I was delighted with our first Zoom service. So many of you participated in the liturgy, and there was such good conversation both before and afterwards. And your feedback has been strong: that many kids stuck around; that the prayers for the world showed a high level of engagement; and that the tech made some of you actually feel closer and more connected than ever. So that’s wonderful!
But what about communion? Some of you miss it already, and would like to set up at home with bread and wine so that we can have communion ‘together’ during the Zoom service. I take your point; however, I am reluctant to facilitate this. But first, some Baptist clarity: As a low church dissenter, I don’t believe that ordained people have an exclusive role in blessing bread and wine. As people gathered up in Christ, we are all called to Christ’s priesthood. Thefore, we can all gather in the name of Christ, bless bread and wine, and share it reverently: no ordained person required. However, there are other considerations for this pastor.
The first is is that communion is, in part, about being physically united in Christ’s presence: ‘communion’ just means ‘union with’. And let’s be honest: we’re not physically together. Zoom is great, but we are embodied people whose bodies are far apart right now, and there is a sadness in that. When we are faced with sadness, we can deny it or we can engage with it. My reading of the cross is that the only way to experience abundant life is to endure sadness and suffering when it comes, knowing there is life on the other side. Another way of thinking about this is found in Psalm 23. The shepherd walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death before setting a table for us. He does not avoid the valley and take us another way. Instead, like children on a bear hunt, we have to go through it. For these reasons, I think there is great power in fasting from communion for the time being and sitting with that sadness.
My other consideration is pastoral. There are some among you who are confident about handling the Eucharistic elements at home. But there are some among you who are not. For some, having an ordained person presiding is theologically important. For some, having the bread and wine handed to them by a pastor who loves them is significant. And for some, simply having bread and wine ready before the service would be an organisational nightmare in what are already organisationally challenging times: it would become an obstacle to participation. There would be nothing worse than some of us enjoying communion while others sat, hungry, thirsty, perhaps alone at home, and did not.
The Apostle Paul did not eat meat sacrificed to idols. He was not concerned for himself but for those around him whose faith could be swayed if he did so. Paul didn’t want to place obstacles in their path; therefore, because he loved them, he abstained. Those of you who have theological confidence in arranging communion at home may decide to do so around family dinner tables, and I won’t get in your way: but as a church let’s show our love for one another, and abstain.
And just imagine: After a long fast, and time physically apart, we come together again. Imagine walking into Sanctuary and discovering that our long table is set with the elements of communion … and so much more. There is bread and wine, yes, but also milk and honey, cheeses, grapes, figs and nuts; prosciutto and braesola, prosecco and Pinot Noir – “the best of meats and the finest of wines” giving a foretaste of the banqueting room of heaven. Imagine greeting one another in the flesh again; imagine satisfying your hunger for communion in the presence of the One who is encountered in the physical bodies of those who make up the church, and in the warm bread and sweet wine of communion shared. And imagine how much more satisfying it will be if, when you come, you are deeply and ravenously hungry.
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