Sometime ago I read the best explanation of the Lutheran’s view of Communion that I’ve ever encountered. It turns out that the illustration is one that was used by a 16th century reformer named Martin Chemnitz. I am unable to locate the original source of this explanation, so my apologies. Even though I don’t have the source, hopefully my memory will communicate his explanation and illustration.
In Exodus 3:1-21 we see Moses encountering the Lord in the story of the burning bush. This story should be familiar to most people. In reflecting on this story in connection to communion, we can ask several questions:
“Is the Lord a bush?”
To this we would obviously say, “No.”
“Does the bush represent the Lord?”
To this we would also say, “No.”
“Does the bush turn into the Lord?”
So, how would we explain what is happening in Exodus 3:1-21? We would say that in a profound way that the Lord was, “in, with and under,” the bush. The bush did not turn into the Lord nor did the bush merely represent the Lord. Rather, the bush was fully present, “burning, yet not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2) The Lord was also fully present, “the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” (Exodus 3:2)
It is no different with the Sacrament of Communion. In the bread and wine the Lord is present in, with and under the elements. “Take and eat; this is my body… Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant.” (Matthew 26:26-28) Jesus does not say, “Take and eat; this represents my body… Drink from it, all of you; for this represents my blood of the covenant.” Nor does Jesus say, “Take and eat; this changes into my body… Drink from it, all of you; for this changes into my blood of the covenant.”
Just as the Lord was in, with and under the bush, so it is with Jesus in communion. Thus when we receive the elements in communion we receive the real presence of Jesus in, with and under, for the forgiveness of sins.