“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
1 Corinthians 15:20
My dear fellow members of ANiC, Partners in the Gospel,
I write to you today on behalf of myself and our ANiC House of Bishops.
I thank God for each of you and am praying fervently for you, especially in these days! I am so impressed by your prayerful resourcefulness and radiant faith in the Lord Jesus, which is shining forth for all to see and hear.
As I write to you I am praying that I might be able to encourage you as we all prepare to celebrate a Holy Week and Easter that out of necessity must take a form which none of us have ever experienced before.
Yesterday (April 1, 2020) I sent out a notice that the suspension of all services and gatherings of ANiC congregations is now extended for another three weeks, beyond the previous ban which took us through Palm Sunday. This will now take us through Easter Sunday, April 12th, and the following Sundays of the 19th and the 26th.
This is a huge disappointment and sacrifice in which we all are sharing.
Sadly, as the Bishops shared on Tuesday, March 31st with our Clergy, this also means that there can be no distribution of the consecrated bread and wine (or palms on Palm Sunday).
I am very, very sorry that this is the case. I can assure you that much prayer and many possible options were considered and ultimately ruled out, either for theological or safety reasons, as we live under the laws of today. But even more importantly, with a desire to be good witnesses to the community at large, we have chosen to observe this temporary ban out of a desire to sacrifice something extremely precious with the hope that this will help stop the spread of this horrible virus and speak of our love and concern for our neighbours.
One of the amazing and positive developments of these days of isolation is the incredible numbers of viewers of our online services and teaching. Truly the gospel is going forward in power in these extraordinary and difficult days.
It would seem, therefore, that the decision to not receive, though we long to do so, is a temporary sacrifice worthy to be made at this time. We are trusting and praying that one day soon we will be able to gather together and then, with much joy, receive.
It can also be said that many congregations have been enjoying powerful services of Morning Prayer. And in some others the priest or rector has celebrated Holy Communion while leading the service online. As this is happening those who are participating online are invited to pray a prayer of what is called “spiritual communion” which invites everyone to “feed on Him in your hearts by faith”, even though they have not actually received the bread and the wine. By either of these approaches, Morning Prayer or Spiritual Communion, I want to encourage you to enter into Holy Week and Easter expecting to meet the Lord Jesus.
For your consideration may I suggest to you that though not actually receiving is very different and disappointing, it is also a wonderful opportunity to seek to grow as a Biblically grounded people at this time.
From the Word we are to:
1) Proclaim with power the fact of the Cross of Jesus and the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus.
“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
2) To celebrate the joy of our salvation which stands even when we can’t gather or receive.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure 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, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
3) To glorify the Risen Lord Jesus as we wait with the longing both for the glorious return of Jesus, and in these days, for that day when the imminent threat of the spread of this virus is lifted and we can come together to worship our Risen Lord and receive as he taught us as often as we meet until He comes.
So, for now, here are three things we as a Diocese intend to provide which we hope will contribute to your personal Easter joy and your respective ANiC congregation’s online celebration.
From Palm Sunday through Good Friday we will follow the tradition of having a reading of all four gospels of the final hours to the Cross, beginning with Matthew on Palm Sunday. For each of the six days one of our ANiC bishops will read the daily gospel reading. Those will be posted by early in the morning each day.
The Diocese will be producing a prerecorded video of possibly 30 minutes which we hope every ANiC congregation on Easter Sunday can use and share at some point in their Easter Day online celebrations. Included in the 30 minutes will be the Easter Greeting, two Easter Hymns, and a short sermon. There will be three versions provided, with sermons from the Diocesan bishop and the two area bishops, so that each area of ANiC can feature their area bishop. We hope this Diocesan video can serve to draw us all together and contribute to each congregation’s Easter Service and celebrations. The video will end with the Easter blessing offered by the bishop.
Finally, family prayers are a precious part of all Anglican Prayer Books. Having a special meal together with those who are with you in your home can be a great joy especially on a day such as Easter Sunday. After participating in your congregation’s online Easter Service some families may wish to make their Easter family meal a kind of “Agape Meal”. We will provide some simple suggested prayers and short readings which some may incorporate into their family meal that day. May I emphasize however this is not Holy Communion but simply breaking bread together in the joy of Easter.
Dear friends, may I end this lengthy Pastoral letter with something that comes from what is known as the Kenyan Rite:
All our problems
We send to the cross of Christ.
All our difficulties
We send to the cross of Christ.
All the devil’s works
We send to the cross of Christ.
All our hopes
We set on the risen Christ.
Let us pray for one another and for the world, that the gospel may go forward in power in these days.
Yours in the name of our wonderful, Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus,
The Right Reverend Charlie Masters
Diocesan Bishop of the Anglican Network in Canada