Greetings in Christ,
Beloved family at St. Paul’s,
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea (Psalm 46:1-2 NIV).
These words are such a comfort to us in times of difficulty, challenge, or fear. Like you, I have heard many news reports and read many articles about the Coronavirus. There have been lots of special reports and news conferences recently in Stearns County that I have been following closely. I wanted to give you some basic information that I believe will help us to remain calm and be good managers of our health.
There are 3 levels of response to a crisis like this. We are at the first level, at the lowest threat. This level respects the seriousness of the situation while not over reacting. Should the situation get worse, we will make more changes, right now the most important things are to wash hands and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
We will continue to worship together on Sundays at our regular time. Fellowship, Sunday School, and Bible Study will also continue.
Here are some things we would like you to remember:
•Please stay home if you, or someone in your family, have any symptoms of cold or flu. Viruses spread first and through families.
•Remember that our sermons are streamed live on Sunday mornings and are on YouTube later in the week. At least through the end of April, this is how we will worship together. Please plan on joining us online. www.facebook.com/stpaulsmelrose
•Please wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds (sing “happy birthday” twice) when you arrive to church and when you get home. We do have hand sanitizer available, however, washing hands is more effective.
•Avoid shaking hands with others.
We have further steps that we can take if the situation changes. I am keeping track of guidelines sent out by various health authorities.
A few more things to consider:
Visitations: during this time, if you would like me to visit, don’t hesitate to call. I am happy to bring the Gospel to your home (and maybe supplies, we can work it out).
We hope and pray that the situation will normalize in a few weeks. During this time, let’s keep praying for those who are sick, those who serve in healthcare vocations, and those who lead in our communities.
And let us never forget, Christ is Risen!
-Pastor David Mommens
A Statement about Communion
Before we begin worship tonight, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about communion. It’s been a while now since we have been able to celebrate it together, and no service is this more painfully obvious than tonight’s. Tonight we celebrate Holy Thursday, or Maundy thursday as I prefer to call it.
THis is the night we celebrate the last supper, the institution of communion, so it is painful to have to abstain from taking it tonight.
The Lord’s Supper is a very powerful gift that God has given to us. It’s one of our two sacraments. In its original language, Sacrament means mystery, and Communion is a mysterious thing. In some miraculous way, God joins his very actual body and his very actual blood to the bread and wine. So when we consume it, we are at the same time getting bread and flesh as well as wine and blood. I have always appreciated how it tastes like bread and wine over the other aspect.
There are a lot of passages in the bible that talk about communion and what it is, how important it is, and how we are to receive it in faith. There are 2 major aspects of communion that we see in scripture that our driving our current practice of not having it right now. The first is 1 Corinthians specifically the end of chapter 10 and into chapter 11. Let me read a passage to you from chapter 10 starting at verse 14. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
Acts 2:42. 1 Cor 11:33, 1 Cor 4:1
Communion is to be celebrated as one body, just as many parts make up one body just, as many grains make up one bread, so then we who are many come together as one of this gift. When we are apart from each other, practicing social distancing, we are grains or members separate from the body, or not making the full bread, and during this time we long to come together as one again, one community, to celebrate the body, to celebrate the bread.
Because communion is to be celebrated in community, as one body, as one bread, partaking of one cup, for this and many other reasons, we are abstaining. More than that it would be inappropriate of us to encourage you to have communion at home. Self communing at home is not the example we have in Scripture, church history, or our church teaching.
This aspect of gathering together as a body in order to receive communion can be hard to grasp, especially because, we are so used to seeing our faith as an individual thing, “What do I beleive”, or, “it’s between me and God.” While it is vitally important to know what you as an individual believe, we don’t want to miss or downplay the scriptural importance of “us, what we believe, as the community of faith,as the body of believers, or as we say in our creed, “The communion of saints.” So again, for this reason, and many others I don’t have time to delve into in this brief message, we cannot in good conscience have me consecrate communion over the interwebs and you eat it at home. Communion just does not work that way.
2nd. While communion is important, one of the most important gifts God has ever given us, that’s why we celebrate it each week when we gather here. While it IS that important, it does not wear out and it is not demanded for salvation. Jesus says in Mark, “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” He says this, but notice the Lord’s supper is not included in this command. Which means, when under duress such as we are now, we can abstain for a time, for the reasons I already stated.
While a pandemic is new to us in 2020 Minnesota, it’s not new to Christianity, and times of abstaining from the sacrament have happened before too. Just 1 example, during the colonial period of the United States, a few hundred years ago, it happened that Lutherans would go 2, 3, or even 4 months without communion. Not every settler was a pastor, not every church had a pastor every week. And then again, if the pastor you had died unexpectedly, which happened in a frontier world, getting a new one was not a fast process, as you had to send message to the old world, again by boat, find someone willing to come, then move him to the new world, again by horse and buggy and boat, get him to the place that needs him, before communion could continue. This process took months.
Also, even here at St. Paul’s we have a history of this practice in our own church. St. Paul’s will celebrate it’s 130th anniversary at the end of the year. Our church was founded by a traveling pastor/church planter, and he established several churches in the area and ministered to all of them, which means that the congregation would go for a period of time without the sacrament as he traveled from church to church.
This situation where we cannot gather for communion is rough, to say the least, I personally have used stronger words to describe it. But It is not the end. This is not a new experience for Christianity, for the Christain church. So we, like Christians before us in similar situations, pray fervently that God would end the pandemic, and that we will be able to gather together again to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And when we do, it will be an amazing celebration.
If you want to know the history of this, or more to the why of this, let me know and we can talk about it. There is a long history to this practice dating back to the 2nd century, we’re talking the early to mind 100’s. This has been the way Christinas have done things for around 1900 years. While these conversations are new to us, they are not new to the church, talks about virtual communion were had at the invention of radio, of the telephone, of TV, of DVD’s and it has always been the same answer, when we are forced by outside forces to be apart, we abstain. We know and trust that God is still with us. He is gracious and loving and given to us other means of grace, other ways to obtain forgiveness and life. Your baptism is still valid. The last time you took communion still counts. The words of absolution still apply to the penitent. God still provides for us and his promises are still true, even when we are stuck at home, even when people get sick.
Anyway, 1 final note. After each live stream on Sunday, and again tonight, I do celebrate the Lord’s Supper with the men and women who are gathered here as the body, who serve the congregation to broadcast this live stream. If you are unable to bear the burden of abstaining from the sacrament, call me and we can arrange for you to join us after the service for the Lord’s Supper. We must honor the government, and we cannot have everyone come, so you must call and schedule in advance, but we can make it work, according to our theology and the laws we must follow.
Also, again, if you are unable to bear the weight of abstaining and if you cannot schedule a Sunday to come, call me, and I can bring it to you. This fits with the Bible’s teaching on communion and it’s something we can work out. Again, call me and let’s set something up.
As we celebrate tonight, we will notice the absence, and long to come together again. Let us now begin our worship and give thank to God for the blessings he so freely gives. We join in singing our opening hymn #445
If you are unable to make it to worship service on Sunday, you can watch the live stream here:
St. Paul's Facebook
You can watch previous videos on our YouTube Channel
This is a great article from Lutheran Witness which speaks to our situation:
Consider adding additional family devotion time:
A response from Martin Luther
When Martin Luther was dealing with The Black Death plague, he wrote these wise words that can help inform the way we approach things happening in our world right now..."I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash no foolhardy and does not tempt God." Luther's Works Volume 43 pg 132 the letter "Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague" written to Rev. Dr. John Hess
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