Post Author: Shannon E. Sullivan
A Story before the Meal
I was not excited about my first in-person communion service during the pandemic. I felt like the virus was just taking away one more thing. It had taken from my life in big ways, like the deaths of people that I loved, and in smaller ways, like canceling first-year milestone celebrations for our long-awaited child. At that first in-person service, we were finally together, but the feast of abundance I usually loved to celebrate was not possible in these strange times.
As we partake of the one loaf, we who are many are one body, I recited. But we weren’t partaking of the one loaf. Instead, we were holding individually wrapped wafer-and-juice combo packs. And we were separated by masks and chalk marks six feet apart, seemingly so far from ever being one body. How could this be communion?
That Sunday, half of us couldn’t open the cellophane to get to the wafer. The next time we had communion, we used juice boxes and rolls crammed into snack-size plastic baggies three days before worship and made jokes about juice boxes at the Last Supper. But even in the imperfection of the symbolism, this meal nourished us. It nourished me.
I acknowledged: It is right to give our thanks and praise. “So what are you thankful for?” I asked right in the middle of the liturgy. As we prepared to take our meal, I asked where people saw the Spirit poured out in these strange times. I was thankful to see faces distant and masked but still full of warmth. I saw the Spirit poured out as we lifted up in prayer those who work in hospitals, those who protest for justice, and those who work in education. Even in the strangeness and disappointment I felt as I approached the table, I also felt lifted out of my isolation, if for a moment. I felt directed toward the day not when we feast at the heavenly banquet but when we could feast together without barriers of masks and cellophane.
I wrote this communion liturgy to be honest about the strangeness of these times but also to celebrate those moments when we feel the Spirit pouring out over us. Even now she is offering us abundant grace. Can we perceive it?
The Great Thanksgiving
L: The Lord be with you.
P: And also with you.
L: Lift up your hearts.
P: We lift them up to the Lord.
L: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P: It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is right and a good and joyful thing always and everywhere
to give thanks to you, Creating God,
even in the midst of such strange times around the world.
You formed us, breathing life into us.
When we got ourselves into that first strange time in the garden,
you clothed us and watched over us
as we went out to make our own way.
Your love kept calling us back to you, and sometimes we heard it.
When we stepped into freedom after bondage in Egypt, we were following your love.
Even in the midst of the strange times of famines and illness, injustice and unrest,
you continued to create by speaking love into our hearts
through prophets and teachers, priests and widows.
And so with your people on earth and all the company of heaven,
we praise your name and join their unending hymn.
Holy, holy, holy, God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We praise you for speaking love into and through Jesus Christ.
He knew what it was like to grow up in strange times.
He grew up under the violence of Roman occupation.
He grew up impoverished, experiencing the pain of poverty.
His heart was open to see the way we use religion not to nourish and strengthen,
but to cut down and cover up.
And even though the suffering of the world seemed insurmountable then, just as it does today,
Jesus proclaimed the coming of a world defined entirely by love.
He poured your love over us through healing the sick and eating with sinners,
and he challenged us to love one another and ourselves as you love us all.
Around the world our tables look different and even strange today,
but your Table is always one defined by love.
We love one another even by not partaking of one literal loaf.
We love one another by wearing masks and distancing our bodies,
even though we long to hold hands, hug, and sing.
The first communion meal was a fraught table just as ours is now.
Jesus knew some of his friends would betray him, deny him, and abandon him.
And he nourished them anyway, just as you nourish us in these strange times.
You gave yourself to us in Jesus,
pouring love over us, filling us with grace.
You took bread and said:
“This is my body, which is given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
You took drink from the vine and said:
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
The disciples did not understand.
We do not understand.
But we remember.
May our remembering connect us to you and one another even in such strange times.
So let us proclaim this mystery of faith:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Pour out your Spirit on us gathered here and on these gifts of bread and cup,
pointing us toward that day when we who are many will partake of one loaf and one cup.
Breathe life and love into us and knit us together,
even as we eat distanced from one another.
Make these gifts for us be the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for this broken world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.
Though our communion this morning may feel disjointed and strange,
nourish us to minister with all the world until Christ comes in final victory
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
Through your Child Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church,
all honor and glory is yours, almighty God, now and forever. Amen.
And now with the confidence of children of God, let us pray as Jesus taught us:
Join in the prayer of Jesus in whatever language helps you feel more connected to God and one another.
The Breaking of the Bread and Offering of the Cup and Sharing in the Feast
Using those words that fit your context, invite one another to the Table and eat together.
The Prayer after Receiving
Behold: we have experienced a mystery!
Ordinary bread and ordinary fruit become for us nourishing life that can transform
even the grief and fear of these strange times into hope and love.
May it be so not just in this meal but each meal.
And may we who have been fed go forth to feed others. Amen.
Image by: Shannon E. Sullivan
Used with permission