The Lord’s Supper: Do This in Remembrance
Purpose Statement. Last week we were able to consider the fact that the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper promotes unity within the body of Christ, and next week we will look more closely at how the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper protects the church from judgment. This week we will consider how the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper proclaims the significance of Christ’s work on the cross and his ongoing spiritual presence with his people.
Luther firmly admonishes Zwingli, “You're being obnoxious!” Zwingli excitedly returns with equal fervor, “Don’t you believe that Christ was attempting in John 6 to help those who did not understand?” Having already addressed the issue of John 6, Luther says, “You're trying to dominate things! You insist on passing judgment! . . . It is your point which must be proved, not mine. But let us stop this sort of thing. It serves no purpose.” “It certainly does! It is for you to prove that the passage in John 6 speaks of a physical repast.” Repast being a meal. The conversation makes no headway as Luther says to Zwingli, “You express yourself poorly and make about as much progress as a cane standing in a corner. You're going nowhere.” “No, no, no! This is the passage that will break your neck!” Luther replies, “Don't be so sure of yourself. Necks don't break this way. You're in Hesse, not Switzerland.”
Preface to “Transcript of Marburg Colloquy.” It was a fall morning in Marburg, not quite daylight. The valley of the Lahn lay shrouded in the half-light of early dawn, and the castle loomed faintly on the hill above. People were awakening to another day in a small town in Hesse, little aware of the drama unfolding in the castle as two men confronted each other in the private quarters of Landgrave Philip. Flanked by a few friends, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli were seated at opposite ends of a long table placed before a handful of guests. Not more than fifty or sixty people were present in all.
Twelve years had passed since Luther's posting of his Ninety-five Theses. For the great reformer they had been troubled ones, years to be sure of successful defiance of papal authority and reformation of the church in Germany, yet ones of almost continuous strife and controversy. . . .
Across the table sat his most noted challenger. Ulrich Zwingli was, like Luther, a man of learning and leadership, a student of Christian antiquity, and a preacher . . . who had inspired defiance of papal authority in his native Switzerland. . . .
Beside Zwingli sat John Oecolampadius, a native of south Germany . . . he had established himself with Zwingli's encouragement as leader of the reform movement in Basel. Beside Luther sat Philip Melanchthon, trusted confidant and scholar of Christian antiquity.
It was to reconcile this basic difference over a fundamental sacrament that the two sides had been brought together in the castle overlooking Marburg. Neither side had requested the meeting, and Luther especially had agreed to come only with great reluctance. Their meeting had been arranged in response to a crisis . . . the preceding spring, when the Catholic majority voted to support the demand of Emperor Charles V to proceed against the alleged Lutheran heresy. Lutheran princes had drafted and signed a vigorous protest to the emperor . . . and had begun to prepare for the Catholic onslaught. One of their leaders, Philip of Hesse, had then persuaded Luther and Zwingli and their respective followers to meet and examine their major theological difference over the Lord's Supper. If the difference could be resolved, political union among the Protestants of Switzerland and Germany would be the next step. Then perhaps the resurgence of Catholic power could be checked and peaceful countrysides like the one in the valley below might escape destruction.
Views of Communion
Views of Communion
The Roman Catholic View.
The Roman Catholic View.
According to the Roman Catholic view, when the priest raises the bread up and says “this is my body” the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. Each time mass is performed the sacrifice of Christ is repeated. The Catholic church acknowledges that these sacrifices are different than Christ’s literal death, but they do believe each mass to be another sacrifice.
One issue with this view is that they fail to see the symbolism in Christ’s statement, “this is my body.” Christ used analogous language often when speaking of himself. In John 15:1 he says, “I am the true vine.” He says, “I am the door” in John 10:9 and “I am the bread” in John 6:41. We will discuss this issue more in depth in a moment.
Secondly, and more importantly, the Catholic view fails to understand the clear New Testament teaching concerning the finality of Christ’s sacrifice.
Hebrews 9:25–28 (ESV) Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
To say that Christ’s sacrifice continues to be repeated in each mass is, to Protestants, one of the most objectionable teachings of the Catholic Church. We find great encouragement in the fact that our sins are paid for and that there is no further need for additional sacrifices.
SPROUL. One final note with respect to the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper. They believe that the Mass represents a repetition of the sacrificial death of Christ every single time it is celebrated. Christ is, as it were, crucified anew. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that there’s a difference between the original sacrifice that Jesus made at Calvary and the way the sacrifice is rendered in the Mass. The difference is this: At Calvary, the sacrificial death of Jesus was one that involved real blood. It was a bloody sacrifice. The sacrifice that is made today is a sacrifice without blood. Nevertheless, it is a true and real sacrifice. It was that aspect, as well as the doctrine of transubstantiation, that caused so much of the controversy in the sixteenth century because it seemed to the Reformers that the idea of a repetition of any kind does violence to the biblical concept that Christ was offered once and for all.
