I recently saw a restaurant advertisement that simply had the name of the restaurant and the words spiritual dining. It made me wonder about whether dining, at its best, is more than a mere material experience. And it made me think about the Lord’s Supper, the spiritual meal, and what it does and doesn’t do. There are actually three dimensions to what the Lord’s Supper does: past, present, and future.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he told his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), underscoring that what he was urging them to do would point back to what he had done for them. When we remember what Jesus did for us, we ground our lives in his finished work. The Lord’s Supper isn’t a way you can earn your salvation; it is spiritual dining for those who are saved. It doesn’t add anything to the finished work of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, but confirms and strengthens us in him. It becomes a sort of gospel shorthand where, as an ancient writer put it, first we hear the gospel, then we taste the gospel, and so the gospel goes forward in our lives on two legs. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (11:26). As Christians we eat and drink to remember Jesus’s triumph. That’s the past dimension.
Paul points to the present dimension of the Lord’s Supper when he writes in 1 Corinthians, “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?” (10:16). That word participation could also be translated “fellowship” or “communion.” It’s where we get the term communion. Think of what that means—the Lord’s Supper is not only a symbolic reminder of what Jesus has done for us; it’s also a present communion with one another and with Jesus.
It’s important to note that the bread and wine don’t change in any way. Jesus isn’t present physically, but he’s present spiritually as the Holy Spirit exhibits him to us by faith. Now for those who are spiritually unresolved, the Lord’s Supper is a call to them to receive Christ rather than to participate in the meal. By witnessing Christians partaking, they’re encouraged to hear the echo of Jesus’s loving call: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). And when we as believers take communion by faith, Jesus meets with us, uniting us as a community, nourishing us with himself, and strengthening us to love and obey him. That’s the present dimension.
When Jesus gave his disciples the cup he said, “I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). With these words he directed them to the future dimension of the Lord’s Supper, as a sign pointing forward to the great day of anticipation. It’s a foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb and the everlasting feast believers will enjoy with Christ in glory. Now we’re broken creatures due to sin. Through Christ’s broken body we’re made whole again. Yet in this life we continue to experience the brokenness of our fallen condition. The future dimension of the Lord’s Supper points us forward in hope to a day when we will be made completely whole and when we’ll enjoy, with our Savior and with one another, dining at its very best.