How Will the Lord’s Supper Be Served?

By Thom S. Rainer

I just participated in my first Lord’s Supper via a streaming service. My pastor asked us to have juice and bread ready in our homes. I served my wife, and then I served myself as our pastor prayed and read Scripture regarding the Supper.

It was different, but it was meaningful.

To be clear, I know different churches handle this ordinance differently. Some call it by another name such as Communion. Some have a common cup. Some have different theological understandings of its purpose and meaning. 

Many churches in my tradition have very small cups of juice on a plate with cup holders. And many have pieces of bread on a plate for each person to handle, pick up, and eat. 

Will these practices change as we return to in-person services? Maybe I should ask it differently. How will these practices change as we return to in-person services? 

I don’t have answers, but I do have questions. I hope to hear from some of you in the comments and others of you on social media. I will post the questions at Church Answers as well. 

  • Will your church return to its previous ways of handling the Lord’s Supper? In other words, the new normal of the post-pandemic era means you will return to serving the Supper with few changes. Do you consider some of the potential responses to be overreactions?
  • What hygienic changes will you make in preparing and serving the Lord’s Supper? I can only imagine these responses will be both diverse and helpful. For example, I have already heard that many churches will no longer be handing out bulletins/worship guides for hygienic reasons. The risk of handling seems even greater with the elements of the Lord’s Supper. 
  • Will your church change the frequency of serving the Lord’s Supper? I am assuming that if the frequency does change, it will be less frequent. Some churches have been serving every week. Some are on a monthly rotation, and others do so every quarter. What are the implications of frequency of serving for the future? 
  • If you have considered significant changes in serving the Lord’s Supper, how do you plan to communicate that to your congregation? They have already seen a lot of changes during the stay-at-home weeks of the pandemic. How will you prepare your church members for the changes that will come once they can gather in person? 

While there are many changes churches will and must implement in the post-pandemic era, the serving of the Lord’s Supper is one of those practices with rich theological and biblical meaning. The way churches handle this matter is not only one of safety and hygiene, it is one of profound theological implications. 

My list of questions is by no means exhaustive. I really would like to learn from you regarding your responses to these issues. It is indeed one of many issues; but it is also one of the most important issues. 

Let me hear from you.

Posted on May 11, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Robin G Jordan says on

    The problem that I have with an annual celebration of the Lord’s Supper is that it is not in conformity with our Lord’s command. He used the words “whenever you gather” when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. The early Church had weekly celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. By the Middle Ages, however, the Lord’s Supper had become the Mass, the central focus of which was not receiving communion but adoring the consecrated host. The laity received communion once a year after private confession and absolution and then only in one kind–the bread–and outside of the Mass. The sixteenth century Reformers sought to restore communion in both kinds to the people and weekly communion. They were successful in the first instance but only partially successful in the second instance. In England people were required to receive communion at least four times a year. The second half of the twentieth century was a time of worship renewal. It saw many churches returning to the practice of weekly celebrations of the Lord’s Supper and weekly communion. I would hate to see churches returning to the practices of the Medieval Church which did not conform to our Lord’s commands.

    Until the COVID-19 we were gathering physically every week. Now we gather digitally every week and will do so possibly for the next few months, even longer. There is mounting evidence from not only in the United States but also around the world that the states are reopening prematurely and we can expect to see more COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 deaths. What will be our safest option will be online celebrations of the Lord’s Supper and “at home” communion. Rather than retreating from celebrating the Lord’s Supper and disobeying our Lord, we can actually increase or Lord’s Supper celebrations in this way. It can become a way that we express solidarity with each other. The body of Christ is a spiritual entity. Its members are united to Christ and each other by the Holy Spirit which indwells all believers. We do not have to be in the same room in order to be the body of Christ. Our physical gatherings are a tangible expression of a spiritual reality. They point to that reality but they are not the reality itself. We can also be the body of Christ online. Our digital gatherings, while they may not be tangible in the same way as our physical gatherings, they are nonetheless an expression of the same reality. They point to that reality. We are “gathering,” coming together for a unique purpose, even though we are not sharing the same space. The unique purpose is to hear God’s word, to encourage each other other, to pray for God’s world, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper–to do as he commanded in remembrance of his suffering and death and as a proclamation of what our Lord accomplished on the cross. Deacons in PPEs handing hermetically sealed tubs of grape juice and wheat wafers does not convey the rich symbolism of the Lord’s Supper. Indeed it take a mechanistic view of the ordinance. On the other hand, a family gathered before screen showing other families like themselves sharing bread and wine or unfermented grape juice is rich with the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper. God is giving us an opportunity for the renewal of the Lord’s Supper, not a retreat from it. Let us take advantage of that opportunity.

