Which part of the Eucharist do you appreciate the most? Michael, a University Chaplain asked this of a group of students many years ago. I was one of the students. Hannah, a fellow student, surprised me by saying that she liked best the tea and biscuits afterwards. She liked to meet and to make friends over a relaxed time after worship.
Years later I see Hannah’s point more clearly. More and more theology of the Eucharist, and study of the history of the Eucharist, remind us of the total act of the Mass. We are recovering a holistic approach to the liturgy. A community, the ‘Holy Communion’ is formed at Mass. The community is also strengthened by the conversation, friendship and goodwill over tea and biscuits after the formal liturgy.
At present churches are closed. Sadly, the Sacrament cannot be shared in the bread and the wine. A focal point of our Christian living and formation has gone for the time being.
In these days we are called to be both imaginative and creative. Worship together is a key feature of Christian living. How in these days of social separation can we celebrate and be the ‘Holy Communion?’ Over the coming days and weeks Christians will be thinking and praying about this. The Mass, celebrated by a priest with a server, or other services will be relayed on line from some churches so that those watching can join ‘remotely.’ We will be doing this at St Chrysostom’s and we are working to involve a good range of our people in this, for worship is for all not just clergy!
This can only be a part of what we do. Different ways of interacting, praying together and caring for one another will develop, and we will need to listen to each other as we explore in these unusual times. How we do things will also shape the longer term future.
Think about Hannah’s point, how can we ‘meet and make friends,’ and strengthen our Christian community in days of social distancing? How can we show care among us?
At St Chrysostom’s we are encouraging people to listen in and take part in worship webcast through our Facebook page, we invite those who are able to interact through our church Facebook group, and of course picking up the phone and speaking, using WhatsApp or texting, are good ways to be in touch. I have been encouraged to receive, through the post, cards assuring me of prayer.
Praying together strengthens us and unites us, being in touch with one another strengthens us. The great 17th century Church leader and theologian, Richard Baxter, wrote, at a time of separation, of the unity of Christians in prayer. His words are very appropriate for today.
As for my friends, they are not lost:
The several vessels of thy fleet
Though parted now, by tempests tossed,
Shall safely in the haven meet.
We still are centred all in thee,
Though distant, members of one Head;
Within one family we be,
And by one faith and spirit led.
Before thy throne we daily meet
As joint-petitioners to thee;
In spirit each the other greet,
And shall again each other see.