Posted by: smstrouse | September 30, 2017

“Zoom” Communion: Sacrament or Sacrilege?

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Back in July, I posted about our decision to experiment with online worship experiences through the video conferencing platform Zoom. We call it ZOOM Church (clever, huh?)

Over the summer we tried several different formats: liturgical, discussion, contemplative. After each one, we surveyed participants to see what they liked, found meaningful, etc. When our worship planning team reconvened in September to evaluate and plan for the fall, the question arose: what about Communion?

prefilled_communion_cups_with_wafers_123I’d actually already been thinking about that – how ironical it is that after years of persuading Lutherans that weekly Communion was right and good, we’d now go without for two weeks each month. But Communion online? Visions of people scurrying out to buy boxes of pre-packaged wafer and wine sets gave me pause.

But we decided to give it a go. Our email announcement explained:
Yes, there will be Communion during ZOOMChurch this week. Because we believe that the presence of God is not limited by time or space and that we are intimately interconnected with the Divine and one another, we can participate in the sacred Meal in this new way.
You are invited to have bread and wine/grape juice with you to be blessed during the liturgy.  Although there will be many parts that make up the Meal, there is still only one Body. 

Afterwards, I did a little research to see if anyone else was thinking along these lines. And I discovered that a United Methodist pastor had not only begun offering Holy Communion online in 2003, he had written a theological rationale for the practice! In Online Holy Communion: Theological Reflections Regarding The Internet and The Means of Grace,  Dr. Gregory S. Neal wrote:

The Sacrament of Holy Communion is the preeminent spiritual expression of the Church; regardless of its size, shape, place, date, name, denomination, or style, all Christian congregations are nevertheless part of the Universal Body of Christ as exemplified in the Eucharist. Thinking of the Church as being bound to a single local congregation or a particular group of people in worship, comes dangerously close to denying not just the doctrine of the “Communion of the Saints” but also the very idea of the “catholic Church” as understood and articulated by Protestant Christians. To put this simply: the worshiping community which I pastor, and within which I preside as celebrant at the Table of the Lord, is metaphysically interlinked with, and ontologically indistinguishable from, the faith-communities within which all other Christians partake of the blessed Sacrament … we are all part of the One Body of our One Lord Jesus Christ. If this is true — and, by faith, we do believe that it is so — then why is it any more difficult for the Holy Spirit to extend the Real Presence of Christ from multitudinous localized congregations to Christian believers who are joining, in faith, with such congregations by means of the internet? Put another way, if the Body of Christ is not limited by temporal or spatial limitations, why do we — in our human dogmatism — feel the need to limit the Body of Christ and the Means of Grace to just those who can be, physically, a part of a worshipping community? Are Christians only part of the Body of Christ when they are temporally and spatially present at Church? Of course not! Likewise, I believe that the Community is also present with a lone believer who is worshiping Christ and receiving the Means of Grace even by long-distance, over the internet. Temporal and spatial limitations may limit us, but they do not limit God or the Holy Spirit’s ability to convey Grace to a believer.

I think that’s what I said!

But Pastor Neal took a lot of heat for this. In 2013, the United Methodist Church called together theologians, bishops, church executives, and pastors to address the validity of online Communion. Their decision was to call a moratorium on the practice pending further study. Full Communion partners also weighed in, including the ELCA which gave a thumbs-down. (Read the report here)

So, I guess that’s where it stands right now – at least in official church-dom.

But what do you think? Online Holy Communion: sacrament or sacrilege?

 

 

 

 

 

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