Beloved Community of Pilgrim Lutheran Church, I am pleased to tell you that we will resume the celebration of Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday, April 1, 2021. It has been many months since Holy Communion has been celebrated and shared among the people of Pilgrim Lutheran Church. I have requested the resumption of Holy Communion in consultation with the Saint Paul Area Synod and with the Vestry of Pilgrim Lutheran Church.
Initially, in the spring of 2020, the Bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod had advised congregations to pause the practice of Holy Communion, but later in 2020, she followed up that advice by encouraging congregations to resume the celebration of communion in a manner that accommodates pandemic restrictions. As a result, most congregations of the Saint Paul Area Synod have resumed the practice.
I offer two things below. First, I offer a practical framework for how we can celebrate Holy Communion together as a community when we are still separated by the pandemic. Second, I provide some theological thoughts about celebrating Holy Communion under the current circumstances. It is important to address any concerns and questions that community members may have about the resumption of Holy Communion.
Thinking Practically about Holy Communion
I have both served and participated in congregations that resumed celebrating Holy Communion during the Pandemic. As a practical matter, here is how it often is celebrated:
The presiding pastor of the worship service leads the celebration of Holy Communion remotely but live. The worship service shifts from the recorded portion to live broadcast as the community is invited to participate in celebrating Communion.
For the elements of Holy Communion, participants in their homes may either use their own elements of bread and wine or grape juice, or they may use a kit provided by the church. These kits have the appearance of a little plastic cup containing creamer for coffee. Included in the kit are a portion of pasteurized grape juice and a wafer of wheat. As needed, kits including a gluten-free bread wafer will also be available.
The celebration of Holy Communion during worship will flow much as it would in non-pandemic times. The difference is that the presiding pastor will pause at specific points to allow time for households to prepare their elements at home or to fetch the kits they have obtained from church. As the sacrament is celebrated, the presiding pastor will also pause the liturgy briefly to provide time to open the kits from church in preparation for receiving the sacrament. The celebration is deliberate and respectful of the holiness of the sacrament.
Thinking Theologically about Holy Communion
Lutheran theology defines a sacrament as an experience of God’s grace that includes two things: 1) An earthly element, and 2) God’s Word. For example, Baptism is a sacrament, because we have 1) Water, and 2) God’s Word: “Go and make disciples…baptizing them in the name…”. In the same way, Holy Communion is also a sacrament, because we have 1) Bread and the Fruit of the Vine, and 2) God’s Word: “Do this for the remembrance of me.” We celebrate the sacraments because Jesus commands us to do so, and we celebrate them using elements common to all people around the globe.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (see Mark 14:22-25; I Corinthians 11:23-26), he established that celebrating the sacrament was an essential practice of the church, but he did not determine the circumstances under which Holy Communion may or may not be celebrated. Some of you may be concerned about the circumstances under which we will be celebrating Holy Communion because we cannot all be together physically in one place and we will be using technology to be connected as a community. When analogous concerns about the circumstances of celebrating Holy Communion arose in the early church, the church uniformly responded by affirming that the grace and mercy of God overcome all barriers. Holy Communion is holy and overflows with the love and grace of God for you, no matter under what circumstances it is celebrated.
Think of it this way: at present we gather online as a community using Zoom or a similar platform from wherever we may be. Some members of the community are only a few blocks from church, while others are many miles away. Still, even though we are apart, the Word of God in liturgy, Scripture, and sermon works through our experience of worship to bring us God’s gifts of grace, love and forgiveness. The sacrament of Holy Communion is another expression of God’s Word but in physical form, and conveys those same gifts of grace, love, and forgiveness. Both the Word and the Sacrament are the means by which God’s grace comes to us. And, as with the Word, we can participate in the Sacrament together, whether we sit next to one another or we are separated by a pandemic.
As we resume celebrating Holy Communion, we acknowledge that will be celebrating Holy Communion as a scattered community and that we will be using tools of technology that were unimaginable when the sacrament was first established. And yet, the limitless grace of God affirms that, even if we are not physically together, the Holy Spirit will still hold us together when we celebrate the sacrament. As we do so, we will be accompanied by the whole company of the saints, near and far, new and ancient, joining with us in giving thanks to God for God’s gifts of grace, love, and forgiveness.
If you have questions or concerns about the resumption of Holy Communion at Pilgrim Lutheran Church, please contact me. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 651-253-4997.
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Chris Smith