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Mon 13th April Bread and Wine, not Tea and Toast!

This coming Sunday we are encouraging the Ridgeway church family to do something we have never done before. That is, to share the Lord’s Supper or communion ‘remotely’. We have even asked parents to bake bread and press grape juice with their children in preparation of this celebration. Given these encouragements, I wanted to take some time to address three questions. Firstly, ‘is it possible to share communion remotely? Secondly, ‘what should we eat and drink?’ Then thirdly, who should eat and drink?’ However, given the complexity and historical debate around these questions, I trust you will appreciate that my musings are far from complete. I trust though that they are sufficient to serve as a pastoral guide for the Ridgeway family.

‘Is it possible to share communion remotely?

Our understanding of the Lord’s Supper is taken primarily from its origin in the Passover meal (Ex 12 ff), the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last supper (Matt 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-25; Lk 22:14-20), the practice of the early church and Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth (1 Co 11:13-34). Now, when Paul addresses the church at Corinth he writes about their appalling behaviour when sharing the Lord’s Supper together. In fact, things had deteriorated to such an extent that some were being overlooked and others getting drunk. Paul therefore instructs them as to how they should behave when they ‘gather together’ (1 Co 11:34). So then, does Paul’s instruction mean that the Lord’s Supper can only be shared when we ‘gather’ physically together?

There are a few things to briefly note. It is evident in scripture that physical presence is an important component of church life. Although I am part of the universal church and am spiritually united to many I have never met, I am also a member of Ridgeway Community Church. In being so, I have a special bond and responsibility to those with whom I usually gather with, in order to worship on a weekly basis. I believe it is worth noting that Paul’s instructions appear to be descriptive of a specific situation as much as they are prescriptive for others. The Corinthians could gather freely, we cannot. We are separated, not through neglect or misplaced priorities, but through government instruction due to an appalling pandemic. Therefore, given Paul’s major complaint with the Corinthians was the lack of value they placed on the gathered church, I would argue that, in sharing the Lord’s Supper remotely, we are celebrating not diminishing the importance of the local church. Just to draw a parallel concerning spiritual and physical presence. When we baptise people at Ridgeway Wallingford, those who watch on the ‘big screen’ upstairs are as much a part of the celebration as those who squeeze into the minor hall, downstairs. Indeed, the technology allows us all do be included in the celebration, rather than some to be excluded by physical constraints. In the same way I believe that we should thank God for the means which allow us to share the Lord’s Supper together at this time.

‘What should we eat and drink?’

Bread had huge significance to the Jewish people. It played a significant part in both the Tabernacle and the Temple, was prominent in their feasts and central in the sharing of a common meal. It is of little surprise then that Jesus was born in Bethlehem ‘the house of bread’ and actually referred to himself as ‘the bread of life’ (Jn 6:48). Again, wine was important to God’s people. At the Passover meal there were four cups to be shared, each portraying a distinct message. However, as we follow the meal unfolding in the Gospels, we find it was the third cup, or the ‘cup of redemption’ (Lk 22:17-18) which Jesus brought his disciples attention to. Jesus took these two most basic elements of the meal, the bread and the wine and revealed how they would find their fulfilment in his atoning sacrifice upon the cross at Calvary.

Although I believe that the Lord’s Supper is much more than symbolic, we must remember that the bread and the wine we receive remain just that. The significance then of the bread and wine, is that which they point us to. Namely, the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the bread and wine that we have in church is no more sacred than the bread and wine we may have at home. Now, I appreciate that some people prefer alcoholic wine over grape juice or unleavened bread over a seeded loaf. Although I am fairly unconcerned about these details, I am reminded that Jesus took great care to ensure that his final meal was prepared in a right and proper manner. In the same way than we honour the Lord as we prepare the bread and wine on order to receive the Lord’s Supper together. In all seriousness, I encourage you then to do all you can to come with something that resembles bread and red wine and not tea and toast!

‘Who should eat and drink?’

This has been a question which the universal church has wrestled with for years. Therefore, although I am happy to share my personal conviction, I appreciate there will be those who disagree. If you are in this category, I would encourage you to follow your own conviction.

Given that the Lord’s Supper is a fulfilment of the Passover meal, I believe that the celebration of this feast enables us, at least in part, to address the question. Not only have Jewish children always participated in Passover, but for many it has been the highlight of their calendar year. In fact, God himself encouraged, the whole of his people to celebrate Passover (Ex 12:47) and for it to be used as an opportunity to teach their children about his provision (Ex 13:8). However, over the years, many have highlighted Paul’s teaching to the church in Corinth. Here he warns them, ‘So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup’ (1 Co 11:27-28). Although we ought to encourage children to understand the need of repentance and the importance of forgiveness, I believe it is essential to understand the wider context of these verses. Here, Paul is addressing the need for unity, not division within the church. Indeed, this theme of unity across ages, races and social classes is a recurring theme in his letters. In light of this, mature believers should not primarily be asking, ‘is it okay for children to take the Lord’s Supper’, but ‘am I in a right relationship with others in order that we can receive the Lord’s Supper together’?

The second objection is that only those who are baptised should participate in the Lord’s Supper. Given that as a church we do not baptise infants, this would course exclude all those not old enough or able to express saving faith in Jesus. However, it is worth remembering that this condition is not stated nor even implied anywhere within the New Testament. In light of this, I would argue it should not serve as a prohibition for us.

If then you have children, I encourage you to spend time this week making bread and pressing grape juice with them. And while you do so, take the time to teach them about the life and the sacrifice our Lord Jesus.

However, I invite you all, whether you are living alone or part of a busy household, to gather next Sunday, as old and young, with bread and wine. Then, together we will have the privilege of remembering the death of the Lord Jesus, to celebrate our unity in him and to look forward to his glorious return.

Yours in anticipation, Gareth