Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Church of the Future Pt 2

Dear Friends,

If you were a virus terrorist, what would be the most ideal way to spread COVID-19? The most effective way to spread any virus is in the place that we call “church.” Members and visitors of all ages crowd inside a building that is often filled to its capacity. We love to sit next to friends, shake hands and hug. It’s different for other cultures, but for White Americans, the comfortable distance when speaking to one another is about five to eight feet; however, in church the comfortable distance is less than three feet. We love to sing out and shower our friends, who are sitting several rows ahead of us, with droplets from our mouth and lungs. We hold hands when we pray. We pass the offering plate and share all of the organic matter on our hands with our friends. A pastor or priest tears off a piece of bread with unwashed hands and places it in our own unclean hand. We crowd our way out the door to have after-service “snacks” and in some cases a lunch prepared and served by people who may be sick but who are not yet showing symptoms. At a Washington church, 60 people showed up for choir practice. It was a large multipurpose room and chairs were spaced six feet apart. They used hand-sanitizer. Didn’t shake hands. No one had symptoms or felt ill. Three weeks later, 45 had been diagnosed with COVID-19, three were still hospitalized and two were dead. That was when health officials realized how much farther the virus droplets can travel when you’re singing.

There are some churches in our Country insistent on opening their doors, but our public health officials are saying that we are not ready and when we are, the services should look nothing like they did before. That’s because, outside of residential care facilities, the largest gathering of those most vulnerable to this virus, are in our churches. The Episcopal church has nearly 70% of its membership over age 55. In the ELCA (Lutheran) church, 61% of their members are older than age 55 and one-third are older than age 65. The Presbyterian church is even grayer with a whopping 40% who are older than age 65.

It’s not just age that makes us vulnerable. As of today (4/27) in LA County, 942 have died from COVID-19 and 92% of those have had underlying medical conditions. A younger church congregation does not make it a safer one. In fact, a recent LA Times analysis has shown that Latinos aged 18 to 49 have a higher coronavirus fatality rate than older Latinos. Of those in LA County who have tested positive for the virus, 84% are younger than 65 and nearly half are younger than 40. What makes COVID-19 difficult to control is that, according to the latest testing, about 50% of those testing positive, and who can infect others, have had no symptoms. That’s why for the foreseeable future, our church can no longer look like the church I’ve described at the beginning of this AMEN Corner.

Health officials tell us it’s not safe for us to gather in church or in any crowded places until we can be vaccinated against this virus and that a vaccine is 12-18 months away. But could we open churches earlier if strict guidelines were enforced? Perhaps. But according to health officials and denominational leaders, strict rules would need to be in place and those who refuse to follow them would no longer be admitted to the services. Only one person at a time in a restroom which would have to be disinfected after each person used it. No lingering or social interaction before or after the service would be allowed. Offering plates are on a table at the door. You drop in your check or envelope without touching the plate. Singing out loud is no longer permitted since it has now been proven that singing can force droplets through homemade cloth masks. During communion, the person holds their hand flat. The pastor wearing a medical glove removes a machine-made communion wafer from its plastic wrapper and drops the wafer into the person’s hand. If his fingers accidentally touch the person’s hand, the service stops while he changes gloves. Another communion server, also wearing gloves, steps forward and places a filled plastic cup on a table. The server steps back and the congregant steps forward to pick up the cup, drinks it and drops it into a plastic-lined trash can. (I cannot tell you how much I hate the thought of having to distribute communion this way but the only other option is to hand out the sterile prepackaged communion “kits” as shown in the photo above) Church leaders say these are some of the logistical nightmares that each church will have to work through before they can once again have in-person services. And yet even when it is permitted by the government to allow public gatherings, we may not want to be the first ones to do so in order to protect those – both young and old – who are the vulnerable ones in our congregation. 

