Covid-19 has forced dramatic changes to how we enact liturgy this year. As congregations struggle to make decisions about moving to online formats, livestreams, drive-in worship services, etc, we’ve had to rethink what it means to “gather” as the body of Christ during these challenging times.
One of the most debated topics of these shifts has been whether or not to celebrate the Eucharist, and, if so, what that “should” look like. Arguments, models, and a variety of practices abound. I want to be clear that there are no “right” answers, but as faithful Christians, we make decisions based on our best guess, and in conversation with one another. There has been no shortage of conversation regarding this matter among Lutheran Clergy.
Our practice at St. Mark has been to abstain from the Lord’s Table during this time. Because many of us are grieving the loss of this central Christian practice during a time that many of us need this support more than ever, I wanted to take time to talk about the implications that have led to this decision as we move forward. It is helpful to think about the purpose of the meal.
The Meal shared in Christian assembly is most often known as “communion.” While the meal for Christians is one of the principals means of communion, or “being one with” Christ, and with each other, it is not the only means. Indeed, it is as important for us to be in communion with each other and with Christ during this time more than ever. We are truly feeling the importance and support of communion, or community, during this time when we are required to be physically separated. Our spiritual communion, however, remains intact. The Meal is a powerful example of community, because of it’s physical nature. Sharing a meal together is a powerful glue that holds any community together. And so as long as we cannot all be together physically, (safely, anyway), the symbol of physical togetherness is ineffective, if not altogether confusing.
We have used the word Eucharist for this meal since the earliest church gatherings. This greek word meaning “thanksgiving” is used here because central to this meal is that we gather primarily to give thanks to God – for the blessings in our lives, and especially for God’s presence in Christ. Offering gratitude during this time is important, and need not stop just because we are not physically gathering. Our very lives can be a thanksgiving to God. We are called to proclaim the Good News of God’s reign, even in the midst of a pandemic.
The “Lord’s Table” is a powerful way to understand the meal where/when we gather. In the meal, Christ is the host, and we are the guests. Essential to this understanding is that absolutely all people are welcome at this table unconditionally. This is God’s gift to us, and we bar none from the table. Unfortunately during this time, we are unable to realize that reality. All people are not currently welcome at the table, due to very necessary safety concerns and restrictions. Gathering at the Lord’s table would put some in harm’s way. We would further be unable to reconcile the gap between those who are able to be physically present (when we open at limited capacity), and those who stay home for safety reasons. Until we can fully realize a table where all can equally participate, love of neighbor through ensuring their safety trumps this ritual.
Finally, (albeit less commonly for Lutherans), we know this meal as the Mass. Based on the latin word for mission, the idea is that we share this meal as part of our call to do Christ’s work in the world. We are sent from the table to “go in peace” and share the good news, remember the poor, be the light of Christ, etc. This charge of our’s, our mission, has not changed. We are the Church beyond our building’s walls, even when we cannot gather together, in our daily lives. Especially in our daily lives. The building is closed, but the Church remains open.
As we move forward, remember that Christ is fully present with, for, and through you, even when we cannot share the meal together. God is fully present in our lives in myriad ways, including Scripture, prayer, and the unconditional covenant of Baptism.