Covenant meals both celebrate and ratify the treaty that has been made between the parties (e.g., Gen. 14:17–20; Exodus 12; 24:9–11). Those who receive by faith the reality the Lord’s Supper communicates—Christ and all his benefits—are sealed in the passage from condemnation and death to justification and life. Those who eat and drink without faith still receive Christ, but as Judge rather than Justifier (1 Cor. 11:29).
In our Western intellectual heritage (aka American Evangelicalism), “remembering” means recalling to mind a no longer present reality. This is worlds away from the biblical, Hebrew conception, which recognizes that “Do this in remembrance of me” denotes participating here and now in certain events that define and confirm both our past and future relationship with our covenant Lord. Like baptism, the Lord’s Supper is an eschatological sign and seal; we not only are nourished by Christ now but are being prepared for the wedding feast of the Lamb when Christ returns and ushers in the new creation (Luke 22:16, 18; 1 Cor. 11:26; Rev. 19:5–9).
Those who tend to separate the creaturely signs from the divine things they signify (e.g., Barth and many contemporary evangelicals) break apart the visible, historical, institutional church and its practices, on one hand, and the relatively unknown and unknowable true spiritual community of believers, on the other. This separation has often been linked to a weak doctrine of the work of the Spirit.
Those who tend to confuse signs and what is signified (e.g., Roman Catholicism and the Radical Orthodoxy movement) transform consecrated creaturely reality into something substantially different and replace the particular, natural body of Jesus Christ with his ecclesial body. The church’s proclamation is no longer the One who died, rose, and will come again but our own present manifestation of Christlikeness. Christ with all his benefits communicates himself to us, creating a church that is united to him but cannot replace him. We do not complete or continue Christ’s person and work but receive it and share it with others.