Though almost every doctrine in Christianity has been hotly disputed at some point, the debates concerning the Lord’s Supper, or Communion have been among the most heated. Despite the fact that, at its core, it is about the unity of Christians, it is the issue that kept the Lutherans and the Reformed from coming together in the midst of the Reformation. In the disputes over differing theologies of the Supper can be seen some of the central disputes between Catholics and Protestants; what is the nature of grace and its mediation?; what authority does the Church have in distributing it?; how ought we consider those aspects of Jesus’ work that are final and which are continuing? On and on the questions can go.
And for those tempted to write them off as needless nitpicking, I’d say they’re rightly important debates for they cut to the heart of the gospel. We may rightly lament them, and yet acknowledge they are necessary nonetheless.
For those of us concerned with parsing these issues, studying, arguing, and eventually administering the Supper, Herman Bavinck has an important word of caution that cannot be lost sight of, no matter where we eventually come down on the issue: do not forget that it is a meal of the Lord’s:
But it is a meal of the Lord (δειπνον κυριακον, deipnon kyriakon). Jesus was the inaugurator of it and in this regard also fulfilled his Father’s will, which it was his food to do [John 4:34]. The Lord’s Supper, like baptism, is and has to be of divine origin to be a sacrament, for God alone is the distributor of grace, and he alone can bind its distribution to the means ordained by him. Jesus specifically instituted this Supper in his capacity as mediator. In it he acts as prophet, who proclaims and interprets his death; in it he acts as priest, who gave himself up to the cross on behalf of his own; in it he also acts as king, who freely makes available the grace secured and gives it to his disciples to enjoy under the signs of bread and wine. Besides being the inaugurator of the Supper, he is also its host and administrator. He himself takes the bread and wine, blesses them, and distributes them to his disciples. Nor was he only host and administrator when he physically sat at table with his disciples, but he also is and remains the host and administrator of it always and wherever his meal is celebrated. Every Supper, administered according to his institution, is a Supper of the Lord (δειπνον κυριακον). For Christ is not only its inaugurator as an example but also its inaugurator by precept. It is a meal in remembrance of him (1 Cor. 11:24), to proclaim his death (11:26), as a participation in his body and blood (10:16, 21; 11:27). In the Lord’s Supper Christ comes together with his church, and the church comes together with Christ, thereby testifying to their spiritual communion (cf. Rev. 3:20).
Yes, we are the ones fed. Yes, ours are the human hands that parcel out the bread and pass the wine. Yes, ours are the mouths the chew, and the souls that are nourished. But Christ is the great Lord of the Banquet. He is the prophet, priest, and king. He is the Son providing a feast for his younger brothers at the behest of his Father through the mediation of the Spirit.
At the center of the Lord’s Supper is the Lord Himself.
Let us not miss his invitation to the table.
Soli Deo Gloria