What we are doing when taking part in a Zoom Eucharist?

Communion in a time of Coronavirus.

John Schofield offers some resources and ideas.

You may be wondering what are we doing, or could be doing, when we are taking part in a Eucharist at home through the medium of Zoom. Here are a couple of reflections, and some resources, both to provide some food for thought, and also a conversation, if you so wish. Please send any thoughts and responses to me via the church office at office@stmarksshefield.co.uk

Sharing together and making an act of Spiritual Communion.

There is a long tradition within the churches of encouraging people, when they have not been able to be present at church, to make an act of Spiritual Communion. But what is meant by this?

Well, there’s some guidance on the Church of England website. There are two parts to this: a general (and fairly formal) introduction to the idea, and some suggestions for a form of personal prayer around making a Spiritual Communion. Visit the Church of England website.

However, what I think might help us all are some resources that we can use on a Sunday morning as we join ourselves together at the time when Sue or whoever is presiding is receiving communion – as they say – on behalf of the community. So here are a couple of prayers, one from the Catholic tradition, but adapted and used by the Episcopalian National Cathedral in Washington DC, the other from the Methodist Church in this country.

My Jesus,
I believe that you are truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
I desire to offer you praise and thanksgiving as I proclaim your resurrection.
I love you above all things, and long for you in my soul.
Since I cannot receive you in the Sacrament of your Body and Blood,
come spiritually into my heart.
Cleanse and strengthen me with your grace, Lord Jesus,
and let me never be separated from you.
May I live in you, and you in me, in this life and in the life to come. Amen

The Methodist prayer

Jesus my brother,
who brought divine Life out of human death,
you are meeting me here and now
in this place, in this moment.
I pause to remember
that the one thing I desire above all others
is for you to be with me.
Though I cannot receive you in bread and wine today,
come into my heart and show me you were already there within me,
by your love lighting my darkness from within.
Open my eyes to your sacred presence
in each thing you have created and in every moment you give.
As each of your followers does their part where they are,
may we all grow together in love
and in richer, fuller communion.
Make us one with you and with all who love you
in every time and place.
Help us to feel and to know
that we are united as members of your body.
With all your people,
may I share your risen life, which renews all creation.
I offer myself to you in service,
as an act of spiritual worship. Amen.

Throughout my life I have said the prayer attributed to Pope John XXII (Pope 1316-1334) as an act of commitment and thanksgiving after I have received communion. I find it almost speaks more powerfully now when I say it during or after our Zoom eucharists. It’s called the Amina Christi.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from you.
From the wicked foe1, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
for ever and ever. Amen.

1or ‘From the malicious enemy, defend me’

One thing that has particularly struck me while I’ve been thinking about this, and reading what other people have posted online, is the phrase ‘communion of desire’. This really engages with what I am thinking and feeling. One Anglican priest in Oxford writes: ‘Our current situation is indeed lamentable, but even so grace is not denied to us insofar as we still have the ability to desire the union with Christ that the sacrament provides.’ That is definitely something I desire, and which the use of prayers like the ones above helps me to articulate before God.

Sharing together and joining in a symbolic sharing

The Oxford priest talks about union with Christ. And yes, that’s at the heart of it. But I think we should not be thinking of a circle with a single centre, but of an ellipse with twin foci. We are privileged through Zoom to add the other element of what we do when we gather together for Eucharist. This coming together is the second focus. By doing something physical together we are enacting a powerful message about being in communion as a community as well as being in communion with Christ.

I imagine there are different things happening (or not) in different homes when we are asked to follow the suggestion: ‘As we share a symbolic meal we remember that, though we are many, we are one body in Christ.’ We may be eating and drinking tea and biscuits, possibly even bread and wine, at the time when normally we would be sharing the consecrated bread and wine. This is powerful, and connects us to one another. However, I don’t think that we should confuse this with actually receiving communion. Our sharing at home is a physically enacted statement about belonging, something that is underlined by the fact that the presider says that they are receiving communion not just for themselves but also on behalf of the community. But what we are sharing at home is not the same as us receiving the sacramental bread and wine, and I would suggest it goes alongside our making a spiritual communion of desire. The two are complementary.

When I was a parish priest in Luton in the 1980s we had a close relationship with the local Methodist church. As I think about this symbolic sharing, I’m reminded of the Agape meals (or Love Feasts) we shared, which were very dear to the heart of one of their ministers. We met together, but in the hall not in church. We sang, read the bible and prayed together, and then we shared cake (there’s a recipe for this from the Yorkshire Dales from the time of John Wesley) and drank the water from a loving cup. It wasn’t a eucharist, but my goodness was it powerful!

If none of this applies

If you haven’t been joining in the Zoom services from St Mark’s or elsewhere, we’d still love to hear from you and learn from your experiences of how you are staying part of the greater whole during this time of imposed isolation.

John Schofield

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