Sometimes people ask if might be possible to take the elements of the Lord’s Supper to those who were not in the worship service or to simply have the pastor do a small “Lord’s Supper” service with the sick and the shut-ins. In order to properly answer that question we need to first consider the nature of communion.
Communion is what happens in the midst of the gathering of the church to worship and that as such it cannot be “carried out” to those who were not present . As Charles Hodge explains:
“the Reformed Churches, teach that the Lord’s Supper is essentially a communion, in which the fellowship of the believer with Christ and with his fellow-believers is set forth by their eating and drinking of the same bread and the same cup. It follows that it should not be sent to persons not present at the administration, nor administered by the officiating priest to himself alone.”
However, this does not mean that it is impossible to administer the Lord’s Supper to those who are shut-in and cannot come to church. Rather than merely carrying the elements to them as the Roman Catholic church does, the solution is to bring the church to them, as Hodge explains:
In particular cases, however, it may be administered in private houses, for the benefit of Christians long confined by sickness, provided that the officers and a sufficient number of the members of the Church be present to preserve the true character of the ordinance as a communion.”
I was struck by the comment of a minister several years ago who remarked along the following lines in teaching on the Lord’s Supper, There are some meals you cannot have as take-out. For instance, in order to have Thanksgiving dinner with your family, you need to be present at the meal. You could not truthfully say “I had Thanksgiving dinner with my family” if your mother had brought you some left-over turkey and cranberry sauce in a ziplock the next day. Communion is very similar. This is a family meal, and in order to have had the Lord’s Supper you must have eaten it together with the other members of the Lord’s body. This is one meal that the church must eat together as a family. We cannot have it ‘take-away’ or ‘drive through.’