We shall benefit very much from the Sacrament if this thought is impressed and engraved upon our minds: that none of the brethren can be injured, despised, rejected, abused, or in any way offended by us, without at the same time, injuring, despising, and abusing Christ by the wrongs we do; that we cannot disagree with our brethren without at the same time disagreeing with Christ; that we cannot love Christ without loving him in the brethren; that we ought to take the same care of our brethren’s bodies as we take of our own; for they are members of our body; and that, as no part of our body is touched by any feeling of pain which is not spread among all the rest, so we ought not to allow a brother to be affected by any evil, without being touched with compassion for him. Accordingly, Augustine with good reason frequently calls this Sacrament ‘the bond of love.’” (Institutes, 4.17.38)
For John Calvin, the primary benefit of the Lord’s Supper is that it strengthens our faith and our union with Christ. Communion with Christ, however, cannot be separated from the communion of the saints. Following Augustine, Calvin spoke of this “horizontal” aspect of the Lord’s Supper as “the bond of love.” The Supper is something that is to unite believers and encourage them to love one another. Paul tells us that Christ has only one body of which He makes us all partakers; therefore, we are all one body (1 Cor. 10:17). According to Calvin, the bread in the Supper provides an illustration of the unity we are to have. We are to be joined together, without division, just as the many grains in the bread are joined together to form a single loaf.
But what does this mean? Calvin reminds us that when we come together as Christian believers to partake of the Lord’s Supper, not only should we remember Christ’s death, but we should also remember those for whom Christ died, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Does Jesus love us? He loves them too. Did He die for us? He died for them too. Are we part of the one body of Christ? So are they. Are we adopted children of God? So are they. How then can we fail to love and care for those who are also part of the body of Christ? The Lord’s Supper impresses this truth upon our hearts and minds.
Calvin’s exhortation is especially needful in a culture whose motto is “Look out for number one.” Ours is a culture in which the corporate ladder mentality has infiltrated everything. Men and women in our culture have no qualms about stepping on others in a mad quest to get to the top. Even though Paul tells us to “count others more significant than ourselves” (Phil. 2:3), self-aggrandizement and self-promotion remain common even among Christians. It doesn’t matter who we hurt or push aside as long as we come out ahead. This is not as it should be among Christians.
Even worse, perhaps, is the widespread apathy to those among us who are suffering. When we come together to worship, we worship with hurting people. Some are sick. Some are grieving. Some are struggling to support their families. Some have no family. But too often, we take no notice of these things. We are too worried about our own problems to concern ourselves with the problems of others. Calvin reminds us, however, that when one member of the body is in pain, it affects the whole body. When we come together for the Lord’s Supper, it should remind us of the oneness of the body and spur us to compassion that we might do what we can to share the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ.