Yesterday, we chose to share communion together as a church family. This wasn’t something we did lightly because we know that the question of whether or not we can continue with communion is something that churches and pastors have been wrestling with. Whilst I have struggled at times with the at times dismissive language used towards those in favour of pandemic communion and the lack of engagement with the Scripture and the arguments used, I respect that those who disagree are in the main doing so out of concern for Christ’s honour and his church.
To sum up again, my reasoning for continuing with the Lord’s Supper, the arguments are:
- That Christ’s command for us to gather takes precedent over secular law. It has not been revoked and I cannot find Scriptural basis for doing so. Therefore it is those arguing that we should stop aspects of our gathering that are providing a novel approach and so the burden of proof is on them.
- That in fact, with one or two exceptions, most churches are attempting to in some way replicate the normal gathering, acknowledging that they are seeking to remain obedient to Christ and to gather.
- That being barred from eating is a sign of exile, punishment and death throughout Scripture. Therefore we should continue to encourage the feeding of God’s people with his word and sharing in the Lord’s Supper.
- That our meetings with the help of IT remain physical gatherings where we see, speak and hear. Is it ideal? No, of course not but no gathering is perfect until the perfect gathering with Christ.
But my aim today is not to re-rehearse those arguments. You can read my thinking here. Rather, I wanted to describe a little of what happened yesterday. I hope that this will be an encouragement to those who are considering sharing communion together and perhaps as well an encouragement too for those who disagree. I’m not expecting this article to change your mind but maybe you will understand a little bit more of where your brothers and sisters are coming from and be re-assured that we have not been involved in some sacrilegious game playing
To give you a little bit of background. Our church has Brethren roots. Whilst much has changed, two things are important to us, first a genuine sense of plurality amongst the elders and secondly the regular breaking of bread. Indeed our constitution requires that this is observed each week.
We have been using both Facebook and Zoom as our platforms for gathering people together. We decided to use Zoom for communion because this better enabled people to participate and to see and hear each other. We let people know in advance how to dial in and to have ready bread and wine/grape juice. Closed table/Strict Baptist friends may be amused at this time that a church with an open table policy was in fact using technology to “fence the table!”
We started to come together at around 11am. This is normally when we would be sharing coffee together between our morning meetings. So as we came together people were chatting as usual about the week. One of our elders welcomed everyone and prayed. We then broke into small groups using the meeting room facility. In these small groups we shared testimony and prayed for each other. Then we returned to the main meeting room. I read Psalm 51 and we paused silently. Then we used 1 Corinthians 11 as the basis for communion. I invited two people to pray giving thanks for the bread and the cup. After we had shared communion, I preached on Isaiah 53. We then broke back into our zoom rooms for further conversation as we finished.
So was it ideal/perfect? No, it was a long way from that. We had to work hard and we were well outside of our comfort zones. This was a reminder to me though that some of our members find the usual gathering a challenge because they can’t see or hear well or because they find it painfully uncomfortable to sit in church chairs for a length of time. Indeed, some have said that they hear better on zoom. We missed the natural warmth of a gathering. We have cultures that are used to embracing and people miss that. It cuts Sunday School teachers to the heart to only be able to see the children they usually teach on the screen.
At the same time, I want to add that:
- There was a deep and moving reverence about the meeting. I think there was real emotion felt by all. Indeed, this had the right balance of lament and longing for a better day with joy and hope in the Lord
- It was perhaps easier for people to participate and contribute. The fear factor involved in standing up and walking to the front was removed.
- We were able to see each other. I am one of those people with eyesight challenges and I cannot always see the faces of those sitting close to the back so well. Yesterday I could see how they were engaging.
- We engaged across the generations and cultures. We had a mum with her kids in her arms and we had 80 and 90 year olds. This was no techy virtual gimmick for the young.
- There was a real sense of fellowship and togetherness.
I believe that the breaking of bread and drinking from the cup added something. It was exactly because we are not able to gather in our normal way that we benefited from that very visual and physical reminder that although we are many we are one because we share in the one bread (who is Jesus).
Further, I want to suggest that because it struck that balance of joy in what Christ is doing for us and with us now coupled with lament and longing, I believe we came away appropriately satisfied. We really did meet together as a church. At the same time, it increased our longing. I doubt any of us will be saying “Oh we can just do this at home” by the end, we will long even more to get back together in the same physical building. Further, I believe God is teaching us both to enjoy now but also to long and hunger even more for the not yet. All of our meals here are imperfect. We hunger for the wedding feast of the Lamb.