On this Maundy Thursday, the readings from 1 Corinthians 10:14–17, 11:27–32, and Mark 14:12–25 all cover the Lord’s Supper. As we are in this shelter-in-place limbo we have refrained from taking the sacrament of Holy Communion. So how should we consider this absence of the sacrament?
We are in this unprecedented time with this Shelter-in-Place order here and in much of the world.
Now, I want to be very clear about what we are doing as a church in this time. We have ceased holding worship services in our facility not because of an infringement upon our expression of the Gospel but rather out of our love and concern for our people and our community. If this was an order to cease worship because of the content of our message we would not have ceased. This is not a matter of religious freedom but of health concerns. There will be plenty of debate after this crisis subsides about religious and individual liberties. That is not my concern here.
Bishop Dan Selbo has delivered a pastoral letter on the subject of virtual communion. You can find it on the NALC website (here). He encouraged pastors to refrain from virtual communion until we have time to reflect and discuss this issue. I wholeheartedly agree with Bishop Selbo.
As we go though this shelter in place in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, this is a health emergency, it is not a theological emergency. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and his Bride the Church are not in danger. The Church has endured far greater health crises and humanitarian disasters than this present pandemic. As in previous episodes, the Church is adapting to continue to preach the Gospel and offer the comfort of Christ.
So how should we consider Holy Communion at this time?
First, the Lord’s Supper is a public occurrence given to Christ’s disciples. As he says in the Greek “umin” translates as y’all (Lk 22:17, 19, 20)
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. (Mk 14:24)
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. (Mt 26:27).
Holy Communion is a public event of the church.
Secondly, this is an experience of God’s promises taken in fellowship. The essence of communion is community where we are joined together with Christ as his earthly body.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Ac 2:42).
Communion is never an individualistic act. Even communion delivered to those who are shut-in or in the hospital is understood as an extension of the community they are physically unable to join. While we are joining together digitally, this is not the incarnational gathering of Christ’s body. (For further discussion on this I point you to an essay by Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov ).
Thirdly, the Church is the steward of the mysteries of God. The congregation is the local steward of the mysteries of God. The gifts of the church are administered through appointed and ordained leaders for the sake of good order. (Augsburg Confession, XIV, Article XIV: Of Ecclesiastical Order). Based on this understanding innovations to the practice of communion should be cautioned against. Such innovations are not necessary for our faith in times such as these.
Faith Alone: We are encouraged to remember that we are saved by faith and by faith alone. This faith is a creation and gift of the Holy Spirit to each believer. This faith is not dependent upon anything else except the act of God. The sacrament of Holy Communion is a gift to communicate God’s promises in Christ to us but it is not necessary for salvation. Nor is the absence of communion condemning to us. Put crassly, you could say Holy Communion was a bonus.
Word Alone: While we may want to partake in the Lord’s Supper we do good to remember what constitutes the Lord’s Supper is the Word. Our faith rests on the Word alone. The Word nourishes us at all times. Jesus is the Word made flesh. When he gives himself to us in the Lord’s supper what he is ultimately giving us is the Word. This Word is what we live by. This Word is what we are redeemed by.
So while we are apart physically and connected digitally, we ultimately rest in the work of Christ, his cross and resurrection which is the expression of God, his Word, to all humanity. We are united to Christ by the Spirit.
“Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Bishop Dan’s Letter: https://thenalc.org/projects/pastoral-letter-concerning-virtual-communion/
Pastor Strltsov’s essay: https://www.gottesdienst.org/gottesblog/2020/4/6/a-guest-essay-by-the-rev-dr-alexey-streltsov-the-covid-19-pandemic-and-the-digitization-of-the-church?fbclid=IwAR3xGZ2mfbKLzJQ6URexoTi7bZuW1ohhwpK2cjGK5SgDCmwXrklH4obo_FM