The first and primary job of the shepherd is to look after and protect his or her sheep and our English word “pastor” is derived from the Latin word meaning “shepherd.” And if we are a mainline pastor, about 50% or more of our flock is older and/or medically vulnerable. Older churchgoers are the most anxious to return to church since their generation often suffers from social isolation and loneliness and they are also the ones less likely to watch an online service. Many churches are finding that the older ones are demanding churches be reopened while the younger generations urge caution and believe that closures need to remain in place. 

When your church does open, how do you know that  the necessary precautions are in place and it’s safe for you to return? A parachurch church organization has released guidelines that churches are using in preparing their own. Consider these guidelines and use them as a checklist to evaluate your own church’s procedures. It is difficult to think of our church this way, but during these challenging times, you need to make sure that you are kept safe from others and others safe from you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Church of the Future

Dear Friends,

You arrived at church an hour before the service starts. The average Sunday attendance used to be 125 adults but now only thirty people can be in the building in order to maintain the required six foot distance. Only two people, unless in the same family, can be in a row of chairs so that you don’t have to move close to each other to get in and out. The center aisle between the chairs is required by the Health and Safety Order to be eighteen feet wide and many of the chairs are now in storage. After the worship team, pastor, ushers and sound system people are counted, only twenty members are allowed in at each service. Visitors are not allowed in at all and are given a brochure with the instructions to watch the online service. For the past two weeks you were turned away at the door after the church had reached the legal amount of worshipers. They now have six services every Sunday, but thank God you made it in time for the 9:30 service today. 

The usher guarding the door takes your temperature using an infrared scan of your forehead and stamps your hand letting everyone know that you’ve been scanned and you’re not running a fever. One of the inside ushers hands you a service bulletin and escorts you to an approved area to sit. The church feels empty and what you miss most right now is sitting next to your friends. You also think about how much you miss the hospitality time and the lunch after the service but there is no way to maintain the required distance when sitting at the tables. When the service ends, it seems wrong to walk out the door, not shake hands with the pastor, and then just get into your car to leave. You put those distressing thoughts aside now as the service starts. 

The pastor reads the greeting and you strain to hear him. Because of his mask, his words are muffled and it’s difficult to understand what he’s saying. You stand to sing but you know you can’t actually do so. You love the hymn they are playing but it’s impossible for you to sing in a mask or face covering. You wind up breathing too much of your own breath and the extra CO2 makes you dizzy. During the traditional passing of the peace, when the congregation once moved around the room to greet and hug each other, all of you now just stand and wave at each other, turning the sanctuary into a undulating wave of ocean-blue medical gloves that brings a smile to your face. 

The most meaningful part of the service for you is Holy Communion, and the ushers now escort each person one at a time up to receive. In order to maintain the six foot distance, the pastor holds in his gloved hand a 16" BBQ tong that he uses to grab onto a communion kit in a plastic bag. He stretches out the tongs to hand the elements to you and says, “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus safely prepackaged for you. Tear off the protective plastic safety seal and eat in remembrance of Him.” 

+  +  +

From the Vatican to the Evangelical megachurches to the denominational mainstream churches, we are being told that we need to be prepared for what they are calling the “new normal” in our church services. Is this really what it could actually look like?

With the exception of my “tongue-in-cheek” words in italics, that service most likely will be what the church looks like for awhile – perhaps a long while. The manufacturer of the “Fellowship Cups,” the prepackaged grape juice and wafer, has described an explosion of orders as the traditional liturgical churches stock up for when they are allowed to resume services. Churches are writing procedures for how to now handle and dispose of the plastic communion cups that will become a medical biohazard after touching hands and lips. Our new normal will eliminate all but the presiding priest/pastor from drinking out of the common cup and the bread or crackers will no longer be torn or broken in pieces by the pastor and placed in the hands of the people. Only machine-processed wafers will be used. Our new normal will most likely include the elimination of hospitality times after church where people gather and church potlucks where food is prepared and shared by different people.

