Barnaby Alsop spoke at today’s Bradford on Avon Ministers’ Fraternal on Blessings and Curses at the Lord’s Supper. A very helpful session it was too, giving us plenty to think about and discuss. One thought that was raised in discussion struck me as especially relevant to the contemporary scene. A friend made this point. It is possible for someone to listen to John Piper (or whoever the favoured preacher might be) sermons from the comfort of one’s home and so never have to go to church. You can certainly be a ‘home alone’ Christian when it comes to consuming sermons. But you can’t do that with the Lord’s Supper. You have to be there with flesh and blood people, gathered around a wooden table and eat a shared meal of bread and wine.
The internet is a wonderful tool that has made some of the best preaching in English available to a worldwide audience at the click of a mouse. Piper, MacArthur, Begg, Lloyd-Jones take your pick. But remember that listening to a sermon online isn’t the same as being part of a worshipping congregation as the Word is proclaimed. Cyberspace is no substitute for being actively involved in a local church that is comprised of real Christians, with all the heartbreak and joy that entails.
The Lord’s Supper demands our embodied presence. Your Xbox 360 avatar can’t take the Lord’s Supper. You can’t eat bread and drink wine by posting a status update on Facebook, or by publishing a blog article. Pixels and fibre optics are a poor stand in for real, face-to-face fellowship. Even good old fashioned writing with paper and ink can’t take the place of personal ‘in the flesh’ communication, 2 John 12.
The Lord Jesus commanded that his people should remember him by eating bread and drinking wine together. This is a physical act with deep spiritual meaning. At the Table the Saviour accommodates himself to us as embodied human beings. The bread that we eat and the wine that we drink testify to the reality of Jesus’ incarnation and death. It is the very physicality of the emblems that make the Lord’s Supper distinctive as a means of grace. The Word became flesh and shed his blood for us. That is the objective historical and embodied reality at the heart of our faith.
To withdraw into cyberspace and avoid face-to-face fellowship with other Christians is the ecclesiastical equivalent of doceticism. Docetics denied the true humanity of Jesus, believing that it was not fitting for God to take flesh. But he did. God created the physical world and declared it ‘very good’. That which sin has spoiled, God by his grace has redeemed and will perfect through the work of Christ and by the presence of his Spirit. We are called to glorify God in our bodies in and through embodied and personal fellowship with the Lord’s people.
Jesus summons his followers to gather and share a meal together. The cup of blessing that we bless is the communion of the blood of Christ. The bread that we break is the communion of the body of Christ. We, though many, are one bread and one body. We express that oneness in the simple act of eating bread in drinking wine in the presence of one another and the Lord. You can’t download the Lord’s Supper.