By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
August 23, 2020
Video of whole worship service: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=2670334146580581
Scripture: Matthew 26:26-29
So, today, I want you all to think back, way back, to the beginning of this global pandemic in March. Remember how surprised we all were, how suddenly everything was totally out of whack, how we were scared and confused about what was going on and what would happen next?
Personally, I was struggling. Let me tell you where my head was at. We here at Hanscom Park church, in February 2020, had just had an amazing month. We had our highest in person weekly worship attendance average since I had gotten here. We had grown from a weekly worship average in the low-to-mid 90s about three years ago…to a weekly average of 139 in February 2020. February! Bad weather, nothing particular going on, no Easter to pad your stats. That’s a LOT! I was so excited about the spiritual growth and growth in membership and growth in our willingness to turn outward toward our community. Things were going so great!
And then…like a kick in the gut: coronavirus. We couldn’t go to church. We couldn’t go to school. We couldn’t talk to our neighbors. I was worried. I didn’t know what was going to happen to all our great momentum.
I was also frustrated because I didn’t feel like I was getting the guidance I wanted from the leaders above me: all of them – government leaders and church leaders. In retrospect, I am sure our church leaders were doing the best they could at the time. None of us knew what we were doing. But I remember one moment being SO MAD at the bishop – and I’m only telling you this because I’m banking on the bishop being way too busy to watch this worship service.
I was so mad at the bishop because in the midst of all this chaos and uncertainty when I was desperate – DESPERATE – for some help and some direction, I got an email. It was from the bishop. He was going to give us some direction. And I was like, “Thanks be to God! Some direction!” And the direction he gave us? Was that we can and should offer online communion.
I distinctly remember practically shouting at Cindy, our long-suffering administrative assistant, “Well, great! The bishop finally gives us some direction, and he is WRONG.” This was followed by a rant about how the bishop clearly does not respect the sacrament as much as I do. He clearly does not take it as seriously as I do, and that if I tried to do online communion, it would just be a PALE IMITATION of when we gather together, it would make it goofy and awkward. It would not be as meaningful and holy as when we gathered in person.
So then I called my friend, Gerald, who is a professor of worship and preaching at Princeton (you know, the Ivy League School). I’m thinking, “Oh, Gerald cares about the sacraments. He is totally going to agree with me that online communion is the Worst. Idea. Ever.” So I shared the same rant: online communion is going to be goofy and awkward, it makes a mockery of the sacrament, we can’t possibly make it meaningful if we have communion online.
Now, I forget the exact quote, but Gerald says something to me like, “Chris, what makes you think that anything you do makes God any more or any less present in the sacrament? I think you should do it. It’s not about you or how you lead or what you say. God makes it holy. Not you.”
Well, that made me mad. I hate when people tell me what to do. So I’m like, “Forget you, Gerald! I’m not doing it.” I’m also hoping Gerald is too busy to watch this today.
That was like five months ago, and then this week I preached about the Gospel of John chapter six in the garden. I chose that very uncomfortable section where Jesus says that his disciples should eat his flesh and drink his blood like 10 times. It’s very uncomfortable.
Honestly, I don’t think Jesus was talking about our communion ritual there. He wasn’t talking about eating any literal bread. There was no mention of cups of wine or juice or anything like that. Now, our text today in Matthew lays out the Lord’s Supper, gives us some sense of how we should celebrate it. Gathering all the beloved of God around a table. Remembering that holy night. But the John 6 text reminded me there is so much more to communion than the ritual itself.
By receiving the bread and the cup, we are consenting to the very presence of God being in us. We are agreeing to be part of the presence of God in the world. We are saying YES to a holy mystery, one that we can’t control, one that we can’t make any more or less profound by our human actions, one that we can’t mess up even if we wanted to.
So today, when we receive communion, online, in this new way: I invite you to join me in repenting. I invite you to join me in turning back toward God. I invite you to join me in ceasing to think that the miracle of God’s presence in communion was ever about you or me or anything we might do to be worthy or right.
It is all about God: the God who we encounter in Jesus Christ. The God who fills in every gap in our imperfect rituals with God’s own perfect presence and love. It’s not about us.
Thanks be to God.