The operation of the Spirit is central to our understanding of the Lord’s Supper. However, there is a distinction between the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and the operation of the Spirit. Consider the words of John Willison:
Though God is always near to His people, in respect of His Spirit’s inhabitation; yet not always in respect of His sensible operation. Though Christ dwells in the heart by His Spirit, yet he doth not always act alike in the soul, but only according to His good pleasure. Hughes Oliphant Old, Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church, p. 525.
So how does God draw near to His people by His gracious presence? How does God commune with us by His Holy Spirit? First, God draws near to His people through His divine light by an experience of divine illumination. He gives His people a view of God’s glory as He gave it to Moses on Mount Sinai where God made His goodness and mercy pass before them (cf. Exodus 34:6-7). This mystical experience fills us with holy fear and reverence and it is this experience that at times God bestows upon us in the celebration of the sacrament.
To be sure, for the Christian, there is still a greater glory to be revealed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, for there God lets us see all the divine fullness dwelling in a crucified Redeemer. It is in the cross that God’s greatest glory is revealed. It is there we find His justice and His mercy joined together. In the sacrament God lets us behold the beauty of holiness. Holiness is indeed the beauty of God and when we perceive this beauty in the celebration of the Supper, then we hunger and thirst even more to reflect that holiness. Holiness is indeed the beauty of God and when we perceive this beauty in the celebration of the Supper then we hunger and thirst even more to reflect that holiness.
When He gives a soul-ravishing discovery of the things that are unseen in the other world, the glory of heaven, and the inexpressible happiness of the saints who dwell there, it makes us long to complete our pilgrimage in this world so that we may depart and be with Christ. This is not an experience achieved only in the privacy of one’s prayer closet, but it may be seen in the public worship of the church at the Lord’s Table.
God also draws near to His people by sending His Spirit to actuate the faith of Christians. He enables us to go out to Christ and lay our burdens upon Him, to lean on Him for their salvation. It is the Holy Spirit who quickens our repentance, quickens our prayers, and melts our hearts in tears and godly sorrow for our sin. At times the Holy Spirit strengthens our weak faith, our staggering hope, and our fainting love.
It is the operation of the Holy Spirit to anoint God’s people with power from on high as Jesus promised His disciples at the time of His ascension. Similarly, it is the Holy Spirit who anoints us with power when He encourages us to bear the cross and all those afflictions and burdens that the Lord thinks fit to lay upon us. When we come to the Lord’s Table, may we be comforted and strengthened by His Holy Spirit.