Just when I thought things couldn’t get less welcoming in our church building, new regulations came out and we were asked to wear facemasks, queue to get into church, fill in from the front and sanitise our hands both before and after receiving the communion wafer.
Our building had already been open for public worship for two weeks and we had already designated safe seating 2 metres apart, and implemented a strict cleaning regime, expecting our congregation to sanitise their hands on the way in and on the way out. I was already wearing a face mask when I brought the Holy Communion wafer representing the body and blood of Christ to worshippers in their seats.
We had already removed the books from the pews, along with soft furnishings and toys and put up a number of posters full of rules.
We were already listing those who came into the building so that if the worst happens we can track and trace anyone who has been in contact with corona virus.
We were doing without many of those things that help us to have fellowship and enjoy friendship, such as sharing the wine in communion, singing hymns, having beautiful flowers in church and refreshments.
I believed there were sufficient restrictions already to keep us safe.
Last Saturday night I could have cried as I tried to work out how I could sanitise hands before and after communion and remove my face mask to receive communion without it touching my forehead or neck and without putting it on a surface. In the end I opted for using two masks.
Clergy friends advise me that the way to sanitise hands before and after communion is for those receiving to bring their own sanitizer.
The new regulations came out late on a Friday so I decided to implement what was possible before Sunday and think more deeply about how to implement the rest. Clergy who did decide to sanitize their congregation before receiving the wafer discovered that there was a danger of the body of Christ mixed with sanitizer. Yuk!
It is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry in the present circumstances! Both emotions are preferable to anger and stress.
When I saw the facemasks and eyes of those of you who came I felt better. We knew that even though we were worshipping in frightful, inhospitable conditions that what we were doing together was important. Even though we could not sit next to each other, we were united with Christ and each other in love and compassion.
We do not come merely to satisfy ourselves. We come for each other and the world for which Jesus died. In particular we come to pray for our part of the world, Frankley, Illey and Kitwell. No other Anglican church has been given that calling. We want there to be a church which spiritually feeds and fights for the people on our estates in the future.
Our Isaiah reading this Sunday invites us to come to the one who freely gives generously.
It is written to a community in exile oppressed and exploited by harsh policies. Away from their temple in Jerusalem and their synagogues the people are spiritually and probably physically hungry and thirsty.
The word “come” is repeated three times. The people are invited to ""buy," and "eat" from rich gifts of food and wine and nourishing milk, well-suited for a festival.
They are invited even if they have no money. What they are invited to enjoy is priceless, a gift
The gift they are invited to receive is compared with their labour and physical bread which does not satisfy.
The exiles must have felt God had deserted them. Their worship had been tied up with their buildings. The invitation to listen, eat and delight in the Lord’s gifts would transform his people on the inside. Instead of being miserable and defeated, they would be filled with joy and receive life. God still loved his people and had still made them to be a witness to the people.
God always feeds, nourishes and gives us life.
Our Holy Communion services are an invitation to feed on Christ’s broken body and drink of the cup of joy. Even in the strange circumstances we find ourselves, whether we receive the wafer or not, we are invited to feed and drink spiritually, to delight in God’s love and be joyful. When we come together to receive from the Lord we are a witness to our parish.
When Jesus fed the five thousand, he was grieving. He had just been rejected by his home village of Nazareth and had heard of the death of his cousin John the Baptist, who was just a few months older than him. He wanted to be alone so he withdrew in a boat to a desert place, possibly to spend time in prayer, to grieve, to think about his own ministry and to recuperate.
The crowds from surrounding towns heard and followed. Despite all he had suffered, Jesus returned to the shore and taught and healed the sick. He put aside his own problems and had compassion on them.
By evening the crowds were hungry and the disciples, probably hungry too, wanted to send the crowds away to buy food.
Jesus surprisingly told the disciples to give them something to eat. The disciples only had five tiny barley loaves and two fishes which had been given by a small boy. Jesus took what they had and he did what we do before communion, he looked up to heaven, blessed the loaves and gave them to his followers and his followers gave them to the crowds. Five thousand men plus women and children were all fed and there were twelve baskets full left over.
Like Jesus, many of us are grieving. We have lost loved ones and friends. Four of our congregation, David, Gerald, Sheila and now Heather have passed away since restrictions began. I write as I am preparing for our friend and sister Heather’s funeral.
Like the Jewish exiles, the crowds and the disciples in our readings, many of us feel we haven’t much to give.
When we come to Jesus, he always feeds, nourishes and gives us life.
As we offer ourselves to him, like the bread, he takes us blesses us and multiplies our offering.
With Christ there is always more than enough, enough for us and enough for all who are thirsty and hungry.
your Son left the riches of heaven
and became poor for our sake:
when we prosper save us from pride,
when we are needy save us from despair,
that we may trust in you alone;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.