Is it communion if there’s a screen between us?
We are so used to sharing bread and wine around the table every week that we really feel that something is missing when we don’t commune for weeks at a time. Thursday night, as we hear the report of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, words we know so well, we will be officially fasting from communion, along with our siblings in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, those who share our national church.
However, the bishop of our synod has indicated that he is open to congregations making other decisions. So, we have choices to make, to decide if we want to offer communion in some way in the weeks, and perhaps months, ahead. If we do, how should we do it?
We would like to hear from you. What do you think makes communion communion? Is the most important thing that we are together in an assembly? That an ordained pastor consecrates the elements? What about when we bless bread and wine to send it out to people who are sick or homebound? Lay people can commune in an emergency – is this an emergency? Is it really communion when we’re eating bread and drinking wine while watching a recording?
Email your comments and questions to Pastor Goede. She’ll compile everyone’s responses so we can all see them.
If you’d like some food for thought, take a look at these resources:
Take a look at the ELCA’s statement about the sacraments
To help you think about these things, the ELCA’s “The Use of the Means of Grace” might be a good place to start. It’s long; start at the table of contents and choose wisely.
“The Use of the Means of Grace – Why It Matters” is a four-page summary of the important issues.
Take a look at what Martin Luther wanted us to know about the sacrament
Martin Luther’s Small Catechism is an app that seems an appropriate way to research this question during this time of lockdown and social distancing.
Be a good Lutheran and dip into Scripture
Jesus doesn’t come up with bread and wine and communing together on his own. There’s a long history with our spiritual ancestors of offering hospitality to strangers, gathering because asks us to and sharing the bread from heaven. If you’ve got some time during lockdown, pull out a Bible (or find one online) and check out some of the things behind Jesus’ offer of bread and wine to his disciples.
Abraham and Sarah welcome three visitors (Genesis 18)
Hospitality to strangers in every situation was essential for people living in the ancient Near East. Abraham welcomes three unknown men into his camp, unaware that he is actually welcoming God. Abraham gives the three water to wash their feet, and as he prepares food, Sarah bakes bread for them.
The Israelites eat the Passover meal (Exodus 12)
God is about to strike the Egyptians with one final plague, guaranteed to make them free their Israelite slaves. God directs the Israelites to slaughter a lamb and use the blood to mark the doorposts of their quarters to that the angel of death will know to pass over them. They roast the lamb to sustain them as they escape. They make cakes quickly without leaven, so they have bread for the journey into freedom in the wilderness.
Manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16)
God feeds the wandering Israelites with “true bread from heaven,” manna, a flaky, white substance they gathered from the ground. The people gather it for forty years, all the time they wander in the wilderness.
The widow and Elijah: In 1 Kings 17:7-16, Elijah asks a widow in Zarephath to bring him bread. She says she has run out, and is starving. He promises if she returns home, her jar of flour and jug of oil will never run out. She goes home, and is able to make bread for herself, her son, and Elijah throughout the famine. Elijah does quite the opposite of call for a fast during the famine. Instead, he ordains the woman to be the presider at the meal.
Elijah and the widow of Zarapheth (1 Kings 17)
King Ahab and Queen Jezebel are so evil that God stops the rain and causes a drought throughout Israel. God sends Elijah to a poor widow who welcomes him with water, but she isn’t sure she has enough flour or oil to bake bread for him. But Elijah prophesies that the jar of meal and the jug of oil will not run out.
There are many stories about Jesus that involve eating and drinking, banquets and feasts, wine and bread. Try using a Bible search tool like Oremus Bible Browser and search some of these words in the gospels.
Another good way to survey the landscape is to use a children’s Bible to find some well-known incidents involving Jesus and food and drink and hospitality, like:
Jesus turns jars of water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2)
Jesus five thousand with just five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14)
Jesus tells a parable about a wedding banquet (Matthew 22)
Jesus eats with the tax collector Levi (Luke 5)