5/08/2020

Why War imagery for the Pandemic is dangerous, and why I am a draft resister.

Well, fellow travelers on this strange journey through Pandemic Land, all this war imagery about Covid-19 is coming home to roost.

It started getting thrown about as an image about those medical and service workers who can not shelter in place and sometimes are put in harm’s way.  It was pretty straightforward to say that their service is extraordinary and that we recognize that what they are doing is essential, dangerous, and much like “front-line” warriors.   I think, pray and do what this miserable carcass can do to support these workers. Mostly, I try to do what I was asked to do, namely get out of the. way, stay home, try not to receive or give the virus a right of passage.  

All this war talk had a cost:  we came to think of those doing essential service as devoted, not to the care of others (which they are) but devoted to winning this “war.”  It is however different to die for others and to die for a cause, particularly when that cause is seen in national terms.  Between service to some humans (near at hand) and service to all humankind there lies the broad range of service to various groups of humans, including nations.  When we think of working to end the Pandemic or working to save the lives of those who have the disease, or those who might have the disease, our goal is healing humans and communities.  When we think of the people doing this work as warriors we are not thinking of them as healers, putting themselves in harm’s way, we are thinking of them as necessary but regrettable “sacrifice” for a cause.  The trouble with the war imagery is that warriors die for a cause wrapped in a flag, or sometimes for no good reason at all, except the country.  We ask our health and essential service people to possibly die so that others might live. There is no flag big enough to represent that service.

Here is what is most bothering, however: When the “front line” is broken open (as happened almost immediately, virus having no need for a pass) everywhere becomes the front line.  Then the war propaganda makes all of us “warriors,” which means, dear friends, that the President has drafted us all into some sort of army that is going to win, making us (USA) victorious and great again and he will be the wartime president who won the war against Covid-19.  This is propaganda tail-wagging-the-dog drivel. Except it is dangerous. 

Now that the war is universal, and we are the universal soldier, and it is assumed that for reasons of national security and cause we must be willing to suffer casualties so that national economic interests (couched as return to normal) can be. maintained. We must be willing to see some of us die because the country needs to get back to business. So the draft has begun, and the draftees will include the elderly (that’s me) and the health compromised, the unemployed and the illegal, people of color and the usual gang of people first conscripted to be canon fodder, namely the poor. 

The health of people has been replaced by the heath of the nation, and the warriors are no longer in service to the people, but the nation. So all of us, first responders, health workers, essential services  personnel, together with everyone else of rank less than general, will engaged the “enemy” and many of us will die. And when it is over those who remain will be declared “winners” in the war,and the leaders will lead the victory parade.  And all we “warriors”will put stars in our windows, and after awhile we will take them down.  When the war is over, the draftees will be briefly remembered as vaguely patriotic, but the leaders will claim victory in their name, but for themselves. 

The “war” theme is as bad now as it was for the “war” on drugs.  The imagery is tempting, but  wrong headed, at its core.

My sense is we would be better off to think of what it is that the virus is doing, hitching a ride with humans, and how we might go about rejecting the virus using us as hosts.   Much as some martial arts make use of the notion of deflection,  where the advance of the other is meet with deflection, rather than attack, perhaps we need to think of our denying the virus access to our bodies as a matter not of attack for attack, but rejection by deflection. This not war, this is about personal security. If everyone could be a warrior, how much more could everyone be trained to deflect the advance of the virus, not only from our bodies, but the bodies of others.  The virus is not the enemy, but a rude and. disruptive visitor, to be tamed or deflected (treated or vaccined against.). The “war” imagery does not serve the needs of public or personal health. In a national context, it serves national interests, and by extension the political machinations of its leaders.

