My working ecclesiology, my understanding of church, is deeply rooted in the idea of community. The people gathered around a shared table, from different places and perspectives, and going out into the world, formed by the shared meal and common prayer.
In the summer of 2018, I spent six weeks hospitalized. During those challenging days, I was nourished by receiving communion almost every day. Good people from neighboring parishes ministered to me, and it meant so much. It was in those days, too, that I was embraced by the parish community which I was a member of. All of those folks, whether they knew me well or simply had me on a list of patients to visit, came from a community, a community that gathered around an altar, a community that prayed and ministered together as disciples. While I was not able to step foot in a church (or anywhere for that matter), I was indeed part of one.
A few weeks ago, during some quite awful days, parishioners from the community in which I am blessed to minister to embraced me as I sought chemical dependency treatment. Nearly every day I received numerous cards and letters — words of encouragement that provided strength and hope.
I wasn’t able to receive communion in a bodily, tactile sense during those 28 days away. But I surely did receive spiritual communion. Those who gathered around that shared table in Saint Paul were providing such powerful nourishment for me, in notes and prayers. I couldn’t join them around the altar, but I was there with them, and they with me.
This is all to say that for many of us who are part of faith communities, this time is so very difficult. We are people who find nourishment in community. Indeed, what separates our experience of faith from much of what the world represents is that we are not only individuals set apart, but one body which stands together. And we do that in specific places that connect us to each other, and through our gathering, with God.
We will gather once again around the shared table. We will pray together, and sing favorite hymns in our holy and cherished spaces. And yet, we remain together. We are still one body, one body in Christ. Separated physically indeed, but remaining together in community.
In the midst of isolation…we experience the loss of so many things. Let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: He is risen and is living by our side.