This coming Sunday is one of the high points of the Christian calendar, Palm Sunday. Then would follow Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day, all occasions when we would meet together as the Body of Christ.
It is completely ironic that at a time when we want to be together to celebrate and share in the body of Christ we cannot.
Like all ‘successful’ viruses Covid-19 has found a way to hijack part of our body – the lungs, to grow and reproduce. Like all coronaviruses it has also found a way to hijack our humanity, the basic need of closeness and community. We have found ourselves having the resist the natural compulsion to embrace or even shake hands. Our desire to be with others is suspended as are family gatherings for birthdays, baptisms, weddings and funerals.
It also means that we cannot gather together as the body of Christ to remember his passion or celebrate his ressurection. I would be lying to say that watching worship on line was as fulfilling as being there in person.
One unnerving thing about this virus is it makes us feel that our bodies are betraying us. This is true not just for our physical bodies but also our social and ecclesial bodies. Assembling for worship, that is, becoming the body of Christ, with the people we love now carries risk for ourselves and others. Celebrating the body of Christ through bread and wine is now potentially dangerous.
So how can we continue to be the body of Christ as this crisis unfolds? How do those of us who need the body of Christ like we need bread and water continue to receive it?
Firstly, while the church services may be one of the clearest places to encounter Christ , it is not the only one. We can re-embrace the presence of Christ in the Scriptures. Many Church publishers, are providing resources free on line and we have the thoughts on the Sunday lectionary readings by Revd. Stephen. Also many churches are streaming worship online, so we can feast at the table of God’s word even if we cannot receive Christ’s bread at our Easter Communion.
We can also celebratethe body of Christ in countless ways in our community. One way, paradoxically, is to protect the body of Christ by fasting from worship and avoiding physical contact with each other.
But there will be plenty of other opportunities to be the body of Christ in serving the vulnerable in the coming weeks, even if from an appropriate distance. Jesus teaches us in Mt 25, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” How can we use our time to support those in our community who are more vulnerable? How can we use our resources to support those in our community who are economically vulnerable?
In this time in which we are not able to encounter Christ at worship or in Holy Communion, we always have the opportunity to encounter Christ in the vulnerable, even in ways that protect ourselves and those we wish to help from further risk. A meal or groceries left on a doorstep, a contribution to a fund for unemployed workers, a check-in with an isolated older person or a friend who has suddenly become a homeschooling parent—we can all do something, for someone, in this time.
This Lent, we are being forced into a strange sort of fasting from the body of Christ in our worship. We might notice the hunger, the absence that comes from this fast so as to appreciate it yet more deeply when, in Easter joy, we are able to receive the body of Christ in these ways again. Fasting now may help us appreciate Christ’s presence in our church and our worship that celebrate it more clearly after this too has passed. It may not happen on the “official” date of Easter, but the lesson of the rhythms of our church is that Easter joy and feast follows Lenten sacrifice and fast like the rising dawn follows the darkness of night.
May God keep us all safe in these difficult times. May we be the body of Christ to each other and the most vulnerable around us. And by doing so, may we come to receive with greater gratitude the body of Christ wherever he meets us.
Grace and peace to you,