“For times like these, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment.”
Martin Luther in The Large Catechism
As we find ourselves in this time of orders to “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” the question arises if we should be partaking in the communal meal that Jesus instituted with his disciples. In the recent past, we have come together as an assembly of the gathered to share in the meal in one time and location on a weekly basis. This has not always been the practice in many of our churches. Many of our churches practiced communion bi-weekly, monthly, or even quarterly. The movement to communion weekly has been welcomed in a majority of congregations and has become a vital part of the worship service and our life in Christ. Many long to be strengthened by its mystical powers.
Traditionally communion takes place among the gathered assembly, unless it is taken to the home-bound, those in the hospital, or those in prison. Just over a month ago, the gathered assembly were our congregations in the sanctuary. Can the assembly be those that gather to watch worship through new digital formats in the midst of a pandemic?
Now that we are worshiping digitally, how do we bring that vital part of worship to the people of God that want to be able to grasp on to that important element to feel the connection with a benevolent and loving God? Some will say that the Word of God is enough of a reassurance of this, and I cannot discount the power of the Word. Jesus Christ is the Word. It is that Word spoken that makes Holy Communion what it is, the body and blood of Christ. However, as people of God, sometimes we need to meet God in more than spoken word.
As long as the bread and wine are accompanied by the Word of God, it seems that Luther’s quote from The Large Catcechism, is fitting for a time such as this. What better way for us to be renewed in our strength to continue our fight against COVID-19 and be refreshed to go out and do this work than through the Lord’s Supper, in the best way possible during our quarantine.
As I turn toward scripture, I am also reminded of the great healing power of Jesus. In at least three separate instances we have stories of Jesus healing from a distance and he didn’t even have Zoom or Facebook Live! The Centurion approaches Jesus and asks for his servant to be healed and at first Jesus tells him to lead the way, but the Centurion’s great faith wowed Jesus and he was told to “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” (Matthew 8:5-13) Later, a Canaanite woman approaches Jesus and tells him about her daughter that is demon-possessed, and Jesus tells her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” (Matthew 15:21-28) Another such story involves an official coming to Jesus, telling him about his sick son, and Jesus tells him, “‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.” (John 4:46-54). If Jesus can heal from such a distance, who are we to say that Christ is not present in the bread and wine from a distance? It is such a great mystery.
As an ordained ELCA pastor, I turn to The Use of the Means of Grace to guide me concerning sharing communion with the flock that I am called. Once again, it refers to the assembly, and I ask once again about what the assembly looks like in a time like this. Right now we are assembled together through new ways via digital resources and we worship together, pray together, and share with one another. This sounds like an assembly to me, perhaps not in the same traditional sense, yet we are together emotionally and spiritually. Principle 33 in The Use of Means of Grace states, “The real presence is a mystery,” and, “The how of Christ’s presence remains as inexplicable in the sacrament as elsewhere.” It is not our responsibility to find out “how” God works in the midst of the Word, it is our faith that places our trust in such things that Christ is present.
This is not an argument for distance communion forever. Once we meet again in our sanctuaries the assembly will be gathered there to be fed and nourished. We find ourselves in unprecedented times with the ability to utilize new and exciting ways to interact. God is doing something new in the midst of our daily uncertainty and as we find a new way to be church at this time, let us let God be God and allow Christ’s presence to show up where it needs to be for such a time as this.