Communion During COVID-19
It was over a month ago when gathering restrictions and social distancing first took place during the coronavirus pandemic. As the time has gone on, from hugs and handshakes to singing together and communion, we are grieving the loss both of things that we cherished, and things we took for granted. While we know this won’t go on forever, we are still left to answer questions of, “what should we do while it does?” The elders and staff of Veritas have had countless prayerful conversations to answer the question, “if we can’t do this thing that we value and have done in the past, then what is the best, Biblically faithful, option for us to do during this time?” So, while we have not been able to gather on Sundays to worship, we still continue to carry on our purpose and mission to glorify God and make disciples by singing and praising Jesus and preaching the Word online. Another very important question that we have considered and that many of you had asked is, “what about communion?”
This is an important question because the Lord’s Supper is important. While many Biblically faithful churches may come to a different decision on how to handle communion during this time, unbiblical views of the Lord’s Supper can lead churches to either observe communion or to not observe for wrong reasons. For instance, over the past few weeks I have seen some churches continue to observe communion because they view the act of taking it weekly to be of absolute importance for a Christian to continue in the faith, and I have seen others observe communion during this time because they view it with such low importance that they have no reason to consider not taking it; saying just “go to your kitchen and grab something to drink and something to eat.” On the other hand other churches may not offer communion because they have such a high view of who serves it and where it is taken, and there are others still who are not taking communion right now because they have such a low view of the Lord’s Supper that they see no real importance in it and have no reason to observe it. Therefore, while churches can have biblically faithful reasons for observing or abstaining from communion right now, churches can also choose to observe or abstain for biblically unfaithful reasons as well.
What has Veritas determined about celebrating communion while we cannot gather?
According to Scripture, both the physical act of gathering together as the church as well as the spiritual act of being united together in Christ through repentance and faith are essential for the Lord’s Supper to be the Lord’s Supper. We see this first in the fact that there is nothing special about the type of bread or the type of wine or juice that is used, but that what matters is that we take it with thanksgiving and faith remembering the Lord and proclaiming his death until he comes again (1 Corinthians 11:23-27). And yet, not any bread or drink that we eat in faith with thankfulness while remembering Jesus is communion. Paul says to the Christian, that is simply what we should do whenever we eat and drink! “Whether you eat or drink, or what ever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Then a little later when he is confronting the Corinthians for eating the bread and drinking the wine in an unworthy manner by consuming too much he says, “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” (1 Corinthians 11:22a) So while all eating and drinking that we do in thankfulness and faith to Jesus is good and glorifying to God, the eating and drinking we do individually in our houses apart from the church community is not communion, because the gathering together of the church is essential to communion.
In 1 Corinthians 11, five times, Paul refers to the fact that they celebrate the Lord’s Supper when they “come together” as a church (1 Corinthians 11:17, 18, 20, 33, 34). However, eating the bread and drinking the wine when they come together is not communion simply because they do it together. In v. 20 Paul says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat” because even though they ate the bread and drank the wine together they were doing it in an “unworthy manner” (1 Corinthians 11:27). So while we should eat the Lord’s Supper when we come together as the church to worship, it is not communion unless the individuals who are gathered take it in faith, by humbly serving one another, remembering Christ, and proclaiming his death.
To celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it’s not enough to eat and drink to the glory of God remembering Jesus by yourself or with your family at home separated from the church, and it’s not enough to eat and drink with the church in an unworthy manner that fails to glorify God by remembering and proclaiming the death of Christ. Communion involves the many who were once separated by sin sharing the bread and cup to display and declare our unity in Christ and our unity with one another.
So because the Lord’s Supper is not only a display of our communion and unity with Jesus, but also of our communion and unity with one another, the Elders of Veritas are convinced that to celebrate the Lord’s Supper we should be physically as well as spiritually worshiping together, and that if either of those two things are missing, it’s not that we are just celebrating communion in a suboptimal way that is “the best we can do considering,” but that we are not celebrating communion.
The church of Jesus has not stopped during this crisis, it is alive and well. It is important to remember that the church has suffered through much worse in its past and will suffer through much worse in its future. Yet our purpose to glorify Jesus, and our mission to make disciples will remain, and will ultimately be fulfilled. We must be creative in this time to faithfully carry out our mission in a context we never imagined; however, as we seek to determine the best way to do so while socially distant, we should not think that our best virtual efforts replace the things the Bible calls us to do together as a body. Our online worship has been a wonderful blessing, to sing and praise God, to hear the Bible taught, and the gospel proclaimed, but no matter how good it is, it isn’t the gathering of the church. So while we should respond to the gospel with repentance and faith, we should remember Jesus’ sacrifice and proclaim his death until he comes, and we should eat and drink to the Glory of God while we are separated, we should not make the mistake of thinking those things are communion. Rather, let the absence of communion, like the absence of our gathering as a community, stoke in you a hunger for it that you might not have felt while we regularly enjoyed it together.
So what does this mean practically for us at Veritas? Well here are some answers to a few questions that you may have.
Will we only celebrate communion once we return to normal Sunday Gatherings?
At this point it is hard to know what “normal” Sunday Gatherings will look like and when we will be able to fill our buildings again as congregations. It seems likely that the restrictions on gatherings will be rolled back in phases, similarly to how they were rolled out. We may be able to gather as a group of 12, and then 20 or 50, before we can be together as a group of 100 and 500+. As those restrictions are removed, we will consider how we might faithfully observe communion as smaller gatherings of the church, as the church does not have to be gathered in its entirety to be gathered together to celebrate communion.
What about communion for shut ins? Is it wrong for a shut in to take communion when they cannot gather with the church?
No. When communion is taken to a shut-in a few members of the church body are sent with the bread and drink that the gathered church shared. Essentially they are going as a real physical and spiritual connection between the gathered church and those who are separated and unable to gather for extended periods of time. Taking communion and remembering and proclaiming Jesus’s death with shut-ins is a powerful display of just how important the physical and spiritual unity are when celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The difference between that and what we are in the midst of now is that essentially right now we are all shut-ins, there is no gathered church or shared bread or drink to take to each other.
So, “if we can’t do this thing (communion) that we value and have done in the past, then what is the best, biblically faithful, option for us to do during this time?”
Hunger for it, both for the physical unity as a gathered church, and for spiritual unity with our Savior. As Jesus said when he first instituted the Supper longing for our ultimate union with him, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) Church, Jesus has been waiting almost 2000 years to physically gather with you to break bread and drink wine, to celebrate communion with you in the Kingdom! So whatever you do, keep remembering his sacrifice for you personally and keep proclaiming the good news of what his death means to each other in Community Group, as we look forward to eating the bread and drinking the cup when we come together again (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Missing you dearly, from the pastors at Veritas Community Church