In the life of COVID, churches have had to get creative in how they deal with Communion. I’ve seen churches that have families come up to the rail or the table with the elements one at a time. Other churches have literally set up in their parking lot and you drive through while staying in your car.
The ingenuity displayed by congregations in trying to make thing work under the adverse circumstances is laudable. There’s certainly something to be said for congregations wrestling with the need to have the sacraments while also trying to balance the needs of stewardship and trying to keep members safe. We acknowledge we are working under less-than-ideal circumstances and are often conducting things in ways we wouldn’t do otherwise. Though we generally understand doing things this way isn’t ideal, we must also recognize that it isn’t something we should be too comfortable with doing.
There is a pervasive notion, especially in the Western Church, that my relationship with God doesn’t concern anyone else. “It doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks, says, or does, as long as God and I are on good terms. My relationship with God is private and individual and no one else gets to intrude on that.” Sometimes that thought even extends to the pastor.
This mentality takes what should be the greatest source of unity in the church and turns it into something I get to keep entirely to myself. Looking at how St. Paul addresses the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11, this sort of individualism is the exact problem they face. When each member of the congregation communes individually, it no longer is a congregation of people who have come together to be the Body of Christ. It is simply a collection of individuals who are each only concerned about their own affairs and are not interested in being involved or supporting those around them.
This is not how God’s people ought to act, as St. Paul explains at length. Since Communion is the act of God that brings the church together to be the Body of Christ, above all other acts, breaking it back down into something just for individuals is to destroy one of the most important aspects of the sacrament.
Sadly, this also ends up being true for baptism as well. Far too often an individual or a couple with a new infant, comes to pastor looking for baptism and wants to have it done privately with just a few family and friends. This cuts out the entire purpose of the sacrament in bringing a Christian into the community and preparing him or her for entry into God’s presence.
All of this comes down to the more fundamental problem of the notion that we can approach God on our own terms, that we can set the agenda. To call this anything but sin would be a disservice to the church. God is the Creator. God is the Savior. God is one who gives the gifts and tells us what they are for and how best to use them. This attitude drives people away from grace and tears apart the Body of Christ.
It should be no surprise I’m not a big fan of individual cups or “continuous communion” practices. I understand these things are adiaphora and there isn’t a strictly Biblical basis for keeping them out of the church. However, they do foster this sense of individualism and we must be very careful how we use them in the life of the Church.
As the world still struggles under the weight of the COVID pandemic, the sense of isolation and separation has affected us all. I pray the church takes this lesson to heart and that each congregation works diligently to undo the damage caused by COVID, not just the physical effects, but also the emotional. There is no better place to do that than at the Lord’s Table, together.