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The spread of Coronavirus is causing disruptions to so many areas of our lives, including the church. Not only has the virus caused many churches to reconsider when and how they will hold worship gatherings; it has caused many churches to revisit whether or not they will share the Lord’s Supper.
Far beyond the outbreak of Covid-19, this is something that deserves even more consideration among the people of Christ today.
The following content is a transcription of a video included within this article, so punctuation may be imperfect, as it is a spoken commentary.
Germs: When a Tough Topic Turns into Panic
I’m kind of a germaphobe, anyway. I was in a difficult situation a couple weeks ago in a movie theater the other day when I dropped my bottle of Purell on the floor, and had to reach around on a movie theater floor and find it, and then the question was: what do you do to disinfect a container of Purell?
So, I already sort of have this problem, and then you add to it, the very real alarm that we have going on right now with Coronavirus. Especially with people who are traveling around the world, and as the Coronavirus starts to come into the United States, there have been people who have died already.
And we also have, beyond that, just the sense of public anxiety; and could be even panic, about Coronavirus and related diseases. We had swine flu several years ago, we had the Ebola concern as well, Avian flu, so...these sorts of potential pandemics come up every once in a while.
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What Does This Mean for Communion?
One of the things that I was thinking about—in addition to all of the issues of preparing to care for people may come down with Coronavirus and preparing for the potentiality of not having, say, big events, and all of the contingencies that government and non-governmental organizations are going to have to think through is—communion.
Someone sent me, knowing my concerns about Lord’s supper, sent to me a tweet that someone had put up earlier this week from, I believe, a Catholic man who was talking about how dangerous it is to be serving communion with a common cup during a time of potential Coronavirus. And someone else had responded and said, ‘well you oughta then become a Protestant because we have the little individualized cups and the little individualized crackers.’
How Should the Body of Christ Receive the Lord’s Supper?
And so it really caused me to think about something that’s been a concern of mine for a long time. And so, I actually would agree with churches that say ‘we’re not going to do common cup right now in a time of potential epidemic.’ But, I think that we’ve lost something when we’ve lost the practice of the common cup and the Lord’s table as a meal in my own evangelical community.
Because I think there are reasons why we do it this way (individualized) that I don’t think are good. Now I’m not saying that this renders the Lord’s supper, the way that most of us do it, inoperative. Not at all. The Lord’s supper is the Lord’s supper. I just think there are some assumptions behind the very individualized way we do the Lord’s supper that loses some of what Jesus communicates to us inside the Lord’s supper: the tearing of the bread, the drinking of the common cup.
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Communion Is Unity
When the apostle Paul talks about our gathering together around the table, it is a sign of the unity that Jesus is establishing, and the fact that Jesus himself is feeding us with his own body and his own blood.
I think that right now, there are all sorts of things that churches may do when it comes to Coronavirus. And it may reach the point where some churches aren’t able to have a weekly gathering for a while.
But longer-term than that, I think that we need to have a conversation about ‘what does it mean for us to be part of one body: one loaf, one cup? And I think one of the reasons that some of us don’t even think about those ancient practices, is not because we’re concerned about epidemics, but because we just say ‘that’s gross to drink after somebody else.’
That actually is something that the New Testament takes head-on and says: you’re not drinking ‘after somebody else.’ You’re part of one body. Head, body, in Christ.
And that’s worth thinking about when we’re past the time of sickness.
Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Dr. Moore is the author of several books, including Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel and The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home. A native Mississippian, he and his wife Maria are the parents of five sons.