June 1, 2020
“The Real Presence”
Matthew 28: 18-20
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
It started off as a conversation between pastors about what their most meaningful experience of Holy Communion was. One person shared an ecumenical experience of the Lord’s Supper in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Another shared of the closeness of breaking bread and eating a meal and sharing their stories of trusting Jesus, and knowing His faithfulness. Another shared about their experience in an Eastern Orthodox context. Another shared about their experience of a large newer church of thousands in Toronto that had saltine crackers and grape flavoured Kool-aid on card tables. Every person was reflecting on what it meant it for communion to be special and memorable or the opposite.
The conversation turned somewhat to the theological, and the “real presence” in the table of our Lord, of Jesus himself, or was it simply “remembering.” Our Roman Catholic friends believe in transubstantiation, which means the wafer and the wine become the actual body and blood of our Lord. Our Baptist friends generally only hold the Lord’s Supper as a memorial. We tend to believe in some mystery in between these two positions. Jesus is really there in the sacrament, but the elements aren’t literally his body and blood. It is His table. These are all questions of the “real presence” of the Lord.
And then came the questions about whether you can faithfully celebrate communion over a videoconference call. And does it matter if it is live or recorded? What does it mean to be present to one another on a videoconference call or on a prerecorded worship service? Are we truly together at that moment, and do we do harm to what Jesus intended for serving Him at His table?
For that matter, where is Jesus in all this? Is it not His table? Does He not preside more than the leader who leads the service, in person, or online? And when we invite others to His table, do we make sure they know Him before inviting them to eat with Him? Surely, in these days, we invite everyone who gives themselves to Jesus as Lord and Saviour to His table.
In that place, we find grace and mercy. One pastor described it as not disqualifying yourself because of your sin, but rather disqualification comes when you are unwilling to repentant and turn from your rebellious ways. I have known those who have not counted themselves worthy to take communion, and therefore do not commune, ever, even though they have accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour and know His forgiveness and love. Rare as that is, it still troubles me. His table is for all of us who need mercy.
These days we don’t know when we might come back together in some new way. We hope it is sooner than later, but not too soon. Many of us feel the pain of not being together. We know Jesus is with us. He says He is, in the Great Commission I quoted at the beginning of this brief reflection. He has given us His Holy Spirit. But we still long for the social, in our families, in our church family.
Let us trust Him anew these days, for the presence we need from Him, and for the online presence we have with one another, and beyond.