The Lutheran View. In, With, and Under.
The Lutheran View. In, With, and Under.
While Luther rejected the Catholic idea of the mass being a re-sacrifice of Christ, he did retain quite a bit of the mystery in the Lord’s Supper. When Zwingli argued with him over the inability for a physical body to be in two places, he responded, “I do not question how Christ can be God and man and how the two natures can be joined. For God is more powerful than all our ideas, and we must submit to his word.” Luther did not deny that there was a spiritual aspect to the bread and wine, but he couldn’t allow himself to see the statement “this is my body” in any other way than literally.
LUTHER. It is written, "Take, eat, this is my body," and for this reason one must do it and believe it at all costs. One must do this! One must do this! Otherwise I could not be baptized, I could not believe in Christ! . . . If he were to command me to eat dung, I would do so, assured that it were good for me. The servant doesn't brood over the wish of his lord. One must close his eyes.
Luther did not believe that the bread and wine become the physical body of Christ, but that in some way, Christ was physically present “in, with, and under” the bread and wine. In the same way that a sponge is not the water that surrounds it but the water is present everywhere alongside of the sponge, Christ’s body was not the bread and wine but was “in, with, and under” the bread and wine.
There are a couple of challenges in Luther’s view of the Lord’s Supper. First, he as well failed to see the symbolism in the Lord’s Supper. We have already mentioned a number of declarative statements that Christ made concerning himself: I am the vine, the bread, the door, etc. Let’s consider another passage to help us better understand this perspective. In John chapter 6, Jesus feeds the five thousand. Following this event, in the synagogue in Capernaum, he says some really challenging statements that result in a lot of people being confused. He begins by explaining how he is the bread from heaven, given by the Father. They struggle with this, knowing that he was the son of Joseph.
John 6:49–63 (ESV) 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. . . . 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them . . . 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
In a similar context about eating his body and drinking his blood, Christ clearly establishes that it is not about eating and drinking his actual physical body but instead is a spiritual event.
An additional challenge with Luther’s view is that it demands that the physical body of Christ be present everywhere. In John 16 Christ told his disciples, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16:28). A little later, in his high priestly prayer, he says, “they are in the world, and I am coming to you” (John 17:11). We believe that Christ ascended and is physically present in heaven. Since Christ is present in heaven and because a physical being can only be present in one place, then Christ is not physically present in the Lord’s Supper but instead spiritually present.
GRUDEM. Theologians ever since Luther’s time have suspected that he taught the ubiquity of Christ’s human nature [Christ is present everywhere], not because it is found anywhere in Scripture, but because he needed it to explain how his view of consubstantiation could be true.
The Protestant View.
The Protestant View.
In contrast to the Lutheran view, the rest of the Reformers argued that the bread and wine symbolized the body and blood of Christ. They offered a visible sign of Christ’s spiritual presence.
CALVIN. There is no ground to object that the expression is figurative, and gives the sign the name of the thing signified. I admit, indeed, that the breaking of bread is a symbol, not the reality. . . . For unless we would charge God with deceit, we will never presume to say that he holds forth an empty symbol. . . . If this is true, let us feel as much assured that the visible sign is given us in seal of an invisible gift as that his body itself is given to us.
Most Protestants today would agree that the bread and the wine symbolize the body and blood of Christ. They would as well believe that Christ is spiritually present in a special way whenever the Lord’s Supper is observed. While it is true that the disciples observed Christ ascending into heaven, it is also true that he promised them “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He also reminds us that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18:20). While Christ is not physically present with us, he has promised to be with us spiritually at all times. Does it not follow that if Christ made these promises to his disciples, he would as well be spiritually present in the Lord’s Supper - a celebration he gave us to remember himself?
Reasons for Our View
Reasons for Our View
As the different views were unfolded, we acknowledged some theological and rational problems with some of the views. Let me take a moment to simply summarize the reasons we hold to a spiritual presence view of the Lord’s Supper.
Theological issues with transubstantiation. As Hebrews tells us, Christ died once and his death was sufficient for all sin, making an ongoing sacrifice not only unnecessary but an affront to the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.
The original context. What would the disciples have understood Jesus to mean by “this is my body.” The context being a Passover meal can play a role in this understanding. Would they have understood the wine to be actual blood in the Passover Seder? Would they have thought that the bread was actual “bread of affliction” and the “Passover lamb?” No. They knew them to be commemorative. As they consumed these elements, they looked back to the Passover and rejoiced in the freedom and redemption found therein. They weren’t caught up with whether or not the wine and bread were literally some other substance. My point being, would not this type of understanding have carried over for them when Jesus said, “this is my body?” It is extremely unlikely that the disciples, who were literally sitting in front of the physical body of Christ, would think that the bread was Christ actual body. They knew it was an element or sign which symbolized a greater reality.
