Virtual Sacraments?

This coming Sunday, May 3, we will receive the Lord’s Supper as part of our live-streamed worship service. Why is RGC going online with the Lord’s Supper? In this post I want to explain why the elders decided to go ahead and receive the Lord’s Supper during this time when we are staying at home.

Sunday’s sermon will be about the gift that the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are to us, and I hope that message will stir your heart to rejoice in the grace that comes to us through them. You can read more about why we’ve decided to suspend baptisms here.

We are in an unprecedented situation, aren’t we? As of this writing, I’m told that more than one-third of the world’s population is under some kind of restrictions due to the coronavirus. While the world has experienced pandemics before, we’ve never done so during a time with the technology to track it world-wide so quickly and with technology that allows us to connect groups of people through video conferencing. Our church hasn’t met together for the past seven Sundays, and we know that we have at least five more to go. What should we do about the Lord’s Supper? Should we receive it together, in the sense of “together-at-the-same-time-while-in-our-homes” or wait until we can all be in the same place at the same time? And what if it is many months until such a gathering is possible?

There is no verse in the Bible we can go to for this answer. I can’t find “pandemic” in my concordance. It seems to us that we are in the realm of wisdom here. Churches may decide to proceed or to wait, but whichever they decide is a matter of being led by the Spirit into wisdom, not sinning by breaking one of God’s commands. For articles presenting both positions, look here and here.

Three reasons to wait until we can all be together in the same room:

  1. If you’re not in the same room, you’re not having the Lord’s Supper.

The teaching we find about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 is emphatic that they do this “when you come together” (verses 17, 18, 20, 33, 34). The argument can be made that if you aren’t together in the same space then you aren’t having the Lord’s Supper.

  1. Serving the Lord’s Supper online further normalizes church online.

We live in a time when more and more is being done online. People are teleworking, purchasing groceries online, and watching sermons online. We are becoming a virtual, online society. Serving the Lord’s Supper online just contributes to the downgrading of the need to be assembled in person. Further, it can lead to a casual approach to this sacrament since people often multitask while online. We don’t want someone washing the dishes or folding the laundry while taking communion!

  1. Waiting to receive the Lord’s Supper will fuel desire to come back together.

This is true!

Three reasons to receive the Lord’s Supper online during this pandemic:

  1. This is a temporary practice during an abnormal time.

Receiving the Lord’s Supper “together-at-home” is an exception we make during an exceptional time. We will not continue to do this when we can all be together again. And we’ve made exceptions like this in the past when we’ve served the Lord’s Supper privately to shut-ins. When Jesus expresses his approval of the time when David ate the special bread that was normally set aside for the priests (Matthew 12:1-8), he signals that some of God’s standards are flexible enough to allow for applying them differently during unusual times.

  1. This is an opportunity to experience more grace.

The Lord’s Supper is a gift to strengthen and assure God’s people. Don’t we need this now more than ever? A member wrote to me recently, “Our church’s regular observance of the Lord’s Supper is a great encouragement to my soul and a tangible means of reorienting my gaze from circumstances, trials, and temporal things to the One who gave His body in death, and defeated death, so that I might live.” If the common grace of digital communication makes it possible for the saints to be strengthened by the grace available in the Lord’s Supper, why not make use of this gift?

  1. Receiving the Lord’s Supper online will fuel desire to come back together.

The day will come when we can regather as a church and share the Lord’s Supper in person in the same place. Our less-than-ideal experience of the Lord’s Supper online can be one more reminder that we wait for, pray for, and long for the day when we can pass the trays and share the bread and cup in the same room at the same time.

How can we prepare?

First, prepare your heart. The Lord’s Supper is a time for self-examination. Are you right with God and others? If not, what steps can you take? I encourage you to take time before the service to pray and consider the Lord whose body and blood we remember.

Second, before the service, set aside some bread and juice or wine. While you’re at it, do your best to set aside all distractions like phones and breakfast and have your Bible ready and something to take notes.

Third, if you have children, help them plan ahead for this moment. The Lord’s Supper is for committed disciples who have been baptized, so unbaptized children should not be partaking of the Lord’s Supper. We discuss this more here and here and I’ll be explaining this during the sermon. This can be a great opportunity for parents to talk about the gospel with their children, to urge them to trust Christ, and to encourage any evidences of faith that you see in their lives.

I look forward to a fresh experience of grace “together-at-the-same-time-at-home” with you on Sunday.

Mark Mullery

P.S. Got comments or questions about this post, or ideas for another one? Email me at .