How do we know God is with us, that He is present in our midst? Quite often Americans, who have been heavily influenced by rationalism and pietism think of God’s presence in a strictly intellectual or emotional way. For example, one may say, “God is present because I am thinking about Him,” or “God is present because I ‘feel’ Him.” Yet even a cursory reading of Holy Scripture will show that the presence of God is a very physical thing. Take the following Bible passages:
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
So, when Jesus promises His disciples in Matthew 28:20: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” we should not think of Christ being with us apart from His physical presence. Through the office of the ministry, God’s Word is proclaimed and Absolution is given, and certainly Christ is present through His Word, which in and of itself is a physical thing that literally rattles the bones of those who hear God’s Word proclaimed. However, our Lord does not stop there, in the Lord’s Supper, we have Christ truly and physically present with us in a way that He is not in any other way. This should profoundly influence not only what we believe about God’s presence, but also our very practice as Christians.
Certainly this was influential in the Christian Church throughout its history in its practice of weekly or daily communion… but it is even more far reaching. This reality should also affect the way we think about and act in confessing the very fact that in the Divine Service we are coming into the presence of God. In the use of our Christian Freedom, should we not use such a freedom to do everything we can to confess to our neighbor this reality of God’s presence?