    • Craig Giddens says on

      Where did Jesus say “whenever you gather” ?

      • Robin G Jordan says on

        I ran across those words or their equivalent in one of my translations of the Bible but when I checked those that I have handy, I was not able to find it. I will admit that not finding it does weakens my argument to some degree. However, Acts of the Apostles and the practices of the early Church do support the practice of frequent celebrations of the Lord’s Supper and frequent communion. As I recall, the only group of early Christians who celebrated the Lord’s Supper once a year were the Ebionites who were adoptionists, believing that Jesus became the Messiah because he perfectly observed the requirements of the Law. They observed the Law much in the way that orthodox Jews do and insisted that converts to their sect do the same. Paul in his first Letter to the Corinthians speaks about the church at Corinth celebrating the Lord’s Supper when it comes together. He also speaks about the Lord’s Supper as a proclamation of the Christ’s death. Paul does not appear to be talking about a once a year occurrence.

      • Craig Giddens says on

        The church in the first seven chapters of Acts was a strictly Jewish church and there is no record of them keeping the Lord’s supper. They may have, but there is no Biblical record. The “breaking of bread” in Acts 2: 42 and 46 is reference to eating meals. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul never states how often the church should participate in the Lord’s supper. Each church has liberty as to how often they do the Lord’s supper.

      • Robin G. Jordan says on

        That is one interpretation of Acts. I would suggest you read Joachim Jeremias and other scholarly works on the Lord’s Supper. Paul refers to the church coming together in his reference to the Lord’s Supper. The implication is that he is talking about more than a once a year gathering. The translation of the words of institution to which I referred to in my earlier post is from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. “Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins: Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me….” It is taken from one of the earlier English translations of the Bible. With the exception of the Ebionites who were Judacizers, the early Church celebrated the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day. I refer you to early accounts of such celebrations–Justin Martyr, 1 Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, and the Apostolic Tradition. At the Protestant Reformation the Reformers sought not only to restore communion in both kinds to the laity but also to revive the practice of the early Church of frequent communion. In the 19th century the Restorationist movement restored the Lord’s Supper as a central part of Christian worship in churches that were influenced by that movement. The twentieth century saw a number of worship renewal movements which also emphasized the Lord’s Supper as a central part of Christian worship. Churches were encouraged to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently than four times a year or once a month. On the other hand, the Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate the Lord’s Supper only once a year at Easter. They, however, are Arians, believing Jesus was a created being inferior to God.

      • Craig Giddens says on

        What I said about Acts 1-7 is not an interpretation, but what based on what the words of the Bible says. Paul refers to the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, but never does He state any frequency for partaking of it. Since the Bible never states how frequent the Lord’s Supper should occur then each church is at liberty as to how often they will do it. Anyone who states how often the Lord’s Supper should occur is merely giving their opinion. A church can observe it once a week, once a month, or once a year; it’s entirely their choice. Also, in the Bible, Sunday is never referred to as the Lord’s Day. The phrase (Lord’s day) is used on only once (Revelation 1:10) in the Bible and that is a reference to the events having to do with the Jesus’ second coming to earth. The Lord’s day is a reference to the day of the Lord.

