As measures of relaxation of lockdown are put in place and we start to resume some although not all of our normal activities it seems right to ask some questions of our Christian experience at this time. At first the experience of lockdown seemed like an enhanced Lent and in addition the lack of any Holy Communion made the time seem like a prolonged Holy Saturday. By tradition there is no sacramental life in the Church between the Thursday evening of Holy week and the joyful celebration of Easter day. And now here we are in July and still this strange time of deprivation continues.
At the heart of these considerations must be an examination of our motives for attending public worship at all. Why do we come together on Sunday? To meet our friends and share in cheerful sociability. Well that’s a good reason for coming.
To have a good sing! Again that’s not a bad reason for coming. Did not St Augustine himself say that she who sings prays twice?
To pray as well for others as for ourselves as the Book of Common Prayer expresses it. Again that’s a good reason for coming although of course even in isolation the voice of prayer need never be silent.
But to my way of thinking the crucial reason for wanting to be together is the question of presence. The presence of the risen Christ with us. Of course even in solitude I can feel that Christ is with me, behind me and before me but when we Christians meet together that sense of presence is greatly enhanced. We realise ourselves to be in a quite tangible way the body of the Lord. Did not Jesus say that when two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them. If we are to be the Church we must come together. As John Wesley said there are no solitary Christians.
Some of us have been worshipping together by means of Zoom and other video conferencing applications. This has been a good experience and it has enabled some of us to share in prayer and worship in a participatory way. I hope it continues after this time has come to an end. But what has been missing is the Lord’s Supper and this raises in quite an acute form the question of the Lord’s presence in our worship and our sense of deprivation at being unable to share with each other in the signs of that presence which Christ gave to His church.
In the Lords supper we come together, we hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church, we confess our sins and our fellowship with each other is restored. We recall the story of the passion of Jesus, bread and wine are taken, prayer is offered over them and the bread is broken and the wine poured out as a sign of what Christ has done and in his risen life is still doing. Finally the bread and wine are shared amongst us to signify that Christ’s sacrifice for us continues and that we are called to be participants in that ongoing sacrifice. As St Augustine says we become what we eat-the body of Christ. Thereafter as the Body of Christ we disperse in order to continue Christ’s saving work in the world.
This is what we are deprived of at present and its restoration is an urgent matter. Of course we should not endanger the health of ourselves or anyone else and we owe it to our neighbours to take all necessary precautions. But for Christian like ourselves it is an urgent necessity for us to be the Church and that means coming together around the table of the Lord.
Be present at our table Lord
Be here and ev’ry where adored
These mercies bless, and grant that we
May feast in paradise with thee.