Jesus was recognized by his disciples in Emmaus when he broke bread with them. In this time of fasting from Holy Communion, I am drawn to reflect on this part of today’s Gospel story.
How we Episcopalians engage in the sacrament of the Eucharist is distinctive. It is the most important reason I have remained in the church. When I go up to the altar to eat a bit of the body of Christ and to drink of the common cup, I cement my relationship to God, to everybody participating in communion with me, and to all the saints, past, present and yet to come. It is an act involving my whole body, all my senses. And it reaffirms my profound commitment, every single time. For it is there, at the altar, that I recognize Christ in a visceral, whole-psyche conviction and renew my pledge to follow him.
It is also there, at the altar, that my spiritual maturing has most often occurred. In all the conflict, turmoil, and just plain snarkiness that I’ve experienced in different congregations over the decades, sharing the body and blood of Christ with people I am barely speaking to remains the act that has most caused me to get over myself. Learning the nitty gritty truths which are part of forgiving people and being forgiven has happened in this context. Learning that my own failings and shortcomings are part of what God loves in me has happened here, too.
Jesus chose this ritual of communion, with its symbols of bread of the earth and wine of the spirit. Through it he united his followers, giving us a vision of a worshiping people bound by his very blood and flesh.
Fasting from this sacrament, I wonder if there is anything in this time of social distancing that could possibly be as powerful in linking me with my fellow parishioners as the sacrament of Eucharist is. Would there be anything even half as powerful?
As a mentor of an online EfM group, I know that we can form deep attachments and commitments to one another without ever having seen one another in person. We do this through prayer, through establishing group norms of deep listening and respect, and through being vulnerable to one another in what we share. We meet together over months and years, participating in one another’s tragedies and celebrations as we grow together spiritually. It is this that keeps me involved in EfM, just as it is the celebration of Eucharist that binds me to the church.
This season of sheltering in place has forced a new way of being church on us. It has also opened our eyes to a realm of vast possibility: virtual worship. How will we move our call to share Jesus Christ with the world into this new arena?
It is possible that I, with my respiratory issues, may never be able to return to taking communion as I have in the past. I am going to have to really think through what nourishes me so that I can continue to communicate with Christ through sacramental prayer and participation.
I am curious to see how our sacramental theology will grow as we learn from our current fast. What we make of this season will determine the viability of the church as we move into a brand new era.
I pray that Christ will find us on this Emmaus road. I pray that we will recognize him as he breaks bread with us in brand new ways.