So here is what I know:

(i) I didn’t volunteer for this warrior service, and I an unwilling volunteer, and will become a draft resister.
(ii) War language serves leaders, not those who will must. readily be “sacrificed”. I don’t trust that language, not one bit.
(iii) “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” Calling people heroes, warriors, front-line soldiers, and the like, is fine in a loose sort of way, but those who are working in harms way are, we hope, purposeful.  They are there on purpose, doing hard jobs, and doing them even when dangerous. They are focused. If we were as purposeful in shutting the door on the virus we too would be focused. And focused people do what needs to be done, even if scared or perplexed or alone. 
(iv) Focus and purposeful action is what is needed, not reactive and fearful “fight or flight” response.
(v) I will not give anyone praise for having won the war. I will give thanks and gratitude to those who did not loose their focus,  were peurposeful in finding way to reduce the effect of the virus on our bodies and in our society. 
(vi) Heath and wealth are two very different matters. Confusing the two is disaster in the making.

But then, what the hell do I know?  I’m just a draftee.

4/29/2020

Being Anglican in the time of Covid-19

For many of us the “stay in place” rules of the past few weeks are as novel as is the novel Covid-19 virus. New for us as we face a new virus. But stay-in-place is not new, nor is the presence of deadly pestilence.  Those in prisons and other institutions, those in war and situations of high civil unrest, people in high infection areas or for that matter high crime areas, and even those whose immune systems are compromised, all deal with stay-in-place rules and orders.  For once the privilege of free movement is withdrawn from us as it has been for so many others less fortunate than we.

It is here, in the isolation of even modest imprisonment, that we begin to take stock of our spiritual resources, our toolbox for home brew religious life.  It is here that personal prayer, small family group worship, listening for God’s presence, meditation on the Word, all return to us as lifelines to a sense of healing.  And it is here that we can take comfort in Anglican worship and spirituality, if not in Anglican (or anyone else’s) ecclesiology.


I come from a long line of do it-yourself Anglicans. My Grandmother and her mother started evening prayer in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, and from that St. Agatha’s Church arose. They could not say the offices there, however, because they were not men.  My grandfather Harris was a lay reader at the University of Alabama, and my father swore that Grandpa celebrated the Eucharist as a lay person, although I suspect he said Anti-Communion.  I remember my father reading to me from the big family bible in Maracaibo, Venezuela, as a way of connecting not only with the stories there, but with family so far away from us. For a period of ten years I regularly celebrated the Eucharist in exile from the “regular” church. The table was a coffe-house table, the participants were alien to parish life, the music mostly home-made and seemingly secular, and bread was broken and shared and wine liberally poured out. I have often in my later years found myself worshiping in communities that do not speak English, are not English, and whose other gods are not nordic or even Roman.  One way or another little of this looked Anglican, but at its core it was VERY Anglican. It was about Anglican worship in exile.

There is little instructive help from ecclesiastical leaders about how to develop a prayer life in isolation.  There are plenty of examples of ecclesiastical leaders doing morning or evening prayer, anti-communion and communion services that can be virtually attended by the rest of us. But there is very little coaching about how we might “do it ourselves.” And I have heard not a whisper in recent days about baptism in a time of isolation, or worse yet, confinement in medical isolation. The sacraments apparently are thought of primarily as signs done by codified and sanitized rituals, and by ordered leaders, that is, primarily by clergy. The church, in its careful way, has surrounded the sacramental life with the guides provided by the religious leadership of the various faith communities.


It is useful to recall that this was in no way the manner of engagement with sacraments by either Jesus or his immediate circle.  Baptism into Christ seems in the earliest church to be a sacrament by Christians not yet divided into “orders” of ministry. Baptism was apparently a sacrament by which the body grew, some members reaching out and drawing others into the community. And, of course, it is still possible “in emergency” for lay persons to do the reaching and drawing in. But no one talks about it.  Likewise, in the early church, coming together, saying the prayers and breaking the bread were done as a community, with the role of presiding decidedly unregulated by ordination. But you can’t tell that from here, with the oven of time having cooked the books.


