Hope – a reflection by Nuala Dudley, Diocesan Lay Reader
Spring is in the air! And Easter comes when there’s growth and new birth all around us. One of the blessings of our current situation brought about by Covid-19 is that many of us have more time on our hands to enjoy nature. On early morning walks, you can’t help but notice the bright green buds bursting forth on the trees and hedgerows, the tufts of yellow primroses on the banks, the bunches of yellow daffodils standing like golden beacons in the fields and gardens, the raucous bleating of newborn lambs and the sound of birdsong. To quote from Gerard Manley Hopkins ‘Nothing is as beautiful as Spring’.
As nature unfurls its wondrous glory to us, it can be easy to forget that we are living through these challenging times, this time of Covid-19 when because of restrictions, we are denied so much. We’re denied our freedom to go wherever and whenever we want, denied our livelihoods, denied visiting family and friends, denied attending our church buildings to worship. The effects of living as we are, may have a deep and negative impact, especially on the most vulnerable in our society. The world economy is in a crisis, unlike anything experienced before and will require a massive response to ensure recovery.
We are living in the midst of a global pandemic, a time of crisis, the darkest of times. The events of the first Holy Week, particularly Good Friday brought fear, distress and suffering to Jesus’ followers as they witnessed His crucifixion. But out of their desolation sprang hope with the dawn of Easter Sunday morning and His Resurrection. Their despair turned to joy. The empty tomb gives us hope- the hope of forgiveness, the hope of peace, the hope of assurance, the hope of heaven. ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ (1 Peter 1:3)
‘If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.’ (Anne Bradstreet) If we didn’t have to endure the dark winter, would we appreciate the spring? When the world emerges from this pandemic, and it will, it will be a changed place. Has society learned lessons from this crisis? Perhaps remote working will mean families can spend more quality time together. A cleaner environment would result from less traffic on our roads. If the community spirit that has evolved, remained, what a blessing that would be to many. As Christians, we can be as ‘salt and light’ to the world and we can make a difference.
Our human response to our current crisis may give us cause for hope. But our Christian hope is rooted in the way God has planned for humankind, His significant intervention being the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a hope that we can come through the most challenging of times. Like winter evolves into spring, despair turns to joy, there is the possibility of transformation. Let us pray that the Easter message of hope sustains us. ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.’ (Romans 15:13)
Online Holy Communion?
3 Options briefly considered
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Online Holy Communion?
3 options briefly considered
Easter 2020 will surely be remembered as one of the strangest ever. Normally Easter Sunday would see a celebration of Holy Communion in every parish church, often with larger than usual congregations present. In the preceding weeks, Home Communions would have been held for the housebound in their homes. This year, none of this can happen – our church buildings are closed and all gatherings and home visits have ceased.
Understandably the question now arises of what should be done about Communion on Easter day (and Maundy Thursday). Leaving aside absurd suggestions like sending out consecrated bread and wine in the post, is there any way in which technology can, or should, help? Should those churches which have been holding online acts of worship via Facebook Live, Zoom etc. attempt to hold an online Lord’s Supper? I want to take a brief look at the plusses and minuses of three options:
Option 1. Purely Online Communion
What it involves:
The minister celebrates the Eucharist in his/her own home, perhaps with other members of his/her household receiving communion, and joined by an online congregation who watch and listen as this takes place.
- The Eucharist takes place and people are able to watch and listen to the familiar actions and words, reminding them of Communion services they attended in the past.
- Videoconferencing technology allows a degree of ‘presence’ of congregation members.
- The rubric on p440 of the Book of Common Prayer (2004) gives some comfort that a person not able physically to receive the bread and wine nonetheless partakes of the body and blood of Christ.
- Holy Communion is, in its very essence, a physical thing. Christ’s command was to eat and drink, not merely to watch and listen (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22).
- It feels absurd to invite people, in the words of the liturgy, to eat and drink when they are clearly unable actually to do so.
