching, they fail to approach His table well; that believer has failed to have faith strengthened, resulting in drifting away from God.
Dear friend, without a nourished and vibrant faith, assurance weakens. The unity that binds becomes loose. Now, one needs to be careful here. Some may think that infallible assurance is essential to faith, but the Westminster Confession properly points something out:
“This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it.”
Nonetheless, it is the duty of each believer to give all diligence to make his or her calling and election sure, that the heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of Christ’s assurance. No believer should be inclined to looseness.
As the catechism points out, this visible sign and pledge assures the believer that the actual partaking of His true body and blood by the working of the Holy Spirit comes down to the true meat and drink of the soul unto life eternal. The sacrament assures us that we are His: “…that all His sufferings and obedience are as certainly our own, as if we ourselves had suffered and done all in our own person.”
So, dear believer, feed on Christ. Feed on His Word and on His sacrament, and your faith will grow. Do you not want to feast on that which signifies the glorious relationship you have in Christ?