For Centuries, Christians have debated the details of the Lord’s Supper (Communion) and most of it centers around our understanding of Christ’s presence when the Supper is being observed. The Catholic Church says that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation). Luther taught that Christ’s physical body was present “in, with and under” the bread of the supper, like water is present in a sponge.
I don’t agree with either of these views but I understand the desire to explain the presence of Christ in this ordinance. In I Corinthians Paul was writing to clear up some bad theology and bad practice relating to that church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthians had begun to treat the Supper as reason to get together and entertain guests. They treated it as a light and unimportant thing and had begun to use it as a means of social celebration and advance.
In order to help the church feel the weight of what the Lord’s Supper was about Paul wrote this,
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? — 1 Corinthians 10:16
The Word Paul uses here for participation is the same word used elsewhere to mean fellowship. He is saying that when we gather to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and we lift that bread to our mouths we are entering into intimate fellowship with the body of Christ. The bread and wine are physical symbols, no doubt, but they are physical symbols of a glorious spiritual reality that we would do well to honor even if we cannot fully explain it.
John Calvin put it this way,
It is a mystery of Christ’s secret union with the devout which is by nature incomprehensible. If anybody should ask me how this communion take place. I am not ashamed to confess that that is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. – Institutes of the Christian Religion
Good Christians differ over the nature of this fellowship with the Lord, but one thing is certain; when we come by faith to the Lord ’s Table there is a real sense in which we meet Jesus himself.