But will we really still be wearing masks during the service? The governor of California has stated that even when some restrictions are lifted, under the “new normal,” masks, gloves and social distancing will be required for an indefinite period of time. Restaurants might have half the tables; schools half the desks. Churches might have half the chairs and be allowed to reopen only with “strict physical distancing protocols.” Under the governor’s “new normal,” large gatherings, (50+) including those in churches will be prohibited. The governor said that there will be no large gatherings of people until “..we get to a herd immunity and get to a vaccine.” Harvard researchers, using a peer-reviewed study, conclude that periods of social distancing – staying six feet from each other, avoiding hugs and handshakes – may be necessary into 2022. In our own city of Los Angeles, the mayor has informed his department managers that large gatherings, including those in churches, may not be permitted until 2021. The mayor told his staff that “small businesses” (small churches) will be “phased in over a period of six to ten months.”

Of course the official government declarations of guidelines and requirements change weekly, if not daily, and so nobody knows exactly what the church of the future will look like. All we know is that there will still be Sunday gatherings of the community of believers that we call the “church.” Jesus said about His church that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Neither will the coronavirus. 
To Be Continued...

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

EASTER in your house church!

Holy Week ~ Monday ~ 4:00 am

It is a gloomy, dark and stormy morning. The rain is pounding down and flooding our little part of this world. It feels like even the heavens have opened up and are crying out in grief. Our Nation’s Surgeon General has just said that, “ the beginning of Holy Week..this is going to be the hardest and saddest week of most American’s lives.” Our season of Lent started out just fine. We’d been feeling pretty pious for fasting on ice cream and candy and then we suddenly found that we’d also given up toilet paper for Lent. In a panic, we went to the grocery store and saw aisles of shelving stripped bare of food. Like a third world country, we’ve stood in lines of hundreds of people waiting to get in to Costco to buy bread, eggs and milk. Our participation in Lent is supposed to be pretend suffering as we congratulate our self for giving up chocolate. Lent is not supposed to be about the suffering of tens of thousands of people sick and dying. Lent’s not supposed to be about a plague of Biblical proportions sweeping over the entire Earth from one end to the other. And in the middle of what could be the worst time in our life we’ll ever experience, we’re supposed to celebrate the joy of Easter Sunday?

Some churches have postponed their Easter services to what they hope to soon be healthier and happier times when the crowds return and they can host their community Easter egg hunts with the Easter bunny. But Resurrection Sunday is not a church party day, it’s a church holy day established two thousand years ago. It was established by God and it’s not ours to cancel, ignore or postpone. And our Sovereign God knew what He was doing when He set this year’s holy day in the worst of a pandemic. For it is in the middle of this most terrifying time in our lives, we need the hope that Jesus gave us through His resurrection. Thank God for His perfect timing! Like a rainbow appearing in the middle of the storm as a promise it will soon be over, Easter Sunday shows us that in the middle of this plague, there is hope on the horizon. Easter Sunday gives us something sacred and solid to hold on to in the middle of what may be the hardest and saddest time in our lives.

But how do we celebrate Resurrection Sunday when all our churches are closed? For those of us who live in Los Angeles County, even the gathering of a small handful of people to do an online service is unlawful. But many of our local churches do live-stream services of the priest or pastor alone performing the service. I know those who hope their church continues to live-stream the services when the pandemic is over because they prefer the convenience of a virtual service they can watch from the comfort of their own home. Some of us can watch online services and be as engaged as if we were sitting in church while others of us find our attention disrupted by a trip to the refrigerator, our phone, our children and the oven timer. Most of those with children have found it impossible to engage them in an online church, and without their Sunday School, their Easter will be only about a bunny and chocolate eggs. For us adults, while there may be instructional value in an online service as we listen to the pastor’s sermon, for many of us it just doesn’t feel like church. Like watching a video of our family’s thanksgiving dinner instead of sitting down at the table and joining in the feast, a video can bring sadness as we are reminded of what we are missing and long for. That’s why I’m suggesting that you consider something “radical” this Resurrection Sunday. Or maybe the better word would be “reformational.”

