There has been some concern about the irreverence that could result from allowing people to prepare their own Communion in our current online services. A few years back I was scandalized to hear of a youth ministry that used pizza and soda pop as Communion elements. I found it disrespectful and brash.
But that was before coronavirus. Before my children no longer went to school, and people stayed in isolation across the globe. Before I stood in the rain in a single-file line waiting for Target to open, hoping and praying I would find the basics.
Things have changed. And with these changes, local churches have had to adapt almost instantaneously. As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, we make plans according to what we know, and we sometimes have to change them an hour later.
Moving the entire global Church to an online experience has felt like turning the Titanic in a fish pond. And yet, some beautiful things are emerging. One of them is virtual Communion.
Communion is a central part of our weekly service. First, we scrambled to order prefilled, sealed cup-and-wafer sets, enough to last us through Easter. We served them with latex gloves.
However, after one week, we realized we would have to move our in-person gatherings to online services. We planned a livestream with a ministry team doing worship and speaking. Before that could materialize, gatherings of all sizes were prohibited, effective immediately.
As we scaled back our format accordingly, there was no debate among our staff when it came to Communion. There was no time for us to distribute Communion supplies to congregants, so we simply told people to use whatever they had.
While preparing to lead Communion for our first online service, I could not find the Communion wafers anywhere in our large, completely empty facility. So I used a stale Goldfish cracker that I rounded up in a preschool classroom. I made a joke about it, and shared the same instructions that we give every week.
I had never been so aware that the memorial Jesus requested is simple and humble. He didn’t ask for a parade, or a statue, or His picture on a coin. He simply asked us to remember Him with the most common, daily elements — a cup and some bread.
Communion together has given us a sense of solidarity during an isolating time.
When we perused the comments from our Facebook Live service, it was comical to read about what people were using for Communion: cheesy crackers and coffee, pretzels and lemonade, bread and milk, almonds and kombucha tea.
Is it theologically sound? The New Testament writers don’t focus on the type of bread or the color of the drink Jesus shared with His disciples on the night He was betrayed.
In fact, when the apostle Paul referenced the practice in 1 Corinthians 11, it sounded more like a sit-down dinner than the miniature cup and papery wafer we typically use for Communion. It was not the contents of the meal that bothered Paul, but the disparity between the poor and rich.
Within our Pentecostal, evangelical tradition, the elements themselves do not hold any special power, nor must they be administered by a priest or clergy. The purpose of Communion is to intentionally remind ourselves of the blood and the body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Allowing people to prepare their own elements and use whatever they have available reinforces our theology; it does not diminish it.
Why do Communion now? Wouldn’t it be easier to skip it? We are approaching Holy Week, a time when we remember the humiliation of Jesus as He approached the cross. We are also coming into a time of great national grief. Everything superficial is being stripped away, both in the Church and in the world.
There could be no better time to identify with the sufferings of Jesus, as many people suffer economically, relationally and physically.
It has been incredibly bonding for our church to share this moment together. I have never sensed the significance of the body of Christ as I received Communion like I have these last few weeks. Knowing that across our city, people in their homes, with their children, are receiving Communion with us has given us a sense of solidarity during an isolating time.
If you’re wondering how to do virtual Communion, I would encourage you to let your congregation know ahead of time that you will be sharing in Communion together, so they can prepare their own elements. When it comes to that part of the service, take your time. Share a thought, share a Scripture.
People will still need a few moments to gather some kind of bread and some kind of drink. Don’t rush just because it feels awkward to experience Communion by yourself. Allow for a holy moment. Say a prayer, and then receive the bread and the cup.
Virtual Communion can be as powerful as sharing it in person. It is an affirmation of our own faith as we strip away the pomp and ceremony to share in a meaningful ritual. Let’s meditate on the words of Jesus as He inspires us to live in a way worthy of his sacrifice: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).