Presbyterian Theology of the Lord’s Supper and Instructions for Virtual Communion
Developed by Noah Morgan, a senior at Randolph-Macon College, with his father, Rev. Joel Morgan: based on a paper by Dr. Robert A. Johnson Jr.
In times of trouble and uncertainty, the Church has looked to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as a source of identity, comfort, courage, and power. Our Book of Order says, in W-3.0409:
“The Lord’s Supper is at once God’s gift of grace, God’s means of grace, and God’s call to respond to that grace. Through the Lord’s Supper, Jesus Christ nourishes us in righteousness, faithfulness, and discipleship. Through the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit renews the Church in its identity and sends the Church to mission in the world.”
In this time of social distancing, it is neither prudent nor possible for the congregation to meet and to receive the great and gracious gift of the Lord’s Supper in the “normal” fashion – meaning in in-person or “gathered worship.” The Office of the General Assembly recently stated that congregations are permitted, under carefully defined circumstances, to offer “Virtual Communion” during the virtual worship services that have become both a necessity and a blessing during this time of isolation.
This means of participating in the Lord’s Supper is only for times of great need when the Session with the Pastor deems it necessary.
Background: Please read over the Presbyterian theology of the Lord’s Supper found in the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions (see below).
– Remember, we are not partaking of the meal as individuals, but with the whole community of faith, even online.
– If you have children who will partake of the meal, spend some time before or after worship discussing the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.
Preparation: Set aside bread and wine or grape juice for use during the service. Have enough so each person who will partake can have some of both elements.
Participation: During the virtual worship, at the words of institution: “On the night in which Jesus was betrayed…”, hold up each corresponding element, and share the elements at home at the same time as they are shared in the virtual worship:
– “He took the bread…” hold up the bread
– He took the cup…” hold up the wine or juice
– Partake of the bread and cup as you would during in-person worship: reverently, giving thanks to God for Christ’s act of love on the cross and God’s grace and mercy.
Following Worship: Discard any leftovers of the bread and wine or juice by returning them to the earth, if possible.
Theology of the Lord’s Supper
From the 2019-2021 Book of Order W-3.0409 ¶1 & 3-6
The Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist) is the sign and seal of our communion with the crucified and risen Lord. Jesus shared meals with his followers throughout his earthly life and ministry—common suppers, miraculous feasts, and the covenant commemorations of the people of God. Jesus spoke of himself as the bread of life, and the true vine, in whom we are branches. On the night before his death, Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples. He spoke of the bread and wine as his body and blood, signs of the new covenant and told the disciples to remember him by keeping this feast. On the day of his resurrection, Jesus made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of the bread. The disciples continued to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, prayers, and the common meal. As Paul wrote, when we share the bread and cup in Jesus’ name, “we who are many are one body” (1 Cor. 10:17)
The Lord’s Supper enacts and seals what the Word proclaims: God’s sustaining grace offered to all people. The Lord’s Supper is at once God’s gift of grace, God’s means of grace, and God’s call to respond to that grace. Through the Lord’s Supper, Jesus Christ nourishes us in righteousness, faithfulness, and discipleship. Through the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit renews the Church in its identity and sends the Church to mission in the world.
When we gather at the Lord’s Supper the Spirit draws us into Christ’s presence and unites with the Church in every time and place. We join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth in offering thanksgiving to the triune God. We reaffirm the promises of our baptism and recommit ourselves to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world.
The opportunity to eat and drink with Christ is not a right bestowed upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding. If some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended.
Worshipers prepare themselves to celebrate the Lord’s Supper by putting their trust in Christ, confessing their sin, and seeking reconciliation with God and one another. Even those who doubt may come to the table in order to be assured of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ.
From the Book of Confessions (BofC)
The Westminster Confession of Faith (BofC 6.161-6.162)
This is taken from a modern English version
“The night Jesus was betrayed he instituted the sacrament of his body and blood, called the Lord’s supper, to be observed in his Church until the end of the world as a perpetual remembrance of his sacrifice in death and as the seal of all the benefits of that sacrifice for true believers. It also signifies the spiritual nourishment and growth of believers in Jesus and their additional commitment to perform all the duties they owe him. Finally, it is a bond and pledge of believers’ communion with Jesus and with each other as members of his mystical body
In this sacrament Christ is not offered up to his Father, nor is any actual sacrifice made for the remission of sins of the living or the dead. Rather, this sacrament commemorates Christ’s offering up of himself, by himself, on the cross once for all, and it spiritually offers up to God every possible praise for that sacrifice…”
The Confession of 1967 (BofC 9.52)
“The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of the reconciliation of men with God and with one another, in which they joyfully eat and drink together at the table of their Savior. Jesus Christ gave his Church this remembrance of his dying for sinful men so that by participation in it they have communion with him and with all who shall be gathered to him. Partaking in him as they eat the bread and drink the wine in accordance with Christ’s appointment, they receive from the risen and living Lord the benefits of his death and resurrection. They rejoice in the foretaste of the kingdom which he will bring to consummation at his promised coming, and go out from the Lord’s Table with courage and hope for the service to which he has called them.”
For more information, please see the Office of the General Assembly’s advisory opinion entitled “Communion in an Emergency/Pandemic” or the Book of Confessions and Book of Order (follow the links below).
OGA – Communion in an Emergency/Pandemic: https://www.pcusa.org/news/2020/3/25/virtual-communion-church-leaders-say-it-can-be-don/
Book of Confessions: https://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/boc2016.pdf
2019-2021 Book of Order: http://oga.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/2019-boo-elec_071219.pdf