This question has become relevant since the COVID-19 breakout and as we see churches gathering in homes and watching services online to avoid the spread of the pandemic. Many churches have continued online with as much of their regular activity as possible, including the observance of communion. Some believers take comfort in the fact they can still participate in the Lord’s Supper at home; others question the validity of the ceremony when it is led online, with participants as separated as they are.
There are two aspects of communion. One is the congregational aspect, and the second is the personal aspect. Both are important.
First Corinthians 11:17–27 describes the congregational responsibilities: when we come together to observe communion, it is not a time to satisfy our own hunger. We have homes to do that. We are to come together without division in the congregation. The observance must be orderly, with our congregational focus on what Christ has done for us.
The personal side of communion is covered in 1 Corinthians 11:28–29. The one partaking of the Lord’s Table must engage in self-examination and be personally focused on the blood and body of Jesus.
Of course, when these instructions were written, the technology for online or virtual communion was not available. The early Christians often met in homes, but not because there was a pandemic threatening the lives of church members. Today, churches that opt for an online service are concerned for the safety and well-being of their members. In holding an online communion service, the personal aspect of communion can be fully met. It’s the congregational aspect that suffers.
But even in an online communion service, there is a connectedness with other members of the church. Everyone is participating at the same time, and everyone’s focus is on the sacrifice of Christ. The other members of the church may be out of sight, but they are not out of mind. There can still be the proper focus and a fellowship of sorts through the online or virtual observance of the ordinance. It’s not the ideal situation, but it may be the best some churches can do right now. If self-examination and reverence for the Lord’s sacrifice are maintained, an online communion service may be a temporary method of symbolizing unity in the church.
Worshiping God through communion is not about the building we are in, or even the particular elements used for communion; rather, it’s about remembering what Jesus did for us when His body was broken and His blood was shed for our sins. It’s about Jesus, and we should keep it about Him, wherever we are.