There has been a great deal of conversation among clergy regarding worship practices during this strange time we are apart. Particular questions have been raised about Holy Communion being done online. There are valid concerns both from those who discourage any online celebration of Communion as well as those who have advocated for it. After conversation with our synod Bishop and others, I have decided that we will offer Holy Communion as part of our online worship both Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday.
One concern is that it is a break from historical norms of communion happening in person, and that those who are not able to commune with the community (shut-ins, etc) have it brought to them from the congregation’s celebration. That is definitely true. There is also a concern with celebrating communion from a recording of the service. I echo that concern and have decided how I will respond to it.
Those advocating for making allowance for communion via online state that while in-person is the norm, we are all learning that connection online is not ‘fake’ community or somehow less real. It is certainly different. But we are seeing that it is real connection. For those arguing that the church’s practice hasn’t included such things, those advocating it have said that the ways we connect online in real-time have never been available to us until recently. Arguing from what the Lutheran confessions said when they were written in the 1500s does not make sense for a 21st century world. The reformers did not have any way of imagining the ability to talk to and see someone who was not in the same room with you.
I struggled with this a lot. In the end, I decided that if Christ comes to us in ordinary bread and wine, through a process we do not understand, then we cannot say that Christ cannot come to us in exactly that same way just because we are not in the same building. We have long said that we believe the church is the people of God in the world. We have always said that it is not the building. If we really believe that at all, this is the moment to show it. I spoke to this in the third message on this past Palm Sunday. It is available online at https://flcsm.org/onlineworship/ and on the facebook feed.
I understand that some may not be comfortable with this. I also know that some will deeply desire it. This does not need to be divisive. I feel compelled as pastor to offer the means of grace in Holy Communion in this way we are able. There are people who may not be alive when we gather again. We pray it isn’t so but we cannot know that. I don’t want a decision I made to be the one that prevented them from receiving Holy Communion for weeks or more at the end of this life. I ask only that we respect those who will receive Communion this way, and that we likewise respect those who choose not to.
To the concern regarding people celebrating with a recording of the service, I plan to take down the original video and post an edited version of the service (without Holy Communion) for those who watch later.
How will we receive Communion?
Lutherans believe that the physical bread and wine that we use in celebrating communion are not what is important. In my life we have gone from using only wafers to a vast diversity of breads, some leavened, some unleavened. We offer gluten-free communion, wine and grape juice. The bottom line is that for Lutherans Christ comes to us in ordinary bread and wine.
For communion this Thursday and Sunday, I invite you to gather whatever you have on hand that seems right to you. Maybe a roll, maybe a cracker, a tortilla, anything you have. You might choose wine, or some juice. At this point, the absolute specifics are not what is important. When I teach about the sacraments I tell young people that it isn’t the details of what we use that matter. It is how we use them. The word “sacred” does not necessarily mean that the thing is special by its nature. It means that it is set apart for a holy purpose. So I am not being flippant at all when I say that any form or ordinary bread and drink will do. I plan to make some rolls and use some of them both for my family who will be at home and for the folks at church. Whatever you use, I ask you to have them out and ready.
On Thursday, we will have the words of institution in the service, and will go to the singing of the hymn “Eat this bread” while we receive communion spread out in God’s world. If you do not wish to participate, simply spend that time in prayer for us as a community and for God’s healing in the world.