Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 12
We have again embarked on another Holy Week, a week not commanded to be celebrated but nonetheless, in the sanctified wisdom of the Church through the centuries, a week set aside to magnify that which is holy. During Holy Week, God’s Holy Word, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are uniquely elevated.
Holiness identifies especially that which is upwardly separate from the world. Only God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit inherently deserve the acclamation of holy, holy, holy. The Holy Word, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion derive holiness from God, and these holy things bring to us the salvation flowing from Christ’s death and resurrection. That which is holy—whether it be God himself or that which derives its holiness from God—deserves awe, respect and reverent treatment.
Of the three—God’s Holy Word, Baptism and Communion—the Apostles distributed only God’s Word remotely—from a distance. Thus the epistles were in effect sermons, God’s Holy Word to be read in various churches. For this reason at the end of 1 Thessalonians Saint Paul wrote, I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers (5:27). See also e.g. Colossians 4:16, and realize the epistle to the Hebrews is rightly considered to be a sermon. Praise God that with our current COVID-caused restrictions you pastors can now distribute your sermons remotely, either in written form or through video/audio formats. Though the epistles of the New Testament were ancient “examples” of remote preaching, yet they were also considered inferior to actually being present. Thus the Apostle John would end both his second and third epistles by writing: Though I have much to write to you, …I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete 1 John 12. Pastors are likewise now saying to their congregations, I would rather not preach to you in print or via remote video/audio, but I hope to speak face to face, so that our joy may be complete. Siblings in Christ, by God’s grace the time will come.
The Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are not like the Holy Word, for they cannot be presented remotely. The Apostles would not have imagined to Baptize or to celebrate Holy Communion without being present, for these sacraments by their very design demand the physical presence of the celebrant with the recipients. All three—Word, Baptism and Communion—require, call for and create faith, and without faith they are either not being faithfully presented or they are not being rightly received. Pastors have been called and have vowed to faithfully present God’s holy things.
I have known of unfaithful ways pastors have presented Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. When my dad was a pastor he encountered a man who had been baptized in rose petals. When I was in high school I heard of a pastor who “celebrated” Communion with his youth group using Ritz crackers and grape soda. Not only are such practices profaning that which is holy, but they leave doubt in the hearts of the recipients. The last thing we want in relation to the Holy Sacraments is doubt.
Friends in Christ, do not treat the Holy Eucharist as if it is your own, as if you can use your own creative designs to administer it. It is Christ’s Sacrament, not ours, and only by His gracious invitation are we enabled to reverently handle and eat the very body and blood of God! Be extremely cautious so that no situation transpire whereby doubt or misunderstanding could arise. Pastors, be careful not to lose control over the Sacrament you vowed to administer, with the result that others are handling your responsibility. Possibilities of irreverence can easily occur when holy things are handled casually; such as the blood of Christ being spilled, pieces of the wafer (the body) falling to the ground, left over elements being treated irreverently, or ineligible people receiving the Sacrament to their harm. With some faulty practices families might come to think they can participate in Holy Communion outside of a physically gathered, worshiping congregation, or even think they can administer Communion themselves. A consequence of this might be that the Christ-instituted office of the pastor would be considered dispensable.
From church history there is indeed precedent for congregations going without Holy Communion for extended periods. For instance in Siberia Lutheran congregations went without Holy Communion for decades, longing and praying for a pastor to be their celebrant. They cried tears of joy when they could finally celebrate it! To go without the Sacrament is of course not desirable, but it is far better than compromising the Sacrament and treating that which is holy as common or profane (Hebrews 10:29).
Through the psalmist we pray, I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope (130:5). In this current crisis wait for the Lord and hope in His Word. In His good timing and in His grace He will again return to us a godly assembling together, whereby we will gather face to face in joy and peace around His holy things, receiving the wondrous blessings created by His cross and empty tomb.
I commend to your study a brief article I have been given permission to share: