In 1 Corinthians 10:16-22, we read of a very important aspect regarding the mystery of the Lord’s Supper:
Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?
In addressing the Corinthian concern over eating food sacrificed to idols, Paul states that the Lord’s Supper is called “sharing in the blood of Christ” and “sharing in the body of Christ”. Furthermore, it should be noticed that this “sharing” is a present-reality. Paul also calls the Lord’s Supper “the cup” and “the table of the Lord”, indicating Christ presides over the table. In other words, Christ is not a distant observer, but He is present at the table.
What does it mean for something to be present? Scottish Presbyterian minister Robert Bruce answers:
Things are said to be present as they are perceived by any outward or inward sense, and as they are perceived by any of the senses… it is not distance of place that makes a thing absent, or nearness of place that makes a thing present, but it is only the perception of anything by any of our sense that make a thing present, and it is the absence of perception that makes a thing absent. Even if the thing itself were never so far distant, if you perceive it by your outward sense, it is present with you. The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper, p. 134
Based on this definition, if it is perceived by the outward sight of our eyes, by outward hearing, by outward feeling of the hands, then it is outwardly present. On the other hand, if anything is perceived by the inward eye or the inward feeling of the soul, then we can say that something is spiritually present. As an example of this concept, consider our conscious perception of the sun. We are about as far distant from the sun as we can imagine, yet this distance does not prevent us from being conscious of the presence of the sun. Why is this? It is because we can perceive the sun with our eyes to see its brightness and light and we can feel its presence through its heat. Therefore, the physical distance of an object does not make the object absent if you have the senses to perceive it.
So, then, how is the body of Christ present at the Supper? He is present to the inward senses even if He is not present to the outward senses. Christ is spiritually present at the Supper in the sense that Christ is present through His Holy Spirit. Christ is present to those who are blessed with the gift of faith. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, our faith perceives the presence of Christ at His table.
If we consider the purpose for which Christ instituted the sacrament, it should be clear to us that Christ was not concerned to elevate the physical element of bread and wine, but rather to transform our heart. This institution was appointed to alter us, to change us, and to make us more and more spiritual. Hence, the Supper was given to us that we might be nourished to holiness. It is through our participation in the fellowship of Christ that this comes about. Through the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit, Christ is manifest in the covenant community. The presence of Christ is in the end redemptive, gloriously so.