That first pattern did not last for very long. My sense is that the hook by which leadership in worship and Sacrament was connected to leaders “ordered” for that task by the community itself was the hook of witness or testimony.  As the community grew certain of its members were singled out to make the case or remind the community of the basis of their being this new community.  That “remembering” included remembering the baptism in the spirit that marked the pentecost experience and remembering the New Commandment, and the words at the meal that prefigured the Eucharist. The people who did this remembering where the ones who experienced the ministry of Jesus or received the visitation of the risen One,  or the experience of the indwelling of the Spirit, or some combination of the three. As they died out their disciples (students) took their place. The central desire to remember then got attached to the sacramental and worship life, and those who were the rememberers also became the officers of the sacraments and of worship life.  But it remains unclear how much we are bound sacramentally to the pattern that makes the officers of the sacrament and the carriers of the core theological and religious witness and message the same.


And here we are, two thousand years later,  doing every thing we can to continue the unbroken contention that sacramental action and ordered worship are properly the work of ordained (or sometimes locally appointed) leaders. It seems very clear that there is little interest in teaching regular people how to pray the daily office, and absolutely no interest in instructing people in the possibility of sacramental worship. Of course we admonish people to say their daily prayers. But there not much to guide us in saying the daily office.  And of course we admonish people not to stay away from the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, but no hint as to what to do when there is no ordained person to preside.


We do this In the time of pandemic isolation and assume that we can fast for a season, or partake on some level with a priest with whom we share non-physical space.  But we almost never engage the instructional possibilities whereby Eucharist and the daily office might be conducted by people in the most local of communities – those we live with, or if alone as solitaries.  We act as if we believed this moment of isolation is not the future, but only a passing thing.


This is a mistake.  Of course we will get beyond this moment and church will return. But we will continue our failure to address the possibilities that we are AS A PEOPLE, a priesthood of all believers, to whom the commands to go out and baptize and to remember Jesus whenever we do this offering of bread and wine, were given. And in our failure we will miss great opportunities for witness and invitation to faith.


I have recently been reminded again of a novel I read some years ago, The Clowns of God, by Morris West. In it a pope has an apocalyptic vision which both leads him to quit the papacy and to begin an effort to seek some other way forward for humanity. It was written against the backdrop of the end of the 20th Century, but 20 years off is not too far off. The now resigned Pope wrote an encyclical in which he envisions the collapse of social systems around the world in war and economic chaos.  He wrote


“How then must Christians comport themselves in these days of trial and terror?

… Since they will no longer be able to maintain themselves as large groups, they must divide themselves into small communities, each capable of sustaining itself by the exercise of a common faith and a true mutual charity. Their Christian witness must be given by spreading that charity outwards to those who are not of the faith, by aiding the distressed, by sharing even their most meager means with those who are most deprived. When the priestly hierarchy can no longer function, they will elect to themselves ministers and teachers who will maintain the Word in its integrity, and continue to conduct the Eucharist.…”

The second is a story sent to me by an old Seminary classmate, Dick Ulman, who wrote,


“Let me share a story ... I heard this in the mid-1970s. China had just “re-opened” to the world. A senior colleague, Charles Long, had been a missionary in China, and relayed a Chinese friend’s report on a business trip to Shanghai. Here’s the version of the story I found in my sermon file (year, 1977):


After nearly a generation of ruthless suppression of all religion, the Christian Church, never very significant or visible in China, seems to have disappeared. Long’s friend went to a restaurant. In the usual Chinese style, he was seated at a round table with eleven other guests. Each diner introduced himself and small talk round the table began. Long’s friend noticed, however, that one man at one moment lifted a piece of bread in a strange manner, broke it and asked “Does anyone remember?” One other man at the table interrupted his chatter, lifted his bread slightly and said “I remember”.


The meal continued in the normal manner, and Long’s friend forgot the incident until after the final course. At that time the first man lifted his tea cup and again asked, “Does anyone remember?” Again the second stranger spoke: “I remember.” Finally Long’s friend recognized what was happening. He hastened to lift his own cup. “Yes,” he stuttered. “And so do I: I remember!”


These two stories have provoked me once again to raise the question of household based eucharist, against the backdrop of the peculiar and hopefully short term forced closure of large group meetings. We all hope that we can once again worship in large household again – as gatherings of many in relatively close space.  There is no reason to think we can not do so. None, except the recurrence of what will undoubtedly happen, namely the emergence of new hazards, biological, environmental or political, that might make social distancing, lock down, shelter in place, necessary.


