Sermon: Breaking Bread

1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Under normal circumstances, I must remind myself that we are still in the Easter Season. Usually, by this time, the lilies have all gone away, the candy is gone, the Easter basket has been put up for another year, and life has returned to normal. But the Easter season lasts until Pentecost, still many weeks away.

Today we travel with two people as they are taking a journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Scripture tells us that this is a seven-mile journey that would take part of a day to complete. We know one man’s name, Cleopas, who we hear about during the readings of Holy Week. Cleopas is a disciple or a follower of Jesus but not one of the twelve. Tradition tells us that the other person is Luke. It was a standard literary device not to include the author’s name if they appeared in the story.

The assumption is that this story takes place after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles, and Peter gives his sermon. We will hear more about that in the coming weeks. But now, for Cleopas anyway, he must get back to work and to his family, and his life. But he has this seven-mile journey to take.

Everyone is trying to figure out what they had just witnessed. For three years, they traveled around with Jesus and listened to him speak. They were overjoyed to be in his presence as he taught them, ate with them, and just hung out with them. But now they are dealing with the events that had taken place leading up to his death, and when they thought it was over, they hear this tale that he has risen from the dead!

Although Luke only gives us one line of their conversation, I can only imagine what the conversations must have been like along this journey as they tried to figure it all out. But they have seven miles to talk and talk they do.

Along comes a stranger and asks them what they are talking about, and why are they sad? The author tells us that it is Jesus, but they cannot see him for who he is. The resurrected body is so different than the one they knew, and so Jesus is not immediately recognizable. Scripture tells us that they were “kept from recognizing him.” Jesus does this intentionally so he can hear what they are honestly saying. If they knew it was him, their story would change, and he wants to listen to what they are thinking.

Jesus knows that his followers have doubts; he just dealt with Thomas, so Jesus is going to use this opportunity to teach them the Gospel message.

I love the sarcastic question Cleopas asks, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have you not known the things which happened in these days?” The translation of this is, “have you been living under a rock?” I am sure we have all come across folks like this. Something big is going on the world, and you are speaking with someone who has no clue about what is going on, this is what they think is going on here.

Jesus decides he is going to play along. He wants to know their version of the story. We all hear what we want to hear, and we all see what we want to see. All of us listening right now to the words I am saying if I were to ask all of you after I was finished, what I said I would get some vastly different responses. It would also be a test to see who is listening. All of us color what we hear with our images and prejudices and knowledge. We bring our past understanding of issues to the table, and sometimes, we do not want our position to change, so we dig our heels in and hold fast to our understanding.

Cleopas tells Jesus his version of the story, including this line, “But we were hoping it was he who was going to redeem Israel.” In other words, Cleopas was hoping that Jesus was the military Messiah they were expecting to free them from the Romans. Cleopas, and many others, completely miss the point.

Jesus says to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the Prophets have spoken.” But he did not leave them there; he taught them starting with “Moses and the prophets.” Their hearts were burning when they came to the end of their journey so much so that they asked him to stay with them, and he did. Jesus stayed with them and broke bread with them, and that is when they recognized him.

Right now, we are on the road to Emmaus. Something has happened that we are trying to figure out. Like the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, Easter has passed, and we are trying to figure out just what has happened. Our lives have been turned upside-down, and we are wandering down the road, discussing and trying to figure it all out. We are huddled behind locked doors, many afraid to go out. We have been cut off from our support system and our Church community. But we are not alone on this road, and although we may be “kept from recognizing him” by our stuff, Jesus is walking with us at this very moment.

Our world today is so vastly different from what it was just a few weeks ago, and my guess is, it will never see the same again. We have an uncertain direction in many ways we are like the apostles in that ship in the very first sermon I preached here, we are desperately trying to cling to the ship whilst the storm rages around us not knowing what to do. And you know what, it is okay. The road to Emmaus is seven miles long and will take some time to walk.

