It was a great relief to worship with half-a-dozen other staff and volunteers in Slate this past Sunday. While we are still working at improving our livestream from our rented venue this was a first step toward re-gathering Restoration for in-person worship. We’ve taken faltering steps to restart in-person worship twice before but stopped when it proved to be unnecessarily risky given the soaring rates of COVID infections in our area. But now everyone is hopeful about an end to the pandemic and, thankfully, so many of you are getting vaccinated so we are proceeding with caution as we return to worship together.
The people of Restoration have been on our hearts through this whole year of online worship and outdoor Eucharist. As the person tasked with planning worship services, it has challenged my imagination and stretched some of my convictions about worship that drew me to the Anglican Church. And as we have learned new ways of worshipping together while apart, one of Paul’s teachings about order in worship has been on my mind.
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 he writes to a church that is experiencing separation. They are not separated by quarantines or COVID restrictions but by class divisions. The church in Corinth gathers for worship in a larger home of one of its members and when it is time to celebrate the Lord’s Supper the “haves” in their community eat a full banquet and the “have-nots” go hungry. The Lord’s Supper was frequently part of a full meal shared by the church gathered for worship. It was a time to remember and celebrate that Christ’s self-sacrificial love had redeemed a Church made of wealthy and poor, men and women, free and slave, and made them all equals.
Paul reprimands the Corinthian church because their “meetings do more harm than good.” In his letter he calls them to deeper self-examination before they come to the table. For many years I understood this passage as a prompt for pietistic inward reflection, a search for unconfessed sin or unforgiveness toward a brother or sister. But Paul’s emphasis here is on examining our relationship to the gathered church, the Body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:28-29
Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
If we come to the table without discerning the Body of Christ, without seeing our hungry brother or our suffering sister, we do not see Christ either. If we eat bread and wine privately or with a community of our own choosing, it is not the body and blood of Christ. The grace that is meant to help us in the sacrament of communion instead becomes judgement because it is Jesus who is the true host of the meal and he invites the whole church to come and eat at his table so that none are excluded.
In one of the Eucharistic Prayers of the Anglican Church of Kenya the minister and people say,
Minister We break this bread to share in the body of Christ.
People Though we are many we are one body, for we all share one bread.
Minister The cup of blessing which we bless,
People is a sharing in the blood of Christ.
I am grateful for the examples of Kenyan Christians, and others, who are more practiced at seeing themselves collectively as the Body of Christ. We Americans emphasize personal identity, expression, and fulfillment to such an extent that we have to actively work against these ideas to read the Bible well. Still, I pray that we will take the lessons of the past year with us—no man is an island. Community spread of the Coronavirus caused us to isolate in our homes as we became painfully aware that none of us moves freely through the world unaffected by others.
So as we regather for worship, how do the people of Restoration discern the Body of Christ? How do we care for those we cannot see, whether they are gathered in person for worship and joining virtually from home? We need you to keep others in mind as we worship. Reach out to those who are not physically present. Follow the guidelines for in-person worship so that those who are vulnerable can trust that their community sees them and cares for them.
When we begin to gather for worship in person on March 21 we will celebrate the Eucharist together safely but we would also like to bring bread and wine from the table to those in the North Dallas area who are worshipping online. The Church has always made provision for those who are homebound and unable to take communion in person. You can register to receive communion at home using the same link that in-person worshippers will use to register to attend the service.
It is a delight to know that we will all be back together soon. It has been a long, painful year without you! As we prepare for gathered worship again for those who are able, please know that whether you worship at home or in person you are the beloved, chosen people of God. You are essential to the Body of Christ. We are diminished without you. And together we are working to discern the full Body of Christ so that no one is left out.