Breaking of Bread and Spiritual Communion for Today's Feast of the Incarnation
With the churches closed, and this kingdom (as well as many other parts of the world) in lockdown, we can't gather for the sacrament of the Breaking of Bread. And yet, today is one of the great feasts of the incarnation; it's the feast of the annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. In other words, today we celebrate the day the incarnation began. We celebrate the fact that 'for us and for our salvation, He came down from heaven' and 'by the power of the Holy Spirit, He became incarnate from the virgin Mary.' And to celebrate that calls for the Breaking of Bread.
For the past few weeks I've been trying to work out what to do about the sacrament. The theologian in me wants careful, well-thought-out, answers. But today's feast has challenged me to go ahead with a tentative answer for this unusual time. So, what I propose is to celebrate the sacrament tonight at 8:30pm UK time (we'll try it on Facebook live) and invite you to join me in one of two ways. First, in the households of pastors or elders, I'd invite you to join me in your ministry of Word and Sacrament and celebrate the Supper along with me, breaking bread with your household. Say amen to my prayer of thanksgiving and repeat Christ's Words of institution along with or after me. We might not be Anglicans, but something in the Archbishops' letter to the the Church of England has haunted my mind this past week about how, as ministers, we can continue to represent God's people in worship when they cannot gather and so celebrate on their behalf.
Second, in households without a pastor or elder, join in spiritual communion.
What is spiritual communion? It's not an expression we use a lot these days (although that will undoubtedly change during this current situation), but it's something quite familiar to Christians throughout history, because there have always been times when people have really wanted to receive Communion but haven't been able to. It is a sincere longing for communion in the body and blood of Christ when it isn't possible to receive the sacrament physically. A spiritual eating, that would normally accompany our sacramental eating, but is unfortunately separated from it for the time being because we cannot gather for the Supper.
Spiritual Communion involves being as present as possible at the celebration of the Lord's Supper. During this lockdown, that might mean watching the celebration of the sacrament, or spending time in prayer and meditation while you know the Lord's Supper is being celebrated. Whilst watching the celebration of the Supper, spiritual communion involves a conscious act of spiritual participation at the part of the service where you would normally receive the bread and the wine of the sacrament. (So it's not just watching someone else have Communion; you need to engage with it.) You don't need any particular words to pray, but I've given some examples of ways that might help you pray below.
I'm not going to get into whole theological explanations of why this is currently my tentative answer for what to do about the sacrament. Perhaps some other time. Tonight I just want us to join together in rejoicing as we celebrate the incarnation of Christ at His Table, whether we can partake sacramentally or only spiritually. So join me at 8:30pm.
Update: Here's the video of tonight's Breaking of Bread.
Some ways to pray for Spiritual Communion:
Here are two little PDF booklets I've prepared for spiritual communion (for when you can't in anyway participate in the service). One for households and one for individuals. Both are designed as fold-over booklets.
And below are some prayers that could give you some ideas of ways to pray for spiritual communion when you can take part in some way in the service (e.g. by watching online), but can't eat and drink of the sacrament.
Lord Jesus, I come to You. Take me to You, for you love me and have given Yourself for me. Amen.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26).
In union, O Lord with the faithful at every Table of your church, where the Sacrament of the Breaking of Bread is being celebrated, I desire to offer You praise and thanksgiving. I present to You my soul and body with the earnest wish that I may always be united to You. And since I can not now receive Your body and blood in the Sacrament, I beseech You to come spiritually into my heart. I unite myself to You, and embrace You with all the affections of my soul. Let nothing ever separate You from me. May I live and die in Your love. Amen.
Grant, O Lord Jesus Christ, that as the hem of Your garment, touched in faith, healed the woman who could not touch Your Body, so the soul of Your servant may be healed by like faith in You, O Lord, Whom I cannot now receive in bread and wine; through Your tender mercy. Amen.