Our church has not celebrated holy communion since March 1st 2020. Like many churches, our understanding of what communion is and how it should be observed, did not allow us to attempt any sort of online or virtual experience. However, with the current protocols allowing churches to regather at up to 30% of their previous building capacity, we now feel that we can facilitate an experience that is biblically faithful and safe for all involved.
Obviously, this will require some adjustments with respect to process and liturgy.
The following order represents a “COVID19 adaptation” to our normal order for communion. “Our normal” process may be quite different than “your normal” but the adaptions themselves may be easily extracted and reapplied. The material below was originally prepared as a teaching memo for my fellow pastors and elders here at Cornerstone; I share this resource with you only in the interests of collegiality and efficiency. May the Lord bless you, my brother pastors, as you attempt to lead well, wisely and lovingly in these most unusual days.
A COVID Order For Communion
(1) Brief Introduction
The introduction should transition from the sermon into the table. It should also serve to “fence the table” by making reference to who should and should not participate. Appeal to 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 is most appropriate.
During this unusual season, due to COVID19, some version of these instructions should be spoken:
As with most things we do as Christians, there is a mixture of the sacred and the mundane when it comes to our practice of holy communion. Certain elements are essential and others merely wise, historical or practical in nature. These next several months will challenge us to understand which are which.
The essence of communion is our intentional, corporate recalling of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is our examination of our relationship with God and with one another in Christ. It is our experience of the goodness and the generosity of God as he meets us really and spiritually in this ordinary means.
Those things are essential and they must not and will not ever change.
But the non-essentials may change, and ought to change in the interest of public safety and brotherly love. Therefore, we will serve, move and respond a little differently this morning, and that’s ok. These habits are rooted more in history than in theology.
Today, out of an abundance of caution and in line with the guidelines and protocols suggested to us by Public Health officials in our Province the elders will serve you individually, one by one. The elders will come through each row in its entirety, with the tray and they will serve each individual partaking – you are not to reach out and take the elements yourself. They will pass you a stack of two cups. The bottom cup will have the bread representing the Body of the Lord and the top cup will have the wine representing his blood.
Once you have those two cups in a single stack in your hand, you may remove your mask so as to receive services, just as you would do in a restaurant. Then once your mask has been removed, you are to unstack the cups, having now one in each hand. The words of the institution and the prayers for each element will then proceed in the normal way.
After you have partaken of both elements, you are to restack the cups and place them under your seat where they will be retrieved and disposed of in a safe manner after the service. You should put your mask back on after you have done this.
As I said, this will be a stretch for us. We all get attached to our habits, patterns and routines. That’s perfectly normal, provided we understand that these habits, patterns and routines are not themselves essential. What is essential about communion remains unchanged. Today we will revisit the holy centre of our Christian faith. We will consider the Body of Jesus Christ upon the cross. We will consider one another. And we will give thanks for so great a salvation – let’s begin to do that now.
Brother __________ will you come forward now, and give thanks for the Body of Christ?
(2) Prayer for the Bread
One of the elders will pray for the bread making particular reference to the obedient life of Christ, as well as his death on the cross, on our behalf.
(3) Distribution of the Bread
The pastor will rise and take the plate of bread from the table and hand it to the elders who will come forward from their seats with their families and line up along the front for reception and distribution. The elders will individually deliver the elements in a “two cup stack” to each individual.
(4) Words of Institution
When all have been served and the elders have returned to their seats (their wives having taken a stack for them and the pastor having been served by the last elder returning the last tray) the pastor shall say:
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took a loaf of bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it, saying, “This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me”
The pastor shall then eat of the bread and indicate for the congregation to do the same.
The pastor shall then continue, or if sharing officiation, shall sit and leave room for the other officiating pastor to stand.
(5) Introduction to the Cup
After a suitable pause the pastor shall say:
In like manner also (or in the same way also) he took the cup after supper saying, “‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Let us give thanks then, for the cup of Christ.
(6) Prayer for the Cup
One of the elders will pray for the cup making particular reference to the death of Christ on our behalf.
(Normally we would distribute the cup here, but that will have already been done)
(7) Words of Institution
After the elder who has prayed for the cup has returned to his seat, the pastor shall stand and say:
Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Drink this is remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you and be thankful.
The pastor shall then drink of the cup and indicate for the congregation to do the same.
At this time a suitable pause should be left, after which the pastor may lead in benediction or the worship leader may lead in a closing song or, if appropriate, the speaking of the Apostles’ Creed.
Please feel free to modify or distribute this resource within your own congregation. I am praying for you as you navigate these waters and thankful for the collective wisdom of the Body of Christ, much of which lies behind our own thinking and deliberation on these matters.
May God Alone Be Glorified,
Pastor Paul Carter
To read an article reviewing what communion is and how 4 pastors from different theological traditions processed their decisions on communion during the height of the COVID19 pandemic, see here.
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.