July 8, 2020
To all God’s People of Hope:
Grace and peace to you through God who is with us in Christ, in all things.
It has been four months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit us in Alberta and we all started practicing quarantine and physical distancing measures. While this has certainly brought hardship into our lives, in this time of unchosen sabbatical many of us have also rediscovered where our true values lie; connection with family and friends has emerged as our highest priority. This includes our church family of Hope.
Traditionally in the church we have found our deepest connection with each other and with Christ by practicing the sacrament of Holy Communion. In this event we come together as one body and receive the body and blood of Christ. At the Table we receive an affirmation that our sins are forgiven, we experience being united in the body of Christ, and we are given strength and comfort for the days ahead.
In normal circumstances Holy Communion is practiced in the context of the Sunday assembly of the community because it is there that we witness the full presence of Christ in the body of believers. Communion visitors may bring the elements of bread and wine to the sick and homebound, but it is understood that they do so as representatives of the whole community as a gesture of inclusion in the event that happened on Sunday morning. The same consideration applies to the pastor who brings communion to members in hospice or hospital; he or she does so as a way of symbolically including the isolated in the reality of Christ’s gathered body.
In normal circumstances, on Sundays when we can’t get to church we do not hold Communion as individuals at home, because Christianity is not a faith that can be practiced alone; intrinsic to the Way of Jesus is the command to “love one another as I have loved you,” which automatically involves us in community and relationship. So normally, if we cannot assemble with the rest of the body on a Sunday morning we “fast” from Communion until someone can visit us, bringing the bread and wine in an act of love and solidarity.
These are not normal circumstances.
Appropriate to our traditional theology of Communion, we have fasted from the Meal for the past four months; and this absence from our collective life looks like it is going to last for several more months to come. Yet this is the very time when we long most for the physical presence of each other, and Christ’s own body and blood in our lives.
At the same time, in these extraordinary times we have witnessed even more clearly the work of the Holy Spirit amongst us. God’s gift of technology has enabled us to gather in real (not “virtual”) worship on Sunday mornings; volunteers have rallied to make sure our most homebound and potentially isolated members are visited; phone calls of encouragement and support have gone back and forth throughout the congregation. All this is truly the work of the Spirit, “who calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth.” (Small Catechism, Third Article) We are experiencing that God is not restricted by our physical distance, but is using online tools to meet us where we are. We are learning that “where two or three are gathered,” Christ truly is present, even when the gathering is online.
For all the reasons above, it seems fitting at this moment that we should resume celebrating Holy Communion together, from our homes and connected through technology.
While such a practice is historically unprecedented, our theology allows us to move forward. We believe that God is with us at all times (especially those who are suffering); we believe that Christ is not held back by any physical distancing (just as he appeared to the disciples behind locked doors after his resurrection); and we believe that the Holy Spirit moves freely and gathers the whole church together (through any means available). When we say that we are gathered with “the saints of every time and every place,” we believe that God makes it truly so, and that we are gathered with our ancestors in faith who have died years ago, with our unborn descendants who will one day worship as we do, and with all those now alive, across the globe, who are joined in the spirit, including online.
Therefore on Sunday, July 19 our liturgy will include Holy Communion. I will preside over the Meal in the church building, and I invite you to prepare your own table, with bread and wine or grape juice from your own pantry, at home. Because we will be gathered together at the same time through phone and internet we will not be communing alone, but together, as one body in Christ.
For more details on how to prepare your table at home, you can click on the link embedded in the Hope Weekly Newsletter of July 10, refer to the church website, or read the document on How to Prepare the Lord’s Table at Home. The video you will find was prepared by Rev. Dr. Kayko Driedger-Hesslein for her congregation of Advent Lutheran.
Of course, you may prefer to wait until the community is physically able to gather in order to partake in Holy Communion. That is absolutely okay! You may feel that the Meal would be incomplete apart from the physical presence of the whole body. Fasting from Communion may increase your appreciation for the gift of community, when that wonderful day finally arrives and we can be together again in the flesh. You are still welcome to worship in an online connected liturgy of Holy Communion, refraining from the meal at home and instead partaking spiritually. The spiritual presence of Christ is still given to you as gift and blessing.
In an effort to include the whole congregation, and not only those with technological access, Holy Communion will also be available at the church from 1 pm to 4 pm on Monday, July 20. You will need to call ahead to the church to book an appointment at 15 minute intervals during this period. Procedures will be in place to enable hand sanitizing and physical distancing. For some it may feel like a rewarding devotional practice to come to the church on this weekday afternoon for a brief time of reflection, prayer, and reception of Christ’s body and blood.
It is recognized that the practices of connected online Communion and individual reception at the church are not the normal or enduring practices of the church. But they are ways that we can, in this extraordinary time of pandemic, still participate in Christ’s community and receive the spiritually nourishing gifts of his body and blood. We will continue to yearn to be together in the same physical space, and to hear the chorus of voices singing and praying together, to shake one another’s hands in peace, and to come to the altar side-by-side. That time will come, however long it might take, but until then, we trust in God working among us in new ways, and we receive God’s comfort where it is offered. Until then we remain God’s people of Hope.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Rev. Kristian Wold
Hope Lutheran Church