The Church during the Plague Years Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For those of us who are frustrated by the so-called pandemic, and which of us is not, we may wish to turn to Holy Scripture for guidance. But the question is: where, precisely, should we look? Scripture represents the revealed word of God. God is well aware of what we are going through, particularly when we feel separated from His Holy Church. We are, of course, never completely separated from the church, no matter how we may feel. God is always with us. But at times like this, we hunger after our presence with God's people and for the Sacrament of holy communion more and more. Fortunately, some of our churches are opening for limited and/or modified services. We continue to stream communion services and stay in touch with each other through various technical means.
As instructive and (yes, entertaining) as Messrs. Pepys and Defoe may be, Scripture is a far better guide. We need the life-giving word of God at all times in our lives. But, perhaps during this time of uncertainty, we may need the comfortable words of Jesus Christ even more urgently. The plagues that are mentioned in the New Testament are often defined as plagues of the spirit, diseases of our spiritual lives. It is particularly necessary at this time that we must remember that, as children of God, we are called to a life of prayer and service. Though we may be separated from each other and, in many ways, worldly activities, we are still called to express the life of Jesus Christ in our words and deeds. The book of Revelation was written at a time when the church faced great persecution. This came from the temporal authority of the Roman Empire. Couched in elaborate metaphors and often frightening imagery, The Revelation to St. John the Divine is a rallying cry to the small and widely scattered churches of the first century. The book can be hard to read. Many find its obscure references objectionable. Martin Luther himself thought it should be removed from the canon of Scripture. Most of the references to plague occur in Revelation (chapter 11:6, 15:1, 18:4, 22:18). And yet, the ultimate message of this powerful text is that the word of God cannot and should not be altered or changed. Any attempt to do so is a plague of the spirit that will be far more destructive than the physical plagues and diseases that that may harm the material world.
God's word will survive whatever challenges we may encounter in this temporal world. God's word is eternal and will be with us long after any plague or pandemic ceases to exist. God's word can never be altered or diminished. It is the true and eternal medicine for a world that dearly needs God's healing touch.
(The Bishop's Chair - is an excerpt from the June 2020 edition of the Northeast Anglican - to read the rest of this article and the summer issue, please download the WORD doc below)
Please keep yourselves safe both physically and spiritually. Pray each day for your brothers and sisters in Christ. And for your church. Know of my prayers for you all.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives a great deal and we struggle to maintain our common life in the church. Virtual experiences are simply not “the real thing,” as powerful and compelling as recorded services can often appear. Our Easter services have taken place, if at all, on our computer screens, laptops, i phones or televisions. We have been unable to smell the Easter lilies, greet our friends in church, sing together the marvelous Easter hymns and joy in the common worship we so dearly love.
Through it all, we must always remember that the church remains the church. God's church, no matter how separated we may be from each other, is still the church. We participate in the church.
Embraced by the Holy Spirit, we participate in God through our prayer lives and our understanding that we are indeed united; we are one body in the life and work of the church.
During the past several months, I have been very moved by the enthusiasm and creativity with which clergy and lay members of our congregations have developed means to continue our worship and education. Parish churches have begun to “stream” services, post recorded services on Facebook and public access television. In addition, clergy have been encouraged to develop Bible study programs and inquirers' classes that may be broadcast on Vimeo and through other electronic means. Several clergy have reported that viewership for streaming and Facebook services have increased many fold. The number of people who witness services has, in fact, provided a platform whereby the word of God reaches many who may never have experienced the beauty of our worship. Despite the fact that we would really rather be “present” in the church, we cannot deny the evangelical importance of this outreach program. I pray that those who witness the wonderful liturgy as presented in our video recording may be moved to attend our parish churches and be warmly welcomed as seekers after the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Communion During Times of Separation
Where and when may I receive communion? I have been asked this question many times over the past two months. It is an essential question for those of us who take our Sacramental life seriously.
Communion is a time when we join with our brothers and sisters in Christ to remember, memorialize and take into ourselves the Body and Blood of Christ. We experience the Real Presence of Jesus at
such a moment in our spiritual and temporal lives. In the Eucharistic Feast, we take into ourselves the simple elements of the bread and wine, elements that have been mystically transformed into the Sacramental element which is Jesus Christ. We have missed those deeply spiritual moments in our lives.
There is no way for us to truly replace the Eucharistic moments during times of separation. But we do our best to ensure that the Sacramental life continues. Some churches have developed the practice of distributing the communion in one kind (bread) to people in their cars. This practice emphasizes the safety of the distribution while the communicant receives the sacrament at the hands of a priest. This retains the personal touch between a priest and a parishioner.Some have suggested that the consecrated host be placed in a plastic baggy and left on a doorstep or in a mailbox. While this practice may emphasize safety, it reduces the bread to a mere commodity. It diminished the holiness of the sacrament and should be avoided.
The Book of Common Prayer offers a solution to this problem. For anyone who has a “just im- pediment” to attending Mass, a provision is made for spiritual communion. Covid-19 has certainly present- ed many of us with a just impediment. The provision for spiritual communion involves the following:
...the Minister shall instruct him [the communicant], that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and steadfastly believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the Cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks there- for, he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul's health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth..."
Your Brother in Christ,