  • Jacob Friesen says on

    In the Mennonite church I grew up with, we observed the Lord’s Supper once each year and that on Easter Sunday. I would definitely go back to that scene. The awesome significance of the awe inspiring occasion will help restore the the life changing realities of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. Make it a sacred commitment for officiants never ever using the word ‘grab’; for taking or receiving the elements! (for some it would be preferable to have officiants using silver tongs or chopsticks to pick and deposit the ‘bread’ elements)

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    I belong to an ecclesiastical tradition that uses wine and the common cup in celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. Some churches also use a loaf of bread rather than individual wafers. The loaf of bread is broken into the pieces and a piece of the bread is given to each communicant during the distribution of the elements. The communicants receive the elements standing or kneeling at a communion rail or standing at a communion station. If the alcohol content of the wine exceeds 60%, it kills the coronavirus. So I expect some churches may use distilled wine or brandy instead of ordinary wine since it has a higher alcohol content. It is technically “the fruit of the vine.” The challenge will be how to distribute the elements. Typically a minister places a wafer or piece of bread into the hand of the communicant. The communicant may eat the bread or he may dip it into the wine and then eat it–a practice called intinction. a communion assistant holds the cup while a communicant drinks from it or dips his piece of bread or wafer into the wine.. While drinking from the cup, the communicant may steady the cup with his own hands, grasping the base of the chalice. All of these actions requires the minister, the communion assistant , and the communicant to come in close proximity to each other. One possibility is to use disposable bread plates and chalices. Those who are going to receive communion must notify the minister ahead of time–an old practice that has fallen into abeyance but may need to be revived. A communion assistant places the elements on a small table and retires. A family comes forward, communicate each other, and then return to the place where they are seated. The communion assistant removes the disposable bread plate and chalice and replaces them with a new bread plate and chalice and then retires. The next family comes forward and so on. Complicated don’t you think? While I am in a minority, I believe that churches in my ecclesiastical tradition need to take more relaxed attitude toward “at home” communion. In a pastoral letter to his diocese the Archbishop of Sydney recommended the practice. He recommended that ministers invite households in their churches to online celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. Where no minister was available, he recommended that households celebrate the Lord’s Supper without a minister, pointing out that while it might not be an Anglican celebration of the Lord’s Supper, it was a Christian celebration. The Diocese of Sydney has in the past championed lay administration of the Lord’s Supper, a controversial position for an Anglican diocese. Anglicans tend to fall into two groups–those who believe that a minister should administer the Lord’s Supper because it has been a long practice of the Anglican Church and those who believe that the Lord’s Supper is invalid if a minister does not administer it. I personally think that it is time for Anglicans to rethink their theology of the Lord’s Supper. The Bible is silent when it comes to the question of who should administer the Lord’s Supper.

    • FYI, you may find Brandy at 60 or 70 “proof” but that is only 30-35 %. Greater than 60 % is 120 proof liquor. That will be almost impossible to find.

  • We celebrate on first Sundays, so for April we announced during the previous week’s streaming worship to be ready at home with juice and bread, and mentioned it in all our online channels. It seems to have been well received based on feedback.

    Going forward, for at least a while, we will probably use the prepackaged sets that will be available on tables in the room. In regular circumstances we use disposable plastic cups, and place juice in one and a wafer in another, in different trays. We have always used gloved preparation and will add a mask. Multiple trays are on tables at the side of the room. We usually celebrate at or near the end of regular worship. After prayer and reflection, people are asked to go to the nearest table and pick up the elements and return to their seats and wait so we can share together. As to procedure, nothing will change for us except they will pick up the prepackaged set, and be asked to maintain social distancing. Since a substantial number will still be worshipping with us online, we will continue to invite them to be ready with their own elements at home.

    Since we have chairs instead of pews, we rearranged chairs in clusters of 1 to 6 with each cluster separated by 6 feet. This way households can sit together in a cluster sized to their needs and still maintain a proper separation. Doors are propped open with greeters standing back with a smile instead of a handshake. No printed material – this is actually a good excuse to go all electronic.

  • Bill Pitcher says on

    We resist the on-line format because I do not wish to be complicit (my conviction here…not theological) in a non-believer participating without an in-person warning about participating in an unworthy manner.

    Our normal has been the 1st Sunday of the month and that will likely resume, though likely not if our reopening is on a communion Sunday. I fear a crush of folks who do not understand the ordinance.

    We will certainly change what/how we do it. Likely we will portion out the bread, maybe in cup-cake cups (?) and have to adjust our service methodology. My deacons are working on that. There will certainly be no opportunity for multiple touches as was the norm before.

