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PASTOR CHIP THORNTON: The Lord’s Supper in a pandemic (column)

Pastor Chip Thornton 2020

Pastor Chip Thornton

Health concerns are causing congregations to re-imagine how they partake the Lord’s Supper. Different congregations approach it differently, but we ought to be mindful of several points.

First, the Lord’s Supper is a congregational ordinance, not an individual one. Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim (announce) the Lord’s death until He comes.” 

The “you’s” are plural, referring to the congregation. Of course, the individual benefits, but it’s designed for the congregation. Some of the richness is lost when we place the focus on “us” rather than on the bride of Christ as she (collectively) proclaims Jesus’ sacrifice for her.

Second, the Lord’s Supper was meant to be shared together, not apart. 

Paul says five times in 1 Corinthians 11, “when you come together.” Jesus passed one loaf and one cup, shared by all. 

Interestingly, John’s Gospel account hardly mentions the actual elements. He focused on (1) washing one another’s feet and (2) deep teaching (loving one another and pledging to keep His commandments). 

A virtual Lord’s Supper can’t capture this experience or ambiance. One person said he turned 40 and had a Zoom birthday party. All of his family was there on the screen. It was better than nothing, but you know what they couldn’t do? Eat birthday cake together.

Finally, the Lord’s Supper was meant to be holy, not convenient. 

Our congregation has taken the Lord’s Supper once during the pandemic. One of my hesitations, though, is my duty to preserve the holiness of the ordinance.

Originally, it was a full-blown meal. It wasn’t rushed. It wasn’t meant as a spiritual check-mark before the “real” events of the day: the NFL games, the kids’ sports, or the family coming over. No, it “was” the event. It left a profound and deeply moving, deeply impactful, deeply emotional imprint that trumped fantasy leagues, little leagues and family affairs.

Over time, I’m afraid we’re slipping further and further away from God’s intention. We moved from a full-blown fellowship meal to a wafer and cup. Then, we pre-packaged it (which I’m not against) for convenience. 

And now, in a virtual world, a slice of white bread from the cupboard and a swig of Coke will do the trick. The thought of people tuning in on Facebook to take the Lord’s Supper in their pajamas and slippers with their feet propped up on the coffee table -- frankly -- frightens me. 

God is not concerned with clothes (John the Baptist wore camel hair). He is concerned with how we approach what He has deemed holy. We must be mindful not to forsake the holiness of the ordinance for the sake of the convenience of the ordinance.  

At the same, let’s not be overly critical. God knows our hearts. He knows His people desire with desire to have this meal with Him -- especially during a pandemic. My prayer for each congregation is that God sees the desire in your hearts and overlooks the imperfect ways in which we might be expressing it.

Dr. Chipley McQueen Thornton is lead pastor at FBC Springville.