What does that mean for Christian life under quarantine? Might not a pandemic call for emergency measures, even granting the sacramental character of the church’s worship? Isn’t abstention from the bread of life too much to ask, too painful to endure for weeks or even months?
It is indeed a great deal to ask. It is very painful. But that does not resolve the issue. If a thing is unwise or impossible, we do well to resist the temptation to recast it as unavoidable or necessary. Better by far to acknowledge the pain and lament it together, albeit apart. As Chris Krycho has written:
We are eager to return to gather with God’s people. We are eager to come to the Table again. This eagerness, this longing, is a pointer just in the same way that the weekly gathering and Communion are in ordinary time: to the consummation of all things when Christ comes again. The hunger we feel keenly now for the gifts of God in this age can remind us to hunger more deeply for the gifts of God in the age to come — the gathering of all the saints, the feast of the ages, and both unbroken and unending. Temporary loneliness can point us to final fellowship. Temporary fasting can point us to final feasting.
Our inability to celebrate the Lord’s Supper for a season can only be, should only be, cause for sorrow and tears. For now, we are not able to celebrate this remembrance of the Lord by “tasting” and “seeing” his goodness (Ps 34:8). But this does not mean we are consigned to a state of utter forgetfulness. No. There is a kind of remembrance that accompanies exile from the city of God (Ps 137:5-6), the remembrance that leads to faithful tears (Ps 137:1-2) and that cultivates hopeful longing for restoration (Pss 63:1; 143:6), the remembrance of those who have once tasted and who, by God’s grace, know they will once again taste and see the Lord’s goodness, whether it is at his table in the covenant assembly or at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). This is the kind of remembrance that we are called to cultivate in ourselves and in our flocks in this season.
American Christians desire instant gratification. We expect technological fixes to temporary glitches. But this pandemic is not a glitch. It is a trial, and one that has no quick solution. It can only be endured. Instead of living in denial, we should allow the terrible burden of our endurance to make its mark on our habits of worship during this time. The liturgy ought not to carry on just as before, hastening to distract us from the danger around us. Let it instead bear the imprint of our moment. Life is not as it was. Worship shouldn’t be either.
Hey all: I wrote a long theological reflection, drawing on Neil Postman & Robert Jenson, on the nature of Christian worship, sacramental communication, and streaming the liturgy from home. Hope it’s of use to folks thinking through what to do in this time: https://t.co/bD7vlva4QU
— Brad East (@eastbrad) April 2, 2020