One of the clearest differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants is their belief about the Lord’s Supper.
In Roman Catholicism, Jesus is present, but this time He is present differently than He was two-thousand years ago. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, He is “re-sacrificed” in an unbloody manner.
This “re-sacrifice” is necessary because the Roman Catholic must continually be re-forgiven for his sin, as he attempts to appease God and work his way towards meriting heaven.
In the Protestant world, we obviously believe differently. We don’t need Jesus to be re-sacrificed. His death on the cross, almost two-thousand years ago now, was completely sufficient to wipe away all of our sins—past, present, and future (1 Cor. 6:11).
The writer of Hebrews puts it this way:
Day after day, every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices which can never take away sins. But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:11-14).
Jesus, almost two thousand years ago, offered the perfect God-appeasing sacrifice for sin. Himself (Heb. 7:27). And the moment He died, He never had to die again, because He perfectly satisfied God’s wrath towards sinners, and took our punishment upon Himself. Through one sacrifice, He made perfect forever those who are being made holy!
Therefore, when we take the Lord’s supper, we are declaring this truth: Jesus isn’t here!
Jesus is not present! He is not at the table eating with us. In fact, He promised this would be so.
At the last supper, Jesus told them clearly that this would happen. He said,
…for I say to you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16).
As He instituted the Lord’s supper, Jesus told His disciples that this would be the last time that He would be present physically during communion. He would not partake of this meal with them again until they join Him in Heaven.
When it comes to the Lord’s supper, Jesus is not present in any way physically speaking. His body is in Heaven at the right hand of the Father (Col. 3:1). His work was finished on the cross two-thousand years ago (John 19:30), and He has no need to come back and fix or add to the finished work that He completed at Calvary.
I don’t want to minimize what Jesus said in Matthew 28:20. He will, of course, be with us always until the end of the age. Christians should rejoice and be comforted in the fact that Jesus is always with us. But it takes an understanding of the hypostatic union to be able to fully appreciate this thought. Today, (and in perpetuity) He continues to have two natures. He will always have a physical body that will be in one place at one time, but His divine nature is not bound to His physical presence. In other words, He is omnipresent and yet at the same very time His body can only be seen in one place at a time. There will never be two Jesus’ walking around at the same time. His body will never be in two places at the same time. Therefore, He cannot be in the wafer in hundreds of Catholic churches at the same time. His human nature forbids this, and His own testimony forbids it as well.
The disciples understood this well, certainly even better than us. They took comfort in His words that He’d always be with them, but they also longed to be with Him again in Heaven. They literally ate with Him, they had the first communion service with Him, and were told that they would not have it with Him again until glory. We, on the other hand, have never had the privilege, but we should remember each time we take the Lord’s supper that Jesus is not there, but the day we get to finally eat with Him is coming soon.
Paul understood this concept. That’s why He talks about dying being gain (Phil. 1:21). Of course, He walked with Christ all His life, but He looked forward to seeing Him face to face in Heaven.
While a Protestant understanding of Communion does not have salvific effect, it still is an essential ordinance for the church, put aside the fact that God clearly has commanded the church to partake in it (1 Cor. 11:17-34), there are many benefits to taking the Lord’s supper.
It is an opportunity to confess our sin to God. It is an opportunity to confess sin to one another. It is an opportunity for church-purification, through repentance or even church discipline. It is an opportunity to remember Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.
But it is also an opportunity for something else.
It is an opportunity to look forward. To long for heaven.
When we take the Lord’s supper, we are introspective, examining our walks with the Lord. We are retrospective, looking back to what Christ did for us. But rarely, I think, do we look forward to the future. But each time we take the Lord’s supper we are to look forward. Paul says that we proclaim His death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26). It is also a reminder to look forward to the day that we no longer sin. When we receive our perfect glorified bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-53). When we no longer mourn over our sinful condition but perfectly worship God in all purity. But perhaps even more neglected is the fact that the Lord’s supper is an opportunity to look forward to eating with Christ.
To being with Him.
Each Lord’s supper, there is an open seat at the head of the table. Where Jesus belongs. And yet He isn’t there. He is missing. He is in Heaven preparing a place for His sheep.
As we look at the main difference between us and Rome regarding the Lord’s supper, I wonder if we consider this important truth. The Lord’s supper not only is a reminder to true Christians about the fact that their salvation is already guaranteed, but it is also a reminder of the fact that Jesus isn’t here physically. That He is preparing a wedding feast for us, that He looks forward to eating with us, His bride.
Do you long for that day?