For nearly two thousand years followers of Christ have heeded his words and shared the sacramental meal. In breaking bread together and passing the cup, gatherings of faithful Christians around the world and through the centuries have been linked together in communion and touched tangibly by the grace of God. For all of our many differences—even with respect to the sacrament itself—the body of Christ has demonstrated rare unity in the unbroken continuity of the practice of partaking of the body and blood of our Savior.
Today the church finds itself in an unprecedented situation. Presently, it is unsafe for many of us to gather in our sanctuary for worship. While our separation preserves our health and safety, it imperils the sacramental life of the church and hinders our ability to be nourished and unified at the Lord’s Table.
We are not yet able to predict how long our physical separation will last, and even when it ends many of our number will be wise still to remain in isolation until the threat of infection is fully and truly behind us. For this reason, following our denomination’s guidance, we continue to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of each month, even though many of us are not gathering together in person.
A Presbyterian understanding of the sacrament insists that the elements themselves—bread and cup—are not physically transformed when the minister presides over them. Rather than believing that God comes down and enters the elements, we hold that the believer receives the elements in faith and is then drawn up into the presence of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This particular theology of the meal provides us with the flexibility we need at a time like this. The elements of which we all partake can be in different homes and in different forms and still be received in faith by the faithful; still draw us into an encounter with the divine; still nourish us for the life of faith; still unite us as the body of Christ.
This will not be like any Communion we have ever shared before, but this moment is unlike any we have ever experienced before. Like so much of daily life right now, this will require some adjustment, flexibility, and creativity.
How Does This Work?
On the first Sunday of each month, Pastor Anderson will lead the congregation through Communion as a part of the live-streamed worship service. Everyone will need to provide their own elements and have them ready on Sunday morning. We will eat the bread and drink the cup together. You can prepare the elements in individual servings for each participant, you can drink from a common cup, or you can dip the bread in the cup. Decide what works best for you.
What "Elements" Should I Use?
Jesus and his disciples drank wine. Since the Prohibition Era in the United States, Protestant Christians have tended to use a less potent form of the fruit of the vine (with many thanks to a prominent Methodist by the name of Welch [true story]). The meaning of the sacrament is not tied to the mundane details of the elements themselves; it is linked to the proclamation of the Word, the communal action of the congregation and the faithful partaking of the believer.
Here are some guiding principles.
Choose elements that elevate your engagement with the ritual.
If Coke and Doritos are the only things you have ready to hand, then please use them. But if you can, go for something a little less likely to distract from what should be the focus.
Choose elements that are pleasing to taste.
Just because it is a religious ritual doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. Remember that Jesus and his disciples were at table together, eating and drinking for both nourishment and enjoyment. If you are opting for wine, make it good wine.
Set the table.
Move the magazine and the remote control out of the way and create a little bit of sacred space in your living room. If you have a table cloth, get it out. If you have glassware or china that you reserve for special occasions, this certainly qualifies.
Invest yourself in preparation.
If you are a baker (or have a bread machine), make a special loaf for the occasion. If you are planning a trip to the grocery store before a Communion service, take this into consideration when making your shopping list.
What Do I Do With Leftovers?
Enjoy them. They are a sign of God's gracious and abundant goodness, and the good gifts of God should never be squandered. If you baked your own bread, finish it off at a meal with the family gathered together around the table. If you used juice, pour the kids a little more than usual at lunchtime. If you opened a bottle of wine, carve out time (maybe a little later in the day) to share the bottle and some quality time with your significant other or with a good friend over the phone.
What If I'm Not Watching Live?
Please still take the time to celebrate the meal. If the Holy Spirit can unite us though we are spread apart through space, the Spirit can do the same through time.
Let's be honest: this is not ideal.
We want life to return to normal. We want to go back to our less-than-comfortable pews, our bread cubes, and our little plastic cups. And that day will come again. But in the meantime, we will make the most of it.