A Feast of Meanings – Theology of the Eucharist (Part 3)

Blessing of the Meal

Let’s start out by asking: what do you get from this meal that you don’t get from anywhere else? What is available at the Lord’s Table that is not on the menu at Sizzler? What is the efficacy and blessing of the Eucharist? Traditionally the Protestant churches have confessed that the Eucharist is a means of grace. Indeed, the question is not whether Eucharist is a means of grace, but how it is a means of grace.[1] Sadly, I lament that so many evangelical churches have abandoned the notion that the Eucharist is a means of grace. Instead, they are so paranoid about sacredotalism that they devote an inordinate amount of time in their Eucharistic sermonettes explaining what Eucharist does not do, why it is nothing special, and why it is no big ideal.

Many evangelicals have such low expectations about what they get out of the Eucharist. I’ve read one story where an old man once took communion in church next to his grand daughter. When the loaf of bread was brought to him, he ripped off a big piece of bread, nudged his grand daughter with his elbow, and told her that, “This is more than I had for breakfast”.[2] The old man was right, but for the wrong reason. The Eucharist is more than what he had for breakfast, not because of the portion size, but because of the benefit that accrues to the participant who receives the elements in faith. The Eucharist is grace food, gospel food, Jesus food, trinitarian food. But what does it feed us?

The first thing to consider is that food and fellowship are part of God’s blessing of his people for the future. If the Israelites remained obedient to God, then ideally, they were promised to “dwell secure in a land of grain and new wine, where the heavens drop dew” (Deut 33:28). Isaiah prophecied about a day when God would lay out a banquet for all peoples that includes a “feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines (Isa 25:6). Amos refers to the end of exile for the nation where “New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills” (Amos 9:13). A similar image of national restoration is given by Zechariah: “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people” (Zech 8:12). All of these promises point ahead to the messianic feast (Matt 8:11; Luke 13:29; Rev 19:9, 17-18). In light of that, we could say that Eucharist is the hors d’oeuvres of the messianic feast that is still yet to come. As such, churches should attempt to move beyond guilt-tripping sermons and focus on the joy and victory that his feast points to. It is a celebratory feast of our redemption, our inclusion in God’s covenant, and our victory over evil. We should get away from the all too common “funereal atmosphere, complete with somber droning organ music” and replace it with paschal festivity.[3] We should introduce Eucharist as the joyful feast of the people of God.[4]

The Eucharist is a genuine recollection of Jesus’ death through the rehearsal of his words as Paul repeats them in 1 Cor 11:24-26. Notably, when Jesus wanted his disciples to understand his death and to remember what he did for them, he didn’t give them a text book, or a lecture, he gave them a meal. This meal is fundamentally a way of thanking the Lord Jesus for what he has done for us. Part of that thanksgiving should be expressed in our worship at the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the ascended Christ is present to us in the elements by the Holy Spirit. We are quickened by our memory of Christ and our membership in Christ. At the table we have participation in Christ’s benefits and anticipation of the glorious wedding supper of the Lamb. We remember, rejoice, and refocus our attention on Christ who came and is yet to come.

There is clearly a spiritual benefit to partaking of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is often called nourishment for the soul. Ignatius of Antioch even called the Eucharist the “medicine of immortality” and Calvin labeled it a “taste of immortality”.[5] One feeds on Christ in the Eucharist and so shares in his presence, fellowship, and receives fresh grace. Eucharist enriches our Christian lives by meeting Jesus in the appointed place by the appointed means. The wine and bread are tokens of Jesus’ love designed to empower us to service, obedience, and faithfulness. If I may paraphrase Richard Hooker: The very letter of the word of Christ gives us plain assurance that this mystery of the Eucharist, like nails that fasten us to his Cross, draws us to experience the efficacy, force, and virtue of the blood that he has shed for us. In the wounds of our Redeemer, we dip our tongues, we are dyed red both within and without, our hunger is satisfied, and our thirst is quenched. Such are the wonderful things which one experiences, majestic to sight and sound, whose soul is possessed by our Paschal Lamb. There we are made joyful in the strength of this new wine, this bread has in it more than the substance which our eyes observe, since this sacred cup with a solemn prayer brings us to the endless life and salvation of both our soul and body. The Eucharist serves as medicine to heal our infirmities and to cleanse our sins as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Coming to the Eucharist we learn that it sanctifies us in the counter, it enlightens our faith, it genuinely comforms us into the image of Jesus Christ. What these elements are in themselves is not fully understood by anyone. How can it be! Yet it is enough for one who partkes of the elements to know that they are the body and blood of Christ, in them his promise and grace is found sufficient, and his word makes himself fully known. The faithful communicant should rest on this thought at the Eucharist, “My God, You are Faithful. My soul is happy and satisfied in you.”[6]

A further blessing of the Eucharist is unity. Paul labours the fact that the “one loaf” (1 Cor 10:16) is representative of the unity of one people with their one Lord. The rich in Corinth were sinning against the body of Christ by introducing divisions and discriminating against the poor (1 Cor 11:17-24). The bread and the wine symbolize the body and blood of Christ given, not just for me, but for us. The family that takes the Eucharist together and prays together stays together.


[1] Moore, “Baptist View”, 35.

[2] Davis, This Is My Body, 13.

[3] Cf. Moore, “Baptist View”, 33.

[4] Davis, This Is My Body, 17.

[5] Ignatius, Eph. 20.2; Calvin, Institutes IV.17.17.

[6] Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity 5.lxvii.12.

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  • John Dickson

    Don’t forget the other great benefit: it reduces the number of rich snobs in the congregation.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

  • John Dickson

    Don’t forget the other great benefit: it reduces the number of rich snobs in the congregation.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

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  • Michael Jensen

    I think you are more interested in the elements themselves than I (or Cranmer) would be…

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

  • Michael Jensen

    I think you are more interested in the elements themselves than I (or Cranmer) would be…

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your email. I am out of the country until August 10 and will not have access to the internet to return emails while away.
      All good wishes,


      Joel Willitts, Ph.D.
      Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies
      North Park University
      3225 W. Foster Ave
      Chicago, IL 60625
      773.244.5714
      http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion

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