When we gather before the altar to share The Lord's Supper, we believe Jesus is giving us His true body and true blood in, through and under the bread and wine. This understanding of "real presence" following the Words of Institution, does not mean the bread and wine turn into the real body and blood (transubstantiation) but rather the elements become one with Christ's body and blood.
During His last Passover, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ shared a meal with His disciples. This was no ordinary Passover meal. Something divine and unique was happening around that table.
What exactly does Jesus say? "This is my body...this is my blood." He is claiming that He possesses a human body like anyone else's, recalling that incredible night in Bethlehem when God took human flesh and was born to Mary and Joseph. That's why our Confessions say that "in the article of our redemption we have the mighty testimony of Scripture that God's Son assumed our nature, though without sin, so that in every respect He was made like us, His brethren, sin alone excepted" (FC SD I, 43).
The baby grew up, was baptized, battled alone against the devil, was tempted, proclaimed the Gospel, healed the sick, raised the dead, instituted the Sacrament, bled, died and rose again on the third day. Jesus, the human being, is "the Word made flesh" and "all things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3, ESV).
But why is it necessary to trust that His true Body and Blood are really present "under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink"? (Small Catechism VI, I) Is it not enough just to believe that the Lord's Supper is a nice remembrance, a memorial of a significant event in Jesus' earthly life without getting into the "hocus-pocus" of the Real Presence? Are Lutherans guilty of saying too much?
During the Reformation, Luther's enemies accused him and the reformers of denying the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar, a position held by "sacramentarians" who believed the Supper to be a memorial meal or containing the "spirit" of Christ. The Formula of Concord addresses this issue, including Confession of the Pure Doctrine of the Holy Supper Against the Sacramentarians. In ten statements and explanations, the authors explain the Lutheran position beginning with "we believe, teach and confess that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present and are truly distributed and received in the bread and wine" (FC 1, VII, 5).
Jesus said that His body and blood, under the bread and wine, were given for you. "Drink of it, all of you." At the time He was addressing His disciples. These were not perfect men; they were weak and fearful sinners—body-broken and soul-sick. When we were baptized we were told that Baptism washes away the penalty for sin. It also saves us from death and protects us from the power of the devil. The trouble is, we are forgetful, and what is bad can sometimes crowd out the good. So our Lord made another promise we can hear over and over: "Take, eat, this is My body...Drink of it, all of you; this is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins" (Words of Institution, LW). Our Lord is speaking to us as flesh and blood sinners, inviting us to use our hands and mouths to receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We have been baptized, and now we have the opportunity to come and use our hands and mouths to receive Jesus' cure—His really present Body and Blood.
The Real Presence is not a marginal doctrine to be tossed into a corner. It is at the heart of our worship and our Christian life. When we receive the Sacrament with a repentant and joyous heart, Jesus joins Himself to us so intimately that He can assure us that our earthly suffering will end, and we will spend eternity with Him. When we receive the Lord's true Body and Blood as a seal of our redemption, we can endure our cross and our temptations for one more day.