“We take Holy Communion not because we are doing well, but because we are doing badly. Not because we have arrived, but because we are travelling. Not because we are right, but because we are confused and wrong. Not because we are divine, but because we are human. Not because we are full, but because we are hungry…”
Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I’m not sure if that’s always true, since human beings tend to forget. But I know that it is true, for me, right now, as I find myself deeply missing not only the vibrant community of our life together, but also the experience of celebrating Eucharist together and receiving the Body and Blood. I do know in a visceral way now that I have at times taken it for granted.
I know some of you miss it too. I’ve heard from several people in the last couple of days, wondering how we might work around our current restrictions in order to receive communion together. This experience of communal “social distancing” is bringing my own understanding of Eucharistic theology into a brighter clarity — that is for sure.
“Since I have neither bread nor wine nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols… I will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labors and suffering of the world.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, priest and scientist
As you might imagine, this has been a huge issue that your clergy (Deacon Theresa, Fr. Jeff and I) have been really wrestling with, in conversation with our bishops and our colleagues in this diocese and beyond.
One popular idea floated early on was to do a consecration of bread and wine via the Internet, but there are multiple problems with this from a standpoint of our understanding of the Eucharist as Anglicans; so, understandably, the bishops have said “no” in near uniformity. Likewise, pre-consecrated bread and wine, for reasons of safety and security, are not to be “left out” for people to come and pick up from, say, the Narthex.
So how do we observe these solemn Holy Days without receiving the very Sacrament that celebrates the victory of Jesus and his Resurrection? It seems almost impossible.
The Eucharist: Word AND Sacrament
One way to faithfully walk with Jesus this Holy Week has been suggested by Dr. James Farwell, the VTS liturgics professor who came to teach our Lenten series on Holy Week in 2018. Some of you will recall that memorable series of lectures.
On Facebook, on March 19, he wrote:
“The Anglican commitment to Christ’s presence to us in Word and Sacrament is worth pondering in this moment. The Eucharist is Word and Sacrament…The point of the Eucharist is not the changing of bread and wine but the changing of you and me. Is God unable to change us WITHOUT the bread and wine? Might God be able to work in us through a period of sacramental deprivation? Even through it?”
Every service of Holy Communion contains two basic parts: The liturgy of the Word, centered on hearing and responding to Holy Scripture; and the liturgy of the Table, the celebration of Communion. Dr. Farwell encourages us to lean heavily this week on the reality that Jesus comes to us not only in the bread and the wine, but also in hearing and meditating on God’s word.
In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus says something to this effect: We are not to subsist merely on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. This is a “both/and” situation. The Body and Blood are true spiritual food, “the bread that came down from heaven,” like manna in the wilderness. But, we believe that the Scriptures are written as well for our nourishment, and we are advised by that famous prayer of Thomas Cranmer to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” these words.
The mystical poetry of the prologue to John’s Gospel tells us that Christ himself is the Word of God, and that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” — that Word comes to us in a very vivid way as we take it into our bodies by eating the consecrated bread and drinking the consecrated wine. The Scriptures, the “word of God,” contain within them the God-inspired written witness to Jesus, the Word of God.
Through our baptism, marked by the Holy Spirit as “Christ’s own forever,” and through our participation in Holy Communion — the two Great Sacraments commended to our attention by Jesus himself — we OURSELVES become the bread of life broken out for the healing of the world.
Our Plan for Holy Week
This Holy Week, we are leaning on the Word, even as we long to experience the physical presence of Christ in the elements of communion. We are living without one element of our spiritual nutrition, for a time; but will live fully in the other element, the Holy Scriptures!
As such, our worship this week leans heavily on the Daily Offices, both Morning and Evening Prayer, which are centered around the reading of the Bible. The psalms of lament, central to every Holy Week, are already taking on a new life for me, considering the suffering of our world right now. I hope you will join us in observing this holy journey through our online worship offerings, praying with us and meditating with us on the words of life given to us in the Bible.
Morning Prayer will happen as usual at 8 am Monday through Friday, via Zoom. Please consider joining us, even if you haven’t before — the heavy lifting is done by the “regulars” so all you have to do is tune in and watch/listen. The links to access the online worship, as well as the Morning Prayer booklet, may be found on the Worship/Prayer page of the St. Alban’s website.
Evening Worship in Holy Week will be offered daily on YouTube. Services will be posted by 7 pm each day, on our Saint Alban’s Live page. We invite you to join in at that time so we may pray together in real time. The liturgies are available in PDF on the Live page, as well — they are specifically formatted for viewing on a smartphone or tablet (such as an iPad.) View the services on your laptop or smart TV, and use your phone or tablet to follow along. Or, simply listen and pray along with us.
What about the Triduum?
Our observance of the Three Days (the “Triduum” — Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) will contain familiar elements for those of you who cherish those liturgies (and will also be available via video here at our website). But the optional parts that really necessitate gathering together in-person, such as the Veneration of the Cross, the foot-washing, and things that center around the presence of Christ in Holy Communion, will be saved for when we can actually gather again.
I know I’m not alone in longing for experiencing the mystical grace and presence of Jesus in Holy Communion, and also longing to be in the presence of our beloved Community as well. When we finally do gather again, in person, we will light the new fire of the Easter Vigil and process with the Light of Christ into our church. It will be a huge celebration.
For now, we wait. The wait seems long. But after the deepest night comes the dawn. Daybreak is coming. Stay strong in the faith, dear friends. God is with us.
“Blessed, worshipped, hallowed, praised, and adored is Jesus Christ on his throne of glory in heaven, in the most holy sacrament of the altar, and in the hearts of his faithful people. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercies of God, rest in peace.”
A traditional private prayer for after receiving Communion