The conviction is that as soon as we are a gathered community again, whenever that may be, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We are already planning—with anticipation and hope—what that first regathered Sunday worship service will look like. And it will be joyously appropriate for that worship to picture our tangible union through the sacrament of communion.
As we often say at StoneBridge, the Lord’s Supper holds together many themes of Scripture. It is a place for us to confess sin and trust in his righteousness. It’s a foretaste of the great feast. It’s a place to declare all over again that we belong to him. And it’s a picture of the oneness of our community—a gathered body of which Christ is the head.
Because we believe these things, we also hold some convictions as a denomination as to how the Lord’s Supper is to be observed. For instance, we believe that communion—just like in the early church—is something we do when we’re together, an element of our gathered worship alongside the preaching of the Word, prayer, song, and the rest. There’s a togetherness to our practice of observing the Lord’s Supper, and to treat it as an individual family observance is to miss a critical element of the intended picture. Since the Lord’s Supper is meant to be a picture of the gathered body of Christ, it would be improper to hold ‘private communion’ in our homes.
However, the unprecedented challenge before us is our inability to practice corporate communion in a gathered setting. This has led the pastors to have extended conversations on the possibility of celebrating communion in a live online setting. Our question had been: Can we find a way to still take communion together, at the same time but not in the same room? Could our connected spiritual community partake together even with the lacking bodily community? Is there a way to celebrate this sacrament while ‘sheltering in place?’
In the end, we’ve come to two conclusions. The first is that it is not advisable for us to attempt a virtual Lord’s Supper. Our concerns are several. But perhaps our main concern is an inability to truly provide for everyone who is scripturally invited to partake. Even if we took every step to make sure the bread and cup were distributed in individual packets to our church family the week prior, we would still be in a position where many guests (including but not limited to the out of town guests who have found us online) would be unable to participate despite having a firm faith and trust in Christ. If we believe that all believers are invited to the table, we don’t want to present communion in a way that only those who received their packets in advance would be able to participate.
The second conviction is that as soon as we are a gathered community again, whenever that may be, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We are already planning—with anticipation and hope—what that first regathered Sunday worship service will look like. And it will be joyously appropriate for that worship to picture our tangible union through the sacrament of communion.
In the meantime, the pastors have thought of this dilemma in terms of a fast. Jesus tells us that in times of sorrow and difficulty it is appropriate to fast (Mark 2:19-20) and even sets aside his own sort of fast as an anticipation of a one-day greater fullness (Mark 14:24-25). We grieve our physically-distanced community and the inability to meet together face-to-face. Presence matters. Until we are able to be in each other’s presence again, ‘fasting’ from the Lord’s Table seems to be an appropriate means of praying and preparing for our regathered community. Our Lord supplies us with other means of grace to sustain us through this sorrowful time. When it ends, we will break the fast together!
An old Scottish pastor named Robert Bruce once wrote that “We get no other thing in the Sacrament than we get in the Word. Content yourself with this.” In other words, during this fast we go to God’s Word to receive the same comfort the Lord’s Table provides. Both are means of grace. But Bruce goes on to say that in communion “Even if you get the same thing you get in the Word, yet you get the same thing better.” Communion strengthens our grip on the gospel; it seals the things we read in his Word. The sacrament gives us a better grasp of Jesus and what he has done for us. It’s a great source of spiritual nourishment through the powerful example of physical nourishment. It’s a crucial regular part of Christian life, and we long to celebrate together again soon.
One day we will worship forever in each other’s physical presence and—better still—in the physical presence of our Lord and Savior. Until then, we long for the day when he will gather up his church and faith will become sight.
In Him, Your Pastors at StoneBridge
StoneBridge Church Community, Charlotte, N.C.