Each week I start the Meal portion of our livestream worship with a disclaimer. It basically states there is debate over whether pastors should be celebrating Holy Communion in livestream worship when the congregation is unable to gather in the building to receive it. It also challenges whether the elements present in the worshipers home that are to be used for Holy Communion during the livestream worship really are the body and blood of Christ simply because the Presider (me, Pastor Wayne), has spoken the Eucharistic Prayer and Words of Institution through the technology that makes livestream worship possible. As a result, both our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Bishop Tracie Bartholomew of the New Jersey Synod have indicated that during this time of social distancing and closing of sanctuary worship pastors leading livestream worship should use the Service of the Word liturgy for worship rather than that of Holy Communion. Forgive me bishops, but I see it differently, and so I have been “sinning boldly” (to quote Martin Luther) and believing more boldly in the forgiveness of sins.
I believe we are living in another time of “Copernican revolution” (when Copernicus revealed that it is the Earth that re-volves around the Sun and not the other way around) wherein the technological ability by livestream for people to engage in virtual gatherings of the baptized is just as real, and valid, a gathering as if we were able to gather in person at 204 Wayne Ave. Is it the same? No. Of course not. The question for me is whether the Holy Spirit still “calls us through the gospel, enlightens us with her gifts, makes us holy, and keeps us in the true faith (Luther’s Small Catechism – Third Article of the Creed)” when we engage in livestream worship. And my answer is, “Yes. Who am I to say otherwise?”
What inspires me to believe this? It is an event that occurred while I was in seminary. At the funeral for a beloved professor the seminary chapel was packed. The new pastor of the church had underestimated how many wafers would be needed for Holy Communion and so about halfway through the distribution realized the need and got more from the sacristy (where worship stuff is kept) and immediately started using them without first consecrating them with the Words of Institution. A few pews up from me sat Dr. William Lazareth, a theological giant in the Lutheran Church and one of the toughest profes-sors ever had. Realizing what the pastor had done he immediately exclaimed in a hushed voice, “She’s using unconsecrated host!” Another professor, Dr. John Reumann of New Testament scholarship, was seated behind him and heard the con-cern. He leaned forward and said with a satirical but reassuring tone, “Bill, I think the Holy Spirit has a bigger range than forty feet!” Meaning, who are we to determine how the Holy Spirit works in providing God’s people of what they need when it comes to the Word and sacraments for our journey of faith.
Do I believe that the bread and fruit of the vine you consume in your homes during livestream worship ARE IN FACT the body and blood of our risen Savior? Lutherans believe it is the Word of God that consecrates the elements and not the worthiness of the presider. But does that mean the words said over the internet consecrate the bread and wine located in tens of households where those engaged in the livestream are prepared to receive the Lord’s Supper? I honestly don’t know definitively. What I do know is the Holy Spirit provides what we need to have for our faith be fed, and if for you that is the slice of whole wheat or Triscuit and Welch’s grape juice before you in your home serving as the elements for the Eucharist then who am I to say the Holy Spirit is limited by livestream? I think the Holy Spirit has a bigger range than even 40 miles if need be!
However, that does not mean anything goes. During this time of separation and holding services exclusively by livestream I ask those reading this article and participating in livestream Holy Communion to prepare to do so in the following way.
- Use bread or some “bread-like” option and some fruit of the vine (wine or grape juice.) Danishes, donuts, and oreos may be made with wheat but let’s be reverent in our preparation for the meal. The same goes for the drink. Reflect on what is most appropriate and have it available for Sunday. You are now your own Altar Guild when it comes to preparing the table for Holy Communion. Be mindful about it.
- Prepare your hearts to receive the meal of forgiveness and new life. Reconcile yourself with others through the ex-change of peace prior to the Meal. You can text or Tweet them directly. That’s what this part of worship is meant to do.
- Consume the elements used when worship is over. That is the practice we have here except for the host used for home communion visits. Handle the elements with reverence.
I really hope I don’t get labeled as a heretic for writing the above, but I truly believe we are experiencing the next radical paradigm shift in how the Church continues its mission of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples in the 21st century and beyond. I long for the day when we will be able to gather in our sanctuary for worship, sing hymns boldly and receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion that is placed in our hands without risk of contagion. Instead, the one thing I pray we all catch is a revived Spirit of hope and life that compels us to share the good news with those around us. Until then stay safe and stay home, but stay connected while we are apart. God’s blessings in this time after Pentecost.