About a week ago I received word about an online bible college class who decided to take communion online as a way of concluding their class time. I took this article and presented into the Missional Theology class that I have been in for a few weeks in hopes of raising conversations about the implications of having virtual communion and the discussion has been fruitful.
We talked about a lot of things. We talked about the Gnostic aspects of a disembodied Eucharist, and the individualism of taking the elements yourself and not receiving them from another person. We talked about the efficacy of the event, whether or not they actually had the Lord’s Supper. We asked whether or not we might call this missional even if it is not the sacrament of communion. And we talked about Baudrillard’s notion of hyper-reality, which is where I find the most helpful critique of virtual communion.
I am no Baudrillard scholar so I welcome (plead) for correction if I misunderstand him. In short, his notion of hyper-reality is when illusion becomes reality. So, when our current Eucharistic practices fail (and note that they fail because of the Church) to be sign, symbol, foretaste, and instrument (a la Lesslie Newbigin) of the Kingdom of God then the church will turn to virtual reality (hyper-reality) for meaning and for “the real.”
At best what online communion offers is a mirror in which we look at our own inability to truly (really) take the Lord’s Supper. We cannot embrace the practice of online communion. It reveals the error of our ways, where we need to make correction in reality because their only reality. The turn to hyper-reality is a turn away from the real.