Covid-19 and the Eucharist

Added about 4 years ago by David R. Tomlinson

GUEST BLOG: David R. Tomlinson considers the role of the Eucharist in the Church’s ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Liturgically and theologically, it offers a valuable framework for reflection, grief, and hope for the future.

Colin, the head of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God in Crawley Down in Sussex, wrote to me in the early stages of the Covid-19 lockdown: “We are able to keep up the Eucharist conscious that this is a privilege at the moment, and hope that this is our small contribution.” With churches closed, he knew how special it was still to be celebrating the Eucharist.

Like this monastic community, Christians elsewhere who have been able to celebrate the Eucharist have been profoundly aware of those denied this gift. Their awareness that the Eucharist is prayed on behalf of those who cannot assemble has helped to allay this disquiet. Although the Eucharist is a personal joy, it is offered to God for the Church and the world, and its scope includes those present and those absent. Eucharists held in enclosed communities, and in some households where a resident has led the service, have all been a continuing contribution to the Church’s life. In these celebrations, the delight of those present, along with the sadness of those who are not, has been offered to God. The sense of loss generated by the closure of churches is set against the backdrop of a world united in grief and bound together by costly compassion, embodied most tellingly by those caring for those who are sick. The eventual number of deaths worldwide from Covid-19 is going to be measured in hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Each individual death is hard to bear for those close to the deceased, and some families have seen multiple deaths. This colossal loss of life calls for lament, a tear-soaked expression of our collective grief, and reflection.

The supreme place for reflection is the Paschal Mystery, the death and resurrection of Christ, that we behold in the Eucharist. Gazing at the cross, we see God’s solidarity with those who suffer and God’s inexhaustible love. The Risen Christ is the proclamation of God’s faithfulness; even in death, love is victorious. This truth can give comfort and hope to those who mourn.

Arising too out of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s constant offer of renewal—even in the darkest and most difficult of times—that raises the prospect that from this catastrophic loss of life, a more just and compassionate world might emerge. As this pandemic has once more underlined humanity’s interdependence, we pray that it may lead to a new era of international collaboration to address the many global challenges we face, and to ensure the world is better prepared for any future health crisis. For the Church, there has been a renewed summons to practical service of our neighbour and our local community, and a return to a central truth of our faith: God is love, and we love God by loving each other. Even when the Eucharist has not been celebrated in our churches, eucharistic living has been a notable feature of the churches’ response to lockdown: the Church has continued to rejoice, to give thanks, and to share God’s love.

It is the Church’s ascension into the kingdom—its encounter with the End—in the Eucharist that is the beginning of its mission. Words from T. S. Eliot’s poem ‘Little Gidding’ are instructive: “To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” Our vision of the kingdom informs and inspires our mission. The view from the kingdom of God compels us to serve those who are poor and powerless, and to strive for a better world. This has been seen in churches’ responses to need in their locality. In Birmingham, where I live, many churches have been involved in food distribution through their own local initiatives and through food banks, working with other voluntary organisations and the city council. Alongside offering practical help, churches have also offered pastoral and emotional support to those who are lonely, those whose domestic situation is distressing, and those whose mental health has deteriorated during lockdown. The constant call to God’s people to shape a better world has been met creatively and confidently.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequalities that blight our nation and the world. When we gaze around the world, those living in cramped conditions in shanty towns and refugee camps have been disturbingly vulnerable, effectively trapped and exposed to the virus. In the Eucharist, we stand as equals before God, loved and cherished. We pray together, “Our Father … your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” This experience of God’s all-embracing love and the longing for the kingdom at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer shapes the Church’s mission, and puts the quest for justice at its heart.

In the Eucharist, our yearning for a just and peaceful world is intensified. This central act of the Church’s worship culminates with the assurance of God’s blessing and our reaffirmation of our commitment to God’s mission. Like those first disciples on that first Easter evening, we have gathered together, met the Risen Christ, been empowered by the Holy Spirit, and now here the summons to go to love and serve in a world characterised by injustice, suffering and weeping: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” (John 20: 21)

David R. Tomlinson is the Chair of Thrive Together Birmingham and Vicar of St Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham. In his new book, Knowing Christ: Christian Discipleship and the Eucharist, he explores the liturgy of the Eucharist and finds in it the basic building blocks of the Christian life. Through story, reflection and prayer, he invites readers to reflect on the different parts of the Eucharistic liturgy and their meaning for their day-to-day Christian lives, so that they can their faith can be deepened and they can learn to live more fully as members of Christ’s body, the Church. Get your copy today.

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