Bible and communion elements.
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash
Has the pandemic changed the Lord’s Supper?
March 8, 2023
Honestly, I can’t remember the first time I received communion, but I will never forget Communion on my couch, watching worship on a screen during the pandemic. For months, many churches asked people to gather bread and a beverage to share the Lord’s Supper at home. When Communion came out of the sanctuary and into our living rooms, I became more aware of how I experience it. Many Christian churches differ on the theological meanings of communion, but we can find common ground on the personal experience of receiving communion, and it can evolve as our lives change.
Early in my life, it seemed like an initiation into the family. My father, a deacon, cut Communion bread into perfect squares with the electric knife. I could only watch because I had not been baptized. I understood the idea of entrance requirements. Receiving communion may be a time to remember your first introduction to the Lord’s Supper and the mystery it held, now as a member of the church family.
I grew up with sermons opposing the Vietnam War, prophetic words on civil rights, and ecumenical movements. I always marveled as members of our church could seem to be so different on any number of subjects, but the Lord’s Supper always made us one. The early Christians had a multitude of differences as well, but communion kept pulling them together, in Christ. One of the challenges of the pandemic was the absence of others. We could only close our eyes and imagine familiar faces all eating and drinking at the same time. In communion, it is a time to acknowledge our differences, and even our conflicts, and be reconciled to one another.
When I became a pastor, I started wrestling with Communion again. For some reason, a lot of the mystery had been sucked out. Still, my desire to communicate the Gospel convinced me that the ceremony was really an object lesson, a teaching moment. The bread was a lesson about Christ’s body given in death. The cup was a lesson about Christ’s blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. Communion acts out the story of our faith.
The more I led services, the more communion became a somber ending to a morning worship service. Often the transition from worship to communion was accompanied by hymns about the cross. We ate and drank remembering the Savior who died for us. My reaction was grief and sorrow. The depth of God’s love still surrounds me in communion.
Honestly, I can’t remember the first time I received communion, but I will never forget Communion on my couch, watching worship on a screen during the pandemic.
Communion as a memorial service quickly moved me to confession. 1 Corinthians 11:28 tells the believers to examine themselves as they approach the sharing of communion. Examination was not meant to qualify or disqualify someone from receiving communion, but rather we are instructed to prepare ourselves for coming to the table. In the silent moments, I sometimes hold the bread or the cup and confess knowing that… “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins…” (1 John 1:9)
Commitment and rededication
The repetition of regular communion made it a natural invitation to renew vows. Communion became an opportunity for recommitment to belief and obedience. When the risen Christ appeared to Peter, they shared a meal and three times Jesus asked: “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). I found the Lord’s Supper a time to tell Him I love Him. The New Covenant, like the ancient covenants, should regularly be reviewed and renewed. When I receive communion, I renew my commitments about faith and the practice of it.
Why do we say we are “celebrating” the Lord’s Supper? Passover celebrates what God had done to free his people from slavery in Egypt. Communion celebrates Jesus’ death that freed his people, each believer, from our slavery to sin. On Easter “Communion” Sundays, the Lord’s Supper demanded a celebration declaring that the story of the cross ends in a living Christ. He lives. On such occasions, I rediscover the root definition of Eucharist and experience joyful thanksgiving.
In one church, we shared worship with a Burmese Karen congregation several times a year. We sang the same songs in different languages and interpreted the service in both the Karen language and English. And when we shared communion, two deacons from each church would come to the table and pass out the elements to those in the pews. I could not keep from picturing people around the world, in every cathedral, house church, and sanctuary, in languages I will never know, but in words with which God is clearly familiar. Every Communion Sunday is Worldwide Communion Sunday, joining Christians in worldwide witness that Jesus is Lord.
Presence of Christ
During the pandemic, I discovered a new meaning. I don’t recommend getting your Christian faith from movies, but I saw a scene depicting tired disciples traveling the long journey to Galilee. One night, while talking about missing him and wishing to see him again, a disciple suggested that they could be with him in the breaking of the bread. In the Lord’s Supper, I sense the nearness of Christ and imagine him with me, eating and drinking together, like the Emmaus moment in Luke 24. His presence is part of the mystery of my Communion meal.
How do you experience the Lord’s Supper?
We may not agree on Memorialism, Consubstantiation, Transubstantiation, or other theological interpretations of the Lord’s Supper, but our subjective experience of communion shares many common threads whether you walk up an aisle, or pass a plate in the pew, or participate at home watching worship on a screen. The mysterious experience of Communion will be there because Christ is there.
Rev. Dr. Paul Bailey retired in 2021 from the Eastwood Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY. In addition to over 40 years of pastoral ministry, he was an adjunct instructor in Communications at Onondaga Community College for 15 years.