This past year has been a difficult one. A year of losses, the deaths of friends and family to the pandemic and its isolation, racial injustice and community being different than it has ever been in our lifetime.

Many churches were closed last March and remained so for quite a while, which led many of us to find new ways of being the Body of Christ. We didn’t meet for bible studies, Sunday morning breakfasts, Wednesday night suppers and choir practices.

This loss forced us to be “the church” in more tangible ways than we could have ever imagined. There were new ways of worship. We sat on porches and chatted with one another from a distance. Our youth group gathered outside in the parish greenspace, just to be able to be together. There were calls and emails and old-fashioned snail mail.

The truth of the matter is that we had to think about the things that really mattered to us. And wasn’t it really connection with one another and with our church community? With God?

In a church meeting last week, a dear friend of mine spoke about the practice of the Eucharist.

My religious tradition as an Episcopalian believes that the calling to the table of Christ is the central point of worship. We gather every Sunday around this practice. We recall Christ’s saving deeds in such a way that he is present with and in us and us with and in him. The Greek word, anamnesis, describes the full understanding of this spiritual practice. It reminds us of “recollection,” which is found in Jesus’ Eucharistic mandate “do this in memory of me.”

With this one word, Jesus says to us “do this to make me present.”

While we lived through a year without the same sorts of connections, we still leaned into the knowledge that Jesus was with us and will be with us and will continue to make a way for us as a community.

Our parish couldn’t gather to practice the Eucharist, rather we prayed for spiritual communion with Christ. Christ’s real presence moves the hearts of all who receive the Eucharist to serve their neighbors in the love Christ has for all. As we conclude the time around the table, this prayer is offered:

“Almighty and Ever living God … send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” (BCP, 366).

“By this,” Jesus says, “Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John. 13:35).

So, I suppose that after a year of loss and sorrow, the very truth of the matter is that we are to reflect Jesus’ love out to the world. The church building and the gathering together matters. But more importantly, it is what we do after the worship ends that truly tells the story of Christ out in the world.

We are called to be true community; to love and serve our neighbors with an integrity born of our faith and love of God.

Devon Goddard Smyth is the Executive Director of The Davies Shelters in Rome. She is a Postulate for Holy Orders in The Episcopal Church.

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