Mark 14:22-25

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25

The first congregation I was called to serve was Zion Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas. After all these years, I still look back at those years with deep gratitude. Along with all the lessons I learned about ministry and life from the people of Zion, my senior pastor blessed me with a constant, invaluable, theological continuing education.

I’ll never forget the sermon where he drew a distinction between what is “necessary” and what is “essential.” He was talking about Baptism but the same distinction can be made with Holy Communion. In short, “necessary” means “required” while “essential” means “participating in the essence of something.” That distinction is a godsend as we wade through the coronavirus pandemic.

Jesus must have shocked his friends with his words, “Take; this is my body.” They knew what they were doing, they were celebrating the Passover meal. They had done it before, every year of their lives. It was a liturgical, ritualistic, meal. Every item of food meant something. Every taste triggered a memory. It was good to be together. But it got weird in a hurry.

“Take; this is my body.” “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” They weren’t expecting that. But they did as they were told. They ate. They drank. Together.

No one there was taking notes. No cameras captured the moment. The specific words he used weren’t necessary, but the shared experience was essential. They remembered his words. Long after he as gone, they gathered, again and again and again, around a table. Around bread and wine. They remembered. And, as they gathered, ate, and drank, they participated in the essence of Jesus’ continuing presence. To this day.

We haven’t conducted a public Sunday morning worship service at Faith since last March. Like every other community of faith, we have had to figure out what faithfulness looks like for us today. What is faithful to our calling as a Christian community? What is faithful to my calling as a pastor of the church? What is faithful to our calling to love our neighbors?

The practice we adopted was to literally bring the shared space of our sanctuary into the living spaces of our members. We worship, as we do so many other things these days, via ZOOM. When it comes time for Holy Communion, we say the Words of Institution over the bread and wine in the sanctuary as the people eat and drink at home. Our motives are pure. Jesus is present. We participate in the essence of his presence.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Here again comes the image of the Great Feast as a metaphor for eternal life with God. “Kingdom” – or “Kindom” – is best understood as a relationship. Restored and whole. No tears. No grief. No heartache. No pain.

There will come a day when our congregation gathers again in the sanctuary. That will be a great day, but it will not be the ultimate day of restoration. Undoubtedly, when that day comes, some will choose to remain safely at home. Until there is a credible vaccine we won’t fully get to a new normal. The risks of this life will continue until we are gathered in the life to come.

But, until then, when we eat, and when we drink, and when we gather around the words of our Lord, we participate in the essence of his presence. Wherever we are.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for your wisdom in giving yourself to us in the common gifts of bread and wine. For calling us into the company of others. Continue to sustain us with mercy, forgiveness, courage, and hope. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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