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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:Christ assures us of His presence in the Lord's Supper
Text:LD 29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Lord's Supper

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 84:1,4

Hymn 62:1,2,3,4

Hymn 44:1,2

Psalm 65:3

Psalm 84:6

Read:  Luke 22:14-23

            1 Corinthians 10:1-22

Text:  Lord’s Day 29 & 30A.  (Q78-80)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The year was 1559 and the place was Heidelberg, in what is now known as Germany.  In front of the church was a minister named Hesshus and a deacon named Klebitz.  The Lord’s Supper was about to be celebrated and the deacon Klebitz was given the responsibility to give the communal cup to the people.  But when he saw two princes step forward, he refused.  The minister Hesshus was then ordered to take the cup from Klebitz and a struggle for the cup ensued before the entire, horrified, congregation!

The reason for this fight, and many other fights all over Europe at that time, was over the word “is”.  What did Christ mean when He said, “This is My body” and “This is My blood” when He gave the bread and wine at the institution of the Lord’s Supper? 

The meaning of the Lord’s Supper was one of the most strongly debated doctrines in the 16th century, and how you understood the Supper classified you as a Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist or Zwinglian.

Four years after that fight in a church in Heidelberg, the Heidelberg Catechism was written, published in 1563.  It is a wonderful catechism and summary of the Christian faith.  But the struggle over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper can be seen in both the language used and the focus on the Lord’s Supper.  There are 8 long questions and answers, over three Lord’s Days dealing with the nature and meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

The fights over the communion cup were terrible and the manner in which some of those fights occurred were a stain on the love feasts of the Christian church.  But to their credit, the people in the time of the Reformation took the Lord’s Supper seriously and treated this sacrament with the reverence that God’s Word demands. 

Today, however, we often see the opposite.  Today the word “holy” is in danger of being removed from “Holy supper” and it is being reduced to a remembrance meal that we enjoy from time to time, “lest we forget” what Christ has done.

Lord’s Day 29 of the Heidelberg Catechism was written to teach that although the bread and wine remain bread and wine, the Lord’s Supper has been given to us as a visible sign and pledge for the assurance of our faith.

I preach to you the Word of God as the Heidelberg Catechism has summarized and explained it in Lord’s Day 29 under the following theme:

Christ assures us of His presence in the Lord’s Supper.

1.    The nature of Christ’s presence.

2.    The assurance of Christ’s presence.

1. The nature of Christ’s presence.

Question 78 of the Catechism asks if the bread and wine are changed into the real body and blood of Christ and begins its answer with a clear No: it stays bread and wine.  But by the end of this answer, the catechism does acknowledge that even though the answer is No, the Bible does in fact speak of the bread and wine as if they were the body and blood of Christ.  And it has to, for the Bible draws so close a parallel between the bread and Christ’s body and the cup and Christ’s blood that it actually says that the bread is His body and the cup is  His blood and that we eat His flesh and drink His blood.

Luke 22:19.  “This is My body which is given for you.”

1 Corinthians 10:16.  “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

1 Corinthians 11:24, “Take, eat; this is My body.”

Matthew 26:28,  “For this is My blood of the new covenant.

1 Corinthians 10:16, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?”

John 6:56,  “He who eats My flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him.”

So then, what are we eating and drinking when we eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper?  Doesn’t the Bible teach us that we are eating the true body and drinking the true blood of the Lord? 

The Roman Catholics said absolutely Yes.  The Lutherans said Yes, but made some qualifications.  The Calvinists said No, but made some qualifications.  And the Zwinglians said absolutely No.  But they soon discovered that this was not a mere war about the one word “is”.  How you understood the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper changed the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and even one’s understanding of how he is saved.  This then was not a battle over words; it was a battle over the Word, a fight for the truth of the Gospel.

Many of you I am sure, have heard the words hocus pocus.  They are the words a magician says before pulling a rabbit out of a hat, or plucking a handkerchief out of thin air.  What you may not know is that these words come from the Latin Roman Catholic Mass.  When the priest took the bread he said “Hoc est corpus Meum” which is Latin for “This is my body”.  It was taught and believed that when the priest said these words, suddenly and mysteriously, the bread changed into the body of Christ.  Magic indeed!  Hocus Pocus!

But the Catholic church has not always believed that the bread changed into the real body of Christ.  The first record we have of this teaching is in 818 A.D., when a certain Paschasius Radbertus taught that at the Lord’s Supper a physical change occurs so that the bread becomes flesh and the wine blood.  Over the next 300 years this teaching was developed and gained acceptance until in 1133 AD Hildebert of Tours gave it the name “transubstantiation”.  That word means, “a transfer of substance”.  It was taught that when you taste, you taste bread and wine.  But when the priest says those magical words Hoc est, the bread is no longer bread but the body, and the wine is no longer wine but the blood of Christ.  What the priest holds in his hands is nothing less than the real, physical body and blood of our Lord.

This doctrine of transubstantiation was officially adopted at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 A.D., and on December 5, 1563, the Council of Trent declared, “The sacrifice in the mass is identical with the sacrifice of the Cross.”

