“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:1, NRSV)
This coming Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week as we observe Palm Sunday. We planned for the Adult Choir to present an Easter Cantata this Sunday. In the early stages of our pre-COVID-19 worship planning, we knew it would be challenging to serve Holy Communion on the first Sunday of the month with the Cantata Orchestra taking up space in the chancel area of the sanctuary. We decided to delay April's communion until Easter Sunday, April 12th. That was fine with me because I think it's always important to celebrate Holy Communion on Easter anyway! Then we had to cancel the Easter Cantata due to the restrictions on group gatherings.
Since then, with moving worship online, the question of not only when, but how we celebrate Holy Communion has arisen. I struggle with celebrating Holy Communion as a scattered people. I have a deep and abiding respect for the sacraments. I never want to do anything that takes away from the theological integrity of the Lord's Supper. Nor do I wish to diminish the Body of Christ gathered at the Table of the Lord to which he invites us. But I also view the sacrament as a means whereby we connect with Jesus Christ and each other; so, withholding Holy Communion for any length of time, even due to the physical distance created by worshiping online, generates tension in need of resolution. After hours of reading and research, and several mornings in prayer seeking God's guidance, I have discerned that we will offer Holy Communion as an online experience on Easter Sunday. This decision does not indicate my spirit is entirely comfortable with doing this, nor have I resolved the matter theologically. In this circumstance, I feel called to offer an online experience of Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. As the restrictions on assembling continue, we will have to re-evaluate Holy Communion moving forward.
Next week, I'll share some specific instructions on how we will handle the Communion service. You will be responsible for gathering the elements for participating at home (bread and the fruit of the vine), but there will be more to share next week
Our church has experienced a similar period of social disruption before due to a virus. William McDonald, in his History of the First United Methodist Church, Florence, Alabama, 1822-1984, wrote, "On October 26th, 1918, construction of Nitrate Plant No. 2 was completed, and plans were to begin operation by November 1st. However, this deadline was not met due to a labor shortage and a severe influenza epidemic that raged over the Shoals. Area. The local papers were filled with obituaries. Names of some First church members can be found either as victims or surviving families of those who died from the disease. It was a trying time" (p. 119).
I don't know how the flu epidemic of 1918 impacted the way worship was conducted at First Methodist then, but I can't imagine that it was business as usual. Yet, the church not only survived, it thrived. We're all uncomfortable with the changes required of us right now; however, this is also an opportunity for us to refocus and redefine who we are as a church for the 21st Century. I invite you to reach out to one another and offer love and support while also looking to God for direction and insight into how we can use this disruptive season for the good of the Kingdom of God. See you online on Sunday!