In the last few weeks, I have been gathering virtually with my home church in San Francisco while I live in Atlanta. Not being able to share bread and cup with any community has been personally challenging. It is a scenario that many in our denomination can understand as we have had to adapt our worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when we are not able to gather in community for worship and receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in person, my reflection has turned to what it means to be in community, even if from a distance, and the impact of community on the sacrament.
In an article written by the Rev. Dr. William P. Brown about the first Easter, he reminds us that when the first disciples were huddled in anxiety, the resurrected Christ joined them and ate with them once again. It was in this resurrection encounter that Jesus told the disciples to stay put, to wait, until the work of the Holy Spirit was upon them.
Reflecting on the scriptures about the first Easter reminds me that it is Jesus who is present to us in our partaking of the Lord’s Supper just as he was present to the first disciples. We partake of the table not of our own doing, but by the work of the Holy Spirit, who calls us to share in God’s gift of grace. Our faith is an embodied one, and signs and acts of grace not only speak of who we are but of whose we are. Even in seasons of lament and longing, at the table, the grace of God is poured out on us.
At the same time, embodied grace may also take the form of lament and fasting. Just as the disciples sat separated from the outside world, I and my communities, too, find ourselves at physical distance from one another. It was and is OK for us to sit in this lament, hoping for the day we can celebrate over the meal physically present with others once again.
The grace offered to us and other members of our communities is one that we cannot hinder, but one that we can assist in its embodiment. In this time void of large worship gatherings, sessions should contemplate the theological reasons for the Lord’s Supper. Our "Book of Order" offers guidance on this subject and lays groundwork for what is expected at a minimum level (G-3.0301b).
The decision of how often the sacrament is observed is made by the session and other councils for non-congregational settings (W-3.0410). In cases where ministers of Word and Sacrament or commissioned ruling elders are not physically present to administer the sacrament with parishioners, sessions have the option of authorizing members to do so (W-3.0414). Members need a week’s notice so that they may prepare themselves and the elements for the table (W-3.0409). We should remember that Christian worship is contextual and dependent on the elements available and appropriate for the given circumstance (W-1.0304). The bread and cup are not in themselves what brings us to God, but are signs that point to the grace of God already found in Jesus Christ (W-1.0303). These are all ways that impact how grace is embodied for those who partake of Christ’s table.
Regardless of how the sacrament is celebrated, know that Christ is present with us. This world belongs to God, and there is no place where God can’t be worshiped. Let us sit in the grace bestowed upon us as we offer this grace to others, in this time of lament, in this time of stillness, in this time we find ourselves.
Questions for discussion:
During times of separation from loved ones, how have you felt Christ’s presence?
What holy symbols have brought you joy and hope in the midst of lament?
Think about times that you have celebrated the Lord’s Supper and reflect upon the ways that you have felt closer to God.
Christópher (Ófe) Abreu Rosario is a Dominican American third year dual-degree student (MDiv and MA Practical Theology) at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a candidate in the PC(USA) ordination process, under care of Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco, California. He loves donuts, movies, and sharing food and long walks with friends.