Today, after Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church has a new liturgy and the hocus pocus of the Latin liturgy is regularly changed for words spoken in the common tongue.  There are, however, many Roman Catholics who still insist on using the old Latin liturgy as they feel it better preserves the mystery of the body and blood of Christ.  But whatever liturgy the Roman Catholics use today, they still believe that when the priest says, “Hoc est corpus Meum” or “This is My body”, the bread changes into the body of Christ.  To quote one modern day Roman Catholic:

“… Jesus Christ glorified becomes really and truly present at the Mass – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – under the appearances of bread and wine, in fulfilment of all the Old Testament sacrifices and as predicted by the prophet Malachias.  He is then offered up to appease the Father’s wrath and for the remission of our sins; Calvary is made present before our eyes.  You either believe this and are Catholic, or you do not believe this and are not Catholic.”

 The Roman Catholics place a direct equal sign between what the priests of the Old Testament did in the temple and what the priests of the Roman church do today.  The priests of the Old Testament would take a sacrifice and wave it before the LORD as an offering to Him, and then share that offering with the people.  And so today the Roman Catholics offer what they call the true body and blood of Christ to God, and He in turn gives Christ back to them to eat.  To quote another modern Roman Catholic source:

“The [Mass] is a sacrifice in which Christians, through the hands of their priests, offer to God the Father the most precious gift possible – His only begotten Son.  God is so pleased with this offering that He shares with them this gift by giving His Son to them in Holy  Communion as food for their souls.”

And so it is believed that Christ is offered daily by the priests and that in this way our sins are forgiven and God’s justice is satisfied.  The Roman Catholic church teaches that you are saved through the church daily offering the Mass and through each person taking the Mass as often as he or she is able.

And there is also another consequence of this doctrine of transubstantiation.  Because it is believed that the priest is now holding in his hands the real body and blood of Christ, it must be treated as such and worshipped as such.  And that is what the Roman Catholic church does.  Although there is variation from country to country, this is how the bread and wine is worshipped:

The bread and wine are commonly placed in a box called a tabernacle.  This so-called tabernacle is lined with either gold or white silk and is often covered outside with a veil called a “canopeum”.  According to the rules of the Roman Catholic Church, this tabernacle box must then be placed in a “distinguished place” in the church, “a place which is conspicuous, suitably adorned and conducive to prayer.”  For, it is believed, in that tabernacle is not bread and wine but the body and blood of Christ Himself.

Roman Catholics are therefore called to show reverence to the bread and wine and called to worship them.  Upon entering the church, one is encouraged to genuflect or bend your knee towards the bread and wine and make the sign of the cross.  In fact even when passing the church, one is encouraged to make the sign of the cross out of reverence for the body and blood believed to be housed inside the church!  Roman Catholics are also encouraged to enter the church in order to adore the bread and wine.  Some churches even have people do that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, where there is a roster ensuring that there is always someone sitting or kneeling by what they call “the body and blood of Christ”, praying, meditating, reading Scripture or just sitting in “the presence of Christ.”  Further, on Palm Sunday and other special days, many Roman Catholic countries have “processions of the blessed sacrament”.  The bread and wine, which they believe to be the body and blood of Christ, are carried along in a parade.  The priest, with his hands veiled, carries the so-called “blessed sacrament” at eye level in a special show-case called a monstrance and in this way they believe they honour Christ and can ask God to provide them with a special blessing.

The Roman Catholic Mass, therefore, turns the bread and wine into an idol and directly conflicts God’s Word where, for example Hebrews 7 and 10 teaches us that it was by one offering that Christ has perfected us.  And therefore the Reformers were correct when they said that the Mass was a cursed idolatry.

Martin Luther also disagreed with the doctrine of transubstantiation.  However, the Lutherans still taught that since Christ said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”, the physical body and blood is somehow joined to the bread and wine.  Luther said that the bread does not change substance; it remains bread.  Yet, the substance of the body of Christ gets joined to the bread so that both substances are there together.  (The Lutherans call this the doctrine of consubstantiation.)  This teaching of the Lutherans came from a belief that Christ’s physical body, and not just His Spirit, is present everywhere, and that His physical body is especially present in the bread and wine.  The Scriptures, however, teach that Christ bodily ascended into heaven and that He is there in heaven, sitting at the right hand of God and so in His body He is no longer present with us.  Therefore we can not accept that Christ is bodily present in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.

And yet, we must still confess that Christ assures us of His presence in the Lord’s Supper.  In our church today, we do not face too great a danger of treating the bread and wine like an idol.  We’ve gone our separate ways from the Roman Catholics and see the bread as plain bread (we even allow gluten free bread!) and the wine as plain wine (and we would not have an issue with using grape juice instead of wine).  But perhaps we are more in danger of underestimating the importance of the Lord’s Supper and the presence of Christ when we eat the bread and drink from the cup.

In his earlier writings, the Church Reformer Zwingli went too far in denying the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.  He treated the Lord’s Supper as nothing more than a remembrance service.  He taught that the bread and wine were no more than a picture of what Christ has done for His people.  And so when we eat and drink, God is not giving us His grace, but it is a commemoration of Christ’s death.  We do it, he taught, just to remember the sacrifice that Christ has made for us.  [But in fairness to Zwingli, he did also teach that Christ strengthens us through the Lord’s Supper.]

