The world is burning, twinkling lights betray a damaged conscience, we have lost our way. Our neighbours drown, we build on solid ground, as Jesus weeps while songs of praise resound. Within this season darkness clouds each mind, consumption numbs the pain we ought to find when hearing news of hunger and of drought, a stable’s birth should soon erase all doubt: the Christ we claim to know, born in the dirt, while at our doors our neighbours starve and hurt. So put aside this carolling and praise until compassion drives our words and ways. Andrew Pratt 19/11/2021 Words © 2021 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. Tune: WOODLANDS Metre: 10.10.10.10
‘Nature’ the foremost international scientific journal sees COVID as likely to become endemic, likely to remain with us. Read the article at the link https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00396-2?fbclid=IwAR3AddI1qnM36QgX6xKznmaYK-Lb6XNkJINC51HsGEkriwIxSwKtgkU4GYU
We cannot see the future,
nor live as in the past,
our time the present moment,
yet know this will not last.
But can a human construct
give answers or make sense
as everyone will struggle
with this, the present tense?
Our understanding staggers,
but what can history prove?
What scripture has a message
to help us rest or move?
The wilderness was testing
a place to learn and think,
a sudden unthought action
might push us to the brink.
So in this present moment
the greatest gift is time,
a time of recollection
before life’s upward climb.
And can our faith sustain us?
Or simple human love?
While waiting in the valley
we lift our eyes above.
The heavens will not answer,
but through each silent night
the stars might make us wonder
at their insistent light.
We live within an instant,
as finite as our breath,
suspended in a moment
between our life and death.
What matters in this moment
is how we love and live,
is how we treat each other,
of how we share and give;
to speculate is pointless,
this is the earth we know,
this edifice of living:
what will OUR loving show?
Andrew Pratt 5/5/2020
Words © 2020 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Tunes: THORNBURY; CRUGER
COMMUNION IN A TIME OF COVID (Part 2)
Response to Part 1 has demonstrated, in part how we are constrained by legalism and tradition, what we can and cannot do without recognizing how our discipline, our regulation, is a human construct and doesn’t always relate to scripture. Another hymn:
The Church of Christ in every age
Beset by change but Spirit led,
Must claim and test its heritage
And keep on rising from the dead.
Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) © 1971 Stainer & Bell Ltd
We are living in and through a crisis. Judaeo Christian religion has existed through as sequence of crises each giving rise to changes in theology, sometimes permanently, sometimes transient. The changes have been initiated by natural events or human action. Faith has survived but its expression has often altered almost beyond recognition. The hymn makes the point that every age has its own crises, challenges, opportunities which bring about change. In these the church should look at its heritage and test what is relevant in its particular age and circumstance. Sometimes the change will be so immense, so radical, that it is like death. Sometimes it is death. But at this season (Easter) and in this crisis (Covid 19) we need to hold onto the trust that there is something beyond the crisis but that the crisis may well be literally or metaphorically one of death. Our faith, however, speaks of resurrection. But this is not a one-off at one time but beyond each crisis the church has kept ‘on rising form the dead’.
And so to Communion again. So much is focused here, and the more important an event and its commemoration in society, the more it tends to be hedged round in constraint, formality and law. The name Pharisee might come to mind. An animal had fallen into a ditch. But it was a Sabbath. ‘Get it out’, says Jesus. Rules are not meant to have a negative but a life-enhancing effect – I paraphrase.
We have been trying to work out how, and if, we can have communion in which one person presides and another in another place receives, the link being virtual, a streamed service. Methodism at one point in time decided that this would not be legitimate. You need a Presbyter on site to Preside. We are saying that such presidency is not legitimate in a virtual environment. So that’s decided.
In 1987 a man was taken hostage, held for a number of years and for much of the time in solitary confinement. He was a Christian. Communion meant something to him. He had no bread no wine, no companion. I recollect he spoke of lighting a candle and for him this was a eucharistic moment. His name was Terry Waite and he was, then the Special Envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.
