On Maundy Thursday, my family sat down around our dining room table with a Church at Home bulletin, some fancy beverages, and a freshly baked loaf of Leslie Weigel’s sourdough bread, ready for a feast. As we walked through the liturgy, with a priest at the table, it felt strange to not just have communion. Instead, our girls said the prayers over the bread and the wine and the cherry lime sparkling ice beverages. We couldn’t gather as a congregation to celebrate the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday, the night in which Jesus instituted the central sacrament of our church, and so neither did my family get to have their own private communion service. As a clergy team, we very quickly decided that the Governor’s “Healthy at Home” order and the Bishop’s Pastoral Directive meant that due to the Eucharist’s fundamentally communal nature, we should all fast until we can all have the opportunity to share in the sacramental nourishment from the riches of Christ’s grace. While we don’t all have the same Eucharistic theologies, Becca, Kellie, and I were able to agree that without the ability to be together to share Christ’s body and the blood, the fullness of the Eucharist would be lacking. That’s not to say, however, that what we experienced around our dining room table on Maundy Thursday evening wasn’t special or sacred.
As my girls read the prayers that night, my eyes wandered to the notes about the prayers, which pointed out that while the words and shape of them might sound familiar, what was happening there wasn’t “consecration” but rather “blessing, something all Christians are called to do.” Now, I’m certain that nobody watching this live-stream wants to hear me wax poetic about my own understanding of the nature of the Eucharist, the right and wrong ways to worship during a pandemic, or the nuances of language between blessing and consecration, but this distinction has been helpful to me. As many of you know, the action that we now know as the Eucharist is based on a common Jewish ritual of the shared meal; a ritual that Jesus and his disciples would have experienced almost every day. Remembering this has proven helpful as I try to overcome my grief about our inability to break bread together around this altar.
Eight weeks into this “new normal” of live-streamed worship, having to hear how the disciples recognized the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread seems unfair at best – maybe even downright cruel. As I look at the calendar and think that it’ll be at least another five or six weeks before we can even begin re-gather for in-person worship. As I slowly come to realize that what that in-person worship will look like is a whole lot less like the Easter Day packed house I long for and probably a whole lot more the like a physically distant Wednesday healing service, hearing that Cleopas and his companion got to see the resurrected Jesus take, bless, and break the bread feels like a bit of a gut punch. As the Psalmist asks, so we might cry out, “How long, O Lord? How long?”
Sermon prep during physical distancing looks a lot different than sermon prep used to. Gone are the days of twenty-page print outs of sermon resources. My bookshelves aren’t at my beck and call. My brain is working at less than full capacity, and I find myself easily distracted. Maybe you know how that feels. Anyway, this week, in a call back to sermon prep long before I became a Rector, back when I had more time on my hands, I pulled up the Sermon Brainwave Podcast. Four of the best Biblical and preaching scholars in America spend thirty minutes each week talking through the lessons appointed for Sunday, and I just knew they’d give me a fresh perspective. Karoline Lewis didn’t disappoint. She pointed out that Jesus breaking bread with his disciples, what we so often see through our lenses as a Eucharistic action, is, in the context of that first Easter afternoon, simply a ritual that Jesus and Cleopas and his friend would have shared dozens or even hundreds of times before.
When Luke writes that Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it, he isn’t just telling the story as a re-creation of the Last Supper. Luke uses the same language in the story of the feeding of the five-thousand. Jesus commissioned the disciples to feed the crowd, but when they balked at the idea, he took the five loaves and two fish, looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, before giving the pieces to the disciples to distribute. Jesus provided an abundant meal to show the disciples what their ministry should look like.
In the Road to Emmaus story, Jesus empowers the disciples yet again by way of a meal, to take the news of the resurrection out into the world. The broken bread and shared cup of the Eucharist might be one way that our eyes can be opened to see the Lord Jesus, but what is clear to me in this experience of Eucharistic fasting is that it is most certainly not the only way to see Jesus in our midst. Whether it is formally consecrated by a priest or blessed by the prayers of two little blonds around our dinner table or blessed by the staff at Indian Oven who prepare perfectly baked naan for take-out, I see Jesus in broken bread of all kinds. I love carbs, but even when there isn’t bread involved, I can see Jesus at work in this strange new world every day.
I’ve seen Jesus at work though our staff, vestry, and eucharistic visitors making calls to parishioners to check-in with one another. I’ve seen Jesus at work in the tireless efforts of HOTEL INC, the Salvation Army, United Way, BRASS, and Hope House to serve our at-risk neighbors. I’ve seen Jesus at work in the sewing of masks for health care workers, our neighbors experiencing homelessness, and some of our most vulnerable members. I’ve seen Jesus in the care that so many are showing toward one another; a care that has maybe been assumed or taken for granted for too long. I’ve seen Jesus in the generosity of so many who have given in abundance to keep our congregation in a solid financial position. I even see Jesus in the camera lens, as I get to share the Good News to people I know and love on the other side of an internet connection. The Lord Jesus has been made known to me in all kinds of new and interesting ways during this difficult season.
After the bread and drinks were blessed on Maundy Thursday, we prayed together, giving thanks for every person who brought the meal to our table and asking God to use that meal, and every meal, to give us strength to be good stewards, to care for creation and for one another. That is how we continue to make Christ present in the world around us, by loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Even in this time of physical distancing, each of us who follow Jesus as Lord has the opportunity to shine the light of Christ, to be Jesus, for our neighbors, our friends, our families, and even to strangers who are walking this same difficult road. Today, you might need to see Jesus. Tomorrow, it could be your turn to be Jesus. While we remain unable to see Jesus in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread here at church, there are still plenty of opportunities to be Body of Christ in the world as we, like disciples across time, are blessed to be a blessing. Amen.