Preacher’s Note: This sermon was written and pre-recorded as the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis were still developing. As such, this sermon fails to address the realities of racism and white supremacy that once again occupy the national stage. For a pastoral message addressing this, please see this statement from Friday, May 29.
Do you remember the first time you received communion – your first time participating in the Eucharist, this holy meal, receiving the bread in your hands, sipping from the cup? Do you remember?
In the early days of this pandemic, I have to confess: My mind was all over the place on how, if at all, we should be celebrating Holy Communion. The weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper is something so integral to our worship life, but now all of a sudden, we had to start thinking about virus transmission, keeping our distance, even possibly fasting from this meal for a while.
I was scheduled to preach at Cross of Life on what we didn’t know at the time would end up being our last weekend worshipping together in person for the foreseeable future. The Thursday before, I had just returned to COL from a meeting off-site. Our Unity staff had assembled for a “summit” – an all-staff meeting – to discuss our response to COVID-19 and what was very suddenly becoming a rapidly unfolding worldwide crisis.
As the crisis continued, and it was clear things were only getting more serious, we made the call to suspend in-person indefinitely, beginning that Wednesday for our midweek Lenten worship. As we crept closer to the weekend, we knew that in-person worship, including communion, and everything else was out, too.
Over the past months, churches have scrambled to adjust to this “new normal,” with plenty of technological hiccups and difficult decisions along the way. And if you think the debate on re-opening has been treacherous territory, well, you haven’t been a member of one of the many clergy Facebook groups I follow. The communion debate became one of the most hotly contested issues, and everyone had an opinion: virtual communion, drive-thru communion, home communion, no communion… My own self-debate has gone through all those options, and I’m convinced there just is no “right” answer.
Then, last weekend, on Saturday afternoon, I visited two of our members from the Christ the King Campus who have not been able to access any of our online services. So I came over for “driveway communion.” I read scripture, shared a short reflection, prayed with them, and presided over our own “BYO” elements. I sat at a distance, we didn’t hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer, and I couldn’t even place the body of Christ in their hands as I normally would.
On my drive home, I also realized: This was the first time I’ve presided at the Eucharist since February 9. So much was different between that Sunday and this afternoon. That day felt weird. But it was also holy. And familiar.
In that moment, I realized that over the past months we haven’t been fasting from communion. We’ve just been experiencing it in different ways. In this holy meal, we receive the body of Christ, and from this table, we are sent forth to be the body of Christ for one another. And that is exactly what we’ve been doing over these past months: being the church and showing up for each other – in online worship, in phone call check-ins, in card-writing, in prayer, in drive-through food pantry lines, in sewing face masks for our local hospitals and members of our community.
Over the past months, the church hasn’t been closed. We’ve just been experiencing it in different ways. The church isn’t closed. Buildings are closed.
The Day of Pentecost is sometimes referred to as the church’s “birthday,” and so this weekend we celebrate the church. And: we know that the church is so much bigger than the buildings we worship in.
Church happens in hospital hallways, where chaplains and doctors and nurses are still hard at work, serving their patients. Church happens in family rooms around emails from Jo Ann Tomm with DIY Sunday School ideas. Church happens during driveway communion around a small mason jar of wine and a Wheat Thin in a plastic baggie. Church happens wherever and whenever and however the body of Christ is gathered – or separated.
The disciples began that ordinary Pentecost day all huddled together in one place. The text doesn’t tell us what, if anything, they were doing or talking about. But remember: This is only one chapter later in Acts after Jesus’s ascension. The disciples were left gazing up toward heaven – confused, worried, maybe even scared about what the future would hold. And now, here they sit, waiting, and wondering … when all of a sudden something marvelous happens: With the rush of the wind and tongues of fire, the Spirit shows up. The Spirit shows up and fills and animates the body of Christ to start preaching the good news – where they were, as they were, even in their isolation and uncertainty.
God’s Spirit shows up. God’s Spirit shows up in our sanctuaries with a skeleton worship crew and a pastor who preaches to an iPhone camera. God’s Spirit shows up in our living rooms as we watch worship in our pajamas and with horrifying bedhead. God’s Spirit shows up in hospital rooms where COVID-19 patients are alone and scared. God’s Spirit shows up in the rooms of nursing homes and retirement communities where residents aren’t allowed to have visitors.
The Spirit that rushes in with wind and fire won’t be stopped by a worldwide pandemic, and she doesn’t need this room to make herself known. God’s Spirit shows up and is present with us wherever we are, no matter what.
As we continue to navigate our present circumstances and deliberate how and when to re-open our buildings, know this: The church has been, is now, and will continue to be open for business. The church has never been just a building. The church is the people of God wherever we are. And wherever we are, there is God’s Spirit, igniting our faith, reviving our witness, inspiring our service – to keep being the church together.
Alleluia! The Spirit is here!
The Spirit is here indeed! Alleluia!