Today, however, many push the Zwinglian view of the Lord’s Supper to the extreme.  And for us in this church also, the danger is that we no longer see the Lord’s Supper as one of the greatest means that God has established to strengthen our faith.  Many evangelical Christians today do not think that Christ is giving something special to us in the Lord’s Supper but rather they see the Lord’s Supper as your personal declaration of faith in Christ.  And so the word holy is taken out of “Holy Supper”.  It is seen as no more than a memorial meal and we can choose when and where to hold it – in church, at a business function or with friends at home – and it is entirely up to the individual as to whether he wants to join in or not.  And that is a very long way from the days of the Reformation when the minister Hesshus and deacon Klebitz fought over the communion cup in front of the congregation of Heidelberg in 1559.

So how then are we to understand the nature of the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper?  Do we or do we not “eat His flesh” and “drink His blood” when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?  Is He or is He not present in the broken bread and the poured wine?

We can not accept the Roman Catholic or even the Lutheran teaching that Christ is physically present in the bread and wine.  When Jesus instituted the Supper, His intention was not that in this way He would bodily come down from heaven and commune with us.  Rather, the intention and purpose of the Lord’s Supper is that it brings us into communion with Christ in heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of the Father.  And that is what we are exhorted to do every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  As the Form says,

Brothers and sisters, in order that we may now be nourished with Christ, the true heavenly bread, we must not cling with our hearts to the outward symbols of bread and wine, but lift our hearts on high in heaven, where Christ, our advocate, is, at the right hand of His heavenly Father.  Let us not doubt that we shall be nourished and refreshed in our souls with His body and blood, through the working of the Holy Spirit, as truly as we receive the holy bread and drink in remembrance of Him.

The nature of Christ’s presence in the bread and wine, therefore, is not physical but it is spiritual.  It is and remains the holy supper, and as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 10, the communion of the body and blood of Christ.  Through the working of the Holy Spirit, the bread and cup bring us into close fellowship with Christ.  The Lord’s Supper is therefore more than just a memorial meal.  Through the Lord’s Supper Christ, through His Spirit, gives us both a sign and a seal that we share in His true body and blood as surely as we receive with our mouth the bread and wine in remembrance of him.  And we will see this further in our second point.

2. The Assurance of Christ’s presence.

There is an intense hunger amongst Christians for their faith to be real.  We want to feel it, we want to experience it.  Not just in the life hereafter, but also here-and-now, today.  What many of us hunger for is the personal experience of Jesus Christ in our lives.  We want to live with the peace and assurance that He is there in our hearts to stay. 

To have and experience that intimate fellowship (or communion) with Christ, and to grow up into Him is good.  But what is not so good is how we often attempt to do this.  What one often sees is that there is an emphasis on spiritual growth by turning inwards, by focusing on one’s own needs and experiences.  In this movement the emphasis falls heavily on one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  And so many self-help books teach us how to meditate, how to promote feelings of rest and inner peace.  But while some of these books do have their place, what is often lacking is what Christ Himself has given for the strengthening of our faith: the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the local church.

The Lord’s Supper is not just a memorial meal, a meal that we take to confess our faith in Christ and to remember that Jesus died for us.  Rather, as answer 79 of our Catechism points out, Christ has given us this visible sign and pledge in order to assure us.  The bread and wine are given to make us sure of our faith, that our faith is real, that Christ is real, that our salvation is real.


Through the Lord’s Supper, Christ gives us a sign that just as bread and wine sustain us in this life here on earth, so “His crucified body and shed blood are true food and drink for our souls to eternal life.”  “As surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely was His body offered for me on the cross.”

But more than a mere sign, the Lord’s Supper is also a seal.  It offers us the assurance of faith.  Through the holy Supper Christ assures us that we are united to His body and blood, that we have communion, or participation, with Him.  And that is why we confess that Christ is spiritually present in the bread and wine.  Through the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit strengthens and feeds us, assuring us that we both share in Christ’s death and resurrection, and that all His suffering and obedience is most certainly ours. 

We are not saved by taking the Lord’s Supper.  We do not agree with the Roman Catholics who teach that the bread and wine is the real body and blood and so one is automatically blessed by eating and drinking.  We also do not believe that we are saved through eating and drinking.  But our faith is strengthened through eating and drinking at the Lord’s Supper.  For the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper is true food and true drink for our hungry and thirsty souls.  And we must therefore see the Lord’s Supper just as necessary for our souls as food and drink is for our bodies.  When we eat and drink in the manner that Christ calls us to do, His Holy Spirit assures us that we truly participate in the body of Christ and that we are declared righteous in Him.

I sincerely pray to God that we will never see a minister and deacon fighting over a cup of wine at the front of this church as it happened in Heidelberg in 1559.  But I also sincerely hope that the reason for that is not because we spurn the means of grace offered to us in the Lord’s Supper but because we embrace this gift in true faith, a sure knowledge and a believing heart.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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