COVID-19, Social Distancing, and a Lutheran understanding of Holy Communion

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In this time of fear, unknown, and concern, as our community rituals and practices are being radically changed in order that we can aid in leveling the curve of the COVID-19 spread, questions are stirring around communion and if and how we can share communion without gathering physically together as God’s people. These questions are to be expected, as for many of us Holy Communion is a gift of comfort, strength, and promise that we long for, that we are eager to receive each week. So what do we believe? And how will we as God’s people at Christ the King Lutheran Church live into these beliefs?

In one of our church’s guiding documents, “The Use of the Means of Grace” we read: The gathered people of God celebrate the sacrament. Holy Communion,usually celebrated within a congregation, also may be celebrated in synodical , churchwide, and other settings where the baptized gather. (Principle 39 in “The Use of the Means of Grace) In this principle we understand that God works in, with, and through community, and that this gift of Holy Communion is intended to be celebrated and received when the gathered community is gathered together in a bodily way. This “bodily” gathering is fairly simple in most of our lives, but sometimes the circumstances of life make that gathering less optimal. For some as they age or are battling a significant illness, gathering for worship is not wise – so the church, after gathering together in worship on Sundays (typically) sends out this meal and promise to the church beyond the walls of the building. One person extending the experience of the gathered church, and the gifts of God to those who are unable to gather alongside

In our current situation, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the call for social distancing, we are not able to gather physically as the church, and then bring communion out to others. In light of this reality, and at the recommendation of our synodical and churchwide bishops, we will not be celebrating holy communion while we are unable to gather together. Some people have said, “Well, if we get close enough to the screen and have our own bread and wine, that should work.” or “If you do the communion liturgy and we all watch it, then we can do “drive thru” communion and you can pass the elements to use through our car windows.” For me, from my understanding of God’s gift and the recommendation of other leaders in the church, I do not believe that either of these (or other) patterns of receiving the gift of holy communion are faithful NOW. Receiving the gift of Holy Communion calls us as a body to gather together – literally, physically, bodily. Holy Communion is not magic, but it is God in Jesus working in and through the earthly elements, as we, God’s earthly people gather together.

As I continue to wrestle, seeking to find words to express our Lutheran theological and practical understanding of Holy Communion and my own belief, I offer two other theologians who for me, are often able to articulate holy mysteries in ways that calm my anxious heart.

First, from The Rev. Dr. Gordon Lathrop, an ELCA pastor and retired professor of Liturgy, in response to a request from the Chair of the Conference of Bishops to offer some wisdom and insight surrounding Holy Communion, COVID-19 and social distancing. He writes, “I want us to remember that Luther argued that when the Gospel-book is read and preached, we should know that Christ is here, coming to us or we being brought to him, present in the reading and preaching, doing to us now what the text says he did then: forgiving us, healing us, raising us from the dead: “If you pause here and let him do you good, that is, if you believe that he benefits and helps you, then you really have it. Then Christ is yours, presented to you as a gift.”…So, in this time we may just cling to the sacramental word. Then, in a healthier time, we can carefully rebuild that wonderful Sunday eucharistic-frequency that has been built up so lovingly among us.”

The second is a more personal and closer theologian, mentor, and one of my greatest friends (and one of Kai’s godmothers), The Rev. Julie Martin Hutson who serves at Luther Memorial Church in Seattle, WA. On her blog yesterday she expressed much of what is being questioned, discussed, or raised, and with a pastoral heart that we so need to hear, shared our beliefs and practices, and how we continue to receive the fullness of Christ as we gather in new ways during this time. Click here to read her blog post entitled, “The Absence of the Body.”

We are God’s people today, just as we were when we were last physically together – and God’s promise still holds true. As we take the next step in this walk of faith, without knowing exactly where we are going – please do not hesitate to reach out if you have questions, concerns, or desire conversation and prayer.

In Hope and Faith,

+ Pastor Kim
pastor@ctknashua.org

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
– Matthew 18:20

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