Christ physically ascended to heaven. The disciples literally saw Christ’ physical body ascend to heaven. It is there that he is now physically seated at the right hand of God. While Christ physical nature is located in a single place, on the other hand his divine nature possesses the divine attribute of omnipresence. While he may be located in one place physically, he is able to be present everywhere spiritually. It is this truth that allows him to promise the disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
Spiritual not physical in John 6. In John 6 the disciples struggled when Jesus said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. . . . For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:53–56). Jesus acknowledged that the disciple were confused, so he clarifies for them. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). This passage offers us a similar context in which to interpret the meaning of “this is my body.” Christ was using an analogy. Christ is spiritually present with us in a special way when we observe communion.
Purpose Statement. Last week we were able to consider the fact that the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper promotes unity within the body of Christ, and next week we will look more closely at how the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper protects the church from judgment. But this week our focus was on how the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper proclaims the significance of Christ’s work on the cross and his ongoing spiritual presence with his people.
Some argued that the Marburg Colloquy ended in apparent failure. It clearly didn’t end the way many of them were hoping. They did not come to an agreement on the Lord’s Supper. As a result, it didn’t appear that political union would come between the Swiss and German Protestants. Yet, the next day the group of men met in a closed session to draft and sign the famous Fourteen Articles. “Luther expressed his wish in a letter written the same day to a friend that "the little differences still remaining might be taken away by Christ." Important to this discussion is the content of the fifteenth article. After agreeing to certain elements of the Lord’s Supper, the fifteenth article reads, “
And although we have not been able to agree at this time, whether the true body and blood of Christ are corporally present in the bread and wine [of communion], each party should display towards the other Christian love, as far as each respective conscience allows, and both should persistently ask God the Almighty for guidance so that through his Spirit he might bring us to a proper understanding. Amen.
 Two miracles. This is not one of the primary issues, but it may be worth noting. The Catholic Church has devised an explanation for how the bread and wine continue to look like bread and wine even after they have turned into Christ’s body and blood. They believe two miracles occur. The first miracle is the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ. The second miracle is that the actual body and blood continue to look and taste like bread and wine. This explanation not only sounds absurd, but it has absolutely no biblical justification.
 R. C. Sproul, What Is the Lord’s Supper?, First edition, The Crucial Questions Series (Reformation Trust, 2013), 51–52.
 “Transcript of Marburg Colloquy,” 1529, Yale Divinity Digital Image and Text Library, http://divdl.library.yale.edu/dl/FullText.aspx?qc=AdHoc&q=3163&qp=0.
 MARBURG COLLOQUY: ZWINGLI: I insist that the words of the Lord's Supper must be figurative. This is ever apparent, and even required by the article of faith: "taken up into heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father." Otherwise, it would indeed be absurd to look for him in the Lord's Supper at the same time that Christ is telling us that he is in heaven. One and the same body cannot possibly be in different places. LUTHER: I ask you, why not accept a figure of speech in the words “ascended into heaven" let the text of the Lord's Supper stand as it is? A figure of speech would certainly be much easier to find in the word "heaven," since "heaven," as you know, is used with different meanings in Holy Scripture. ZWINGLI: That word does not require a figure of speech. LUTHER: Then neither do the others. LUTHER (A LITTLE LATER): It disturbs you that I hold fast to the words, "This is my body." I do so because they are sufficient for me. Prove the ones that you employ. I profess Christ in heaven, but I also profess Christ in the sacrament. I choose to infer from those words that Christ is in heaven and in the Lord's Supper. What is contrary to nature is no concern of mine as long as it is not contrary to faith. We hold the flesh of Christ to be very, indeed to be absolutely, necessary. No text, no interpretation, no employment of human reasoning can take it away from us. If you wish to regard the flesh of Christ as unnecessary, then you may do so as far as I am concerned; the word of God is our support. But the word says, first of all, that Christ has a body, this I believe; second, that this same body rose to heaven and sits at the right hand of God, this too I believe. It says, further, that this same body is in the Lord's Supper and is given to us to eat. Likewise I believe this, for my Lord Jesus Christ can easily do what he wishes, and that he wishes to do this is attested by his own words. On these words I take my stand until Christ himself speaks otherwise.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England : Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1994), 995.
 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), vols. 3, 398-399, 4.17.10.
 “Transcript of Marburg Colloquy.”
 Robert Kolb, Sources and Contexts of The Book of Concord, ed. James A. Nestingen (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 91.