“Christ invites to his table all who love Him…” The last time I presided at the Lord’s Table was Sunday, March 1 at Trinity UMC. It is always a good and joyful thing to gather around the Table and share Holy Communion. It was the first Sunday of Lent, a feast of grace in a penitent season. Who knew that would be our last time around the Table for months?
COVID came. We all withdrew to isolated places and anxious spaces. We were robbed of one of the greatest gifts of the Christian community: fellowship. We missed being in Sunday School classes; we missed singing the songs of faith; we missed extending and receiving the right hand of greeting in the aisles and hallways of our local church. As the weeks passed, we discovered something else we hungered for–Holy Communion.
Yes, there are digital alternatives for Holy Communion that have been adopted in this crisis. The Holy Spirit can certainly bind us together over the internet as surely as any place else. The church universal will have to wrestle with the doctrine and practice of Holy Communion in a post-COVID world. I suspect the use of the common cup and loaf will fade with the heightened anxiety about viruses and germs.
I don’t think it was the common “matter” of Holy Communion that people missed; it was the common moment. The moment when we gathered with others. The hearing of the live, unified response of the people…”Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might…” That sacramental moment when the words of institution are shared and there is the realization that grace has come in this common and shared moment. Holy Communion is not a private meal. It is a sharing of the faith, hope, and life of the church found in Jesus Christ.
How can we safely return to the common community of Holy Communion? The leadership at Trinity UMC is thinking about this in a new way. We will celebrate Holy Communion outside, at the base of the steeple each Wednesday evening at 6pm. We observe social distancing, wear masks, and take prepackaged elements. I will also be available to come to an outdoor gathering of families, Sunday School classes or just plain friends at a mutually convenient time. Already, I have presided at three such gatherings. We prayed the ancient liturgy again, of the presider and people. Together, we were blessed by grace and by seeing and hearing each other.
We are not without hope. We are not alone. For we are “one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry until Christ comes and we feast at His heavenly banquet.” We have this in common, together.