CLERGY CORNER: Digital wafers and virtual wine

Posted on 19 April 2018 by LeslieM

“… on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” (I Corinthians 11:23b-25)

Some call it “The Lord’s Supper.” Some call it “The Eucharist.” Some call it “Holy Communion.” There are many names but just one purpose and that is to connect us. When we gather to receive the wafer or bread, wine or grape juice, we connect with God and we connect with our fellow communicants. If I were to look for a trendy word to describe this experience, I would call it “The Divine Connection.” Indeed, it is a divine connection.

Are we connected? Some people would say that we are more connected than ever. We have smart phones, computer tablets, Apple watches, as well as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snap Chat. Wifi is available in every Starbucks or McDonalds. We panic when we lose our cell phone signal on road trips. We are so connected that we are actually in bondage to technology. If I leave the house without my cell phone, I actually break into a sweat. I am just as guilty as anybody else in this regard. But are we really connected?

I hear people complain all the time about going to restaurants and seeing people sit across the table from each other and text. They are not making eye contact. They are not listening. They are not speaking. They are texting. Are they texting each other? That would be pretty sad. Are they ignoring each other and texting their friends? That is sadder yet. They may be making a digital connection but they certainly are not making a human connection.

I know that technology can be a great asset. I know that there are ways that churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship can utilize technology in very helpful ways to communicate. I heartily endorse the use of technology in churches because I use it all the time. Case in point, I am writing this from my computer.

If homebound people cannot attend worship but can stream a sermon … terrific. If someone is out of town and wants to stream a sermon … terrific. If someone wants to listen again to a sermon I left recorded on a website … terrific. And then I come to a realization. While the sermon is a major part of our worship experience, it is not the only major part of our worship experience.

I can listen to a sermon and I can sing along with hymns and songs, but Holy Communion is an experience that I cannot simulate with technology. There is no such thing as a “digital wafer.” There is no such thing as “virtual wine.” If you want to experience Holy Communion, the only way that is possible is on a human-to-human level.

I happily bring Holy Communion to homebound people or hospitalized people, and every worship service at Zion includes Holy Communion. Human interaction is the only possible way to distribute communion and I have to say that this is good. The lack of human interaction is taking its toll on society whereas Holy Communion is one of the last vestiges of human interaction left.

Even for faith traditions that do not celebrate Holy Communion in the manner in which we do, we celebrate communion in the general sense of the word. Communion and community have a common root and faith-based communities are sacred space where humans interact in person. Our places of worship provide an invaluable service during the digital age. We pray together; we praise together; we sing together; we listen to one another and we speak to one another. When someone in our community is hurting, we empathize, sympathize and hug. Technology cannot do any of these things.

May we people of faith never lose sight of the important role we play in the lives of the people we serve. When God speaks to his people it is through sending people, not text messages.

Pastor Gross is a pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, located at 959 SE 6 Ave., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-421-3146 or visit www.zion-lutheran.org.

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