One of the cornerstones of our expression of worship week by week is the sharing of the Eucharist or Holy Communion. Now, none of our churches hold a Eucharist every week but, under normal circumstances, there is always one that people can go to somewhere in the group. It has been nearly three weeks since we celebrated communion. Are you missing it yet?
On the 15th March, when we met at Crayke for our joint service as part of the Come and See Mission, I had a fair inkling that it would be the last service for a while. The sense of true communion in the building was profound and the restrictions in place even then seemed to make us more aware of what was happening and feel closer even as we began to distance ourselves physically.
What do we do now?
The rules for presiding at a service of Holy Communion in the Church of England are strict – and with good reason for so fundamental expression of our shared faith.
- Only ordained priests may preside.
- Holy Communion should normally be celebrated in a consecrated building.
- A priest may not celebrate without another person there
In these unusual times, when we have been told to shut the buildings and isolate from each other, normal practice can’t happen. The Church has relaxed the rules on needing more than one communicant present, so clergy are permitted to celebrate the Eucharist in our homes, particularly if livestreaming.
There are a variety of ways to understand what happens when we take Communion. Personally, I believe that in eating the bread and drinking the wine, Jesus is truly present. There is more to it than that though – for me it is the people we gather with who make communion real. That sense of living a shared life in community, bringing the joys and sorrows together in prayer and worship, is true communion. Without that, at the moment, I am a little lost. I know Jesus is close, and I do not feel separated from God, but I am missing you all. The sense of loss in not sharing the bread and wine seems an appropriate symbol for what we are all going through.
It seems to me though that if the congregation cannot receive, why should I? I would rather join you all in your fasting from the sacrament of Communion so that, when we can all join together again, our joy will be shared.
Until that day, we can pray and meditate on the receiving of bread and wine. Here is a link to a way of praying called Spiritual Communion, which can be used when you are unable to attend a service of the Eucharist. It includes this prayer:
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits you have given me,
for all the pains and insults you have borne for me.
Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally,
I ask you to come spiritually into my heart.
O most merciful redeemer,
friend and brother,
may I know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen