Keeping the Feast: Communion in the Time of Coronavirus

My Sunday ritual during these days of the pandemic involves tuning in to one of two streaming services of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Dallas. I download the bulletin, cast the service’s audio to a bluetooth speaker, and sing and pray along. St. Michael has done a wonderful job of maintaining a sense of worship and intimacy even at a safe, online distance. Still, certain parts of liturgy will never translate perfectly to the streaming format. Anyone familiar with Anglican traditions will know that the heart of the church service is weekly communion.  Though they now offer physical communion to go, received in socially-distanced queues on Sunday afternoons, the priests still take pains every week to explain that we partake in Communion spiritually, by faith, in the absence of physical bread and wine. The bulletin puts it this way:

In this time of social distancing, we are united in our faith and in the spiritual reception of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

So we pray the prayers and sing the songs and watch the clergy break the bread and pour the wine as we partake in our hearts. But the truth is that physical communion too is received spiritually, by faith.

The words of the liturgy remind us weekly of the spiritual nature of communion. First, they retell the story of the Passover meal when Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, instructing his disciples to eat the bread and drink the wine “for the remembrance of” Christ. Then, the clergy speaks these words:

Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom.

Each time we partake in the Eucharist, we do so by faith as a proclamation of “the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” 

So my Sunday ritual has evolved to include different physical elements, prepared in love, and received in faith. 

As the priests begin the confessions, prayers, and readings in preparation for the eucharist, I get up from the cozy cat cuddles that have accompanied my at-home worship thus far. I turn on my electric kettle and retrieve a favorite coffee cup. The clergy member brings out the wine and the bread. I measure out coffee into the filter in my pour over set. The wine is poured. I swirl the hot water over the coffee grounds. I inhale the familiar and glorious aroma. I watch the caramelly crema on the surface of the coffee bloom. I listen to the words of the liturgy as I finish pouring water over the grounds. The priest breaks the large wafer, and the crack comes through the microphones all the way to my speaker in my apartment. I slice a thick slice of homemade banana bread, or, in a pinch, unwrap a favorite dark chocolate peanut butter cup.

I sing:  Alleulia. Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;  Therefore let us keep the feast. Allelulia.

The Celebrant presents the elements:

The Gifts of God for the People of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.

I bite into the sweet bread with delight as the decadent flavors melt in my mouth. I take that first sip of coffee. My daily coffee is already a holy moment, already a sacrament, but today, in this moment, it is a proclamation: Christ died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. I remember that Christ died for us, and that we “feed on him in [our] hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”  Therefore, I will keep the feast.

I must confess, I’m feasting more on this pour-over coffee and sweet treat than I ever have on a papery wafer dipped in wine. I’m savoring each sip, each flavor while actively meditating on Christ’s sacrificial death, his victorious resurrection, and the promise of his triumphant return to renew all things. And I am renewed, as the sugar and caffeine hit my brain, as my senses awaken, as my body takes in the energy and carbohydrates it requires — and then some — because this is a feast.

Communion is a feast, a celebration, a joyous remembrance. It’s a victorious proclamation in the midst of the desert that death does not have the final word. Christ and his resurrected life, his cosmic redemption, and his love have the final word. It is good and right to keep the feast, to indulge in that coffee and sweet treat, as a physical reminder of God’s goodness, of His promise that one day we will feast in the house of God forever, and Christ will make all things new. and there will be no more death and dying. On that day, we will eat at a common table, reunited at last.

Until that day, let us keep the feast.