May 27, 2020
“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Since Day 1 of this pandemic I have thought about how we are to celebrate the Lord’s Day together and in the tradition of the Anglican Church and St James; the Eucharist and all it signifies has been front and center, and many of you have no doubt been thinking along similar lines.
As we even begin to think about the possibility of re-assembling in some fashion (still to be determined) I would ask you to consider the following, and continue to pray for our community as the Body of Christ in this time and place.
Anglicans moved ahead of the government and health authorities and many Diocese withheld the common cup and passing the peace well before the lockdown was imposed. Anglican decided on their own terms to modify usual patterns of worship for solid theological and pastoral reasons.
Since the early church, Christians have been admired by their neighbours, not for their determination to celebrate the Eucharist in unsafe circumstances, but rather their outreach to those in need in such dire times. This is recognized as a reason for the early church’s growth - largely due to the way Christians displayed care and mercy to the sick and those sidelined in times of plague and oppression.
It was taught and understood in the early Anglican tradition, (1549 Book of Common Prayer) that when communion could not be celebrated (insufficient numbers, or widespread illness, even plague) that through prayer, “the benefits of Christ would be just as profitable to their soul’s health, although they do not receive the Sacrament with their mouth.” The tradition of ‘spiritual communion’ suggests that Christians can be confident of Christ’s presence and work among them during periods when the church is unable to safely celebrate the Eucharist.
It was not so long ago that Anglicans partook of the Eucharist, Holy Communion, just twice a year. Such events, at Christmass and Easter, were preceded by stern Exhortation to prepare for such an occasion. In my own memory and experience, at one time Communion occurred just once a month. Later it was celebrated bi-weekly, and in more recent years, every week.
Moving ahead to present times. Perhaps one of the major considerations for us now will be the inability for all to access the Eucharist. By this I mean all those who cannot and indeed should not attempt to travel, enter a closed space and otherwise expose themselves to risk of infection (due to age, infirmity, pre-existing or compromised health issues, or a means of travel.)
This is the dilemma we shall face, even when ‘restrictions’ for opening of churches and the celebration of the Eucharist are eased. Who will be ‘left out’? To ignore that issue is, in theological terms ‘to partake of the Eucharist in an unworthy manner’ – not considering those left out.
Because we have been formed by our participation in Christ, we cannot be but committed to the wellbeing of other members of our community. As such, placing a moratorium on the Eucharist during a pandemic is not a form of abandoning or even fasting from the Eucharist; it is rather a consequence of living out the church’s Eucharistic identity.
Consider St Paul’s counsel that those who are hungry should ‘eat at home’ (1 Cor. 11:34). Since there is no consecrated bread and wine available to consume, we need to trust that, just as God fed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna from heaven (Ex. 16), God will feed us through spiritual communion. We look forward to such a time that all our members who wish to partake, are able to come together to gather safely around the table of the Lord. (In the meantime, my earlier encouragement to pray over a meal each day is an appropriate reminder; to give thanks for God’s daily provision, for body, soul and spirit throughout these months.)
For many, ‘spiritual communion’ will not be a substitute for the powerful and blessed experience of partaking in the sacramental body and blood of Christ at the Eucharist. Watching the celebration of the Eucharist online, is at best a reminder of what we hold dear and the potential, in the mystery of God, to share ‘spiritual communion’. Such ‘Remembrance’ may also include the names and faces of those whom we shared, and will share once again, this experience.
Perhaps it is worth reflecting on how the Israelites first viewed ‘the bread from heaven’ - God’s provision of manna. There first reaction was ‘What is this? (Ex. 16:15). They had to be convinced (and perhaps hungry enough) to eat. And even then there followed a fair bit of complaining. Sometimes we must learn, anew, to recognize the blessing and the opportunities in what God is offering to us in such times as these.
Yearning for the restoration of the Eucharist is understandable, particularly in our tradition at St James. Yet personal desires, as St Paul reminds us, are not grounds for faithful worship of God, and we need to guard against introducing ‘divisions’ in the Body of Christ. Instead we are called to take comfort from the reminder that God will send us bread from heaven and to attend to the Church’s teaching that Christ is present with us through ‘spiritual communion’. May we be patient until such time as we are able to celebrate the Eucharist once again, as worthy recipients.
Meanwhile, we are even no, looking ahead and trying to anticipate just how coming back together, even in groups of 50, will look like, along with the necessary precautions for personal safety. These times are not for the faint of heart. Thank goodness we have the company and strength of the Holy Spirit at work within each of us, binding us together as the Body of Christ.
Your brother in Christ,
I acknowledge and am grateful for the article, ‘The Eucharist and coming out of lockdown’, by the Rev. Christopher Craig Brittain, Dean of Divinity, University of Toronto.
Children’s Letters to God.
Dear God, Did you mean the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident? Norma
Dear God, My brothers told me about being born, but it doesn’t sound right. They are just kidding aren’t they? Marilyn
Dear God, if you watch me in church on Sunday, I will show you my new shoes. Mike