  • Heard an informative presentation by Dr. Michael Osterholm last week. He has served as an infectious disease expert to several U.S. Presidents of both parties. His only concern with communion was that people might not practice “physical distancing” while coming to receive the elements. A common cup that everyone drinks from worried him for other reasons.
    He argued that the primary vector for Covid-19 transmission is via tiny aerosol droplets expelled when someone coughs, sings, or even speaks forcefully.
    You can watch the Facebook Live presentation here:
    Warning: Ignore his beginning theological remarks.

    • Joyce Martin says on

      Thank you so much for bringing this video to my/our attention. Quite informative. I passed it along to our pastor as well.

  • Ross Topliff says on

    We served by intinction (dip piece of bread in the common cup) monthly. To start, we plan to use the pre-packaged cup and wafer. I hope to return to our previous practice once the virus concerns are reduced.

    For hygiene improvements, we are planning more intense and frequent cleaning internally, possibly with HOCl.

  • We will use the pre-packaged juice and bread. Right now we are planning to have them in trays at the doors for people to pick up as they enter, but that is still under discussion. These will be pre-positioned by someone wearing a mask and gloves.

    We have been doing the Lord’s Table 1X per month and I anticipate that will continue, but may flex based on what we see the first time. We probably won’t do this until we are able to have a larger gathering (more than 50), and in MI that’s still a ways off.

    We’ll communicate this by email and by an announcement in the Sunday video the week before.

  • Mark Zotz says on

    Our last Sunday before shutdown, we placed a wafer in a juice cup and put it in the tray. Then we placed an empty cup on top of it and put the juice in it. The trays were placed on the Communion table and all came forward to pick up their own cups. Just don’t overfill the juice. Preparers sanitized everything and wore gloves while preparing. It worked well, and are planning to do it again.

    • I have A communion recipe from Rose Chroniger from Central Seventh Day Baptist Church in Mitchellville Maryland. She was a Deacon there and the most precious lady I have ever known. I will make it and break it up and take a piece reading scripture and there is Red wine here which I don’t like but I will drink a swallow to follow scripture. At the end I will sing praises and prayers for the greatest gift to do so.

  • Wayne Burns says on

    l believe we should give it time before making a decision on serving the Lord’s supper.

    • Mike Stewart says on

      We practice communion every Lord’s Day. When we return, at least for the foreseeable future we will have prepackaged individual communion sets sitting on a table along with an offering plate. Our folks will be instructed to pick up a serving of communion from the table and leave their offering in the plate on the table. People will take communion at an assigned time after a meditation and leave the package in the communion holder in the chair when they are finished. I have found that currently the prepackaged individual communion is back ordered by most suppliers. We will decide whether or not to go back to passing the communion plate at a future date.

      • Jacob Friesen says on

        Whatever else you may choose to innovate, please do no place an ‘offering plate’ on the communion table!

      • Matt Basford says on

        The giving of one’s offering is just as much a spiritual act as taking the Lord’s Supper. Why would that be inappropriate?

  • John Standard says on

    We are thinking of using these:

    We would have these at the front of the church and would have people come up to the front of the church, staggered based on the social distancing guidelines, and pick them up and then go back to their seats and partake in the Lord’s Supper. These would then be picked up after the service by an individual wearing gloves and disposed of in special waste containers.

  • We are purchasing single service units that contain a small juice container and a piece of “bread.” As people enter the worship center they will pick up one from a table set up there at the entrance. They will be set up widely dispersed to it will be easy to select one without touching others. Then, of course, at the appropriate time they will open their unit and participate as led.

    • Steve Bentley says on

      I noticed that quite a number of you plan on using the prepackaged cups and bread. Let me tell you what my experience with that was.

      We tried it previously (pre-coronavirus), but the seal is so tight that a vast majority of the congregation couldn’t open it. We are mostly an older congregation.

      We had to have people walk around and help others, which completely shatters the somber mood of the communion service.

      And with social distancing, we really wouldn’t be allowed to do that now.

      Just thought I would throw my experience in here to give you something to think about.

      • I agree, Steve. At the very least, test some cups before using them in the service.

      • My congregation is using the prepackaged cups . However we are still having our worship services via Zoom and conference call. Necessary precautions are taken when it comes to distributing the Communion kits. This seems to work for us. A learning experience for us all

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