Back in the days when we presumed a lot about the future, we had planned to hold a Good Friday Communion service. Things have changed... though some have asked why we aren't trying to transfer our Communion service online. Below is an article I've written explaining in a bit more detail why I think it's more beneficial for us to wait on the Lord.
MANY of us have reflected on how the church might have coped with this period of isolation had it taken place 25 years ago. Access to video conferencing was not an option – indeed, Facebook was not yet a twinkle in its father’s eye. We have been blessed to have technology to hand – not only the technology that makes meeting ‘face-to-face’ possible, but also the ability to put together a Sunday service that is for the most part livestreamed to the church family and beyond. It has taken a lot of effort to move the church calendar away from gathering in-person, to online platforms. Even though some things have had to fall by the wayside, some new initiatives have been tried as well. And yet one thing seems notable by its absence. Communion.
To some that seems strange – Christians remembering the Lord Jesus’ death by taking bread and wine is fundamental to what it means to be a church. So why not? Many churches are making provision for this, but I don’t think it would be the most helpful step for our church family, for several reasons.
1. Bread and wine are not the only symbols
As we gather for communion the symbols loom large before us: the single loaf that will be torn into pieces and the deep redness of the wine – they are powerful and emotive. But what is easily missed is that we ourselves make up an essential part of the symbolism when we partake in communion.
“Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:17)
Here, Paul shows us that communion, by its very nature, is a shared meal. This explains why, when he goes on to correct the Corinthians misuse of communion in Chapter 11, he repeatedly frames his instructions around when you come together (four times, all in relation to the Lord’s Supper: 1 Corinthians 11: 18, 20, 33, 34).
It is not uncommon to think of communion as ‘me remembering the Lord’ – and of course that is true. But more accurately it is ‘us remembering the Lord’ and thereby showing our oneness in Christ. Communion is given as a means for the invisible church to become visible as the local church – and therefore our geographical location when we share in this Supper is not incidental, but is foundational. The body gathers together to share in the one meal and is reminded of the death of Christ, but also of the body of Christ, which he died to save. This is my main reason for not trying to maintain communion in isolation – bread and wine are not the only symbols.
2. Not being able to meet is horrible
Secondly, I must admit I fear the effects of normalising ‘online church.’ One thing that moving our church activities online brings with it is convenience (assuming you can master the technology). I don’t have to travel to get to church, I don’t have to shave, I don’t have to try and corral the children to get ready etc. Maybe we could get used to ‘doing’ church in our living room or at the kitchen table on a laptop? Our inability to share communion serves as a helpful nudge away from getting too comfortable.
When God made the first human being it quickly became apparent that is was not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). And though the solution was to provide Adam with a wife, the principle is true in general – human beings are social creatures. As we’ve been considering in our Bible Study Groups this month, the church is a Gospel Community, in which the members have a shared life together. Even our future hope is that we will be raised from the dead in new bodies – we will live a physical, fully embodied existence in glory with one another (cp. 1 Corinthians 15:35ff.). How much less enriched would our lives be if our only interaction with other Christians was through a screen.
I am confident that the Lord Jesus continues to build his church in the midst of isolation, but do not be deceived by the convenience of technology – not being able to meet is horrible! And the absence of Communion serves as our reminder that our best efforts ‘online’ are not a substitute for sharing together physically and joining together in-person to hear God’s word and respond to it.
As an aside, I think there are other important lessons here. This is a time to remember that there are Christians who have already been in a ‘lockdown’ for some time due to ill-health. This time of isolation needs to fill us with empathy for their everyday struggles and help us to ensure that we use all means at our disposal to allow them to have meaningful contact with the church family after Covid-19 has passed.
3. What does the Lord want to teach us?
I have never been the ‘tech guy’, and so have grown in admiration for those who are. It seems that every problem we’ve faced has been met and overcome by someone in the know. Frankly, we would not be able to do what we’re doing without them. But what if some problems arise for another reason? What if a difficulty comes our way, not to get us to show some clever problem-solving, but to teach us something else altogether? This is where I want to close this short thought: in a time where we can’t share in the Lord’s Supper, what does the Lord want to teach us?
It should be the case that every Christian is disappointed not to be sharing communion with their brothers and sisters in Christ – but there’s no other option at the moment. We want to keep the feast; instead we have an enforced fast. And with fasting comes yearning. My prayer is that this period of isolation will generate more and more within the community of God’s people a longing to meet again and to share communion again because we yearn for more of the Lord himself. This is the purpose of fasting in the Scriptures, that we might deepen our relationship with God (e.g. Ezra 8:21), and so let’s use this time to ask God to produce that within us, so that we eagerly anticipate the day when we do meet together again and rejoice together in our oneness in Christ.
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” Psalm 42:1-2