When I was a hospice chaplain, one of my patients has been a marathon runner. It was hard to believe it by looking at him in his present state, but he would show me pictures of the races he ran. He and his wife traveled the world to run in various marathons, each one a little harder than the previous one. We were discussing his training regiment one day, and I asked about the mental side of it all. He said the physical was not that difficult; it was the mental that used to get him, especially at the halfway point.

So, he let me in on his little trick; he ran the marathon one step at a time. Each time his foot hit the ground, he would tell himself he was one step closer to the finish line. He could not think of the marathon as a 26-mile race or whatever. He could not even think of it as a mile at a time; he needed to think of it as one step at a time.

A person in recovery is taught to think of their recovery as a life-long process that we take “one day at a time.” Friends, I cannot tell you when this will all be over, and we can get back to what we once thought of as normal, but I can tell you that Jesus is walking with us along that Road to Emmaus and if we ask him to stay with us, he will.

We may not always be able to recognize him, but he is there in small acts of kindness. In the smile from behind the mask, Jesus is with us and will never leave us. It is okay to doubt; it is okay to be afraid; it is okay to grieve what we had and what we might never get back; all of this is fine. But listen for the voice in the storm that will bring you some peace. Ask Jesus to sit at the table with you and break bread and let us return to the place where our hearts burn within us.

Developing Spiritual Resilience

A farmer hired a man to chop down some trees on his property.

On the first day, the woodchopper chopped down five trees, and the farmer was pleased. The next day, the woodchopper chopped only four trees. And the following day, just three trees were chopped down.

The farmer approached the woodchopper and said, “The first day you chopped five trees, now you are only chopping three. What has happened?”

The woodchopper replied, “I could still chop down five trees a day, but my ax has become dull, and I’m so busy that I don’t have time to sharpen it.”

How are you keeping your ax sharp? It is easy during these days of the pandemic to get distracted; in fact, one of the results of being in lockdown is a distracted mind that had trouble focusing on the task at hand. So, if this is happening to you, you are not alone.

Without maintaining our spirituality and keeping it healthy, we risk compromising our performance and well-being. Just as the woodchopper needed time to maintain his tools to keep his production up, we need to make time to tend to our spirituality and work at it to keep it resilient.

As part of the United States Army, “Total Force Readiness Plan,” teaching spiritual resiliency is an essential part of overall soldier health. As part of the plan, these activities, if practiced regularly, can help develop and strengthen your spiritual resilience.

Establish a regular time for meditation, reflection, or prayer. I heard that while we are under the lockdown, keep to a schedule is essential. So, try, as best as you can, to maintain a schedule as if you were going about a typical day, and that should include a scheduled time for prayer and meditation.

Find a quiet, peaceful place for your prayer or meditation. I am not sure how easy this one will be but, now that the weather is getting better, perhaps a place in your garden or maybe you have a quiet room in your home. If you live with others, let them know of your scheduled time and ask them not to interrupt you if possible.

Perhaps you find yourself with more time on your hands, so this might be an excellent time to develop a habit of reading. Reading anything is good, stay about from the news for a while, but focus on some sound spiritual reading or try reading a few verses a day from Scripture. It is not about the amount that you might read; it is about the quality of what you read.

Focus on your relationships with family and friends, and do not forget God. Reach out to folks that you have not spoken with in a while, email is ok, but an actual phone call might be better. Maybe you can set up a family Zoom time or something similar. Do not forget about God. Perhaps you and God have not spoken in some time, and that is fine, God understands. Reach out and re-establish a connection.

Find happiness in everyday occurrences and be thankful. In other words, stop and smell the roses. I know it can be depressing to not come into physical contact with people, but there is still a lot to be thankful for. Try and focus on those positive things happening right now in the world.

Write in a journal about your daily life, your feelings, and your thoughts. Historians have been urging people to write about their experiences during this pandemic, so generations from now people will be able to look back on how we survived. But writing also helps you transfer your thoughts and helps you to release those thoughts. If you are new to journaling, it might take some time to get used to doing it.

