We are on the edge of the great three days of Holy Week. Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, and for the first time I can remember I won’t be inside a church. I won’t participate in Communion. For the first time in several years, I won’t celebrate the Eucharist as a priest in my community. I’m finding myself in grief.
I had drafted an earlier version of this post arguing why I don’t think we should celebrate communion at this time, leaning on the Anglican emphasis on “reception” of the Eucharist. Anglicans have tended toward teaching that Communion doesn’t reach its sacramental fullness until it is shared in community. But the Presiding Bishop wrote a better reflection than what I had planned. His is, of course, more gracious than mine would have been.
My congregation has been creative in response to COVID-19. We’ve created a “Holy Week at Home” guide. We’ve pointed people to Agape Meals, contemplative reflection, and the Stations of the Cross. My colleagues and I are going to preach seven meditations across three hours online for Good Friday. For Easter, we’ll go live again for Morning Prayer. We’ve launched small group virtual connection times. We’ve even re-created an old fashioned phone tree to check on folks. We’re doing all we can. We’re stretching our capacity and our technology. I’m proud of my church. I’m still sad.
My congregation is named “the Church of the Holy Communion.” We were founded just as the Oxford Movement was reshaping our Anglican tradition. Eucharist was becoming again the principle worship of our church, after centuries. Tomorrow night, we remember the story of Jesus’ last supper. We remember Jesus’ command to love one another, and to “do this in memory of me.”
In my worst moments of grief I think, “We can’t do what Jesus asks us to do.” We can’t look one another in the eyes, press one another’s palms to pass the peace. We can’t wipe each other’s tears. We can’t gather our diverse and slightly goofy community round and share bread and wine. And I’m feeling the loss.
In seminary, I took a class on the Eucharist from a Catholic theologian who asked: when Jesus says, “do this” in memory of me, “what is the ‘this'”? What does Jesus ask us to do? She pushed us. Is it really about breaking bread? Yes. But sacraments don’t just signify one thing, so it’s not just about bread and wine. Jesus says, “this is my body, this is my blood.” Jesus offers himself, for the sake of others, out of self-sacrificial love for the world.
In my best moments, I think: What if Jesus was asking us to do the same? In this time when we cannot receive the sacramental bread and wine, how can we still follow in Jesus’ way? What can we offer for the sake of our world?