Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"It's Not About Being in the Same Room"

John 16: 25-33

Romans 8: 38-39

      This morning is our first ever live streamed celebration of Holy Communion.  And I’m not sure

how I feel about it.  On the one hand, I think it’s awesome – miraculous even - that prevented as

we are from being gathered in the same space, we can still be together via the internet, all in real

time.  It’s 10: right here, and it’s 10: where most of you are.  We can still hear the familiar words

of invitation and institution, in real time.  We can still see the elements of loaf and cup on the

table, in real time.  We can still eat the bread and drink the juice, in real time.  We can still bring

our voices to the prayer of thanksgiving at the end of communion, in real time. 

      Just a few generations ago, this technology was beyond most people’s imagination.  What did

folk do for communion in this very church in 1918 when they were quarantined for the Spanish

Flu pandemic?  We’re fortunate to live in this era.  So here we are, gathered in what’s come to be

called “cyberspace.”  Isn’t it good to know that cyberspace is God’s space?  Another sweet thing is

that we are being joined by folks who wouldn’t otherwise be here, like members of the church

who live away or are shut-in.  I even have some family members in Pittsburgh who’ve been

tuning in.  All that’s nothing but good.

           On the other hand, in spite of this fabulous technology which connects us virtually,

I’m feeling sort of disconnected…. literally.  I have been the last several Sundays, and frankly,

I’m not getting more used to it.  Yeah, what we’re doing is a good thing, and the right thing,

and the expedient thing in this strange time.  But you know, however well we do this online stuff,

it just isn’t the same as being in this sanctuary together; side-by-side; passing the trays of bread and juice,

or coming forward and dipping a morsel in a common cup.  It isn’t the same when we can’t shake hands

or hug before or after the service; and even this day, wondering when and if we’ll do those  things again. 

It isn’t the same when we can’t hear each other’s voices singing “Spirit of the Living God” or reciting

“The Lord’s Prayer,” or calling out our prayer concerns. 

      With this mixture of feelings, as I thought about how this morning’s communion service would

be shaped and instituted, an image came to my mind.  How many of you are familiar with The

Last Supper painted by Leonardo daVinci back in 1498.  You can raise your hands, but I won’t see

them.  I chuckled, wondering what that painting would look like if Jesus and the disciples were

practicing six foot distancing and/or wearing masks.  The scene would certainly lose any sense of

intimacy.  As daVinci imagined it, the twelve were gathered close around Jesus; huddled shoulder

to shoulder with each other; several of them very close in conversation, perhaps asking who Jesus

meant when He said, “Truly…..one of you will betray me.”  

      In reality, Jesus and His disciples would have been reclined on cushions on the floor, but still in

very close proximity; close enough to each other that they could pass the common bread and

cup; close enough that Jesus would have been able to move from one to another; removing their

sandals; washing their feet with a towel which was around His waist.  When we think of that Last

Supper, and the Lord’s Supper of remembrance which the church has been faithfully observing

for almost two thousand years -- it’s intimacy; it’s oneness by nature; it’s physical and spiritual

closeness -- how do we do this in a season of distancing?  How do we maintain that sense of intimacy,

and oneness, and closeness when we can’t be in the same room?

      I think we find an answer in the passage we read at the beginning of this message.  Unlike the

Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke where the accounts of the Last Supper are short and sweet,

John’s Gospel includes an extended discourse.  In other words, in John’s account, Jesus does a lot

 of talking.  Much of what He says, the disciples don’t understand.  Or perhaps they chose not to

understand because it was more than they could bear. Jesus got that.  He admitted that He’d  

been using a lot of figures of speech which had been going right over their heads.  But now He’s

about to make some things very clear. 

      Just prior to what we read this morning, Jesus was telling His disciples that He would soon be

leaving them – for a spell -- saying things like, “A little while, and you will no longer see me; and

again a little while, and you will see me.”  And, “So you have pain now, but I will see you again,

and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you”  Just after what we read,

Jesus offers up that great prayer for the oneness and unity of His followers; not only for those

who were with Him at table that evening, but for all who would come after them in faith.  He

prayed “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in

us,” and, “I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to

see my glory…” Jesus is making clear in both His teaching and in His prayer that while He and His

disciples would be absent from each other physically, they would still be together in a spiritual

way; that while they would be separated – for a spell – they would still be with each other in a

spirit of oneness and unity in the Father.  And in that, they would find great joy.

      In this morning’s primary text, Jesus speaks plainly, and warns the disciples that by circum-

stances that they could neither foresee nor control, He and they would be separated.  “The hour

is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will

leave me aloneYet I am not alone because the Father is with me.”  What Jesus is referring to

here is that upon His arrest, His disciples would flee; returning to their homes where they would

hide out in fear.  Yet in spite of this, Jesus knew He would never be left alone, because the Spirit

of God the Father would be with Him.  When we consider this in light of what Jesus had said and

prayed, what He is making plain is that although He and His disciples would be separated physically,

they would remain connected -- God the Father to Jesus;  Jesus to the disciples; the

disciples to each another; all interconnected in and through God’s Holy Spirit, like a vine.  What

Jesus is teaching here in the broadest sense is that even when we find ourselves separated by

circumstances unexpected and beyond our control – even by an aggressive respiratory viral pandemic

as we are this very day -- we are still together.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God, or the

love of Jesus Christ, or the love of one another.  Paul affirms as much when he writes to the Romans:

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present,

nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,

[and that includes COVID 19] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

  We are still and always one; with God; with Christ; with one another.  You see, at the end of the day,

it’s not about being in the same room, it’s about being in the same Spirit.

      This reminder helps us immensely – helps me immensely -- especially on this communion Sunday when,

for the time being, we have been scattered, each one to our homes by circumstances unexpected and beyond our control. 

While we can’t gather around this table physically this morning, we gather around it spiritually. And that is most important.

  God is here.  Jesus is here.  We are here, as one, together.  That is an intimacy in Christ that nothing can violate. 

So while we can’t all see each other’s faces, or hear each other’s voices, or shake each other’s hands, or hug each other

around the neck, it’s truly not about being in the same room.  It is all about being in the same Spirit. 

So as we have faithfully done over the course of almost two thousand years, let us again join our hearts in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Amen.