Acts 2:14a, 36-41, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35
This past week, our bishop met with clergy and some other church leaders from across the state to discuss the issues surrounding reopening our churches. The governor will provide some directives on May 4th, but we already know that it will include measures to protect one another – things such as sitting six feet apart and wearing masks. It will likely include instructions on disinfecting high touch areas and restrooms between services. We discussed some of these issues on the call and we were in agreement that your safety is our first priority.
The bishop also made it clear, that regardless of what the governor says we will not reopen on May 5th. We will meet again and continue our discussions, evaluate the governor guidelines on how to keep everyone safe, and then each church will develop its own plans. I am in full agreement with this plan, as our church is not ideal for social distancing and it may take some time to work out the details of cleaning between services – specifically what needs to be cleaned and who will do it. Shoulder to shoulder we might be able to seat 200 people, but six feet apart we might only be able to seat about 60. Are we prepared to turn people away once our pews are “full” of people sitting six feet apart?
All of this is to say, we need to be prepared to continue as we are in order to protect one another. I have been saying, stay safe, to encourage you to be vigilant about staying at home and limiting your exposure. As we move forward, and people get out more, it is all the more important that we focus on protecting one another. The mask that I have, protects others from me, more than it protects me from them. If everyone wears a mask in public, we are all protected. Even here, when those of us at this service are setting up for broadcasting and are unable to maintain our distance from one another, we wear masks.
There was also discussion concerning celebrating the Eucharist. Many priests, like me, struggle with not being able to serve others – not even the few gathered here this morning. Most have done what I initially did, and they are having Morning Prayer on Sundays until the day when they can again serve the consecrated elements to others. Bishop Benfield shared that the bishops of the Episcopal Church are in agreement that a priest must be physically present to consecrate the bread and wine, noting, however, that we all may receive it in spirit without being physically present. What, then, is the Eucharist?”
Our sacrament of communion recalls for us the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples before he was arrested, tried, and crucified. In the words in the Eucharist Prayer, “On the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ took Bread’ and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples.” One of my seminary professors, however, noted our passage this morning from Luke in her discussion of the Eucharist.
Here, the disciples were unable to recognize Jesus until, “he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Breaking the bread was for Jesus and all those of the Jewish faith part of how they blessed a meal. Just as we might saying a blessing before eating it, the bread and wine are blessed with prayers remembering that the food that is before us comes from the earth which God created. In the Passover meal, the bread represents redemption, as it does for us in communion.
It was significant that it was Jesus who blessed the bread and wine and at the Last Supper where he instructed us to “do this in remembrance of me.” With his disciples in Emmaus, the breaking of the bread opened their eyes to see the risen Christ.
Jesus had walked and talked with them and they did not recognize him. They had told Jesus about his own death and the story from the women finding his tomb empty and seeing angels who told them “Jesus is alive.” The disciples said, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Jesus then explained to them why it was necessary for the Messiah, the one who redeems us, to suffer before entering into his glory – and still they did not recognize him.
Then, Jesus “was at the table with them, took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them” and they recognized him! Saying a blessing before a meal can be routine and ordinary, and receiving the bread and wine at communion can be as well. What makes the Eucharist a sacrament, what makes a prayer before a meal sacred is what is in our hearts. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace – the grace we receive is an awareness of Christ who is with us, who walks with us on our journey, and who helps us understand God’s message of love.
The pandemic has moved the principle place of worship from St. Paul’s church, to our homes. For Jesus and the disciples, homes were the principle place of worship. Worshiping God was part of their daily routine. Prayers were said in the morning, at noon, in the evening, and before bed. Bread was blessed and broken before meals. Collective worship at the synagogue and the temple were weekly at best.
For many of us, our prayers are most fervent when we struggle. This pandemic has many of us struggling with social isolation, loss of income, and fear. We are afraid for family, friends, and ourselves – and so we pray. We need to pray for others and for ourselves – for our health and for patience. Patience and prayer are what we need as we continue to ride out this pandemic storm and do whatever is necessary to protect one another.
Luke’s story of the resurrected Christ appearing to his disciples in the blessing and breaking of the bread reminds us that Christ, can be revealed to us too, whenever and wherever we are – whether we are at church or in our home.
The word Eucharist is Greek for thanksgiving. Now that our principle place of worship is our homes, we can give thanks and remember the one who redeems us by blessing of the bread and wine and other food that is on our tables.
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, we give thanks for revealing yourself to us, your disciples, in the breading of the bread. Help us to open our ears and hear your message of love by the daily remembrance of the gifts you have given us from your creation. We pray that your blessing may be upon all who are suffering loss and who are experiencing loneliness is this time of isolation. Help us remember that what we do or don’t do affects others. Guide us and our leaders to make wise decisions and that protect the most vulnerable among us. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.