The two stories speak of alternate scenarios in which there is the  ending of social gathering, including religious gathering: endings because of havoc and chaos, and endings because of social attempts at control.   And now we see a third: as the world becomes more and more connected – in all ways- the possibility of virus-like dangers grow.


In an earlier blog  I wrote of the possibility of rethinking the eucharistic community in a form that does not require the combination of priest / temple / and community. Where there is no gathering of the whole congregation possible, where there is no gathering at the temple, because of extreme social distancing, where we essentially become household communities, can we rethink the celebration of the eucharist such that a priest is not a requirement for the celebration of the sacrament? I believe so.


I think the church can and ought to teach and instruct on the matter of eucharistic and daily worship so that communities without a priest, including domicile communities (groups of people living together), might be the persons who both remember and act in accord with the encouragements of Jesus. It can be done decently and in order. It can be done in ways that do not degrade the need for or desire for trained clergy. That the church is ready to do this is another matter entirely.  But the day will come when we will not be able to meet in large groups, for one reason or another, and when there will be a serious shortage of clergy. Not to prepare for this involves a failure of nerve, not unlike the Episcopal Church’s failure of nerve to be genuinely missionary.


The Anglican Communion website has marked this pandemic, which has affected so many of us, all over the world, by good words of encouragement, and by the offering of virtual worship services, but not by any (as far as I can find) practical encouragement, by training and instruction, as to how to continue in prayer,  worship and sacramental engagement, in a time of forced separation There is no communion wide record of just how Anglican communities are finding new ways of being incarnational, sacramental and faithful in a time of social distancing.  And more generally, I find very little that suggests an alternative to virtual reality involvement.


But I think that is blasphemy: to suggest that the solution to separation is un-incarnate worship and vicarious inclusion in the process (but not the reality) of sacrament, is to consign those separated to a kind of spiritual starvation.  At the very least the church needs better to make those particularly Anglican worship events of daily prayer and Eucharist tangible in days of separation.


For many years I have put my more or less ineffectual shoulder to the wheel, working for the health and vitality of the Anglican Communion as a religious community rather an an ecclesiastical hierarchy and body, seeing the Communion as a way of being Christian, not the “true Church.”  But I have to say that the combination of age, disinterest in radical reformation  by the governance of my own or any other Anglican province, and the general failure of nerve and lack of vision by the governing bodies of the Communion, has led me to have to acknowledge a disappointment in the way the churches play out what it is to be Anglican.  I mostly do not care any more much what The Episcopal Church, the Church of England, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or any other agent of Anglican churches has to say. And, to be clear, I care even less what the various “orthodox Anglican” alternative have to say.


In this pandemic, and in the general disintegration of nation states, general churches, and other attempts to organize our civic and religious sensibilities, I find precious little from the various offices of Anglican bodies about how to BE Christian in community, when communities become fragmented and we become more and more witnesses in a world that has lost faith in what we represent.


So I don’t hold my breath that the various powers that be in the Anglican Communion, or for that matter, the Episcopal Church, will care to look beyond themselves to the small, tender, and fragile communities of believers that will carry the witness forward in  hard times.


And yet, at table with others, I will lift bread and say, “I remember. Does anyone else?” and lift the wine in toast and say, “I remember. Does anyone else?” And there will be, God willing, a response. And there will have been the most Holy of Eucharist at the lowest of tables and the lest of us will be the greatest.


The remembering, like the struggle,  will continue.


3/26/2020

Christian Eucharist in Community without Temple or Priest

 Christian Eucharist  in Community without Temple or Priest.

For a while most Christians in the US will not be gathering for worship. For eucharistically centered Christians this has presented a problem.  The Eucharist seems to require (i) the sacramental elements of bread and wine, (ii) a community of at least two or three, (iii) a priest or bishop as celebrant.  It thus involves the notion of priest-in-community.  When in lock-down and quarantine these things are separated.

