I generally commune with all my shut-ins. I didn’t learn this on vicarage. Nor did we ever talk about it at seminary. It is something that I have done pretty much since the beginning of my pastorate. When I had fewer shut-ins at my previous congregation, I never considered that I was communing “too often.” But there have been times in the last couple of years when I have asked myself, “Is Communion becoming too commonplace for me?” This is the question that many ask when Communion begins to be offered every Sunday, and so I can relate to those who have asked this question.
One thing that I have started to do, which has helped keep me focused on the nature of the Gift and its benefits for me, is to bring along a self-examination guide in the car with me, a “Beicht-Spiegel” (Confession Mirror) to look at before receiving the Lord’s Supper with my shut-ins. I spend a few moments in my car, not every time, but during those times when there are several shut-ins throughout the week to visit, and read through some of the questions for self-examination, say a brief prayer, and remind myself that Holy Communion is for repentant sinners, and that I, indeed, am one of those. I spend some time recalling the resentment that I felt towards my wife or a fellow Christian, or how reluctant I was to spend time with my children, or the desires that have arisen within me that are soiled with sin.
I remind myself that the Lord’s Supper is the Lord’s antidote to death, and that since I am a dying sinner, I need to have this heavenly medicine often. I do this so that when I am communing with my shut-ins, I do not, by my lack of preparation, begin to take the Lord’s Supper and its benefits for granted. I don’t know if others do this, but I have found it to be a helpful exercise for me. Also, I would add, that when I am regularly confessing my sins to a father confessor, this too is a most helpful preparation for receiving the Lord’s body and blood, not only on Sundays and at other Divine Services, but when I take the Lord’s Supper to the shut-ins.
Incidentally, I went to see a shut-in yesterday whose dementia has worsened, and it took her a while to recognize who I was, but she finally did. As we went through the Service, since she didn’t join in with me on the Confession (few do), I did ask her: “_______, do you believe that Jesus Christ shed his blood for you on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins?” And her eyes opened wide and she said: “Yes!” I then proceeded with the absolution, and the rest of the Service. She joined in with me reciting the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and even the Words of Institution this time. And then, after we were all done, she wanted to recite the 23rd Psalm, which we did from memory. After this was all done, and I was cleaning up, she had forgotten again who I was, and even that she had received the Lord’s Supper I think. I am always reminded in such situations of the words of St. Paul: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).