Communion, the Ubiquity of Christ

Padraig McGuire, Cantor

As we live in the midst of a Pandemic, the response to which is social distancing for the sake of our neighbour, we grapple with what it means to gather as community around Word and Sacrament.  We have indeed gathered virtually to worship using the Liturgy of the Word. Some have met occasionally as groups for an on-line chat via Zoom, and there have been many phone calls and some physical visits… at a distance.  Community, indeed, does continue!  This week we will celebrate virtually the sacrament of Holy Communion.  This is an extra-ordinary step made in the midst of extraordinary circumstances.  What I would like to lift up in response to this decision is a core teaching to our understand of this Sacrament, that of the ubiquity of Christ’s presence.

Many know the quote of Luther to the Swiss reformer Zwingli, who held that Christ, being raised and seated at God’s right hand, could not be physically present in the sacrament.  Luther’s response was classic Luther… “God is present in your cabbage soup as in the sacrament, the difference is that God is hidden in the soup and revealed in the sacrament.”  The ubiquity of God’s presence, hidden and revealed is beautifully encapsulated in this quote.  Luther gives us a fuller exposition in his treatise “Confession of the Lord’s Supper” (1528).  Here Luther reminds the reader of God’s strong promise, that Christ is here in our midst though word, element in our very presence… asking that we receive what is given.  To quote Psalm 118:23 “This is God’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.”  There is no magic, no required overlay of ceremonial, no test of worthiness.  Christ is present.

Some noteworthy Lutheran theologians of the last century, Joseph Sittler, Walter Bowman and Hans Schwarz, consider Luther’s teaching of ubiquity of Christ to be informative not only to an understanding of the sacrament but also to a deepening of ecumenical dialogues,  broadening of Chistological theology  and  a theology that informs our engagement as Christians in the world.

So what does this mean to us at this time?  I would suggest that the ubiquity of Christ, hidden in the world, made known in the sacrament, would inform our virtual celebration of the Holy Communion.  With bread and cup – present in homes and present on the presiders table, we have the words of promise proclaimed… and as a community, gathered and yet separated, we share in the body and blood of Christ, given and shed you… given and shed for us.  A crystallization of the eucharistic prayer that states “With people gathered in every time and place…”