This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, since all of us share the one bread. ~ 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
In the Baptist tradition it is sometimes popular to emphasize the symbolic nature of the Lord’s Supper. Unlike some faith traditions, we do not hold that the bread and cup in any way become the actual or even spiritual body and blood of Jesus. The bread remains bread and the wine/juice remains wine/juice.
Yet, sometimes we can take this idea too far, as if to say that the Lord’s Supper is only symbolic of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul made it clear that there is something deeper that happens with the Lord’s Supper. The word that is translated “sharing” in the passage above is the same word that is also used for “fellowship.” Fellowship is a sharing of life, a sense of treating one another as family, because in Christ that is what we are.
Yet, there is also a spiritual aspect to fellowship. In the same letter, Paul wrote of the fellowship we have with Jesus (1:9) and in his followup letter, Paul wrote about the fellowship we have with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:13).
When we think that part of the Christian life is Christ in us through the Holy Spirit, we see that fellowship goes beyond “doing life together” or a sharing of what we can see, taste, hear, and touch. In our fellowship with God, as well as our fellowship with other followers of Jesus, there is a spiritual communion that takes place.
In sharing with the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, there is a special sense of this spiritual fellowship that we experience. This is not, however, in the transformation of the bread and wine used, but in the act itself. The bread and wine are physical elements that engage our senses to what occurs spiritually. In the Supper we have a heightened moment reminding us that we belong to Jesus and that his sacrifice is the very thing that brought us into God’s family. Along with this is a heightened sense that as we participate in the Supper together as followers of Jesus, we truly are part of the same eternal family through Jesus.
This is why in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul warned against taking the Supper improperly, which, in its context, is partaking in the Supper selfishly to satisfy the cravings of our bellies without consideration for our broader family in Christ. When we ignore the sense of sharing, we miss the communal purpose of communion–we are one with Jesus and one with each other in God’s global family.
So, while yes, the bread and wine are symbols, the Supper itself is more than a symbol. It is a family meal, a communion of souls.
All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.