The Lord’s Supper on Zoom?
We are so grateful to have Zoom. Being able to ‘meet’ safely, seeing one another’s faces and interacting together in a different way. However, we long for the physical gathering of God’s people once again. Online worship, while better than nothing, is no substitute for the real thing. Also, how we are meeting impacts our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It has been an added sadness not to be able to do that since we've been in lockdown. You may have noticed that some churches have attempted to celebrate the supper online (sometimes asking the attendees to bring their own bread and wine to the screen in order to remember the Lord in this way). However, we don't do that because we feel it is not in line with the bible's teaching on the Lord Supper.
The Lord’s Supper cannot be carried out when the church is scattered.
The most obvious feature of the Last Supper is that it was a shared meal. The physical act of gathering is essential, not incidental to the instructions.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul refers five times to the fact that they celebrate the Lord’s Supper when they all come together as a church
, as one assembly meeting in one place at one time:
In 1 Corinthians 10.16-17, Paul describes the cup of blessing as a sharing in the blood of Christ and the breaking of the bread as a sharing in his body.
33So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. (cf Acts 2:46)
The Greek word here is one familiar to us: koinonia, conveying the idea of having something in common. In the Lord’s Supper, we share or have in common the same bread and the same wine, reflecting the fact that what binds us together is the one body and the one blood of Christ. Also v.17 demonstrates that the Supper enacts the church’s unity. It gathers the many who partake of the same elements together, in the same place, and makes them one. So, if we are not in the same room it becomes something other than the Lord’s Supper.
The bread and the wine are ‘given and received,’ and it is not just any bread and wine: it is “this bread” and “this cup” (1 Cor. 11.26), for which thanks have been given, and over which the words of explanation and institution have been pronounced. Then, rather than seize them, they are received (either from a leader or a fellow believer).
16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
The Bible does not teach that the bread and the wine literally become or contain Christ’s body and blood (Roman Catholic belief). Nevertheless, the bread and wine symbolise the body and blood of Jesus Christ and in some mysterious way Christ is also spiritually present as we partake of the bread and the wine. If he is present when Christians gather to worship (Matthew 18:20) then surely he is present in a special way at the Lord’s supper. As the C16th theologian John Calvin wrote, “why would the Lord put in your hand the symbol of his body except to assure you of a true participation in it.” [4:17.19] Indeed, the writer Wayne Grudem writes, “We meet him at his table, to which he comes to give himself to us. As we receive the elements of bread and wine in the presence of Christ, so we partake of him and all his benefits.
We “feed on him in our hearts by faith and with Thanksgiving” (and so can only meet with us where there is personal faith).
[Systematic Theology p.995]
In the Supper, the Lord Jesus assures us of his love and grace towards us, and we are bound together with other believers into his body. Wanting to recognise that, many churches that are practicing ‘online communion’ during this crisis are surely doing so in good-faith. However, these efforts remain essentially an individual experience (I remain in control). Real communion/koinonia is inherently inconvenient, because more wills, opinions, and desires are at play than just my own.
Despite the benefits of Zoom, and a degree of fellowship which is so encouraging, we aren’t truly together. We are detached and unable to physically interact (something especially needed when it comes to the Supper). Like baptism, the Supper is physical and embodied. It is about bread and wine, yes. But it is also about relationships (warts and all!), about being bound to God and to one another in Jesus. And that can’t happen on-line. At best, what we experience in such a case is private communion, which is not communion (not a fellowship meal)*.
Different churches and church traditions vary in frequency in celebration of the Supper. As those who celebrate it fairly frequently, we can feel pained by not sharing the Supper. Therefore, we need patience and steadfastness, but most of all – we need the gospel! Let us keep pointing one another back to the cross and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and let us cry, “He did it for me!”
(Galatians 2:20). Let us tell each other that the Lord is Sovereign (all powerful) over all things – that we are his church, the sheep of his pasture
(Psalm 100) and let us continue to look forward to that which the Supper also points forward to – the marriage feast in heaven
(eg Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 19:7-9).
As one writer put it ‘for now, the path to participating in the Lord’s Supper is closed to us. For now, we are not called to feast but to fast’.
prior to the pandemic, if I could avoid it, I didn't do home communions on my own
. I would assemble a handful of people to come with me – because it is a fellowship meal.