by Ken Howard
Communion while Social Distancing
Where can I go to escape your Spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?
Psalm 139:7 (New English Translation)
This post is part of a blog series on
“Keeping Congregations Connected in the Face of COVID-19”
Click here for the previous post
I invite you to suspend your preconceptions and join me in a theological Eucharistic thought experiment. Or, borrowing from my Jewish origins, a midrash on the midrash by the author of Psalm 139.
Imagine you are a clergy person officiating at the celebration of Holy Communion. You arrive at the point in the liturgy where the rubrics call upon you to hold your hands over the bread and wine and speak the words of consecration.
What is the correct distance between your hands and the elements? Do you have to be in contact with the bread and the wine? What if you only touch the chalice and paten? Does it work if your hands are an inch away? Two inches? Three? A foot away? How about a yard? What if you took four steps back from the altar? Would it still work if you said the words of consecration while standing at the back of the church and holding your hands in the general direction of the altar? Would Communion still “work” while social distancing?
Of course it would. Some of the locations might be “irregular,” but all of them would still be valid.
Because the real presence of Jesus Christ when we celebrate communion is not brought about by the “magic hands” of the celebrant, but by the strange work of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus told his disciples that he would be present as body and blood whenever they ate bread and drank wine in his Name, he neither prescribed a specific liturgy by which it had to be done nor described either the physics or metaphysics of how it would work. How is simply an undefinable mystery. He. Just. Said. He’d. Be. There.[Read more…]