As the reformer, Martin Luther, urged a return to the practices of the ancient church, perhaps this is good advice for us today. The early church met in houses, maybe just one large family, maybe with other families. But for the first 300 years of Christianity, it looked nothing like our church looks like today. What the ancient apostolic church looked like is what a gathering of your family in your own “house church” would look like. But what if we are a single adult with no family to gather? We don’t hear Jesus directing people to pray in the temple, He tells us to go into our prayer room, shut the door and pray. For those who live by themselves, His recommendation is to pray and worship alone with God. Matthew 6:6 

The Resurrection Sunday house church service I’ve prepared is for you worshiping on Easter alone or with others who live with you. If you are worshiping alone, read the service out-loud and slowly. It’s okay to pause in silence and reflect on what you’ve just read. Actually sing the hymns and worship songs – God loves the sound of your voice! If your house church is with others, you can appoint a leader and make sure that others, including the children, take turns reading scriptures and prayers. 

For weeks now we’ve allowed ourselves to become centered on the coronavirus and it has been mentally and emotionally exhausting for some of us. This Sunday, we need to change our focus and become centered on the risen Christ. The risen Son of God is our only hope! You are in my prayers as I ask that I would be in yours. And now may the grace of God, the love of Jesus and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you now and for ever.

Resurrection Sunday
                             in your House Church

Opening Prayer
Hymns & Worship Songs
Psalm Reading
Old Testament Scripture
New Testament Scripture
Gloria (Doxology)
Gospel Reading
Nicene Creed or Apostles’ Creed
Hymns & Worship Songs
Lord’s Prayer
Closing Prayer

View or Download a PDF 
of this House Church Service HERE

Opening Prayer

God of life and hope,
we praise You for the miracle of Easter. We pray for great joy for ourselves and for all who come together in their churches and homes to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray especially today for those whose lives are filled with pain, loss, or deep sadness. May they sense how the resurrection is a source of great hope and be drawn closer to You by the power of Your Spirit. Amen.

(Select and sing one or more Hymns and Praise Songs on the last page of 
this House Church Service or choose any favorite that is appropriate for Easter)

(The Psalm may be read by all family members in unison.)

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the LORD. Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter. I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected, Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:1; 14;17;19-24 BCP

Old Testament Scripture
(Old and New Testament scriptures should be read by different family members – especially by children old enough to read. Note that while the following may or may not apply to today’s plague, the entire theme of the Old Testament was God bringing hardship, plagues, earthquakes etc. to turn the hearts of His rebellious and unrepentant people back to Him. You may eliminate the bracketed words if they discomfort you.)

“[When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among My people,] if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” 2 Chronicles 7:13-15 NIV

(Choose one of the prayers that have been written by different 
Christian denominations for use during this pandemic)

A Prayer for Evangelical Christians 
(or use as an outline to inspire Extemporaneous Prayers):

For the sick and infected: God, heal and help those suffering from the coronavirus, keep them from experiencing any complications and restore them to full health. Sustain, Lord God, their bodies and spirits and fill them with trust in You and the assurance that You will never leave nor forsake them.

For those vulnerable: God, protect those who are older and all those suffering from immune deficiencies and from chronic disease. Protect those in crowded nursing homes and assisted living centers and protect their caretakers.

For the young and the strong: God, give them the wisdom and desire to keep from unknowingly or inadvertently spreading this disease. Inspire them to help.

For doctors, nurses, paramedics and all medical workers: God, keep them safe and healthy as they care for others while exposing themselves to this highly contiguous disease. Help them to stay clear-minded in the midst of the surrounding panic and deliver them from anxiety for their own loved ones. Give them compassion for every patient in their care and for those health care workers who are Christians, help them to exhibit extraordinary peace, so that many would ask about the reason for their hope and would give them opportunities to proclaim the Gospel of Your love, peace and salvation through Jesus Christ.

For local, state, and federal government leaders: God, help our elected officials as they make decisions and recommendations that will combat this pandemic.

