Since physical togetherness is inherently part of what the Lord’s Supper is meant to communicate, I believe it would be a mistake to try to “replicate” the Table virtually through technological means. In fact, you can’t. You can eat and drink; you may even be able to proclaim the Lord’s death. But you can’t have Communion without coming together.
This past Monday I turned 40, and because of “stay in place” requirements, my wife hosted a surprise Zoom birthday celebration. About 20 people logged on, they sang “Happy birthday” (which didn’t go well, but was hilarious), and it was a really nice brief chance to see a lot of friends and family since we couldn’t have the birthday party in our home that my wife had been planning.
You know what we didn’t do? We didn’t try to eat together.
I completely understand the underlying desires that fuel churches who are encouraging their congregation to celebrate the Lord’s Supper at home “virtually” during this period of quarantine. We miss being together. The Lord’s Supper is an important element that Christ himself prescribed for corporate worship. And especially if your church celebrates the Table frequently, as our church does, not observing it for an extended period of time is weird and uncomfortable. I get it.
But “virtual Lord’s Supper” is impossible. Here’s why:
Physical togetherness is essential to what the Table communicates.
I’ve seen some people say that the purpose of the Table is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26), and that this can be done virtually through technology. It is certainly true that the Table proclaims Christ’s death, and if that were all that it did, I might agree that this can be done virtually.
However, proclaiming the Lord’s death is not all that the Table does; in fact, I would argue that it is not even primarily what the Table does.
Many things proclaim the Lord’s death, some of which can be done inside or outside corporate worship, when the church gathers or in other contexts. Preaching, teaching, Scripture readings, song lyrics—each of these can and should proclaim Christ’s death. And the Table does too.
But the Table does far more than that—the Table uniquely pictures and nurtures the communion that we as the Body of Christ enjoy with Christ as a result of the Lord’s death on behalf of those who believe.
Paul clearly states this in 1 Corinthians 10:16:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
The word translated “participation” there is the term koinonia—“communion.” Because of Christ’s death—because of his broken body and shed blood for the forgiveness of sins—those who believe are united to Christ and thus experience true communion with him.
But not only that, believers who are united to Christ enjoy communion with each other as the Body of Christ as well, and this too is uniquely communicated in the observance of the Table. Paul says so in verse 17:
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.