The goal of all of this is to help us get through difficult times. Although I mentioned limiting the use of the internet, there are some tremendous resources available for bible study as well as yoga and other meditative practices. Take some time each day to keep your ax sharp, and you will be able to keep cutting down those trees.

Funerals – the Unintended Casualty of an Outbreak

My father died in December of last year, and like most families, we gathered at the funeral home for the wake and funeral. We stood in line and greeted family and friends and shared stories of our dad with those that came to honor him. After the funeral we all attended a meal in his honor at the local Masonic Hall and told more stories, hugged each other, and helped each other with the start of the healing process after his death.

My way of thinking – wakes and funerals are for the living. Healing begins while we stand in line and greet people and share time with them. We never “get over it,” but we begin to heal during the wake and funeral. If that process is not available to us, then healing will take longer. Everyone experiences grief in their way, and everyone deals with that grief in their way. Grief is a very natural response to a loss, any loss even if those around you do not acknowledge that loss. Grief can be debilitating, and the symptoms can manifest at any time. Coping with that loss is one of life’s biggest challenges.

The other side of that same grief coin is our loved one’s final moments. As a family, we were able to be with my dad when he drew his last breath. This time of quarantine and shelter-in-place orders does not allow us to be present during those moments. Under normal circumstances we would not have to deal with feelings surrounding the abandonment of our loved one, during their final moments. These are all unintended casualties of an outbreak, such as what we are experiencing now.

The Congregation I serve as Senior Minister has developed a new policy regarding funerals. The new policy states that, while the Emergency Order to keep assemblies to ten or under is in force, we will not hold funerals in the Church building. We will offer a graveside service with the option of Memorial Service in the Church later. Still, for now, the Church building is closed. The policy to close the church for funerals was not easy to write or to enact. Nevertheless, we felt it was necessary to protect the Congregation and those that might attend.

As the death toll continues to rise from this Virus, it is easy to lose sight of people amidst the statistics and the partisan wrangling that takes place in State Houses and on Capitol Hill. Behind every death number reported is a real flesh and blood person who has a family that loves them. These death numbers are grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends, and all the rest. We may get lost in the numbers game until we start seeing the faces behind those numbers.

When this began, comparisons were made between deaths from the seasonal flu and the Coronavirus trying to prove that the death numbers would be less. As I write this, some are saying “get people back to work” and “grandparents would be willing to sacrifice their lives for the economy” to downplay the seriousness of the situation. In the end we hope this situation will not be so dire, but for right now, consider this: you might not be able to be with your loved one as they draw their last breath. You may not be able to be present for their funeral. I ask you to stop and think how you would feel if that was to happen to you. Then ask yourself, do you still think that the Coronavirus is less severe than the seasonal flu? I refer to funerals as unintended casualties because in all the planning we can do as a community, the idea of delayed grief was never part of the plan, at least not in the plan in which I have been involved. Many unanswered questions remain about the long-term ramifications of the decision to hold or not to hold funerals, or to limit the number in attendance to 10 people, including the minister. I guess all we can do is wait and minister to people in the present moment.

Sermon: The Tomb, and the Church are Empty!

John 20:1-18

I think there needs to be a retelling of this story for the 21st century. Somewhat early on the first day of the week, all the parishioners found that the church was empty. But Jesus came to them in their locked houses and said to them, “peace, whether you are gathered in a church building or locked inside your homes to help flatten the curve, I have risen from the dead just as I said I would.” You see, no matter where we are, and no matter when you might be watching this, Jesus is alive, he has risen from the dead.

I know it may not seem like Easter. There are no lilies to adorn our church, and we are not together physically, but we are together spiritually. We are very much like those first disciples that were gathered in that upper room. They were locked in, just as we are, because of real fear and a real threat to their lives. They were sad, and they were in mourning because they had just lost their friend, and they were not sure what was going to happen to them. Some of them, as we heard in the Scripture lesson, went to the Tomb and found that it was empty just as our church is empty this morning. But their sadness soon turned to joy as will ours.

