Lord’s Supper & Presence of Christ

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I’m looking for a concise and simple explanation of Calvin’s view of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper, as well as that of Zwingli.

I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of Christ’s spiritual presence in the Supper, as explained in the resources I have read.

Feel free to recommend any short books on the topic.


C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper by Keith A. Mathison

(Or the WCF)

(Over simplified: Think about it like a cell phone that connects you to Christ. Real communication happens over the connection. But the cell phone isn't Christ, its merely a tool to connect you to his sweet voice.)


Thank you.

So is this different than the normal “connection” we experience with Christ? Is it better?

Can we quantify or describe the spiritual nourishment we receive at the Supper? Surely it’s not a mere, ambiguous ‘power’ we receive. So what is it?


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Think of two different forms of communication: phone call, and a handwritten letter. To paraphrase Robert Bruce (Scots divine on the Lord's Supper), you don't get contact with a different person via the phone rather than the lettter, but sometimes (say, with the handwritten letter) you get it better, somehow. You may not be able to articulate exactly why it is better; but it is different, and so it conveys the communication in a way uniquely suited to that method. And that method may be more valuable in one situation than the other could be. Maybe, a phone call wouldn't be the best way to propose marriage to someone far away; while the handwritten letter would be much superior?

The Lord's Supper is for Christ to communicate himself to us, to put us into some real and blessed (if spiritual, and not carnal) contact. The Word does that in its own wonderful and regular way. It is a whole lot like hearing that loved one's voice as if they were right beside you, when actually they are a thousand miles away in the flesh. The preached Word is a step above the printed Word.

And, the Lord's Supper is an event I've termed a "thinning of the veil" between heaven and earth. We come as near as is possible in this world to touching (as it were) the very fingers with Christ as he passes us the bread he identifies with his body--we are literally reenacting the Last First Supper, taking the places of those original disciples. Christ is using (he promised, so he meant it) that means of grace to improve our connection to him. He is communicating in a way that almost has us seated at the wedding supper of the Lamb (a foretaste of heaven). The only thing that could improve on the experience is the day we actually have that future supper.

But we aren't in heaven yet. Those who demand the carnal presence of Christ (regardless of how that is understood) in the Supper want more of heaven now than Scripture promises us. They want Christ come back, or perhaps never actually left (per Ascension), before he Comes Again. Instead of "YOU have come up to Mt.Zion, up to the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb.12:22) in worship in the Spirit; they say Christ descends, repeatedly, to a new incarnation of (or in or with or under) the bread. Heaven on earth? They say, the only communication that's worth anything--that's REAL--is if we handle him no less than John and the others did (1Jn.1:1) during those special and unrepeatable three years of his ministry.

Well, they "saw with their physical eyes," and "heard" with their physical ears in ways we are not going to until heaven. That's the way it is. Them's the breaks. The Supper is not made "more real" if the carnal nature of Christ is theoretically divinized and ubiquitized and made present in the world in ways indiscernible, but that I might insist upon while disfellowshiping any who disagree.

It is, however, a quite real but spiritual presence. And we walk by faith, not by sight. We see with the eyes of faith our Lord serving us his Supper. This is how and why our commemoration of the original Supper is more than a memorial. It is more than my meditation on his long-ago suffering and death. It is an actual meal with the Lord in his kingdom, Mk.14:25, He presiding over it and us who sit by him at his Table. "They saw God, and did eat and drink," Ex.24:11.

Meals are occasions of and vehicles for genuine communication.
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