I was doing some reading this last week on the Lord’s Supper, and I came across a phrase I had not previously heard used to describe the bread and the fruit of the vine. The writer of this article spoke of how when it comes to the signs of bread and the fruit of the vine at the Lord’s Supper, “Christ saturates the sign.” What a beautifully put phrase! In other words in an intimate and unique way, Christ identifies himself so much with the bread and juice of the grape that he saturates these signs with his presence. After all, did not Jesus say of the bread, “Take it. This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."” and of the juice, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk 22:17, 20)?
Oceans of ink over the centuries have been poured into theological literature over the exact meaning of Jesus’ words at the Lord’s Supper. Obviously, the little ink being spent in this blog cannot contend with every viewpoint on the Lord’s Supper. Suffice to say here I believe the elements of the Lord’s Supper are a symbolic representation (or signs) of Jesus body and blood. In this brief note I desire only to speak about the impact the phrase, “Christ saturates the sign” has on me personally, and I hope impacts you for the better as well.
“Christ saturates the sign” brought to my attention that I have placed most of my focus upon Jesus Last Supper as virtually just a memorial of remembrance. What I mean is I have thought more about the signs of the bread and the cup as just symbolic representation, than I have perhaps considered the actual body and blood of Christ. When I read Luke’s account, my time is often spent on the act of remembrance, and not as much on the One I should be actually remembering—Jesus. In other words, symbols are by function separate and distant from what or whom they represent. Symbols imply distance in the sense that they point to something or someone distinct from the symbols themselves. For instance, a picture of a dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit, but the symbol of a dove is not the Holy Spirit Himself; there is a kind of mental gap between symbol and reality. Therefore, since symbols are detached from what they represent, we can potentially spend too much time on the symbol to the neglect of the reality the symbol is actually meant to convey.
“Christ saturates the sign” closed the mental gap in my own mind between Jesus and the symbols of his body and blood. The symbolic nature that the bread and the cup carry is unique. Consider for a moment, what other symbols in your daily life do you ever eat? Each Sunday we literally digest these signs of Jesus’ body and blood. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). How wonderfully bizarre and glorious at the same time!
When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper each Sunday we are certainly conducting an act of remembrance, but an act so closely connected to the One we are remembering that He “saturates the sign.” Speaking for myself, I have so often emphasized how the signs of the bread and the juice are NOT literally the body and blood of Jesus that I have overlooked how much these symbols literally ARE connected to Jesus body and blood. This Sunday morning as you eat these symbols I pray that what is written here will literally be food for thought.