It has been a long, dark Lent this year. We have traveled the road with Jesus as he walked closer to today. We sat with him Thursday night and watched as he washed the feet of his disciples to remind us that we are to be servants to all. I am reminded of the servants in our world who, at this very moment, are caring for those suffering in hospitals and nursing homes. At considerable risk to their own lives, they are washing not only the feet of those they are serving but their entire bodies. They are sitting with their patients because their families cannot and holding their hands.

We watched as Jesus took bread and wine and presented it to those gathered with him and told them that this bread and cup were his body and blood that has been shed for the world. He reminded them and us that each time we partake in the Sacrament of Communion, we are doing so in remembrance of him and for all that he did for us. But it does not end there for we are now the body of Christ, and we are called to be broken and shared in this world as the light in the darkness. We are to show the world that God loves them and cares deeply for them, and we show that by loving and caring for those around us, especially the least of these.

We walked with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he went alone to pray.  We witnessed Jesus scared and uncertain and bargaining with God to let him find another way. We sat next to him as he prayed so hard that drops of blood formed on his brow and fell to the rock he was using as his altar. We watched as a feeling of peace came upon him as he began to understanding that what he was called to and what we are called to is to obey the will of the Father. “Not my will but yours,” he said. This is not an easy thing to grasp, but to be authentic followers of Jesus Christ, we must surrender our will to that of God’s.

We were there when Judas came, one of his closest friends, and handed him over to the authorities. This must have been difficult for Jesus. Yes, Jesus knew what was about to happen, but he still must have felt that deep betrayal that comes when someone we love lets us down. Jesus went willingly with the authorities, and those that were with him, had walked with him and spent the last three years with him, scattered and left him alone because they were afraid, they might be next.

We were there, although, like those who abandoned him, we were at a distance so as not to attract any attention because if anyone finds out, we are a Christian, we might have to change the way we act towards others. But we saw him, hanging on that cross, an innocent killed by the system to protect the system. Killed for preaching that everyone is the same and loved equally by God no matter where you are from, what color your skin is, what language you speak, what your immigration status might be, or who you chose to fall in love with. He was killed because he preached that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. He taught that if we have an abundance and our neighbor has less, we are to give from what we have been blessed with without condition. He was killed because people could not accept that their privileged position required them to help those less fortunate and that they were not there to be used for political purposes. Jesus was killed because he loved. Everyone. Without condition. And he did this to show us that this is how we are to live our lives.

But the story does not end there because after the darkness of the night after the doors have been locked after the virus has caused us to stay away from each other morning will come, and the Tomb is empty, and love has won and has beat death. Jesus has risen from the dead despite what they did to him. Jesus rose from the dead for the same reason that he died on that cross because he loved. Everyone. Without condition.

During these weeks of isolation, I have been involved in some pretty deep conversations with people about all of this and what is going to happen, and I was reminded that after Jesus came, the Holy Spirit came, and she breathed new life into the church. Just as God blew his very breath into the lifeless body of humanity at creation, the Holy Spirit came and blew her breath into the church that had gone stale. A Church that had lost her way. A church that forgot what it means to be church. A church that built large, beautiful buildings and amassed large endowment funds but forgot that the church exists for the least of these. The Holy Spirit came on that first Pentecost and woke them up and called them out and Church I believe that is precisely what she is going to do when this is all over.

We are locked in behind the doors of rules, regulations, traditions, and laws, and the Holy Spirit is coming to tell us that it is time we get back to what we are called to do, and that is to proclaim the love of God all the world. We are to go out into the whole of creation and celebrate what God has done, what God is doing, and what God is going to do.

I want you to turn to the person next to you, no matter where you are, and say, I am ready. Go on; I am ready. God, I am ready for whatever you ask, Not my will God, but yours.

In this world of uncertainty, there is one certain thing, we can never go back to the way it was our voice is a voice that can no longer just be whispered for fear of offending people. Our voice can longer only be heard inside the walls of the Church; what Coronoavirus as taught us is that the world is our church, and we are going to shout from the rooftops if we have too. What this Coronoavirus has shown us is that the system is fixed for the haves, and it is broken for the have nots and church; we can no longer stand by and remain silent. This is way too important for that.

