Why We Are Not Observing Communion During the Pandemic
Over the past several months that we have been worshipping virtually, some have questioned, “Why aren’t we having Communion? Other churches are doing it, aren’t they?” And that is true: many churches are still offering Communion. Allow me to explain why we are not.
First of all, the issue of whether we observe Communion is not one of logistics. Obviously, we could do what other churches around the city are doing: distribute the prepackaged elements during the week before, and invite the members to partake of them during the broadcast of our service. As a matter of fact, days into the first shutdown in March, our deacons were already prepared to have the entire congregation “virtually commune” on the first Sunday of April. I decided against it. Because the question is not, could we give out the elements and have everyone take them at home?
The answer to that is “yes.” The question is, is that Communion? With respect to those who disagree, including many dear brothers in the ministry, I believe the answer to that is “no.”
In 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul corrects the church for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper and gives instruction for its proper observance, he uses a key phrase, not once, not twice, but five times. That phrase? “Come together.”
11:17: “Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.”
11:18: “For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you…”
11:20: “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.”
11:33: “Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.”
11:34: “But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment…”
I submit that here we see that Communion is something that by definition cannot happen alone, in front of a computer, smartphone or TV. We must come together. It requires physical presence. Because Communion is about more than a first Sunday tradition. It is about more even than personal introspection. It is about the gathered body of Christ remembering together the sacrifice of our Savior (Luke 22:19), recommitting together to Him and to one another (1 Cor. 11:29), and announcing together to the watching world that the Lord is coming again (1 Cor. 11:26). In the words of one author, “The Lord’s Supper enacts the church’s unity. It consummates the church’s oneness. It gathers up the many who partake of the same elements together, in the same place, and makes them one…. So to make the Lord’s Supper into something other than a meal of the whole church, sitting down together in the same room, is to make it something other than the Lord’s Supper.”
Communion is a sacred ordinance, an ordinance that can only properly be observed as the church is physically gathered together. To attempt to observe it any other way minimizes the ordinance and marginalizes the church.
I recognize that many of us desperately miss Communion, and are anxious to celebrate it anyway we can. While I respect and sympathize with those desires, there are still some things that are too precious to settle for a substitute. We can make concessions to accommodate these difficult times in several areas of worship (praying, giving, singing, preaching). Communion, sisters and brothers, is not one of them.
While we all long to be able to partake of the bread and the cup again (and that is a good longing!), I am persuaded that this is one thing for which we simply must wait. And my prayer is that this longing and waiting will kindle in us a greater desire for the glorious reality of which Communion is just a shadow.
In the words of the Lord Jesus, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29).
May the temporary absence of this meal make us hunger even more for that future meal, when we see our Savior face to face.
Pastor DeNon A. Porter
1Bobby Jamieson, “Can Baptism and the Lord’s Supper Go Online?” The Gospel Coalition, March 25, 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/baptism-lord-supper-online/.