There are a variety of solutions being offered: Suspension of the celebration of the Eucharist, spiritual communion with on line broadcast, broadcasts offering formal morning or evening prayers, and even “drive by” communion or services where everyone is separated by the personal space of their own cars. 

I have less often heard of clear instruction to our congregations about how to conduct formal Sunday or daily worship at home, where a smaller congregation without a priest can exist, even in times of quarantine.  While the daily offices and the simpler forms of daily prayer can be conducted by an individual or small group, there has been very little instruction on how to do so. That is odd, given that those services do not require some artificial community with a worship leader present by web broadcast. The Daily Office does not require priestly presence, and arguably does not require community. It certainly does not require the Church/ Temple.  I think we need to have a teaching webinar on conducting the daily offices.

But about the Eucharist the problem of priest and common space making a temple or “tent of meeting” remain. Many of us live in households of two or more people, many of us can find bread and wine to offer up, but not many of us live with priests and thus are able to form a temple or tent of meeting.  All the solutions to this problem in a time of quarantine are “work-arounds.”  

I have been thinking of another way to engage the issue. It has the problem of unraveling some of the basic norms of church life, but here it is:

I propose that we revisit the spiritual connection between the Eucharist, the Passover Seder, and  the Shabbat Seder, perhaps drawing something from those sensibilities for a reach back into a family community and for a new grasp of common prayer and thanksgiving. 

Might it be possible to instruct communities even as small as two or three, gathered together, to share a meal that celebrates the union of that small cosmos to the great cosmos of all people, in which the holy texts are recited, thanksgiving and prayers offered, forgiveness sought, and peace shared. Of course. WE can do that even now under the rubrics.  But then could those present to offer all those things, with bread and wine, to be a reflection of the Great Thanksgiving, which is the offering of God in Jesus Christ.  Could this small community lift that offering and then breaking the bread, pouring out the wine, and sharing it together share a Holy Eucharist?  That is, might we instruct people in how to be a Eucharistic Community within their own family or small community structures? 

If we break down the requirement to have all four – elements, community, priest and temple (common space that includes both priest and lay people as well as bread and wine) – we can work a way to share communion even while we are quarantined.  And in modified quarantine, where we are limited in the numbers who can gather and while we need to practice social distancing, we might still gather for communion even while there is no priest in the same space with us.

Is the Church willing to forgo all things of its own – including its requirement that the priest and people together in once place are necessary if the eucharist is to be celebrated?  This is not about instituting “lay-presidency” of the eucharist. It is about instituting a localized presidency in times of need.

I don’t recall the reference, but I do remember that during the Second World War someone from England who was in a prisoner of war camp wrote the Archbishop of Canterbury and asked if they might celebrate Holy Communion in the camp without a priest. I believe the Archbishop said yes. 

We may not be separated from the blessing of priest-in-community Iife for long, but as time goes on if we might think of the Eucharist not as the grand ritual of even our smallest  parish eucharist, but rather as an extension of our gathering at our own tables for possibly the high point of our life together as community. Could a household Holy Eucharist be our Shabbat Seder?   I believe we could.

And, we could still retain the priest-in-community as a reflection of family or small community. When we come together (as we I believe we would want to do) for community larger than the small separated out community of family or quarantined group, the priest would serve as the “parson,” as the master or mistress of the house, and preside. More, the priest would offer (hopefully orthodox) teaching and preaching to accompany the larger gathering. I don’t see family or small group eucharist without the priest as in any way an abdication of the priestly ministry in the church. Rather I see family or small group eucharist as a natural extension of the Shabbat Seder / Last Supper/ Communion origins for the larger gatherings we call church assembly.



3/24/2020

I will not willingly die for the economy

A little personal clarity. I’m 80 years old this year, provided I make it to May 21st. 

1. If I am in hospital and the medical folk make a decision that others, younger than I, need to be treated first, or me not at all, I get it. Triage is a sometimes miserable ethical fact. Got it.Perhaps in some way my death could be a noble or valuable or even holy contribution to the life of the world. 