Church, I hope all y’all are ready because the Holy Spirit is warming up and is fixin to set this place on fire and that fire is either going to burn us up or clear the path, and we need to be ready. We can use this time of quiet to prepare ourselves for the future, prayer, study, and all the rest. We have no time to lose, the time to start is now!

My prayer as we continue this Easter season locked in the Upper Room is that we will hold fast and not lose hope. God is with us just as God was with Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross, God is with us now, as then because God loves us more than we will ever know or imagine.

Amen.

Holy Saturday

The Collect of Holy Saturday

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of thy dear Son was laid in the tomb and tested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Readings for Holy Saturday

Job 14:1-14
Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24
Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16
1 Peter 4:1-8
Matthew 27:57-66
John 19:38-42

Spiritual Communion: An Ecumenical Outlook

It has been said before, but it needs to be said again, we are living in unprecedented times. Not since the flu epidemic of 1918 have, we witnessed the worldwide closing of Church buildings and the suspension of in-person worship. All of this has led to questions surrounding themes of pastoral care, worship, and the Sacraments.

For some Churches, moving to an online style of worship does not really pose a Sacramental problem but for others there are many unanswered questions. Churches are grappling with the idea of Virtual or Spiritual Communion as a limited substitute for in-person worship.

There have also been some extraordinary developments:

The Bishop of the Diocese of Chichester in the United Kingdom, has suspended English Canon Law to allow for the solo celebration of the Eucharist in his Diocese. See Letter.

Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas implies that under these circumstances it is permissible for an Orthodox Christian Priest to celebrate the Divine Liturgy with a Congregation present. Read the Interview.

The Presbyterian Church USA has updated its previous guidance given in early March to now allow Elders and Sessions to celebrate Holy Communion. Read the Guidance here.

Although there is a division between some United Methodist Clergy and Bishops there was a study launched in 2013 on this very subject.  More information here.

With all of this in mind, I have asked several pastors and theologians to weigh in on this idea of Spiritual Communion and the issue of Online or Virtual Communion. They come from very diverse backgrounds, Church of Scotland, Greek Orthodox, and United Church of Christ.

The Very Reverend Dr. Derek Browning – Church of Scotland
The Rev. Gregory Nicholas Christakos – Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston
The Rev. Ian Lynch – Old South Church Kirtland, Ohio, United Church of Christ

Spiritual Communion: Communing with Each Other

Guest Blogger: The Rev. Fr. Gregory Nicholas Christakos

Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has brought us together. And all of us take up Your Cross and say to You: “Blessed are You, the One, who is coming in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”

The above is a hymn from the vesper service for Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Church (this year we celebrate Palm Sunday a week after our western brothers and sisters).  The phrase “has brought us together” is not just a reference to people being in church.  Rather, it refers to a monastic practice where, during Lent, the brother monks would go their own way and return to church for Holy Week.  This voluntary fasting from communion is of course very different than our involuntary fast that we are now going through, but it does show there is precedence.  The Orthodox Church recently celebrated St. Mary of Egypt, a desert recluse who received communion on the day she became a Christian and then lived by herself in the desert, not receiving until 47 years later on the day she reposed.  And Orthodox churches have closed in past years during pandemics for the safety of all. 

I maintain that there are really two types of communion in a Christian context.  There is of course the receiving of the body and blood of Christ during the service.  But there is also the communing with each other – praying together during service and then the socializing during coffee hour.  We are currently missing both of these things in our lives.  We can’t do anything about receiving communion at the moment, but there are benefits.  As with anything we do on a regular basis, it can be easy to take communion for granted.  This fast from communion gives us a chance to reflect on the sacrament and how if fits into our lives. 

The social aspect of communion – praying together and socializing together – is something that we can actually take on.  Technologically, we are in a place where we can have meetings online and virtual get togethers.  But we don’t even need to use the latest technology to communicate with friends.  An actual phone call allows us to communicate in a way that texting or email doesn’t.  In this uncertain time where everyone is to some extent on the edge there is a great opportunity to reach out to family and friends that, due to the usual hectic pace of our lives, we may normally neglect. 

