(the following was provided for our congregation's instruction)
With gatherings curtailed, the session began streaming services. We will not include the Lord’s Supper. Some churches do— distributing prepackaged elements ahead of the worship service or encouraging participants to obtain elements themselves. It is not difficult to imagine the streaming of words and images with food and drink on both sides of the screens. The logistics are feasible, but GPC will not follow that suggestion.
The Lord’s Supper is a precious gift, and believers in past centuries labored at great cost to hand it down to us in purity. The Protestant Reformation was in part provoked by the superstitious and manipulative use of the Lord’s Supper. We benefit every day from a protecting heritage, and we are mindful of it. As members of the PCA, GPC’s elders must act in agreement with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.
Submission to their ordination vows precludes an attempt to serve the Supper outside a corporeal gathering of the saints. Imagination and inclination can stir up contrary suggestions, but their actions cannot violate the commitments made in accepting office in the church. All members of the church come to the Lord’s table in a posture of submission to the Lord by submitting to the ministry of the Lord’s ordained servants— especially those ordained servants themselves.
Regulation of the Supper is needful. The Supper feeds, but it can be turned into something else. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:20), “When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.” Such an appalling evaluation prompts us to be careful. Paul’s rebuke hinges on how they treated one another during the meal. He suggests that their sinful conduct makes being together actually worse! Being together is a primary part of the Supper, yet the Supper is not automatic.
We are of course one body when physically separated. As we have one baptism, we have one Spirit. Our affection and attention are at worst hindered by distance, and often they are kindled and made more visible when we work to cross that distance. Part of the Supper is being together as Christ’s people. Imagine singing alone, and the difference is clear. We should long for that, and we will enjoy that again.
Interruption of the Supper is unusual. In longing to gather again, we must not fall into a false bereavement. We have not been excluded. We have not been turned away from the Lord’s presence. Unlike our neighbors without faith in the Lord, we rightly look forward to sitting at his table. Although we will not feast with him Sunday, we are not fasting. We can miss the Supper, as we miss God’s assembly, without deprivation.
Yes, we want better. We look forward to it. We must not think that we are less the church and less under his care because we can’t “go to church.” All that we need, in abundance, is still available. A key doctrinal point about the Supper is this: the Supper provides the same benefits as the preached word. Our life together and our witness need not diminish as if we have less from God week to week. Faith receives Christ and his benefits; the Word and the Supper both communicate Christ and his benefits.
The Supper is hospitality beyond description, yet the Word preached holds forth no less of the Lord and his welcome. In the hurry of unexpected duties, a servant might take his meal in the Lord’s kitchen rather than over linen and plate with his host. He certainly would rather— but not because he must go away hungry or unsustained for his tasks. Much less does he think that duty for his Lord makes absence an alienation.
The Lord instituted the Supper for our benefit, but not because his Word was insufficient. The Supper is a seal of God’s promises. A notary seal does not improve a promise, rather it give assurance among dishonest men. The Supper is better but not more than the Word. Her letter does not say more, but it is better read with that tiny drop of scent. His years of love are not more enriched, but roses of a few days do give a linger for a few days. Come days of poverty, neither florist nor perfume is needful: love and fidelity shine all the more obviously as unchanged and abiding. Waiting for the Supper does not leave us waiting for unavailable grace. We should expect and seek all we need from the Word’s work among us: the preaching of it, the praying of it, the repeating of it from one to another.
Interruption of weekly gathering and monthly Lord’s Supper may require more effort on our parts. You need to call people. You need to list people you didn’t see this week and pray for them. You need to zoom your heart to other believers for insight and accountability. We do this without planning when we see each other face-to-face each week. Pandemic is extraordinary, but it does not require grace from God that cannot be obtained without the Lord’s Supper. It does not require following the Lord with less grace. You may need to read and pray more deeply— because the world is in disarray, not the table. When next we come to the table, it will not be as guests kept away for some time, but as family come a long way to be together again. And when we sit with him, we will taste anew that our host has traveled with us each.