2. If I am out there in the world (but of course social distancing) and the bumbling system of supply and manufacture of needed medical gear fail, and I end up in the hospital and am triaged out of care, I get it. But I won’t forget that the “greatest country in the world” screwed up. There is no reason for these shortages except poor planning and bad use of resources. I will die of systemic governmental and business failure. There it is. But it will not be noble, or valuable or holy that I died.  It will be stupid.

3. If I am out there in the world and the President or the government, or whatever the powers that be,  decide  that social distancing and its value to the health and safety of the world is less important than the economic safety of corporations and business enterprises, I will die because someone decided that the triage decision is really about whether my life was worth attending to rather than the life of money making entities.  So when I get the virus, end up in hospital, find myself triaged there and die, I will die because Boing and some damn cruse ship company would otherwise loose money, place, or even go under. Not because of too many people in hospital. Not because of lack of equipment. Because of the economy. I got it. I will die for the almighty dollar.  They will say,  no no,  you will die because the wellbeing of so many relies on our keeping the economy going. You die so that others may live. But I know. I will have died for reasons of greed, not reasons of need. It will be evil.

If this third possibility takes place, I will hold those who made the decision to go for the economy and not for the health of the society accountable.  If alive I will scream in your faces unmercifully. If dead, I will plea to return to haunt you, ruining your sleep, your digestion, and your health. I will be pissed beyond imagination. 

Be warned.  Old may be just a thing to you. Old is what I have.  I use old creatively, and to mostly good ends.  The years I have left promise to be some of my best, in terms of action for justice, truth and beauty.  But if it ends for the “economic good” I say, screw it. I know about this reasoning. It is the reasoning that was used to weed out the gypsies, the Jews, the queer, the gay, and anyone else who stood in way of the State’s grasp for economic power.  

I accuse: The proposition that death as necessary to the well being of the economy is a lie. More, it is evil.  

Ask what I will give for the country, but don’t assume you can ask what I will give for the economy.  That’s mine to give, not yours to take.

Mark Harris,  who understands the difference between the cross and the dollar.

3/21/2020

Spiritual Communion for Incarnational People

Spiritual Communion for Incarnational People:

A meditation by Mark Harris.

For at least 67 years I have been a regular communicant and participant in the Eucharist. It would have been longer but remember that we were all late bloomers then, the sacrament not being available until confirmation. I was taught then, and people are taught now, that a sacrament  is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” (BCP, p.857).  As such sacraments are, like Jesus Christ, incarnational. That is, they are the presence in the here-and-now of a grace that is not bound by time and space. 

Thus baptism IS washing, even if it is with a small dash of water, and the Holy Communion IS eating, even if the bread and wine was insufficient even to feed a bird. And both the major sacraments are meant to be communal, involving as they do the “great cloud of witnesses” that include the church present in its congregations, as well as all those who will gather from all times and places at the end.

So what do we do when, as now, we are separated from one another, and where sharing common bread and wine is impossible? 

Some have chosen to move to disciplined prayer which can be done without incarnational tools (bread and wine), and therefore quite easily can be a shared action of worship across distances where connection is by way of telephone, radio, television, or streaming on the internet on a computer or smart phone. Others have suggested that the Eucharist be celebrated and broadcast in the same way and that viewers or listeners participate in the prayers, knowing that they cannot receive because not present to do so. Most of the local options in this time of social distancing have been one or the other of these two choices.

Some, however (me among them) believe that the “outward and visible sign” need not be determinate for either baptism or Eucharistic communion. 

In times of great social stress we know the church has held that there are those who are baptized by the spirit, but have not been physically baptized.  We know that some of the unbaptized  (and perhaps all of them, God being a God of justice and mercy both) possess the “inward and spiritual grace” to suffer a death like Christ so that they might also share in Christ’s glory. Baptism by fire, baptism by the Spirit, is the sacrament without the outward and visible sign associated with it.