By the time Jesus got to the cross, many had abandoned him.  In the Gospels he goes from speaking to large crowds to having a very small number of companions by the very end.  As bleak as this was, there was hope in the Resurrection.  Our own hope in the Resurrection, the most important event in history, is the same hope that leads us to know we will one day be together in church with our friends and family.

The Rev. Fr. Gregory Nicholas Christakos is Priest at Sts. Anargyroi Greek Orthodox Church in Marlborough, Massachusetts

Spiritual Communion: The Virtual Body of Christ

Guest Blogger: The Rev. Ian Lynch

Some of us have long ago settled the question of whether on-line Holy Communion is legitimate. Over a decade ago, some of us answered the question of virtual communion at Koinonia Congregational Church of Second Life. Second Life is similar to massive multi-player online games, where the user creates an avatar and enters a virtual world. Except that Second Life is a vast sandbox where the users create the world. Koinonia Church was created as an intentionally inclusive space. We were clear that the only thing that would get you removed from that space was bad behavior, and we tried to be lenient.  Since one’s “second life” could be anything one wanted to represent from a reflection of one’s “first life” to anything imaginable (we had a dragon and a hobbit among our consistent worshippers), we concluded that all avatars were as worthy as the person who created that collection of pixels. Since we believed that this is not our table but God’s, where Jesus invites all to come and be filled, we decided we were not gatekeepers, but rather beacons beckoning the spiritually hungry to nourishment for their souls. And so we maintained the solemnity of the sacrament by emphasizing the common unity that we all share as guests at God’s table and allowed the practical concerns of what to use for elements or who did the consecrating to take a back seat. 

Will some traditions have a problem with this? Of course. There will always be purists who are afraid that that giving up control will lead to disaster. Some of those voices are being raised today, even in the midst of extraordinary times demanding innovative responses. But that is a top-down approach in a world that has become increasingly bottom-up. One undeniable result of the Internet revolution is that power has shifted toward the user. Individual choice and access are ever expanding. The more any institution chooses to limit practices to single choices, the more irrelevant it becomes today. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating the elimination of tradition or ritual. In fact, I’m very concerned about how to make ancient stories relevant to contemporary audiences. In this moment, that most assuredly involves on-line Holy Communion. 

If you believe that the sacrament is only valid if done “correctly” and are struggling to figure out how to practice communion in virtual space, that is a good problem. It is good to examine the implications of our beliefs. Some years ago I came to the realization that since, as a Protestant, I did not believe that a priest has special ability through apostolic succession (sorry for the jargon, you can Google it if you care to know) then even the laying on of hands at my ordination did not set me apart in some way that meant that only I, and other ordained ministers, could make bread and juice holy. It occurred to me that according to my theology, Christ was already present at every worship service, not in me, but in the congregation, that is, the Body of Christ. So I decided that the liturgical prayer of consecration belonged in the voice of the congregation. Together, we call on God to make the common elements sacred for us in their use in communion. By extension, it doesn’t matter whether we gather in one physical space or, perhaps, even in one specific time. What matters is that we acknowledge that God is not only present in all times and all places, but is also very eager to break bread with us. 

Protestants also took confession out of the hands of the priests, believing that individuals can seek God’s forgiveness directly. We took this stand without taking away the need for confession before coming to the table. Unfortunately, some of us also put up barriers like requiring baptism, confirmation, or even church membership. Those are conversations for another time. Suffice to say that in my tradition, we invite all persons to the table without vetting. But there is an added question presented by virtual spaces, do we need to know who the person is? That might seem like an unnecessary concern, until you consider bots, the threat of “zoombombing”, or other ways people might show up with bad intent. Do we limit access to the unrestricted grace of God because someone may show up and cause problems? I hope that you agree that the answer is obvious. In Second Life, we had to deal with what we called griefers. I officiated a same sex wedding in Second Life, where the reception was attacked by a griefer making it rain some strange object on all of us. We knew that something like that might happen,  but we took the risk, rather than put our light under a bushel. Likewise, I think we need to risk inviting everyone to the table, because that is what God does. Remember that Jesus, knowing what Judas was about to do, still invited him to dip his hand in the same cup. 

