COMMUNION IN A TIME OF COVID (Part 2)
Response to Part 1 has demonstrated, in part how we are constrained by legalism and tradition, what we can and cannot do without recognizing how our discipline, our regulation, is a human construct and doesn’t always relate to scripture. Another hymn:
The Church of Christ in every age
Beset by change but Spirit led,
Must claim and test its heritage
And keep on rising from the dead.
Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) © 1971 Stainer & Bell Ltd
We are living in and through a crisis. Judaeo Christian religion has existed through as sequence of crises each giving rise to changes in theology, sometimes permanently, sometimes transient. The changes have been initiated by natural events or human action. Faith has survived but its expression has often altered almost beyond recognition. The hymn makes the point that every age has its own crises, challenges, opportunities which bring about change. In these the church should look at its heritage and test what is relevant in its particular age and circumstance. Sometimes the change will be so immense, so radical, that it is like death. Sometimes it is death. But at this season (Easter) and in this crisis (Covid 19) we need to hold onto the trust that there is something beyond the crisis but that the crisis may well be literally or metaphorically one of death. Our faith, however, speaks of resurrection. But this is not a one-off at one time but beyond each crisis the church has kept ‘on rising form the dead’.
And so to Communion again. So much is focused here, and the more important an event and its commemoration in society, the more it tends to be hedged round in constraint, formality and law. The name Pharisee might come to mind. An animal had fallen into a ditch. But it was a Sabbath. ‘Get it out’, says Jesus. Rules are not meant to have a negative but a life-enhancing effect – I paraphrase.
We have been trying to work out how, and if, we can have communion in which one person presides and another in another place receives, the link being virtual, a streamed service. Methodism at one point in time decided that this would not be legitimate. You need a Presbyter on site to Preside. We are saying that such presidency is not legitimate in a virtual environment. So that’s decided.
In 1987 a man was taken hostage, held for a number of years and for much of the time in solitary confinement. He was a Christian. Communion meant something to him. He had no bread no wine, no companion. I recollect he spoke of lighting a candle and for him this was a eucharistic moment. His name was Terry Waite and he was, then the Special Envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.
Our context is not as extreme. We have bread, we have wine (or as Methodists, grape juice). Some Christians, in isolation, have all of these. Some have company. Some might be able to ‘join’ a virtual service. What they don’t have is an ordained or authorized person to read the liturgy, to break the bread and share the wine. They just have themselves. Much like the first Christians in Acts 2:46 ‘Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home’.
We have our restrictions in place for the sake of church order and that is important, but as the story of the animal in the ditch testifies rules sometimes need to be broken, particularly if they are humanly made.
What we are currently saying seems to be that if I as a Presbyter living with three family members at a time of Covid want to share communion with my family that is totally acceptable. However, my neighbour who is not a Presbyter, Priest, who is without church authorization in any shape or form cannot. That cannot be right. Each household is the Body of Christ. Are we saying we cannot discern this Body?
These are not ordinary times. Like Terry Waite, many are in isolation. While holding to the rules of the church, where we must I see no conflict in a family who cannot access a church holding their own communion in the only way which is feasible – on their own, if virtual communion is not allowed or in circumstances when for one reason or another even that option is not open to them.
I sense a can of worms being opened … but ‘The church of Christ in every age, beset by change but Spirit led …Must keep on rising from the dead.