It’s been about a month and half since I’ve celebrate Holy Communion and received the sacrament at St. John’s thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. I assume many of you reading this article miss participating in and receiving this sacrament, having taken for granted that we could receive it on a weekly basis. The so call need for us Anglicans to partake in the Eucharist has justified some clergy to celebrate Holy Communion ‘virtually’ in some parts of our Anglican communion worldwide. Their theological justification for this practice is tenuous at best. The argument for a virtual celebration of the Eucharist usually goes like this, people need the assurance only the sacrament of Holy Communion can offer us, where we are reminded of what Jesus did for us on the Cross, His forgiveness of our sins, and that He is present to us in the receiving of his body and blood.
I have to say, I don’t miss celebrating and receiving Holy Communion as much as some Anglicans do. Now, do not get me wrong. I am certainly not against it and see the importance of its celebration and reception for both myself and my parishioners. But contrary to what some Anglican clergy (and I am sure many laity think the same thing), I don’t believe Holy Communion is necessary, at least on a weekly basis, to experience the assurance of what Jesus accomplished for us on the Cross, that He has forgiven us our sins, and is present to us through His Holy Spirit equipping us to do His will and shaping us into people He wants us to be. Now why do I think this?
I not only think, but utterly believe this is true, because it is the Anglican way. Anglicans can be incredibly naïve about their tradition’s history. We often see it within the confines of our own lifetime and even the last twenty or so years. The bedrock of Anglicanism has never been Holy Communion, but rather the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer as laid out for us in the Book of Common Prayer. Celebrating Holy Communion (or Holy Eucharist according to the Book of Alternative Services), was never a weekly practice up to about the 1960s. Most Anglican Churches celebrated Holy Communion once a month and, in some cases, only 4 times a year. The common order of service on Sundays was Morning Prayer, often followed by an Evening Prayer that evening. Why?
Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, the main author of our prayer book, was a child of the Reformation whose leaders (in particular, Calvin, Luther and Melanchthon), were suspicious of the superstitious understandings of the Sacraments, including Holy Communion. These early reformers did not want to do away with the sacraments altogether (although they did believe there were only two sacraments, Baptism and Communion). Instead, they wanted to reclaim the centrality of the bible in worship. Why? To correct the superstitious understandings of the Eucharist (and accompanying indulgences). The magical aura around Holy Communion at the time resulted from being disconnected from the bible’s teachings in the Church’s liturgy.
Furthermore, Jesus Himself made Scripture central to worship. Jesus did instituted the Lord’s Supper and offered it to His Church to celebrate. But He also instituted and gave to His Church the gift of Holy Scripture. And we know this because Jesus lived, breathed and spoke them throughout his life, in particular, the Old Testament. He also created the New Testament in the words He spoke. That is why Jesus is often referred to as God’s Word, most poignantly in John’s Gospel. Jesus gave us the sacraments to celebrate and be instruments of His grace and presence. But He also gave us Holy Scripture to function in the same way.
Influenced by the thinking of these reformers, Cranmer created and made the liturgies of Morning and Evening Prayer the centerpiece of the Prayer Book so we can get re-acquainted with the Old and New Testament stories. Why? So, we can be reminded of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross, that He forgives our sins, AND encounter the ever present, resurrection Jesus. Sound familiar? Our predecessors didn’t feel the need to celebrate Holy Communion every Sunday because they received the same benefits from Jesus in the liturgy of the Word as they did in Holy Communion.
Now hold your horses. I am not suggesting we return to the liturgical practices of old. That would be too much of a shock for most of you. My main point is, you can still receive the assurance of God’s love, forgiveness and presence through praying the liturgies of Morning and Evening Prayer now that Holy Communion is not available to you. Although Jesus gave us Holy Communion, He is not limited by it. He continues to be present and wanting to speak and be present to you as you read the bible and pray the prayers of either the BCP or BAS. So, I encourage you to take this Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to connect with God in this way. And if you do, when we return to celebrate Holy Communion together and receive the body and blood of our Lord, you will appreciate it even more.