by Tom Kraeuter

When we receive communion (the Lord’s Supper) there is more to it than just bread and wine/grape juice.*

There are those within the broader scope of Christendom who believe in transubstantiation (the bread and the wine turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus). It is obvious that this cannot be supported from a scientific perspective. Clearly, if you examine the elements once they have been consecrated by the officiant, they are still bread and wine. The nature of the elements has not changed. An honest scientific analysis would demonstrate that they are still bread and grape liquid. However, Paul’s dissertation in 1 Corinthians 11 makes it just as apparent that we are somehow getting more—in a spiritual sense—than just bread and grape liquid.

In verses 23-25 of that chapter Paul retells the story of Jesus instituting communion for the first time. Then, in verses 27-30, he shares about the ramifications of receiving the Lord’s Supper wrongly:

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

Let’s think about this rationally. Suppose you are hungry in the middle of the night and decide to have a snack consisting of bread and grape juice (or wine). Would you come under God’s judgment for that? Is there any chance (assuming that the bread and drink are both fresh and untainted) that you would get sick or die from the snack? Of course not.

Why, then, would Paul tell us that those very things could happen to us if we consume the same items at church? Obviously there is something more than meets the eye going on in receiving the Lord’s Supper. Some type of spiritual transaction occurs as we eat the bread and drink the “fruit of the vine” (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25)—as though that should surprise us coming from a God who is a Spirit (John 4:24).

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” He said to them. (Mark 14:22-24).

Please note that Jesus said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” Perhaps just as importantly, note that He did not say, “This represents my body” or “This is a symbol of my blood.” I don’t like to quibble over words, but when something is written, words are all we have to discern the meaning. There is no voice inflection or facial expression to help us catch the subtleties of meaning in a sentence or word. Therefore all we have are the words, and, because of this, we must endeavor to clearly understand what those words mean. Perhaps Jesus’ own words in other places can help us understand His meaning in this section of Scripture.

In John 15:1, Jesus said, “I am the true vine…” Is Jesus a literal vine, a green stalk with branches coming out? Obviously not. However, in this section of Scripture He talks about us as branches and that in order to bear fruit we must stay attached to Him, the Vine. He says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). If we honestly understand the truth of these words of Jesus, then, in that sense, Jesus really is a vine. Certainly not an actual plant stem but clearly the place where we get our nourishment and strength for life. He does not represent a vine, nor is He symbolic of a vine. He is the true vine from which our life flows.

Earlier in the book of John, Jesus told us, “I am the gate…” (John 10:7). The KJV uses the word “door.” The Greek word literally means a “portal” or “entrance.” Again in this verse it is clear that Jesus is not literally a door or a gate, a wooden or metal object through which we pass from one area to another. However, He is the entrance into the presence of God. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6b). In that sense, Jesus really is the gate or door. He is not a symbol or representation of a door. He is, in reality, the entranceway to God.

I have shared these last two sections of Scripture in order to help us more fully understand Jesus’ words in Mark 14. The Greek word used in John 10:7 (“I am the gate…”) and John 15:1 (“I am the true vine…”) is the same as the word He used in Mark 14:24 (“This is my body). It is a be-verb (the first person singular present indicative), which, depending on the sentence structure when translating into English, will end up as either “is,” “am” or “are.”

Just as Jesus truly is the vine from which we gain our strength for all of life and just as He is the passageway to God, so also when we receive the bread and grape juice/wine we are receiving something of the person of Jesus Himself. Not merely a representation but, somehow, the real thing. It is more than bread and drink, although those elements are clearly and obviously involved. It is more than just symbolism. There is a real spiritual transaction taking place with the Lord Himself when we partake of the Lord’s Supper.

This is exactly what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:16: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” It is not just symbolism, but an actual participation in—a communion with—the reality of Christ Himself.

* It should be made clear that I am not trying to address the wine vs. grape juice controversy in this article. Although any Jew who knows their traditions and history would scoff at the idea that Jesus might have served grape juice at the Passover, Scripture simply calls the contents of the cup “the fruit of the vine” (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25). Because of this, for us to say emphatically that it absolutely must be one or the other goes beyond the teaching of the Bible. Whatever your particular tradition dictates is perfectly okay with me.

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