I am guessing that if you are part of a larger community of faith, then church services will be live-streamed for you to watch from the comfort (and restriction) of home. And for many of us in smaller communities of faith, then ‘coming together’ via a ‘zoom’ computer connection is another way of meeting together for worship. Thus far, my little community of faith has zoomed together for a number of weeks now, mostly to share news and stories of how we are getting on to encourage one another.
The senior pastor then leads us through a time of prayer and praise points. I must add here, that a pre-recorded session presented by the senior pastor and a deacon with a Bible reading, homily and discussion precedes the zoom time.
Coming up to the first Sunday of a new month, I was asked to lead us through Communion via our zoom connection. Now here is a new challenge; how do I make this time as meaningful as possible, given that we are not gathered in person to be served the bread and wine of our Lord’s memorial Last Supper? How could I possibly hope to create any sort of atmosphere or reverence as we sit at a table – any table, which has just become the means of supporting the devices on which we are ‘zooming’ to worship together?
I began by sharing a little story of how Japanese Christianity, had been suppressed from the early 1600’s. But faith, worship and celebration of the Lord’s Supper each Christmas Eve flourished secretly in many households across the nation – to the astonishment of all when the country reopened to the West in the 1800’s. (from ‘The Longest Table’ by J. Lee Magness; Standard Press: Ohio; 2007 pp 93-94) So this story inspired me to share that while we are free to celebrate our faith anytime, it is only in these unprecedented times of isolation that we have been forced to practise our faith and worship in isolation.
And, in sharing Paul’s words of instruction of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), I gently reminded our people of the number of times Paul probably participated in a celebration of Lord’s Supper from prison. So, it is not that we cannot worship, we can only do so from home for the time being, so let’s make the most of these unprecedented times.
Having shared Paul’s words and given thanks for those words which guide and inspire us through Communion, I invited our people to break their bread in front of their screen and to part-take, after offering it to anyone else present. We followed the same procedure with our preference of wine or fruit juice ahead of proceeding through our further prayers of blessing both for everyone present as well as those unable to join us via our zoom worship.
Reflecting later on our experiences of Communion, I must admit that this has been indeed the most unusual Communion service I have either conducted or taken part in. But it speaks to me again and again of the universality of our Lord’s invitation; that as his followers, communing with Him does not require elaborate rituals, buildings, equipment or even the presence of many.
A believer’s contrite heart, and earnest desire to be forgiven of their sins along the journey to being enfolded into our Lord’s loving presence is all that matters.
Yes, it will be wonderful to meet and worship together with friends whether in communities large or not so large when restrictions on social and physical distancing begin to be lifted, but if nothing else, living in isolation has reminded me that faith begins and grows with an individual’s heart response to Jesus. Yes, as an individual response to the love of God through the sacrifice of his Son, it is that heart response to Him that prompts it all, regardless of where we are.
Writing recently on what ‘post-COVID 19’ church may look like, a friend and colleague commented on how wonderful it has been for all the technological aids we are currently tapping into and how these are stream-lining meetings, seminars and webinars etc from home. And while the advent of programs such as ‘zoom’ have served us well in connecting people everywhere, at the end of it all, we must remember that there is simply no substitution for the physical gathering of people for participation in worship and fellowship.
Indeed, and while it is my prayer that isolation may prompt, encourage, comfort and lift up people everywhere to commune (more) regularly with our Lord, let us look forward to renewed worship and fellowship in our faith communities. And let us value people all the more when we can reconnect in person.
Living in isolation seems to have hastened retirement for Glynis Dickins from regular and traditional ministry. Reading, writing, knitting, Face Timing family and walking their chocolate lab x pointer dog Boomer fills these days for Glynis and her husband Richard.