By the Rev. Dr. Rob Apgar-Taylor
It was a Wednesday night in January, 1991, when we got the news. I was a student at Wesley Seminary, and the first U.S. bombs had just fallen on Baghdad. We immediately started planning a worship service at 9:00 that night. What to pray? What words could bring us comfort in this scary moment? We were at war and we knew that no words would make this better. But we did have the words of the church. So we celebrated communion together and reminded ourselves that amid our fears, Christ was indeed present. This present time feels to me much like that.
As a local United Church of Christ pastor, I am fortunate to have the ability to livestream Sunday worship. But that presents the problem of what to do with the sacrament. Do we celebrate communion when those watching cannot partake? After careful thought and prayer, I have decided that yes, we will celebrate communion on our YouTube channel. Not just on the first Sunday of the month, but on every Sunday we are in diaspora. Why? For several reasons.
- Communion is Thanksgiving: Like our Jewish brothers and sisters in the Seder meal, we, too, need to be reminded of God’s mighty acts in difficult times. It is this constant remembrance of God’s faithfulness that can be our assurance of God’s continued presence in these difficult days.
- Communion is presence: We need to be reminded that Christ is with us, and there is no better way to celebrate the presence of Christ with us than in the breaking of the bread. The Scriptures are full of stories of Christ being revealed and made known in this sacred act. It is the central act of the church, and it reminds us that we are not alone.
- Communion is union: Communion is literally unity together. It is the visible sign of the union of the body of Christ. It reminds us that even in diaspora, the church is united. When we celebrate the sacrament, we are reminded that there is nothing that will ever separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ, not even quarantine! And if we are united with Christ, then we are united with each other in (It’s that whole “Communion of Saints” thing.)
- Communion is a promise of hope: We proclaim it in our songs and our preaching; now it’s time to live it. Fear and death will never have the last word. The Eucharist is the meal of a triumphant God. Whether in oppression, in exile, or in quarantine, we are an Easter People. This is our reality: In the end … we know that God wins!
And so, yes, we will be celebrating communion together via livestream, even if “together” means spiritually. Spiritual communion is a thing, you know. There is a long-standing tradition that even those who do not receive the sacrament do receive a spiritual blessing by participating in the prayers. God is not limited to bread and wine, but neither is God limited by bread and wine. I encourage us to celebrate the sacrament and be the church as we normally would, even if we can’t be together in the same room. Our people need normalcy. They need the hope that only the church can give.
Finally, offer a prayer for those who are not able to be physically present for the meal, that they might know the presence and power of Christ in this act. Here is a prayer that you can adapt if you wish:
God of us all, in the gift of bread and cup we celebrate your presence in our church and in our lives. As your presence unites us in the gift of this holy meal, so we know that in your love we are united wherever we are. Keep true in us that same spirit that has united the church throughout all generations and bring us soon back into physical communion, through that same spirit, which is Christ, the Lord. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Rob Apgar-Taylor is the pastor of Grace United Church of Christ in Frederick, Md.