Heidelberg Catechism Q78

Q.78. Are the bread and wine changed into the real body and blood of Christ?

A.  No.  Just as the water of baptism is not changed into Christ’s blood and does not itself wash away sins but is simply god’s sign and assurance, so too the bread of the Lord’s Supper is not changed into the actual body of Christ even though it is called the body of Christ in keeping with the nature of the language of sacraments.


There has been great debate over the centuries about the words Jesus used when he ate his last meal with the disciples.  Read Matthew 26:26-29.  Did Jesus really intend his disciples to think that the bread became flesh and the wine became blood?  Certainly not, for Christ had already proclaimed in his first sermon, that not one jot or tittle would drop from the law until everything was completed.  And if we search the Scriptures we find in the law a prohibition against eating or drinking blood.  Read Leviticus 17:14.  From this and the other Old Testament prohibitions against eating blood we can easily conclude that Christ would not have commanded something in direct contradiction to the Law of God. 


Since a literal reading is not possible, how are we to understand the words of Jesus Christ as the last supper?  It is best to understand them as object lessons which illustrate and point to a true reality.  For instance, baptism is compared to a bath in Ephesians 5:26.  But the object, which does the washing, is the “Word of God” as used by the Holy Spirit to purify the believer.  Let us always remember that the sacraments are object lessons that help us to remember and assure us of a truth far greater than themselves.


In a like manner, the bread is symbolic of our new life in Christ and our union with him.  I learned this most poignantly when I adopted my two daughters from Ethiopia.  In that ancient land, the sharing of a meal is a sign of friendship, but the feeding of a guest with your own hand is a sign of deep love and truth.  We put this custom into practice when we first met our girls and they understood the symbolism, for they returned the gestures.  In a like manner, when we eat the bread we are participating with Christ in his life, a sign to our life and the lives of other believers that God has joined us all together.  Read 1Corinthians 10:1-17.


But communion is so much more than just a union of believers, for the Apostle Paul also proclaims that eating the bread and drinking the cup is a way of proclaiming truth.  We proclaim that truth to ourselves and the world, namely that Christ is coming back.  To fail to believe this message of his return is to drink unworthily for it denies the very one who gave his life and declares his life to be a farce.  Communion is about God’s return. Read 1Corinthians 11:26-28.


Paul makes a giant theological statement in 1Corinthians 10:1-4.  He declares that NT baptism was akin to passing through the Red Sea and the Lord’s Supper is akin to eating the manna and drinking from the rock that was struck.  Certainly no person would proclaim that the manna became the flesh of Christ and the water from the rock was his blood.  These were images meant to direct the people to trust God daily for their needs.  In a like manner, communion reminds us to trust Christ for our salvation and redemption every day.


Read Exodus 12:11-13.  In the Exodus the sacrament was a sign to the people and God that all within the home were safe under the blood.  Sacraments are images that remind us of truth and mark us in the heavenly realms as people who belong to the king.  When they are coupled with true faith then their power and efficacy is assured for God declares and we receive in the sacrament.


About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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