By Luke Scallon
This weekend marks the fourth Sunday that our church is unable to gather in person to worship the Lord together and joyfully practice the “one another” commands God has lovingly given. Though life and church as we know them have been overturned for now, we believe Jesus is still building His church, the gates of Hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18), and we are His church. On the other hand, we are “walking with a limp” right now, as pain and discomfort accompany our extended separation.
This reality will sink in a little deeper this Sunday. Many Baptist churches traditionally celebrate the Lord’s Supper together on the first Sunday of each month, observing it regularly as a consistent reminder of Jesus’ death, which paid the full price for our forgiveness and redemption. Many churches will work to adapt their normal practices to online formats, including the Lord’s Supper. We, too, have worked to provide continuity of worship and Bible study via the internet, yet we will not be making the same provision for the Lord’s Supper. Here are three reasons why.
First, we must understand the nature of the Lord’s Supper. The value and function of the Lord’s Supper don’t depend on any pastoral blessing, and the bread and juice don’t become Jesus’ body and blood (as in the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation). The elements are symbolic representations, not a literal, repeated sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27) or the mystical “real presence” of Jesus. We eat and drink the bread and juice as a memorial, just as the Passover was eaten as a memorial of the final plague on Egypt that delivered Israel from the Egyptians. The Lord’s Supper is our memorial of what God already accomplished through His Son on the cross, which delivered us from sin and death.
Second, we must see the Lord’s Supper as very serious. Because the Lord’s Supper is a memorial, we won’t somehow lose favor with God by not observing it this month. We don’t depend on observing the Lord’s Supper to curry favor with God. Nevertheless, this ordinance is a weighty and special time in which the church should pause and remember Christ together through the actions of eating and drinking. We are warned about the need for self-examination before partaking (1 Corinthians 11:27–29). So we must participate in the Lord’s Supper with careful thoughtfulness and great thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 11:24), because in so doing we are proclaiming the Lord’s death together (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Third, we believe God has given the Lord’s Supper to the church to celebrate together. Note the repeated phrase “when you come together” (1 Corinthians 11:17–18, 20, 33–34). Members of the first-century church weren’t observing the Lord’s Supper at their family tables in the isolation of their homes. Rather, this observance was made corporately, in fellowship with one another when they gathered for worship. This is also why we often call the Lord’s Supper “Communion” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16, where that word occurs twice). The word communion means “fellowship, partners in, or participation together.” When we partake of the elements, we actively engage in a memorial of the gospel, remembering Christ’s death together.
With these points in mind, we believe that any form of replicating Communion from the isolation of our homes, even if we “join together” through digital means, would obviate the beauty and power of what it is to participate physically together in the memorial of Christ’s death. So we choose to wait, not neglecting Jesus’ command to “do this in remembrance of [Him].” We choose to wait with a holy discontent that we must temporarily do without the regular, personal fellowship God has provided through the Body of Christ. And we eagerly long for the time when we will unite in person once more. The apostle Paul expressed this desire while under house arrest, “For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:8). So, let us feel the pain of one another’s absence, but let us limp forward to do all we can to worship together in spirit and in truth and to serve one another with frequent contact through phone, email, and constant prayer for one another. And let us do it all in remembrance of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Luke Scallon is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Laurel, Md.