For the medical scientists: God, help them as they work to understand this disease and give them knowledge, wisdom, and a persuasive voice as they communicate to us through the media.

For the media: God, help them to communicate the facts without causing panic through sensualization or causing divisiveness through politicalization of the stories and commentaries.

For the homeless: God, protect them from disease, provide for their needs, and help them to be responsive to those outreach workers attempting to assist them. 

For all those who have lost jobs temporarily or permanently: God, keep them from panic, provide for them financially, give them courage during these dark and anxious times and inspire your church to generously support them.

For owners of restaurants, small retail stores and businesses: God, give these men and women the wisdom to make the difficult decisions during times of forced closures. Protect their business and investments and their employees.

For families with young children at home: God, help family members to partner together creatively for the care and flourishing and continued education of their children. For single mothers and fathers, grow their networks of support. For parents who must work, present them with creative solutions for their childcare needs.

For pastors and church leaders of closed churches: God, help them to creatively imagine how to pastor their congregants in this time of spiritual need and provide a “safe” church. Keep Your pastors and priests strong and encouraged that they may give strength and encouragement to others. 

Lord God, we trust that You are in the very center of this plague tending to the needs of those ill, suffering and dying. We give you all the praise and glory for You are good and do good. When we are frightened, build our faith in You during this time of crisis assuring us that no matter what the future brings, all is well with our soul. We lift up all Christians in every neighborhood, community, and city for Your protection and may Your Holy Spirit inspire us to pray, to give, to love, to serve, and to proclaim the Gospel, that the name of Jesus Christ might be glorified around the world.  Amen.

A Catholic Prayer

Most Heavenly Father,
send the protection of your holy angels,
to our family and loved ones
that we may be spared the worst of this illness.

For those already afflicted,
we ask you to obtain the grace of healing and deliverance.
Hear the cries of those who are vulnerable and fearful,
wipe away their tears and help them to trust.

In this time of trial and testing,
teach all of us in the Church to love one another and to be patient and kind.
Help us to bring the peace of Jesus to our land and to our hearts.

We come to you with confidence,
knowing that you truly are our compassionate Father,
health of the sick and cause of our joy.

Shelter us under the mantle of your protection,
keep us in the embrace of your arms,
help us always to know the love of your Son, Jesus. Amen.

A Litany Prayer for the Mainline Church:
 (may be said by a leader and family)

Most merciful God, Holy Trinity, our healer, our rock, our refuge; We come to you with open hearts and hands, lifting up those whose lives are most at stake, knowing that we are only as strong as the weakest among us.

For those who are sick: help them recover in good health and restore them in body, mind and spirit.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For the elderly, those with underlying illnesses, those without health insurance and sick leave: keep them healthy and free from all sickness.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who are forcibly contained in unsanitary jails and detention centers: protect them from all sickness and provide for their needs.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For all hospitals, doctors, nurses, and first responders: protect them from all sickness, relieve all stress, and provide them the resources to meet everyone’s needs.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For those experiencing financial loss and uncertainty of resources: alleviate any fears and provide for them daily bread and wage.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For those for whom “home” is not a safe place, and for those without a home: protect them from harm and provide for them a safe home.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For all parents: build in them strength and fortitude, and give them the words and witness to be wise counselors and compassionate caregivers.  Lord, hear our prayer.

Stir up in us a spirit of compassion and tenacity; move us to check in with loved ones. Ease our fear and anxiety, that we may share our resources rather than hoard them. Inspire us and all who gather to worship around the world to be beacons of your love and hope.  Amen.

