TLDR: The Holy One is the source of blessing, including the eucharistic blessing. Eucharist is a way of giving thanks for our blessings to the One in Whose image we are all made. My heretical advice: don’t let quarantine, or anything else, ever deprive you of Eucharist. After all, nothing can separate us from Love.
Never before has the contrast between the religion of my childhood and that of my adulthood felt sharper than during the quarantine demanded by this pandemic.
On Saturday I received an email blast from Walnut Gardens, the Community of Christ congregation of my youth, announcing its plans for Palm Sunday. The email included this detail:
“Please remember to prepare your own communion emblems prior to the service (i.e. bread, juice, water, etc.) Apostle Janné Grover will be providing our message and leading us in online communion.”
This is the opposite of the communication my wife and her New England Episcopal clergy colleagues received from their bishops: they will not sanction livestreamed on-line consecrations of Eucharist. Hey, you know what else was not sanctioned by Episcopal bishops? The first ordination of women to the Episcopal priesthood back in 1974. Just sayin’.
The denomination of my childhood, known since 2000 as the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), was liturgically nothing like the Episcopal Church to which I now belong, and probably still isn’t.
There were no vestments and clergy didn’t wear clerical collars. Communion was on the first Sunday of the month and there was nothing remotely cannibalistic (er, transubstatiational) about it. Everyone remained seated while ordained ministers brought platters of pre-cubed bread and trays filled with tiny plastic shot glasses of grape juice to the head of each row and we passed them to each other. There was never any mention of a hint of a desire for the bread and juice to become “The Body and Blood of Christ.”
Here’s the Community of Christ’s modern language version of what Episcopalians call “the Eucharistic Prayer”:
Eternal God, we ask you in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread and wine to the souls of all those who receive them, that they may eat and drink in remembrance of the body and blood of your Son, and witness to you, O God, that they are willing to take upon them the name of your Son, and always remember him and keep the commandments which he has given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
Ahh. The decades-old familiarity of those words is a surprising balm to me, especially in the face of so many of my Episcopal friends who are grieving the loss of Eucharist. I’ll take emblems eaten and drunk in remembrance any day over being invited to ingest Jesus’ body and blood. Indeed, when we give thanks in the post-communion prayer at Emmanuel for the sacrament, I always change “body and blood” to “life and love.” These are my own personal hacks that help me get through the Episcopal liturgy, and I encourage everyone to try them out.
What I want to say to my Episcopal friends in this time of pandemic is a repeat of the email I got on Saturday from Walnut Gardens: prepare your emblems of bread and wine at home and share in the Eucharist (literally, the Thanksgiving) together with all those who have shared in this festival meal over the millennia. Even if you are home alone, invite the communion of saints to join you. Many of our Jewish friends and families are celebrating seders together this week using all sorts of technological devices. Pam and I are joining one tonight via computer with our beloved friends of Central Reform Temple. By necessity, people are finding new ways to be present to, with, and for each other. Let’s join that multitude, not keep it at a distance of at least 6 feet (or more)!
Pam preached on March 29 about the problem of translating the Greek word for “sign” as “miracle.” She pointed out the obvious: a sign is not the same as the thing it is pointing to. For example, just because a restaurant has a sign in the bathroom telling employees to wash their hands doesn’t mean that the employees are washing their hands. A sign signals a value, but it is not the value in action.
For me, sharing in the Eucharist is a sign of my aspiration and commitment to serve God as Jesus did. I don’t need it, or even want it, to be Jesus’ actual body and blood. And just as I don’t hesitate to bless my own food before I eat it, I wouldn’t hesitate to bless bread and wine along with a livestreamed service and consider it a sacramental meal. Shoot, if I weren’t responsible for lending my amateurish cinematographic skills to the livestreaming of Emmanuel’s services, I’d definitely be asking God’s blessing for or upon my own bread and wine at home and considering it Eucharist (Thanksgiving).
You may wonder why we need priests if congregants can create their own Eucharist (or any other sacrament). As the child of ordained ministers, and the wife of a priest, I don’t think there’s anything an ordained minister does that a lay person can’t do. And I love the elbow room of the Episcopal church’s “priesthood of all believers” (although I change the word “believers” to “belovers”).
For me, what sets clergy apart is their vows to serve on behalf of others, to model this service for the rest of us. Pam often says, “It’s not that people can’t go to God on their own behalf; it’s just that many don’t.” My own evolution in discernment is that I love knowing that I have clergy to be my buddies in my relationship with God. I don’t need clergy being in relationship with the Holy One FOR me. I need their guidance and wisdom as they travel WITH me along The Way.
Being forced into physical distance and isolation by a pandemic is difficult enough, especially for those of us who draw strength and nourishment from gathering together in spirit, body, and voice. If anything, our souls need MORE nourishment in these times, not less. So, as your friendly neighborhood heretic, I say if your soul would be nourished by participating in online communion, go for it!
If you’ve read this far, I repeat: The Holy One is the source of blessing, including the eucharistic blessing. Eucharist is a way of giving thanks for our blessings to the One in Whose image we are all made. My heretical advice: don’t let quarantine, or anything else, ever deprive you of Eucharist. After all, nothing can separate us from Love.
I wish a blessed Holy Week and a festive Easter to all who celebrate them. And for my Jewish friends, Chag Sameach! Or, as my dear friend Jill wrote in an email yesterday, “Chag Zoom-each!”