Our context is not as extreme. We have bread, we have wine (or as Methodists, grape juice). Some Christians, in isolation, have all of these. Some have company. Some might be able to ‘join’ a virtual service. What they don’t have is an ordained or authorized person to read the liturgy, to break the bread and share the wine. They just have themselves. Much like the first Christians in Acts 2:46 ‘Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home’.
We have our restrictions in place for the sake of church order and that is important, but as the story of the animal in the ditch testifies rules sometimes need to be broken, particularly if they are humanly made.
What we are currently saying seems to be that if I as a Presbyter living with three family members at a time of Covid want to share communion with my family that is totally acceptable. However, my neighbour who is not a Presbyter, Priest, who is without church authorization in any shape or form cannot. That cannot be right. Each household is the Body of Christ. Are we saying we cannot discern this Body?
These are not ordinary times. Like Terry Waite, many are in isolation. While holding to the rules of the church, where we must I see no conflict in a family who cannot access a church holding their own communion in the only way which is feasible – on their own, if virtual communion is not allowed or in circumstances when for one reason or another even that option is not open to them.
I sense a can of worms being opened … but ‘The church of Christ in every age, beset by change but Spirit led …Must keep on rising from the dead.
COMMUNION IN A TIME OF COVID – some thoughts for discussion
My son was killed some years ago in an accident. I remember him mostly when I do things that we did together. I don’t need any other intervention. Just me and my memory.
Arguably the first disciples remembered meals they had with Jesus in the same way. The New English Bible then described the first followers of Jesus going to the temple and in their homes ‘sharing their meals together with unaffected joy’. Paul describes what had been remembered of Jesus last meal with his disciples. He includes the words of Jesus, ‘do this in remembrance of me. The word ‘remembrance’ translates the word ‘anamnesis’. This literally means ‘re-member’, that is to reassemble that meal whenever they shared bread or wine – an ordinary meal. We are also told that we will eat unworthily if we do not discern ‘the body of Christ’.
No mention here of Bishops, Priests or Deacons. No church. A meal at home. People sharing with each other and trying to capture the essence of that last meal with Jesus: prayers, bread broken, wine shared. We are all equal under God, but over years we have decided humanly that someone set aside should emulate Jesus. If we are all truly equal we do not need that setting apart. We are, truly, a Priesthood of all Believers. Yet we honour that in word, but not in practice. The followers in Acts would, I think, find it, perhaps, pretentious that we would today be worrying over who, in our terms, ‘presides’. What are we trying to re-member? Arguably what was encapsulated in the sharing of that last meal. Sadly we risk reducing it into mechanical actions and specific words, or debate about what happens to the bread and wine, or who does what. That feels strange and it should. The arguments and statutes were laid down by people like us as the church was seeking to concretise them by circa 2OO CE, perhaps a matter of control, but sadly missing the central focus of an acted parable.
Around that first last meal was a disparate group of men who, if they candidated for ministry today might well be rejected. What is significant is not the ‘Elements’ but the people. Their leader washes their feet. He accepts two argumentative brothers, a terrorist (zealot), one who denies and another who betrays – a misbegotten group – an embryo church. This group is The Body of Christ and those who meet together for this anamnesis are The Body of Christ. We are the ones who should discern the value and significance of one another, our neighbours, our sisters and brothers and that is what really matters, to see Christ in each other and be Christ to each other.
I recognise the discipline of the church, but at a time like this I really think we are missing the point. If sharing bread and wine with each other is a means by which we value each other and therefore offer a means of grace how we do it, where we do it and with whom we do it matters little. The status of the so called ‘President’ is irrelevant.
I write this in my own name and not that of the Methodist Church but it is, as Fred Kaan once wrote, ‘a sacrament of care’ that could ‘fill a human house with love’ –
To fill each human house with love,
it is the sacrament of care;
the work that Christ began to do
we humbly pledge ourselves to share.
From: ‘Now let us from this table rise’ Fred Kaan (1929-2009 © 1968 Stainer & Bell Ltd