New Testament Scripture for Resurrection Sunday

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4 

Gloria in Excelsis (all say together)

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father,
we worship You, we give You thanks,
we praise You for Your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God,
You take away the sin of the world:  have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.
For You alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord,
You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen

The Gospel of the Lord According to Matthew

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.” Matthew 28:1-9 

(Here may be said, by all, the Nicene Creed, 
which is the traditional creed for Easter Sunday, 
or the Apostles’ Creed)

Nicene Creed

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, 
Maker of heaven and earth, 
And of all things visible and invisible: 

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, 
Begotten of his Father before all worlds, 
God of God, Light of Light, 
Very God of very God, 
Begotten, not made, 
Being of one substance with the Father, 
By whom all things were made; 

Who for us men, and for our salvation 
came down from heaven, 
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost 
of the Virgin Mary, 
And was made man, 
And was crucified also for us 
under Pontius Pilate. 
He suffered and was buried, 
And the third day he rose again 
according to the Scriptures, 
And ascended into heaven, 
And sitteth on the right hand 
of God the Father. 

And he shall come again with glory to judge
both the quick and the dead: 
Whose kingdom shall have no end. 

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, 
The Lord and giver of life, 
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, 
Who with the Father and the Son together 
is worshiped and glorified, 
Who spake by the Prophets.

And I believe one catholic 
and apostolic Church. 
I acknowledge one Baptism 
for the remission of sins. 
And I look for the Resurrection of the dead, 
And the life of the world to come.   Amen.

(original 4th Century version)

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again 
from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand 
of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He shall come to judge 
the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.  Amen.

(Select and sing a final Hymn or Praise Song from the 
song sheet or choose any favorite that is appropriate for Easter)

Lord’s Prayer (to be prayed in unison)

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. 
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our trespasses, 
As we forgive those who trespass against us. 
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. 
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Closing Prayer

God of our salvation,
You have restored us to life,
You have brought us back again into Your love
by the triumphant death and resurrection of Christ:
continue to heal us 
as we go to live and work
in the power of Your Spirit.
As people of the resurrection, we will serve You with joy.
Your glory has filled our hearts.
Help us to glorify You in all things.  Amen.

Hymns and Praise & Worship Songs


Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia 
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth reply, Alleluia

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia
Dying once He all doth save, Alleluia
Where thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia


God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove 
my Savior lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to vict’ry,
I’ll see the lights of glory... 
and I’ll know He lives!


Hallelujah, Jesus is alive
Death has lost its victory
And the grave has been denied
Jesus lives forever, 
He’s alive, He’s alive

He’s the Alpha and Omega
The first and last is He
The curse of sin is broken
And we have perfect liberty
The Lamb  of  God has risen         
He’s alive, He’s alive

Hallelujah, Jesus is alive! 
Hallelujah, Jesus is alive!


All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name! 
Let angels prostrate fall.
Bring forth the royal diadem, 
and crown Him Lord of all,
Bring forth the royal diadem, 
and crown Him Lord of all.

Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race, 
ye ransomed from the fall,
Hail Him who saves you by His grace, 
and crown Him Lord of all, 
Hail Him who saves you by His grace, 
and crown Him Lord of all.
Let every kindred, every tribe,
on this terrestrial ball,
To Him all majesty ascribe, 
and crown Him Lord of all,
To Him all majesty ascribe, 
and crown Him Lord of all. 

O that with yonder sacred ones, 
we at His feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song, 
and crown Him Lord of all,
We’ll join the everlasting song, 
and crown Him Lord of all.

+  +  +

Resurrection Sunday Liturgy 
compiled and prepared by Rev. John B. Hickman

New Hope Ministries
P.O. Box 33841
Granada Hills, CA 91394

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Is Cyber-Communion A Valid Sacrament?

