This Easter will be oddest since the first Easter in AD30. Christians will not be taking communion together, whether in a church building or a house. This will be the case in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, and perhaps elsewhere.
And all due to something so tiny, which we cannot see and may or may not be living, although like bacteria they’ve been around for four billion years.
Thus most of us Christians will not be receiving communion on Easter Day, whether Anglican, Roman Catholic or any other denomination. In fact, we won’t even be worshipping together. For the Christian this will be a great loss, but could we actually receive communion in our own homes.
I note that many clergy have built an altar in their own homes and have live-streamed communion services with only the priest receiving the bread and wine. Many have done this, even if their skills on live-streaming, or whatever system they use, are not the highest. For that they deserve much respect as they are trying to bring the presence of Christ when there is a virtual lockdown. (If you see a priest not doing it very well remember Oscar Wilde’s adage ‘if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly’.) Being retired I am not in that position.
It is clear that clergy from the Archbishops downwards will be doing this and it seems the best solution at a very difficult time. There is no way we can have public worship and there have been several cases where people have caught coronavirus at worship and died. It would be a murderous folly to have public worship. The vital thing is for all to experiment and try to reach people with the good news of the resurrection through the internet without actually people coming together physically.
BUT MOST CHRISTIANS WILL NOT RECEIVE COMMUNION THIS EASTER.
What they will have is to able to watch a priest or bishop celebrate, take the bread and wine and partake “spiritually”, but not touch, handle and eat those creatures of bread and wine.
IS THIS RIGHT?
Is it the best solution at a difficult time?
Worship together is not possible and liable to be fatal.
The same with communion together.
BUT IS THE SOLUTION FOR ALL CHRISTIANS TO RECEIVE THE BREAD AND THE WINE SO DIFFICULT?
Instead of watching the priest celebrate and take the bread and wine and have a “spiritual Communion”, why shouldn’t the worshipper at home watch the clebration of communion with a small piece of bread and a tiny amount of wine and then consume both after the priest has consumed his?
I have now booked my place at the stake and I can hear many say;
YOU CAN’T DO THAT!
To which I respond;
After all we have communion by extension with the bread and wine consecrated on a previous occasion.
Further we are used to spiritual blessing being televised whether by the Pope, our Archbishops and in so many religious services or songs of Praise on TV.
If a blessing can “work” over the air waves/livestreaming/TV or whatever else, why cannot the bread and wine in a persons front room be consecrated?
Why is it necessary for the priest to “touch” the bread and wine? Non-conformists and evangelicals often do not. Does that make their communions invalid?
Does our understanding of consecration of the bread and wine preclude it, whether we look to RC teaching, Tridentine or Vatican II, views of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, and in an Anglican context, all those from the time of Thomas Cranmer down to the present day.
Does it affect how we consider the consecrated bread and wine? Whether Transubstantiation, Transignification, Consubstantiation, Real Presence or totally symbolic?
Why can’t consecration be effective over the electronic cloud? Is God himself limited by having to keep to First Century technology?
To illustrate this I am reminded of an amusing incident. Thirty years ago a woman deacon had a parish in rural Wales & had to drive 20 miles to get the bread/wine consecrated for communion by extension. Once they considered the faff and absurdity of it all and the priest said to her, “why not hold the wafers & wine by the phone & I’ll do it over the phone?” Why not, I ask? I always chuckle about that when I drive along that road.
I have asked a lot of questions on the theme of WHY NOT? Some responses I’ve had on twitter are simply NO. It seems I’ve touched a raw nerve.
But what better for Easter Day?
On TV in the mid-morning the Archbishop of Canterbury leads a typical Anglican Communion service in his chapel at Lambeth Palace. Beforehand viewers are told that if they wish to receive communion they should have with them a little bread and wine and receive them when the Archbishop says
The Body of Christ
The Blood of Christ.
And several million take the bread and wine together.
(They could still be livestreamed communions from bishops and priests from their own homes.)
I would suggest that it would be very moving and a very strong Christian witness, as well as giving fantastic spiritual nourishment to Christians prevented from worship and those who have found this time very difficult. Would it really matter if not all were baptised and confirmed. I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t mind.
I cannot see any theological objection to this and would a fantastic opportunity of spiritually feeding so many people.
What could be better than that?
Obviously there would need to be some serious theological thinking AFTER Easter, but more important is feeding the flock THIS Easter.
Finally, I suppose there is a risk, but the church (and all aspects of society) move forward when they take a risk, when they think the gains outweigh the dangers.
Climbing this mountain was a risk, but a calculated one.
I ought to say that is not me as when I went along that ledge I was totally on my own and a selfie was a risk too far