Updated: Apr 28, 2021
Yesterday was Sunday in lockdown. Three months ago, I wouldn’t even have known what that meant. I would have assumed you were talking about a prison riot or an American high school where a deeply damaged ex-student was running amok with a high-velocity rifle.
Not a sunny Sunday in Britain.
To be fair, there wasn’t much to tell me that it’s Sunday. The days can merge seamlessly into one another in these strange ethereal times. The shops are shut. There are no children wending their way to school from Monday to Friday. Football is off the telly. Sunday can feel pretty much like any day of the week.
Except we go to church. And in these dreary lockdown days, if we can’t go to church, then church comes to us. We log onto Facebook and hey presto, there is our Canon Precentor in the green of Ordinary Time celebrating communion from the corner of his study. But due to the canonical laws of the Church of England (bless them), only a priest is allowed to celebrate Holy Communion, and then only if they have another person with him or her. They can’t do it by themselves. So our Canon Precentor's wife gamely assists, reading the lesson, intoning the psalm, receiving communion and answering the door to the Amazon delivery man who unfortunately rings the bell during the sermon.
But two together makes sense if you think about the word ‘communion.'
But it also means that for those watching, the sacraments aren’t on offer and instead we get a nice prayer which we can say in the privacy of our own homes. And it’s not the same.
I miss communion. I miss the expectancy as I arrive in the Cathedral. I miss the organ playing as I prepare in the pew. I miss the sense of release as I settle myself for the service and realise that for the next hour and ten minutes, I can’t do anything else because I am doing this. I miss the theatre – the procession lead by the Head Server with its newly-minted choristers, the clergy at the back because that is the least important place. I miss their vestments coloured according to the liturgical calendar. I miss the Gospel held aloft by the deacon looking suspiciously as though they might bring it crashing down on some worshipper’s head. I miss the roll of the organ as we sally into the first hymn. And I miss the singing, oh how I miss the singing which wends its way through the liturgy, making it come alive and dance.
And I miss the Eucharist.
I realise what I miss now about the Eucharist is the shared table. The commonality of it all. The lining up with everyone else, feeling part of something much bigger. The sense that we are all in this together – all indeed part of the Body of Christ, and however worthless and shitty I feel – and I’m pretty good at doing that – I can stand in line with everyone else and say that I belong. That’s what I miss.
I am thirteen years old and have just finished singing a service of Morning Prayer at my local parish church where I am in the choir. The church is a Victorian hulk, described dismissively by Pevsner as a ‘typical railway church’ and there isn’t much about it to inspire the senses or provoke the imagination. It’s so low, it’s practically bumping along the ground. There isn’t a statue or an icon in sight and certainly no incense which would smack far too much of Popery and praying to the saints. So there isn’t much to hook into the inner yawning well of need of a teenager who is beginning to realise that life has serious flaws and is searching for reassurance and comfort.
Then they take communion.
The adults of the church, only those who are baptised and confirmed that is, move to sit in the front two pews. The rest of the congregation scurry guiltily away. Maybe they don’t have the right credentials, or maybe they just need to get the dinner on. The church disgorges half of its congregation onto the steps of the church and a few of us kids are left hovering uncertainly. We are instructed to sit down in the back pew and wait.
I watch as the communion service is enacted in front of me. I don’t understand what is going on, only that something is happening to which I am not invited and to which I am not welcome. My sense of isolation in the church grows and deepens and I know for certain that I am not good enough to be included. No-one bothers to explain to me why I am sitting at the back with my sister instead of next to my parents at the front of the church. The vicar, a remote figure, perched high upon his pedestal with his Oxbridge education and his upper crust accent intones unfamiliar words and the people mumble a response.
It would be many many years before I began to feel I had a place at the table. And now I do, this wretched virulent killer has robbed me of it. There is nothing I can do about that, I know. I want to keep safe and I want to keep all safe.
But I will be very thankful when I can stand in line again.