Since shifting our worship services and ministries online back in mid-March, we have experienced something unexpected and surprising, God’s Living Word is present and active, even in this online context! God is present with us when we gather online for worship, prayer, music, learning, and sharing Christ’s love and peace with one another.
At the beginning of this crisis, it was the recommendation, and it still is, of the ELCA leadership, to fast from participating in Holy Communion. Not only because it is not possible for us to be safely physically present with one another, but also out of solidarity with our Christian sisters and brothers around the world, who are also physically distancing for worship without the benefit of gathering online. However, pastors were encouraged to make their “reverent best guess,” regarding how to proceed with these worship and sacramental matters.
Even as the New Day Planning Team works to figure out how and when to gather in small groups for worship and ministry, a majority of our church members, family, and friends will not be able to, or choose not to come back to the church building any time soon. They will need worship offered online, and we will continue to offer online worship into the future. The question is, how can we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion together online.
As Lutheran Christians, we believe that Christ is really present in the Bread and the Wine, as Christ’s Body and Blood, when Christ’s Word and Promise is attached. It is Christ’s Word with the Bread and the Wine that makes it a means of God’s Grace for us. In the same way, during our online worship services, after our Confession we hear the Words of Absolution, “in the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven!” We hear, we believe Christ’s Word and Promise, and so we are, really and truly, forgiven. During worship, our phones buzz as our church friends and family share the peace of Christ with us, and we do in reality receive Christ’s peace, as well as connection in Christian fellowship. The weekly conference call Bible Study is yet another source of God’s Living Word coming over a phone line. We hear God’s Word and we are strengthened in our faith.
This is an extraordinary time for our world and for our church, and calls us to extraordinary ways of being Church together, and one of those ways is celebrating and sharing the Sacrament of Holy Communion. As your pastor, Called and Ordained into the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, I believe we have gone without the precious Sacrament of Holy Communion for too long, and for the spiritual health of our community, it is time for us to receive this precious gift of grace through Christ’s Body and Blood.
In the ELCA’s The Use of the Means of Grace, it states, “At the table of our Lord Jesus Christ, God nourishes faith, forgives sin, and calls us to be witnesses to the Gospel.” We need God to nourish our faith, forgive our sins, and fill us with Christ’s grace and love to be witnesses in the world, through the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.
Therefore, in this extraordinary time, beginning on Sunday, June 28, during the 9:30am online worship, we will celebrate Holy Communion together!
How shall we practice this with all reverence and faithfulness? For those who choose to celebrate the Sacrament, for it is an invitation not a requirement, I invite you to “set the table,” to create a “home altar” around which to gather with the whole community online. Lay down a table cloth. Set out candles. Place a cross on your “home altar,” or other reminders of Christ’s sacrifice and love. Have a plate with bread (consider making the attached Communion Bread recipe for your family), or gluten free wafers. Set out a cup of wine or grape juice, along with smaller cups, should you choose. Then listen, believe, and trust in the familiar words, as from Christ Jesus himself, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” “This is my blood, shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” As Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, “Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘Forgiveness of sins.’”
Will this be different, strange even, from what we are used to? Absolutely, yet so is almost everything we have experienced during this challenging time. And yet, God continues to be present in, with, and through these online ministries in ways that we could never have imagined or comprehended a few months ago. And again, this is an invitation, not a requirement. We walk by faith, and not by sight, trusting that Christ is leading us, the Holy Spirit guiding us, God’s love grounding us.
Your Pastor in Christ’s Grace,
Pastor Kent Claussen Gubrud