Dear Friends,

With traditional mainline churches suddenly scrambling to wrestle with how to do an online liturgical service, the issue of Holy Communion has been causing theological battles even among pastors in the same denomination. Trying to mold a millennia of tradition and theology into the confines of modern technology has created some agonizing decisions  for those who are mainline church pastors. Is “Cyber-Communion” a valid sacrament in an online service? Some denominations say yes and some say no.
I’ve watched several online services these past few weeks and have watched small churches produce thoughtful and reverent services and watched some awkward and embarrassing services. I cringed during one at the moment in the liturgy when the Body and Blood of Jesus would have normally been distributed among the congregation. The pastor had consecrated the elements of bread and wine on the altar in front of him and then waved the sign of the cross at the camera. He said that whatever food and drink you have, it’s blessed so eat and drink it now. His denomination believes in the real presence of Jesus in the consecrated elements. I couldn’t help but to think of the guy watching on a Sunday afternoon in his living room recliner. Did all 25 ounces in the can of Budweiser just turn into the Blood of Christ? Did the entire bowl of Nacho Cheese Doritos just become the Body of Jesus Christ? What is valid and acceptable in an online service? Is coffee and a sugar-glazed donut a valid substitute for the wine and bread? If so, is taking a paper cup of cold water and pouring it three times over your head while standing in the bathtub a true sacrament of baptism?

Sacrament is an English word from the Latin “sacramentum” meaning to consecrate and make sacred (holy). Augustine of Hippo in the 4th century, defined a sacrament as an outward sign instituted by Jesus Christ to impart grace. Something sacred actually takes place during the administration of the sacrament which is why only ordained clergy are permitted by the church to administer it. Through the waters of baptism, God imparts His grace and an efficacious change occurs in the one baptized. Christ becomes present in the consecrated bread and wine which are now His Body and Blood. By receiving Him in the elements of Communion, Christ heals us and saves us. He transforms us through His grace and we participate in the divine nature through this union – this communion – with Jesus Christ. 

Those who believe that Holy Communion is a sacrament are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglicans, Methodists and Lutherans. For example: according to “Outlines of Doctrinal Theology,” prepared for the students of a Lutheran seminary, “The sacrament of Holy Communion is a sacred act instituted by God. When the properly administered divine words of institution are pronounced by the pastor over the physical components (bread and wine), God becomes present in the bread and wine and all those who partake of this sacrament receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation.” 

Churches who believe that Holy Communion is a sacrament, have forbidden or strongly discouraged any type of online communion. Some Catholic Archdioceses are inviting watchers to say a prayer while the priest partakes of Communion. Some bishops in our Nation’s Episcopal churches are banning online services altogether. One of the Lutheran denominations (ELCA) two weeks ago, March 20, strongly urged all their pastors to not perform online communion and instead use one of the non-communion services from their worship book. The ELCA requests that their Lutheran congregations “fast” from Communion during this pandemic. (On that same date, their local bishop directed that all his churches obey a county health order to no longer gather in small groups to livestream church services, and told pastors they can can only livestream from their own home.) The Methodist church is literally splitting in two this year over LGBT+ differences, and they’re also now theologically split over whether or not Communion is a sacrament that can only take place in the physical presence of a community of believers.

But many churches believe that Communion is not a sacrament but an “ordinance” meaning that it’s a religious practice or ritual prescribed (ordered) by the church. Churches that believe that Jesus is not present in the communion elements believe that they are simply taken in memory of Him. Like lifting a glass of wine as a toast in honor or in memory of someone, Reformed, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Pentecostals believe that as we remember Christ in taking communion, He becomes “spiritually present” to the believer according to their faith. Churches who adhere to the memorialism belief that the elements are purely symbolic have the theological freedom to easily incorporate Communion into their online services. 

We all have an opportunity to now reflect on our own beliefs about Holy Communion. Is it a sacrament or is it a meaningful symbol that helps us to remember Jesus? Does God really impart something to us through His grace when we partake of it? The Catholic church believes the Body and Blood of Christ heals and redeems and so did the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther. Do you? Jesus told His disciples that they would literally eat His Body and drink His Blood John 6:53-56 and then at the Last Supper, Jesus lifted up the bread and said “..this is my Body” and then lifted up the cup and said, “..this is my Blood.” Was Jesus just joking around with His disciples when He said that, or did He really mean it? What do you believe? How do your theological beliefs about the real presence of Jesus Christ in the elements of bread and wine guide you in determining whether you should participate in online communion? If after some self-reflection, your beliefs about Communion have changed, would those new beliefs change how you receive Communion once you’ve returned to your church?