It's been three months.
It's been three months since I last filled up my car's gas tank.
It's been three months since I wished I had called the hairdresser on time, instead of putting off my regular trim.
It's been three months since I sang with a group of people.
It's been three months since I last sat in church to worship.
It's been three months since I last had communion.
As I've talked and listened to people, that seems to be the one part of church they miss the most: communion.
I do miss communion, but the reality is that I've gone through far longer periods without it.
I grew up in a church where we had communion at the beginning of each church season, on festival days, and about every six weeks during common time. Communion was a rare thing, and they gave you plenty of notice that it was coming up so that you could "prepare" for it.
There were periods when I didn't go to church at all.
There was one church where we had communion every other week, and also on the fifth Sunday of the month. That fifth Sunday was dreaded because we also did a sharing of the peace on that day, and that was an extremely uncomfortable event in that church.
St. Stephen's is the first church I've attended where communion is offered every week. I've gotten used to it, and I find I do miss it when I'm traveling.
I went down a rabbit hole searching for the history of communion in the church. The search result options are generally an explanation of transubstantiation or an argument about how communion is not biblical. The latter is much more interesting reading!
Food was important in Jesus' world. He ate with sinners. He blessed the bread and fish that fed the 5,000. His first miracle was at a wedding feast. He recognized when the crowds around him had not been able to eat and told his disciples to make sure they got fed. Mary and Martha hosted Jesus at meals. Many of his parables are about people working in the fields. Recipients of his miracles were encouraged to eat. More than once, Jesus had a hand in an overflowing catch of fish. The resurrected Jesus ate with the disciples. The resurrected Jesus was only recognized on the road to Emmaus when he broke bread with the travelers.
At the beginning of the Christian church, communion was focused around a community meal. As the church became more formal and ritualized communion became closer to what we now know: bread and wine blessed by a clergy person. Or as one website said "...drinking little plastic cups filled with grape juice, and eating tiny broken pieces of unsalted Wheat Thin crackers..." (http://bibleanswerstand.org/communion%20-%201.htm)
As communion became more formalized and ritualized, people were actually afraid to participate. At one point in its history, the Catholic church had to insist that people take communion once a year.
We've come a long way. St. Stephen's welcomes everyone to the communion table. We don't quiz people about whether they've been baptized. There is no pre-interview to determine if someone is in a "right relationship" with God and able to participate in communion. We welcome children. We recognize that it's Christ's table, not ours, and that Christ's actions showed that everyone is welcome.
But in this unusual time of virtual worship and social distancing, there are discussions of what to do about communion. Is "virtual communion" OK? Are we all "present" while on Zoom? I've seen photos of home setups for communion with a half-filled cup of wine and a slice of plain white bread. It just doesn't look right, appealing, or inviting to me.
Within the LEAD (Living Every Day as Disciples) group, we have talked about having people bring their own bread and cup to church. We've talked about providing pre-packaged containers for people to take with them and partake in once they leave the church. We've talked about no wine and serving pre-cut bread with tongs.
All those options sound very safe and very unappealing. I may miss communion, but I'm not sure I'm ready for the options.
That's the ritualized communion that takes place during the worship service.
But when you think about communion as being a shared meal, rather than a formalized ritual, St. Stephen's has never stopped having communion. Our families are having more meals together than usual. And for many, those meals include a prayer asking Jesus to bless the food. Is it communion offered by an ordained person? No. Is it sharing God's blessing in a shared meal? I think so.
The LCS Food Pantry at St. Stephen's has distributed over 15,000 meals to more 5,000 people since March. Is that a communal sharing of food, done in the name of Jesus? Hasn't that gift been given with the help and blessing of neighbors and friends who have shared their time and bounty to contribute? Isn't that what Jesus asked us to do?
I don't know what communion at worship will look like in the future. I'm quite sure it will take a while for me to be comfortable with it. But it’s kind of exciting to think about what communion in exile looks like.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47)
- Ann Iona Warner