Virtual Worship and Holy Communion
We live in anxious times. COVID-19 makes these times even more anxious. In a time of crisis, it is our natural instinct to gather together, but this pandemic demands that we distance ourselves from one another for a time. This has led to major disruptions to all aspects of our lives, including corporate worship. There is discussion and experimentation with the celebration and distribution of Holy Communion.
This disruption may actually be of benefit to us. The world has hit the pause button and now we have time to reflect more deeply on the evangelical understanding of the Word that was recovered during the Reformation. Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate. The proclamation of God’s message to us as both law and gospel is the Word of God. The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. The question should be turned around from, “How do we receive Holy Communion?” to “How does the Word of God come to us and how do we receive the Word of God?” God comes to us in all these ways and is really present. Holy Communion is not the only way that the Word of God is communicated—it’s not even the preeminent way that the Word of God is communicated.
This disruption also gives us the time and space to examine our understanding of and practices around Holy Communion. Some will remember times when communion was celebrated once a month. Now we have done such a good job of encouraging our people to receive the sacrament more frequently that many, if not most, of our congregations have weekly communion! Of course, the pandemic-forced physical distancing has interrupted this practice. But it hasn’t separated us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, but it won’t last forever. Fasting from Holy Communion for a time might be a good discipline. This absence makes God’s presence more profound. During this limited fast we might become more aware of God’s presence around us and in creation in ways that we have never noticed before. Even in times when a community cannot gather to share the sacrament, Jesus shows up, and we are still part of the body of Christ.
“The Use of the Means of Grace” reminds us that Holy Communion takes place in the assembly (Principle 39). We recommend that we do not urge people to employ virtual communion, that deacons, pastors, and bishops use this time as a teaching moment about the Lutheran understanding of the Word of God, and that we make use of the Service of the Word and Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Night Prayer and Responsive Prayer. Let us spend time in scripture study, pray for each other, and contact others regularly by phone, email or social media.
Above all, let us remember to be gentle with one another in this time. We’ve never been here before. We are all trying to do our best to be faithful and loving in this time of COVID-19. We trust that the presence of Christ goes before us and behind us, around us and within us. In the words of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s message: “Respect the disease. Do not take unnecessary risks. Provide for the spiritual and physical needs of the neighbor. Make use of medical aid. Care for one another, especially the most vulnerable.” Further questions may be directed to the Worship team of the Office of the Presiding Bishop at 800-638- 3522, ext. 2590, or [email protected].