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MINI-THREAD: Communion in the Corono Era.

Over recent days, I’ve come across quite a few different takes/articles on the ‘online observation’ of the Lord’s Supper.

Below are some thoughts on the subject, which I hope will be helpful.

#Corona #Communion
In Luke 22, Jesus gives his disciples a simple instruction:

‘Do this—i.e., break bread—in remembrance/memorial of me’.
In Acts 2, the Church does exactly that.

Converts to Christ are said to devote themselves to four things:

to the apostles’ teaching (διδαχή),

to the fellowship (κοινωνία),

to the breaking of bread,

and to ‘the prayers’.
Acts 2.43–46 fills out some of the details.

The believers’ devotion to ‘the fellowship’ (κοινωνία) takes a radical form: the believers view their possessions as ‘common’ (κοινός) goods, to be distributed wherever they’re most needed (2.45).
Participation in ‘the prayers’ sounds liturgical (given the presence of the article), and apparently takes place in the temple courts (2.46 w. 3.1),

as does the apostles’ teaching (διδάσκω: 4.2, 5.42).
Meanwhile, breaking of bread (together with further teaching) takes place ‘from house to house’ on a daily basis (2.46, 5.42) (cp. 2.46’s κατ᾽ οἶκον w. 20.20).
As time goes on, however, these activities become more formalised.

In Acts 20, Paul visits Troas.

He arrives sometime between sundown on Sunday and sundown on Monday.
Paul clearly doesn’t have much time to spare (since he wants to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost and it’s already well past the end of the feast of Unleavened Bread).

Yet he nevertheless stays at Troas for seven days (20.6–7, 16).
Why? Because he wants to be there when the church gathers together to break bread on the first day of the week (20.7).

Apparently, then, the practice of breaking of bread on a daily basis (from house to house) has become more formalised by the time we reach Acts 20.
All well and good, one might say.

But what did churches do when they *couldn’t* meet together in formalised ways?

What did they do in times of crisis, which there surely were?

The NT doesn’t tell us.

Happily, however, the OT is on hand to help us out.
Israel’s observation of the Passover is very similar to the Church’s observation of the Lord’s Supper,

not only in terms of its typology, but in terms of its evolution.
When Moses first institutes the Passover, it has a ‘house to house’ feel (Exod. 12).

Each elder takes a lamb for his ‘household’—a group of people larger than the immediate family, yet which can nevertheless be fed by a single lamb (12.3–4)—,

kills it (12.6),
and applies its blood to his household’s doorposts (12.7).

Later in the Pentateuch, however, Moses looks forward to a time when the Passover is observed in a more formal manner (Deut. 16).
In the days to come, he says, YHWH will select (בחר) a place to ‘put his name’ (Deut. 12.5, etc.),

which is where all sacrifices must be offered.

That ‘place’ is Jerusalem—the location where YHWH is (uniquely) said to choose (בחר) to ‘put his name’ (1 Kgs. 11.36, 14.21, etc.).
Hence, in the era of the Judges, when sacrifices are offered at multiple high places (e.g., by Samuel), YHWH does not explicitly condemn it,
yet in the days of the Kings (from Solomon onwards), when kings fail to remove ‘the high places’—those dedicated to YHWH included—, YHWH does condemn it (15.11–15, etc.).
As the OT unfolds, therefore, the same kind of ‘formalisation’ as we saw in Acts takes place.

Things gradually become more structured and restrictive.
So then. What happens when the Passover *can’t* be observed in such a formal manner?

The answer is simple: exceptions are granted.

People make the best of the situations in which they find themselves, in accord with ‘what seems right’ to them (2 Chr. 30.4).
The very first time the Passover is observed, many Israelites are not in a fit state to eat the Passover meal, since they are ritually unclean.

Moses therefore asks God what he should do,
and God tells him he should authorise a Passover in the *second* month of the year in order to cater for those who have missed the first Passover due to uncleanness (Num. 9).
A more complex situation arises in Hezekiah’s day.

As a result of Ahaz’s miserable reign, Hezekiah accedes to the throne to find the doors of the Temple shut and its interior polluted (2 Chr. 28).
Hezekiah’s first action as king is, therefore, to cleanse the temple and (re)-inaugurate its worship and liturgy (ch. 29).

By the 16th Nisan, he has the altar in a fit state (29.17ff.).

Sacrifices are hence offered up to YHWH, and all Israel’s assembly rejoices (29.20ff.).
It is too late, however, for Hezekiah to observe the Passover in the first month.

Consequently, Hezekiah decides to observe a ‘second month Passover’ (ch. 30),

presumably on the basis of the text/principle of Num. 9 (tailored to his own needs/situation).
Who knows what state the people and Temple will be in next Nisan? Strike while the iron is hot.
Hezekiah doesn’t, however, want only the Judeans to observe the Passover; he wants *all* *Israel* to observe it.
He therefore sends a summons throughout Israel, and, before too long, Jerusalem is overrun with pilgrims, many of whom are in an unclean state.

Furthermore, the priests are unable to cope with the increased demand for Passover lambs.

In many ways, it is a nice problem to have.
But what should Hezekiah do?

What Hezekiah *does* do is as follows.
He enrolls Levites to help out with the sacrifices (which is not permitted by Levitical law),

and he allows people who are unclean to eat the Passover ‘in a manner not in accord with what is written’ (בְּלֹא כַכָּתוּב) (cp. 30.16–20).
As such, Hezekiah’s decision seems rather problematic.

The stricter sects among the Israelites may well have disapproved of it on all manner of legal and theological grounds.
God, however, *blesses* Hezekiah’s actions (30.20), since Hezekiah does not act in a manner which is casual or careless.

Rather, he acknowledges the (technical) impropriety of what he is about to do, covers Israel in prayer, and proceeds as best he can (30.4, 18–19).

In times of hardship, lament may not be the only legitimate option.

Scripture has a place for pragmatism.

Ordinances evolve over time in Scripture.
And, at certain points in history, it may (or may not) be necessary to move back to more primitive stages in their evolution.
Granted, these facts may not answer all the questions we’d like to ask about how/whether churches should break bread at present,

nor do they address the question of what are essential and non-essential aspects of the Lord’s Supper,
but they do, I hope, provide a Scriptural framework in which we can think about such questions,

and they seek to do so on the basis of an array of Scriptures rather than on the basis of inferences drawn from isolated texts.

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