- There are shades of the pre-Reformation practice of the Mass being conducted in private or with the people present only as spectators and auditors. The separation between priest and people is heightened by this option.
- The rubric on “Spiritual Communion” in the BCP was not intended to address public worship but situations of extreme sickness. It points out that receiving Holy Communion is not strictly necessary for receiving Christ, but rather repentance and faith are the requirements.
Option 2. Hybrid home/online Communion
What it involves:
The same as in option 1, but in addition the online congregation in their own homes take their own bread and wine and eat and drink these at the relevant moment in the service.
- Eating and drinking some actual bread and wine could be more satisfying and more edifying than merely looking at some bread and wine on a screen. There would be less sense of absurdity at the moment of reception.
- Something of the physicality of communion would be retained in this option.
- The sense of ‘elitism,’ with the priest’s household being the only ones able to partake, is lessened, and there could be a greater sense of ‘togetherness’ as everyone receives something.
- The online congregation are probably not truly receiving Holy Communion as they are not partaking of one loaf together (1 Corinthians 10:17) and their bread and wine have not been duly consecrated , at least in the way traditionally understood and practiced in the Church of Ireland.
- This option may be seen as ‘lay presidency by stealth,’ dissolving the distinction between the ordained minister of word & sacrament and the lay people of God.
- This approach increases the danger of the Eucharist being treated casually or irreverently, and the possibility of participation by those who ought not to receive yet e.g. the unbaptised.
Option 3. Delayed Communion
What it involves:
We simply wait until we are able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and receive Holy Communion in the normal way – physically gathered as the church, with Home Communions for those unable to be present.
- This avoids the disadvantages of the other two approaches and acknowledges that, while well-intentioned, neither of them constitutes a regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
- It avoids unintentionally giving support to irregular theological ideas, for example (a) the idea that it makes no difference whether one is physically present and physically partakes of communion or not, (b) the idea that the Lord’s Supper need not be presided over in person by an ordained minister with spiritual oversight in the congregation, or (c) the idea that the Eucharist has value as an act in itself regardless of participation by the people.
- This option could sharpen our sense of hunger/longing for the restoration of Holy Communion, and this could be in keeping with one of the purposes of the Lord’s Supper – an anticipation of the heavenly banquet (cf. Luke 22:16,18; 1 Corinthians 11:26) when Christ comes in his kingdom.
- Easter without a celebration of Holy Communion is very irregular, going against the long-standing practice of almost all Christian churches across the world and throughout time.
- To miss communion at Easter is particularly painful, since the risen Jesus himself held a form of Eucharist at Emmaus on the day of this resurrection, and every Lord’s Supper is a reminder of the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
- There could be a strong feeling that an imperfect Lord’s Supper would be better than no Lord’s Supper at all. In other words, it is better to attempt something than to do nothing.
None of the three options is ideal and we are faced with trying to pick the best of a bad bunch, or the ‘least worst’ option. Which do we go for? A lot will depend on one’s existing theological convictions. Those of a more evangelical/low church disposition will have misgivings about option 1 with its echoes of medieval private Masses. Those of a more catholic/high church disposition will have concerns about the resemblance to lay presidency of option 2. Most of us will feel the pain and loss involved in choosing option 3.
Personally I am least in favour of option 1 – the prospect of the faithful watching the Lord’s Supper without being able to participate concerns me. Option 2 comes in second place for me – it is an improvement on a purely online experience, but raises its own questions about whether it is a proper and Anglican approach.
My own decision is to choose option 3 and to wait for the restoration of Holy Communion as we have known it. This third option, while far from ideal, seems to me to have the fewest pitfalls and is probably the best way to safeguard our understanding and practice of the Lord’s Supper. It is painfully ironic that at this time we can probably best honour the Eucharist by not celebrating it. But while we fast from the Sacrament we will feast on the Word, taking comfort from Jesus’ promise: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
David Huss 3rd April 2020