The Lord's Supper - Online
Rev Jackson Wan (Ang Mo Kio Presbyterian Church)
The COVID-19 situation has gotten many of us to change the way we live our lives. In the same way, it has challenge churches in the ways we conduct our activities. Church leaders tune in to media announcements every day for the latest governmental advisories and laws; thereafter to quickly convene (via online platforms, of course) and discuss how to move forward in the conduct of church services and activities each week. One regular church activity to be affected recently was the celebration of the Eucharist, or the Holy Communion.
Many churches celebrate the Eucharist monthly. If churches could no longer gather physically in the current situation, how are we to observe this significant sacrament? A recent debate was if it was proper to conduct the Eucharist via online platform.
More than a month ago (March), a former seminary classmate of mine, now serving in a church in the United Kingdom, wrote to our class chat-group, asking for former classmates’ opinions to this in the likelihood of a global lock-down. Back then, my church just celebrated our Holy Communion in one of the last physical gatherings in Sunday worship services, so the matter hadn’t fully sunk in for us in Singapore. Soon, I began to see more of the same questions posed and discussed by pastors of the global community online. Should churches hold off the celebration of the Eucharist until when we can physically gather? Or should churches continue the observance remotely over the online technology that we have? These got me to think of the purpose and understanding of the Eucharist itself.
The purpose of the Eucharist was the command from Christ to remember Him, as recorded in Luke 22.19 and reiterated by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 11.24. If it is a command to follow for the remembrance of Christ, I believe the Eucharist should not be set aside even in the midst of a pandemic lockdown. Christians are to remember Christ even when churches could not gather physically.
Theologically, as Presbyterians, we do not view the Eucharist as a Transubstantiation. This means we do not see the elements of bread and wine, having been blessed by the minister, becoming the physical body of Christ and His blood. On the other hand, Presbyterians also do not view the Eucharist as mere symbolic reminders of Christ. For Presbyterians, we view a Spiritual Presence of Christ at the Eucharist, which we must partake seriously.
With these in mind, I posit that the Eucharist should continue. After all, we do not know how long the COVID-19 situation may last. What if the Church can only physically gather after twelve months or more? Waiting to gather does not seem like the best option.
The question then was if the Eucharist could be observed and conducted remotely online. With the theologically understanding for Presbyterians, the spiritual presence of Christ will be with His believers wherever they are as they observe the Eucharist. If Christ is spiritually present with His believers, the significance of conducting the Eucharist online now is the partaking of the elements “together” (albeit virtually) as a Body of Christ and the remembrance of Christ in doing so.
Then came the recommendation paper from the Synod’s Theological Review and Response Committee (TRRC) on 2 April. The TRRC paper definitely helped to sharpen the thoughts for churches. My church leadership agreed for the need to abide by Christ’s command for this sacrament even in difficult times such as this. So we decided to conduct the Holy Communion online via streaming. But without “supervision”, how would our communicant members prepare the elements properly?
I was reminded from I Corinthians 11.27-32 that we are to partake the Eucharist in a worthy manner by examining ourselves and discerning the body. The context might be addressing a different situation, but the principle is consistent – we have to observe the Eucharist seriously. As church leaders, it is our responsibility to teach and guide the members to observe the Eucharist properly.
A sister church shared their PowerPoint slides which taught their members how to prepare their own elements. But the next question was if it had to be unleavened bread? Practically, it would be easier for church members to prepare with the usual white bread purchased directly from grocery stores. A quick check with a Trinity Theological College’s Presbyterian lecturer gave us assurance that “normal bread or biscuit” would do. After all, as explained earlier, the main significance here is to observe the command of the sacrament, which is to remember Christ together as a Church through a meal.
So with all the biblical, theological, pastoral and practical understanding agreement, my church sent out the announcement for members to prepare our own elements a week before our monthly Holy Communion. We used a PowerPoint slide with pictures to teach how a slice of white bread could be cut into 3x3 cm squares, and how a small amount of Ribena drink could be poured into cups; and a verbal reminder from our senior minister of I Corinthians 11.27-32 to prepare with reverence and seriousness.
Finally, on our Easter Sunday Worship Service, via online streaming, the senior minister led the church wherever they gathered in their respective homes, celebrating the Eucharist as we remember Jesus through the meal He had instructed. It was a joy to know that as a church body, we remembered Jesus, and celebrated through the meal His victory on the cross.