We can learn much concerning the real presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper by examining Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ in John 20:11-18. Mary comes to the empty tomb of Jesus and finds that His body is not there. Mary had a great love for Jesus because He has changed her life. Finding His body had been removed, she feared it had been desecrated and she broke into tears. The attending angels ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary was anxiously seeking the corporeal presence of a dead body not yet having realized that the presence of a living Savior was even more important. Christ was not there in a grave outside Jerusalem. Rather, he was present as a risen Savior although Mary had not recognized Him.
Finally, Jesus spoke to Mary, but even then she did not at first recognize Him. So it is with faith; the first sparks need to be blown upon before we have a real fire. Then Jesus calls her by name and she recognizes the Savior who on this earth had changed her life. She recognized the historical Jesus as we might put it today. She reached out to hold Him and Jesus told her not to cling to Him. This was a challenge to Mary to let go of the earthly Jesus and to follow after a heavenly Jesus who was even then going on before her. Jesus sent Mary to the disciples to tell them that even then He was ascending to the Father. It was the risen, ascending Jesus that they would henceforth have communion.
The question posed to Mary (“Whom do you seek?”) can also be posed to us. What is it we would seek at this sacred Supper? Is it that we seek comfort, some sort of relief, some sort of supporter, or is it Christ whom we seek? Is it not Christ for Himself that we seek? In commenting about this passage Samuel Rutherford adds,
So must ye seek Christ for Himself, and Christ for comfort. For I say, Joy and Comfort is but the bridegroom’s jewels; bu the bridegroom Himself is better.” Whether it is the crucified Christ or the risen Christ, it is Christ Jesus with whom we would have fellowship in this sacrament. Communion Sermons, p. 193
Jesus would have Mary Magdalene and the disciples recognize that the resurrection means much more than that Jesus had returned to them. It is not as though Jesus in His crucifixion and death left His friends and followers and then three days later came back. It is rather than in His death and resurrection He was ascending to the Father. He is ascending that He might prepare a place for them as He had promised (cf. John 14:1-3). Samuel Rutherford provides a marvelous insight at this point:
And therefore, He forbids them to dream of a Christ ever bodily present with them on the earth. And therefore they that would have Christ must follow His trodden path, and trace Him all the way to heaven, and they shall find Him there. Communion Sermons, p. 196
Thus, the continual presence of Christ to His Church is a transcendent presence and thus, the presence of our Lord at the Supper is the presence of the risen and ascended Christ. With respect to the Lord’s Supper, our Lord’s ascension should lift us up to heaven by giving us a taste of heavenly food – namely His body and His blood. It should make us realize that our treasure is in heaven and when we do that, then our hearts will be there also (cf. Matthew 6:21).
Since we are risen with Christ, let us seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (cf. Colossians 3:1). As we partake of the Supper, let us lift out thoughts from this vain world and all of its transitory concerns and let us set our hearts and affections on things heavenly and divine, trusting in the Lord through the whole of our wilderness journey, and inquiring for Him all the way to the very ports and gates of heaven.