PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Isolated But Never Alone

The fast is over.

On Sunday, for the first time since March 8, the community of I serve, Emanuel Lutheran in Hartford, Conn., shared in the Sacrament of the Table. Or more precisely, tables. I presided at the card table (above photo) so that I could be close to my Wi-Fi router as I shared our Wired Worship over Zoom and then broke off for Communion at the usual part of the service.

When the time came to say the words, “The body of Christ broken for you; the blood of Christ shed for you,” we broke into “Zoom rooms” where two or three families or individuals were gathered together in the cyber world to share in community and then to say the words to each other. Everyone received the bread and wine at their table but became united with the one who spoke the words to them through the wonders of the internet.

I have to admit that I was very reluctant to preside at the Table this way. For me, it was a huge theological lift because of my deeply felt conviction that the essence of Communion is experienced in the gathered community as we experience the real presence of Christ.

However, I will openly admit now that my concerns were not warranted. What we experienced Sunday felt intimate and sacred. Also, truth be told, it was probably more universally available to every member of our congregation because all you needed to be present was a phone and the Zoom worship number and meeting code. Anyone could join us.

That said, I also feel the fast we had for over five months was warranted and am glad we did not rush into this new normal for us. I think it was helpful for us to first lament what has and is continuing to happen in a world where we can’t safely gather to worship and praise. Lament is undervalued in our hurry-up world, and I truly believe it is vital for our shared sense of humanity. It also gave us an opportunity to ponder what Communion is, why we need it and how we could proceed in sharing it in a way that was faithful and doctrinal.

What I have been reminded of in the past several months is the many forms in which we find community and how vital it is to our well-being. I know since this started, I have spoken on the phone to friends more often, my sisters and their spouses. Our kids and I gather every Sunday evening for family time and trivia. And I have become a more intentional correspondent, both to friends and in my prayer life.

Sometimes in life, we need to find ways to share and be present, even if we can’t be physically present, and trust God to take our best efforts and grant us peace. We need to do the best we can and trust God with the rest.

I learned that most profoundly the night my father died. I was in England when my father had a diabetic -induced cardiac arrest and in the middle of the night the phone in our lodgings rang.

I was awakened immediately — a professional reaction honed from years of middle-of-the-night calls that require my  thoughtful and measured response.

My sister explained to me what happened and that they were all gathered with Dad in the ICU, surrounding his bed. It looked like the end was near. They described the scene so that I could visualize it and then they put the phone to his ear, so that I could speak to him, say goodbye and pray with him.

After I’d said Amen, my sisters put us on speaker phone and together, trans-Atlantically, we sang “Children of the Heavenly Father,” one of Dad’s favorite hymns, said the Lord’s Prayer, and I shared a benediction and hung up. A few moments later, Dad died.

Was I “truly present” with my father in his final minutes? I believe I was. Not physically, but through the “mystic sweet Communion with those who rest is won.” For we have a God who transcends time and place and who allows us through the Spirit to move beyond our temporal human limitations to experience that same sense of unity through our connection to the divine.

That same “real presence” can occur during this time of pandemic when we seek to find community through the Sacrament — shared through the phone lines and internet. When we can’t be present with each other, we can be confident that God is present with us and that the Spirit of God can link us to one another because God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

There are many reasons I am grateful for my faith that sustains me in this life and gives me the promise of the life to come. But during this time of pandemic, I have been reminded again of what it means to me because I know that I am never alone. I have one who is with me always and who is truly present.

And Sunday, as we ended our fast and shared in the Sacrament as a gathered faith community, I was once again reminded of the power of Communion and the community, isolated, but still united with a God who is truly present wherever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, whether in person or in prayerful real presence with each other.

It truly was a foretaste of the feast to come. And when we are so hungry for real presence, it fills our hearts and souls.


God who promises to be with us always, reminds us of your true and real presence with us when we are feeling isolated. Thank you for the gift of faith that gives us hope as we struggle and for the gift of your community that sustains us as we journey through life. We praise you and rejoice in your real presence in our lives. In the name of the One who gave of his Body and Blood we pray.  Amen.

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