In what way is Christ present at the Lord’s Supper? In Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know, J. I. Packer answers like this:
[W]e need to be clear that the presence in question is the same presence that Jesus promised when, before his passion, he said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matt. 18:20), and when, following his resurrection, he told his disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Is is the presence of the triumphant, sovereign Savior, who is there in terms of his objective omnipresence and here in terms of being always alongside each believer with a sustaining an nurturing purpose. Clarity requires us to say, then, that Christ is present at, rather than in, the Supper. Though not physical, his presence is personal and real in the sense of being a relational fact. Christ is present, not in the elements in any sense, but with his worshippers; and his presence is effected, not by the quasi-magic of ritual correctly performed by a permitted person, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, who indwells believers’ hearts to mediate Christ’s reality to them. It is not a passive but an active presence, known not by what it feels like (often it is, in any ordinary sense of the word, unfelt), but rather by what it does. For by it our risen Lord draws us close to himself and renews our assurance of possessing, either now or in days to come, all the good things that he died to secure for us. And then, as a good meal energizes the body, so our Savior energizes us for renewed ventures in faith and love, faithfulness and obedience, worship and service. This is what we who believe should seek when we come to the Supper, and if we do, then we shall surely find it [page 162].
You probably understand that when Packer refers to Christ being at, rather than in, the Supper, he is contrasting his conviction about the Lord’s Supper (The Holy Spirit conveys Christ’s reality to each partaking believer—see above.) with the views of Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Easter Orthodox, who all teach that Christ is uniquely present in the table elements in some way. Not only, argues Packer, are real presence views mistaken because they don’t “match actual biblical teaching,” they have an “unhappy implication”:
[I]f the consecrated elements are unique because Christ is present in them in a unique and special way, and if Christ is received in unique fullness and with unique efficacy by partaking of them, as is regularly assumed, then Christ is neither so fully present nor so fully available anywhere else. To believe in this unique presence is likely to generate superstition about the Supper and to weaken the everyday exercise of faith in Christ [page 159].
The believer partaking in the Lord’s Supper, Packer writes, should be looking up, back, ahead, and around. I’ll post more quotes explaining what this means later this week.