One final word about anonymity. One of the high points of my time in ministry in Second Life was telling a transgender person that I believed they were loved by God. The avatar was female and the person in First Life was assigned male at birth, living in Spain, where they could not find a priest to affirm them. Sometimes anonymity provides an opportunity to risk being the person we wish we could be in our physical existence. Maybe one gift we can find in the horror of this pandemic is that our on-line selves can represent our better selves. And if we accept the gifts of God at the table of grace, then we can find hope that our better selves are our full-time selves. In this time of isolation, let us celebrate every means that brings us together celebrating our common union as the beloved community of children of God.

Ian Lynch is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, serving Old South Church in Kirtland, Ohio. He has long enjoyed using technology to connect and share. He has six years of two minute Bible commentary on his You Tube channel, called Bible Bytes He is Pandion Halasy in Second Life and in his first life he is a husband, father, and avid (even competitive)birdwatcher.

Spiritual Communion: A Reformed Perspective

Guest Blogger: The Most Reverend Dr. Derek Browning

In his famous Sermons on the Sacraments, delivered at St Giles’ High Kirk, Edinburgh in 1589, Robert Bruce, a successor to John Knox was one of the most deeply spiritual and power ministers the Church of Scotland ever produced. He wrote:

“There is nothing in this world, or out of this world, more to be wished by everyone of you than to be conjoined with Jesus Christ…This heavenly and celestial conjunction is procured and brought about by two special means. It is brought about by means of the Word and preaching of the Gospel, and it is brought about by means of the Sacraments…The Word leads us to Christ by the ear; the Sacraments lead us to Christ by the eye…

In our current climate where gatherings of all sorts are prohibited how, from a Reformed perspective, is ‘communion’ to be experienced? Is the action entirely dependent on a gathering of the faithful ‘around the table’, the ultimate prerequisite? Might it be possible for us to take Jesus’ comment, “…where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, and apply this to communion practices? Many Reformed ministers will already practise something like this when they share home communion with the hospitalised or housebound. For some it might even be the case that at a home communion the sense of the spiritual is even greater without the drama and choreography of most of our church-based communion services. Are we going to take seriously the statement of the Apostles’ Creed that we do believe in the ‘communion of saints’, spiritually and eternally present? Or even more fundamentally the unshakeable hope spoken at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “…and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” The essential doctrine of Christian faith is incarnation, God with us. We are not alone; we are never alone. The most important word in the Bible is ‘with’.

For Christians of all persuasions, in these short but profound claims within our faith, the practicality and spirituality of Jesus shines out. Communion may be incarnational, caught up as it is in the continuous and continuing presence of Jesus, as well as representational in the spiritual reality of that presence.

In July 1969, during the first manned moon landing, Buzz Aldrin wanted the first meal on the Moon to be a communion meal. Tucked away in his personal belongings was a pouch for the historic voyage, with a Bible verse written on a slip of paper, a bread wafer, a small amount of wine and a tiny silver chalice. The Bible verse was John 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Aldrin alone ate and drank, but few would deny that this was as ‘real’ a communion as any other. From our reformed tradition, Word and Sacrament were brought together, and therefore communion took place.

In the ideal world, of course, it is better that the sacramental meal is shared with sisters and brothers. But our world is often far from ideal. The spiritual communion is unaffected by the physical numbers present. Whether we are on our own, whether we witness communion over the internet and at the time of the meal, share together bread and wine we have brought ourselves, whether we are even on the Moon, surrounded by the communion of saints, in the continuous and continuing presence of Jesus Christ, when Word and Sacrament are brought together, there communion takes place.

The Very Rev. Dr. Derek Browning is the Minister of Morningside Parish Church in Edinburgh Scotland and former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

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