One of the consequences of the global COVID-19 pandemic affecting populations and economies is that it has forced persons to come together by staying apart. At once, the effect is to bring to the front and center the issues of “the crisis of presence” and “the presence of crisis”, issues not without significance for the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The “presence of crisis” is creating the “crisis of presence”.
For Methodists, there is no “crisis of presence”. In trans-substantiation, at the consecration in the actual liturgy, the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Jesus; and in con-substantiation, real presence is with the substance of Jesus, Jesus is with the bread and wine. With Methodists’ belief in Apostolic tradition (emphasis on the particular witness of the church), not Apostolic Succession (emphasis on the authority reposed in or handed down in and through an individual), the real presence of Jesus in the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper does not depend on the presence of the Ordained Minister. The Sacrament of The Lord’s Supper is a Memorial, among other thing. It is not a trip down memory lane. Rather, it holds that what was done in the past still has effects in the present. So, the Sacrament is a sharing in the body of Jesus Christ, done often and to proclaim the death of Jesus Christ until He comes, again. The practice of celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in homes is in keeping with theological understanding that Christ's real presence is assured when the faithful re-enact the Lord's Supper in His memory.
We are in an unusual situation where, based on social distancing regulations in all our countries, the church buildings are not being used in the usual way for corporate worship. In so far as the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is concerned, to facilitate its observance as often as possible to proclaim Christ’s Second Coming, it must be observed in homes. In effect, as members of the Body of Christ, when we worship online in our homes, we are "in church" because we are the church. While it can be said that, with online worship, the gathered church is not physically together, it cannot be said that, with online worship, the gathered church is not spiritually together. People may have gathered over there and here; there, not here; in one place or another led by a small group or an individual but communicating, each with the other and, above all, with God.
The current crisis is a time of pain and anguish for the body of Christ. In the Communion service, we pray: “Grant that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we who receive your gifts of bread and wine may share in the Body and Blood of Christ, and become united with him.” We believe that this prayer can be answered across great distances like any of our other prayers. We believe that we can pray for the presence of God to come upon the physical body of a church member separated from us, we also believe that we can pray for the presence of God to come upon the elements of bread and wine at someone’s home separated from us.
Celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper online brings together family members and church members who are geographically scattered and isolated across the country and around the world. It brings a unity around the Table of our Lord that is not experienced in a normal Holy Communion service where we are physically present with one another. All those who have been baptized, acknowledge God’s love for them and Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross are invited to participate in the Lord’s Supper. The recipients will therefore be at different stages in their faith journey. “Virtual” is real. Let us, therefore, be mindful of the conceptual shift and give God thanks for this unique opportunity to proclaim the mystery of Jesus Christ’s Death, Resurrection and Second Coming with the church gathered in many different homes.
GUIDELINES FOR CELEBRATING THE SACRAMENT OF THE LORD’S SUPPER Online:
A TABLE, covered with clean white cloth, should stand in a convenient place in the room.
The BREAD, preferably white, baked or bought, is cut into sufficient small pieces. Biscuits or bammy bits can be alternatives where bread is not available.
The WINE, preferably grape juice (though plain water is equally acceptable)
The elements of bread and wine are placed on the table and covered with a clean white cloth
The LITURGY, ORDER OF SERVICE FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE SACRAMENT OF THE LORD’S SUPPER and found on pages 76-79 in the METHODIST PRAYER BOOK, is to be followed (alternatively the liturgy found on pages 95-97, may be used).
At the appropriate time, as guided by the Chief Celebrant, the cloth covering the elements shall be carefully and reverently removed.
At the appropriate time, as guided by the Chief Celebrant, one member of the family/household shall take the plate with the element representing the body of Christ and allow each individual, in turn, to reverently take a piece of the element and eat as instructed. Afterwards a similar procedure will be followed with the wine.
When all have received the elements, the vessels replaced on the table the vessels shall be reverently and carefully covered with the white cloth.
GUIDELINES FOR CLERGY: (in preparation for the videotaping session which is not live streamed).
Clergy should be in a Sanctuary or in a room with the Communion Table properly prepared with the elements on the Table.
A limited number of members can be present in the Sanctuary or room per the official health advisories.
Clergy should be properly attired in clerical dress as per a normal Lord’s Supper observance worship service.
Either the liturgy on page 76 or the liturgy on page 95 shall be used.
[Prepared for use during the restrictions on public worship during the COVID-19 Pandemic and not as a general practice]
April 29, 2020