I believe the same is true of communion. “Mystic sweet communion” is possible not only “with those whose rest is won” (The Hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation”) but with those who are separated from us. Communion is an inward and spiritual grace, for which the bread and wind are the outward and visible signs. But Communion is not a product of sharing consecrated elements, but rather of sharing a mystical, spiritual communion with God, the people of God, past present and future, and indeed with all creation. 

We are simple creatures, we incarnational people: We seem to work best at matters of faith when there are concrete connections between matters of fact and matters of grace.  That is why I am so committed to incarnational living – to the expression in THIS world of matters that pertain to the life of inward and spiritual grace.  When at all possible I want the Water to flow, the Bread to be broken, the Wine poured out.  Those actions and the act of thanksgiving out of which they arise are central to my life as a Christian. 

But when they are absent, I still believe (and maybe with greater faith) that the inward and spiritual grace is there, is real, and continues. For me my faith in the incarnation in Christ and the real presence of Christ in the sacramental elements are both a product of a spiritual reality. My faith is in the inward and spiritual grace of relationship with the One who both anoints and makes substantial the Divine presence in human form and in bread and wine. The outward signs are wonderful gifts of grace, but the grace prevails and is there always and everywhere.

So I believe that it is possible to participate fully in the Great Thanksgiving, in which we lift up, break, pour out and share the Gift of God’s presence in Christ, without being physically present in the community (ie. In the church) and even when not receiving the bread and wine as physical elements.  I believe we need to practice such participation, hoping always that soon we will have it ‘easy’ again, by being together and holding the bread and cup. 

At a time of separation we need to practice participation in the inward and spiritual grace without the gift of the outward and visible signs. 

But how?

Some suggestions:

When we join the Eucharist broadcast on the web, rather than passively watching, we might enter into the prayers, imagining the presence of others with us – parish friends, loved ones who are absent or who have died, or even total strangers. In our imagination we might call forward the community of saints. It’s surprising who might show up! (Oddly, my father did last week, just for a short time.) We might make our prayers an occasion to invite others into our spiritual presence.

We are all, with the preacher, carriers of the Word.We are the sacramental (outward visible) sign of the inward spiritual grace that makes the sermon complete. So during the sermon we ought to invite the preacher into our hearts, and the preacher’s words into our prayerful presence. 

In the prayer of the people, the silences if purposely held open (in spite of the norm not to have “dead” air space), and in the silence we can pray, being particularly conscious of that which links us to others from whom we are separated and isolated.  The Prayers of the People gives us a real opportunity to be joined with people throughout the world in a profoundly spiritual unity. In the current situation, the prayers of the people are essential. 

The Consecration Prayer, the Great Thanksgiving, gives us a unique opportunity to enter into an inward and spiritual grace even as the bread and wine are consecrated in the context of a very small community gathered around the outward and visible sign. 

I believe the place of contact between the “real” and the spiritual lies in our sense that the Sacrament of Holy Communion focuses on the bread and wine, as signs of the Body and Blood of Jesus, and that it is Jesus who offered himself as a means of uniting all humankind and creation. If we are encouraged to unite ourselves to all others in an inward and spiritual way to that offering, taking into ourselves the self-giving of Jesus, we will indeed be participants in the Eucharist no matter our physical presence.  During the offering of the consecration prayer, the Great Thanksgiving, we might encourage people to join in reciting the full prayer, absorbing the full force of the meaning,

During the time for reception of communion, we might recall the reality of being one with the world of believers, with them taking in the gift of Christ’s sacrifice and making it our own.

My sense is full participation in the Eucharist is possible no matter being present physically or not. To believe otherwise would destroy my faith that Jesus is present with us in the Thanksgiving, and in the consecrated elements, even while he is also returned to the Creator.  Christ is present in the Sacrament, but more, Christ is present in our hearts, in our inward spiritual lives. 

I know something of this, having been unable to attend services or even swallow enough to take the bread or wine for several months, but nothing separated me from the Sacrament. 

So it seems to me we need not find ourselves quarantined from the Sacrament by our quarantine from one another in a time of medical emergency. Indeed, our current situation can help us know even better that “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:39)