As you well know, there are many interesting issues that have emerged as we moved, by necessity, into gathering virtually and worshipping online from our own homes (in our sweatpants). One such issue is if and how we can celebrate the Eucharist within the constraints of our current moment.
This discussion is taking place around the world, and there are a few of us in our diocese who are participating in thinking through the many interrelated issues. At some point, there will be more said about this, but I wanted to make note of a few things that have come up for us. Three areas of exploration have stood out as being significant for us to consider during this time: eucharistic theology, digital gathering and discipleship.
What is the Eucharist and what happens when we gather for Holy Communion? There is no shortage of material out there about these questions. There are layers of meaning, symbol and truth that are a part of celebration. It is as if the Eucharist is a prism through which the light of God is refracted in countless ways. It involves many things, and it means many things. The priorities we set to in our theology of the Eucharist will provide boundaries for what is and is not a faithful response to how to handle this central part of our worship experience in this time. This is a wonderful time to remember our formation and return to these vital questions of what we are doing when we celebrate this meal every week.
One key feature of eucharistic theology is that it requires the gathered community. What kind of gathering are we having when we are meeting in a digital way? Is it the same as when we gather in person? No, probably not. Is it so different that we cannot find sustenance? No, not that far either. Are we less embodied? I don’t think so; we are all now very familiar with how physically draining online gathering can be. We experience it in the body.
Working out what it means to gather digitally, what the parameters and possibilities are, and how we might faithfully employ this means to gather as the body of Christ, all require communal discernment and thoughtful conversation.
A final key consideration and an ongoing pursuit for us is our formation as disciples. Two key aspects of this are pertinent for this moment. First, how have we been prepared through our discipleship to participate and receive the gift of grace through our practice of the Eucharist. Considering the answer to this question, how has this formation prepared us to receive in a digital context.
Secondly, we know that one of our main formational practices is our weekly gathering and participation in the Eucharist. If we decide to wait, and to fast from this practice until we can gather in person, what are the implications? If we decide to shift our practice to a digital field (and there are different ways that would be possible), how would that change or affect us? What are we being more (or less) prepared to be and do in the world, for our neighbours and for the least of these among us, because of it?
We are prayerfully engaging these questions and paying close attention to how this conversation is developing at the national level, and around the world. One thing we are sure of is that no matter where we land on this, we will need to be able to explain what we are doing and why. And we will need to have that conversation with our communities so that we can all faithfully participate in what we have discerned together.
I encourage you to begin to consider these questions and think about the place of this vital practice within your own life, the life of your community and the life of world. As a thinking church we are compelled to ask good questions in this time. We do this not to participate in the debate, but to reflect on our common life and how we together can respond faithfully.