In considering the general purpose of the Lord’s Supper, let’s examine the insights from John Calvin.
First it needs to be pointed out that it has pleased the good Lord to receive us by baptism into his Church as into His own house. There he wishes to train and direct us. He has therefore received us not that we be His servants, but rather that we be His own children. God wishes to be our devoted Father, nourishing us with spiritual food, supplying us with everything that we need in life. Hughes Oliphant Old, Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church. pp. 41
Here we see the Lord’s Supper in terms of the typology of the Father’s house. This was a major typology for Jesus. He used it in His Upper Room Discourse, “In my Father’s house are many rooms …” (cf. John 14:2). Again he used it in the parable of the prodigal son, “How many servants in my Father’s house have food enough…” (cf. Luke 15:17). These passages should remind us of the patriarchs of Genesis who provided a full supply of all the necessities of life for their whole households. The Supper is the provision of a loving father for His children; it is a sacrament that proclaims the love of God for His people.
Through the sacrament of Holy Communion, God provides us with the food and drink of the household of faith. However, in the passage quoted above, Calvin declares that this food and drink is nothing other than a living fellowship with Jesus Himself. To be received into the Father’s house is to be received into fellowship with the Son. In fact, it is by receiving the Son by faith that we enter into our Father’s house. This fellowship is experienced in prayer, in the study of Scripture, and in a particularly vivid way in the Supper. Additionally, the Word of the Lord, which is called both the Bread of Life and the Living Water, distributes it. Calvin states
That which is said of the Word is said as well of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, for it is by means of the sacrament, just as it is by means of the Word, that we are brought into communion with Jesus Christ. Hughes Oliphant Old, Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church. pp. 42
Here, we find a fundamental assumption worth repeating: the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to bring us into communion with Jesus Christ. Our Lord has established this meal so that it might sign and seal in our hearts the promises contained in the gospel. Furthermore, the Lord has instituted this sacrament in order to arouse and invoke praise due to His great goodness towards us. The Supper acts out, in symbolic form, the central messages of the gospel in visual signs. It presents us with an opportunity to experience the truth with our standard senses. In this way, the Supper is the Word made visible as it speaks to our deepest emotions and stirs up thanksgiving.
However, this covenantal aspect of the Lord’s Supper has another aspect associated with it. Calvin states
The Lord’s Supper has been established to exhort us in all holiness and innocence, seeing that we are members of Jesus Christ. In a special way we are exhorted to be united to our fellow Christians and live in the bond of fraternal love. Hughes Oliphant Old, Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church. pp. 42
The Lord’s Supper is understood as communion, but here Calvin points more to the communion with other Christians than to communion with the Father and the Son. The two directions of communion – communion with God and communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ – are intimately connected.
As we receive the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day, may we be reminded of the covenantal aspects of this sacrament. May we consider our personal and vital union in Christ, as well as our mystical union with the body of Christ in which we are connected. Instead of focusing inward, may we consider the members of our local church as members of Christ’s body. Our Lord did not redeem us so that we would live our Christian lives in isolation; rather, when we were united to Christ, we were also united to the other members of His body. May the Lord’s Supper strengthen our devotion to Christ as well as our devotion to Christ’s body.