For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
– 1 Corinthians 11:26
My wife, Jody, once worked for Christian Horizons, a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. The residents of House 6 were all considered nonverbal. They spoke few, if any, words, though a couple understood some sign language.
When Jody worked on Sunday mornings, we often took some of her residents to church. We talked about whether they should participate in the Lord’s Supper or not. As far as we knew, they all belonged to God’s covenant family; they had been born to believing parents. At Christian Horizons they lived in Christian community. Whether their participation in God’s covenant had ever been signed and sealed to them in the sacrament of baptism, we did not know.
One Sunday morning when communion would be celebrated, we were in the balcony of West Highland Baptist Church. I sat next to Calvin. When the plate with crushed saltine crackers came by, I put one in his open hands. I then touched a finger to the palm of each hand, the sign for Jesus, and crossed my hands over my heart, the sign for love. Then, I pointed to Calvin. “Jesus loves you,” I said. “Jesus loves Calvin.”
There he sat, a small piece of saltine cracker cupped in his hands, when his eyes began to shine with a light such as I had never seen before. He slowly lifted up that small piece of saltine cracker. With a smile on his face, he looked at it and pointed to heaven. He was proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes again (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Central to the Reformed practice of the Lord’s Supper is the sursum corda. “Lift up your hearts; we lift them up to the Lord.” As the Reformed understand it, Jesus does not come down to us in the Lord’s Supper. Rather, we are lifted up to him. The Heidelberg Catechism says that this is what it means to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood: “Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us, we are united more and more to Christ’s blessed body. And so, although he is in heaven and we are on earth, we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone” (Q&A 76).
I have no doubt that on that Sunday morning, seated in the balcony of West Highland Baptist Church, in ways neither the Calvin sitting next to me nor Calvin my theological ancestor could explain (John Calvin called it “a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare” [Institutes, 4.17.32]), the Spirit of God lifted Jody’s client’s spirit and united him more fully and more firmly with the risen Christ. All I could do was adore the mystery.
Ryan Faber is pastor of worship and administration at Faith Christian Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa.