One of the most intimate services we will hold until we dwell in the presence of our God in eternity is the Lord’s Supper. It points us to the body and blood of Jesus which unites us together in love and directs our attention to the promise of Jesus’ triumphant return when our King shall descend in glory. So, what about COVID-19 communion?
Needless to say, the present COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great disruption on the worship of God’s people around the world. I have friends high in the Andes mountains in Ecuador who are worshipping in their home without the gathered church. I have friends in Zambia, Africa who are gathered with their family members worshipping the Lord, but yet without the assembled corporate body of their local church. This pandemic has a widespread effect that has impacted us all.
During this pandemic, people begin thinking of solutions to problems. Politicians are trying to organize communities for the safety of the people, medical professionals are trying to treat the sick with this disease while others are laboring for a vaccine, and church leaders are trying to minister to their local church while remaining disassembled. During this strange and discouraging season, some pragmatic leaders are beginning to use the phrase “virtual church” which has been around for a while, but now it’s gaining a bit of traction during this season of social distancing.
It didn’t take long before pastors began to press the limits of technology. Pastors are beginning to lead their local churches in the observance of the Lord’s Supper—virtually. Why does the Lord’s Supper require more than technology can provide for local churches to worship together?
Virtually Connected and Literally Disconnected
The intimacy of the Lord’s Supper was put on vivid display in Jesus’ final Passover meal and inaugural Lord’s Supper celebration (Matt. 26:26-29). The disciples were present with Jesus and he spoke directly to them after breaking the bread and served it to them with clear directions. Jesus defined it clearly and served his disciples in an intimate gathering preceding his cruel crucifixion.
Technology has a wonderful place in our world and is providentially given to God’s people during this pandemic for the purpose of being connected and spreading the good news. I personally love using technology for the glory of God—especially since I was converted while listening to a sermon online. I likewise have an undergraduate degree in business information systems. However, it’s quite possible to be connected virtually and disconnected literally at the same time. That’s where we find ourselves in this season of social distancing.
Consider the word of Paul to the church at Corinth. All through the eleventh chapter, Paul points to the church being called together. In fact, Paul references the togetherness of the people some five times between 1 Corinthians 11:18-34. Jesus modeled the togetherness of the meal in his earthly ministry with his disciples and gave specific instructions to continue eating and drinking in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19).
Logic alone should tell us that it’s impossible to use technology to enjoy an intimate meal with a friend or spouse while separated—much less the entire gathered church family. The special and unique assembly of the Lord’s Supper cannot be reduced to pixels on a screen. Technology can only bring people so close, but it cannot ultimately bring people together. However, logic is not the basis for our position on the Lord’s Supper—theology is our foundation.
The Lord’s Supper, like baptism, is not a private event. It’s public and is one of the two ordinances given to God’s Church. In 1 Corinthians 10:17, Paul writes these words, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The church publicly gathered in the presence of one another are called to be served together from the same bread—indicating their unity in Christ. This cannot be accomplished as a pastor looks at a camera and gives directions to people in their homes. The assembly of God’s people is necessitated in order to fulfill God’s plan for the Lord’s Supper.
Fencing the Table Matters
Before serving the Lord’s Supper, it’s essential to provide clear directions to the people in order to protect the sacredness of the ordinance. The Lord’s Supper is one of two ordinances of the church and is not salvific, but there is an element of uniqueness and sacredness that needs to be upheld in the Lord’s Supper. It’s a time where we remember the body (Jesus’ incarnation), the blood (Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice), and long for Jesus return. It’s also a time when we are called to remember sin and confess our sin properly before engaging in the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Corinthians 11).
Furthermore, such fencing provides clear directions regarding who is welcome to partake of the Lord’s Supper and who is not invited. The unbelieving family member who is a guest of our worship service and the person under church discipline must understand that they are barred from the Lord’s Table. This should be made clear. The person who has unbelieving children should manage their household well and prevent their children from partaking. The Lord’s Supper is a solemn act of worship. The special presence of the Lord among his people in a unique manner carefully and intentionally overseen by the elders of the church is simply not possible through the screen of an iPhone.
In short, the church needs faithful pastors to look them in the eye across the table and provide both clear instructions for this joyful celebration and stern warnings for profaning the Lord’s Supper.
Providentially Hindered for a Season
Persecuted Christians in a prison are providentially hindered from the Lord’s Supper. Is God dishonored by their inability to worship through the Lord’s Supper? We must exercise wisdom as we think through the work of God and his providence in this season of a pandemic that has created many challenges to God’s Church around the world.
As we seek to overcome the many challenges to our worship during this pandemic that has brought the entire world to a stop—we can use technology to bridge the gap, but we must remember that it’s not virtual church. The church is not virtual. The church is literal. We must not seek to reduce the church to pixels on a screen. It simply cannot happen. We are providentially hindered from gathering together during this season of social distancing, and God is not caught off guard by this. God is very much active and ruling over this season and will accomplish his purpose.
If a local church has concealed their low view of the Lord’s Supper and other aspects of Christian worship, the present COVID-19 pandemic will likely unveil it for everyone to see. When the man on the cross next to Jesus embraced Christ by faith—he was providentially hindered from being baptized. God ordained it. Rather than redefining the Lord’s Supper to a virtual meeting that turns it into something other than the Lord’s Supper altogether—we must remain patient and remember God is sovereign over this season and desires to be worshipped properly and with order.
God’s design of the worship of his Church transcends pandemics and culture. This season shall pass and local churches will once again assemble together, embrace one another in Christian love, and celebrate the body and blood of King Jesus through the Lord’s Supper as we long for him to return and make all things new.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
—Come, Thou long expected Jesus