Obviously, some of the ways Communion is practiced among faithful Christians has not always been identical in every time or place. The look of the table changes, the type of utensils change, and even some of the methods of making the wine/juice and bread changes. In fact, the invention of grape juice that kept on the shelf without naturally fermenting was invented in 1869 by Thomas Welch, who invented a method of pasteurization that kept the juice from fermenting. He marketed it as, “Welch’s unfermented wine.” Prior to this, wine was much more common in communion.
It was also in the late 1800’s that individual communion cups began to be used. Before this time, most churches used one or two single cups that everyone drank from. Some churches had a couple more for the sake of time. In the 1890’s churches began to use individual communion cups to help stop the spread of some of the outbreaks of disease at the time, including diphtheria and tuberculosis.
There were those who opposed it. Some claimed that there was no case of someone catching a disease from sharing a communion cup, and that the metal in the cups along with the wine made the cups an inhospitable place for germs. Nevertheless, the individual cup became the standard for many churches. But the majority eventually were in favor of it for practical reasons regarding sanitary concerns.
I find the design of some of the early cups rather interesting. The slanted design of the opening of the cups was to make it unnecessary for the congregant to have to throw their head backward while drinking the cup. The reason for this was so that it did not resemble those who drank liquor from shot glasses. They did not want drinking from those communion cups to resemble what people were doing in the bars.
The latest development of communion ware is the individually prepackaged cup and bread. Last week as the first time I had ever used one of these. The Corona Virus outbreak caused us to decide to use these for the same reason church leaders began using individual communion cups over 100 years ago.
In the midst of all of these developments, one thing has remained consistent and unchanged. The two items remind us of the body and blood of the Lord. They remind us that only he is our bread of life, our source of life and spiritual sustenance. They remind us that he has brought us together as his body. We gather as one people and one family around the Lord’s table! He prepared this table for us in the presence of all our enemies. Whether it is sin, powers and authorities opposed to him, or even a virus, nothing can snatch us out of his hand. Our place at his table is secured by the blood that he shed for us, earning us a place at his table. We are reminded that his life is our life. We are reminded that he has bound himself to us in covenant that was executed through his own blood, the blood of our Lord!
Due to the current pandemic and the instructions of doctors, leaders, and other professionals, we are not able to meet together around the Lord’s Table at our regular meeting place. Some do not have Welch’s grape juice or matza at home. Some feel guilty for this. Others feel like they are giving in to worldly worries and should “have faith” and meet anyway. And there are those who have defied the instructions of our leaders and health professionals and decided to meet any way in groups of over a hundred people. I am not sure that this is wise or even desirable. As we have made the wise and godly decision to not meet physically, here are some truths to reflect on to keep all of this in perspective.
First of all, the Lord’s Table is not something we have built, but something Jesus himself has built. With wood, nails, and blood stain, he went to the cross in order to bring us around the Lord’s Table. Every first day of the week, his people all around the world gather around his table. Some gather under a tree, some gather in a building, some gather in their living rooms. Regardless of the physical place or the physical furniture, the actual table of the Lord stretches all around the world.
Second, God desires mercy and compassion over sacrifice. This principle is what allowed hungry people to do a little gleaning on the Sabbath for their personal self when they were hungry in Matthew 12. This principle is why Israel was able to still observe Passover in an unusual circumstance in 2 Chronicles 30, even though they did not have type to properly consecrate themselves. Their desire to get right with God in the integrity of their heart, rather than carelessness was key. Those who do not have Welch’s grape juice or matza on hand may find themselves trying to find something else in order to not miss out on communion. It is a high point of the week for many people. I remember a brother telling me, “No matter what happens through the week, when I meet the Lord at his table, it brings me back where I need to be.”
Third, God is with us even in these unusual circumstances. We are not able to meet physically at the present time due to the sickness. Fortunately, we are able to connect with each other through the use of technology. Whether it is through live streaming worship, communion, and a Bible lesson, or through participation in an online blog or study group, there are still ways we can stay connected.
Fourth, faith, hope, and love do not diminish during times such as this. Our faith is not in our health, but in our Lord, who overcame sin and all of the ills that came from it. Our hope is the place he is preparing for us, where there will no longer be any more pain, mourning, or death. Our love is what motivates us. Paul himself said, “The Love of Christ COMPELS us.” Our decision to not meet physically is motivated not from a sense of self-preservation as much as it is out of a sense of love for our fellow man. We do not want to be the ones inadvertently spreading a sickness that may to the life of another. So, we have decided to take precautions by not meeting as a large group. This is another example of mercy over sacrifice. This is also why ministry is still happening. This motivation of love is something that has moved brethren to look after those not able to get out due to diminished health. Whether it is delivering groceries or other supplies, or simply a phone call to make sure everything is okay, brethren are looking out after those who need it. This is yet another way for the light of Christ to shine when the darkness comes. Truly, perfect love casts out fear.
I recently read some timely remarks from Dr. Kent Brantley, the Christian doctor and fellow ACU graduate who was working with a Medical Mission Group several years ago in Africa. He contracted the deadly Ebola virus and survived after receiving an experimental drug when he was returned to the states. Concerning the Corona virus, Brantley said, “The coronavirus outbreak is an opportunity to "choose compassion over fear," He went on to say, “I am thankful to the many, many people who said 'yes' to me in the midst of my most desperate need, allowing me to be flown to Atlanta and treated at Emory," Brantly said. "I'm thankful for the compassion that was shown to me, and I will advocate for that same type of compassion to be shown to others, including other health care workers who put themselves in harm's way in order to protect the rest of us from a global epidemic. …Fear has a dehumanizing effect, both on those toward whom we project our fear as well as on ourselves. We cannot allow fear, however reasonable it might seem, to dominate us and drive our decisions. We live in an interconnected world; the well-being of all of us is directly connected to the well-being of each of us. The best way to ensure self-preservation is through joining in the suffering of others and together finding the way forward."
This is the perspective of one who has accepted Christ as Lord and understands faith, hope, and love in Christ. Our faith, hope, and love gives us the lens by which to see such things as this. As we commune together, let’s meditate on all these things as give God thank for our hope which propels us into the love of God.