Every Eucharist is a Virtual Eucharist


Every Eucharist is a virtual Eucharist. Of course it is.

We know this.

We experience this.

We forget this.

Christianity – at least the bits of Christianity that are worth taking seriously – takes time and space so seriously that it knows that the particular cannot ever express the ultimate. Indeed, time and space are playthings in the hands of the religiously inspired.

Over the last few months it hasn’t been possible for my congregation to celebrate the Eucharist together in one space. But when we used to do that, we were never entirely in one space anyway. The very building itself is designed to transport people from the knowledge that they are a few yards from a busy thoroughfare in the Second City of Empire. Taking a few steps inside we find that we are in another place altogether. And in another empire, where the Emperor is servant of all and love is the essense of the law. The conceit that going into church takes you into a divine, heavenly realm is not an idea exclusive to the East. Coming into St Mary’s you are supposed to feel that you are stepping into heaven. It has been built to make you feel that. It has been decorated to make you feel that.  It does make people feel that.

Whenever I take people into church I almost always hear them express a sense of wonder. We have the wow factor. It has been created by human skill to make you feel that the reality that you experience as you stand in the street is not the only reality that you can experience. It is a space that conveys that love, joy and peace might be possible and it does that without words. It is done with beauty and it takes people a few steps up the stairway to heaven.

And it is the church playing with reality.

That experience of going into a holy space and feeling part of something bigger is something common to religions that are divided on all kinds of doctrinal matters. It points to things that are best expressed through virtual reality and religious people are so used to virtual reality that they sometimes forget that it is all around them.

When people come to the Eucharist in St Mary’s they are at once in Glasgow and simultaneously elsewhere. And elsewhere isn’t even singular either. At the Eucharist in Glasgow we are at one and the same time in an Upper Room in Jerusalem rather a long time ago and at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb at the ultimate consumation of all that is. The Last Supper and the Breakfast at the End of the Universe happen at the same table. At the same time.

And as we gather at our table, we gather at every table and eat in communion with those who share in the same meal. Our fellowship with them isn’t prevented by circumstance. Our Eucharistic fellowship has never been prevented by circumstance or lack of physical proximity.

We couldn’t keep the Triduum in Holy Week without virtual reality.

Without virtual reality it would just be a way of making feet smell less.

Without virtual reality it would just be a bonfire that would die.

Christ is the celebrant at every Eucharist no matter which particular celebrant is standing there. Virtual reality becomes interwoven with the reality of the lives that we bring to the table and we are formed and changed and made new. It is how God’s love is expressed.

This is virtual reality. Every Eucharist is a Virtual Eucharist. Cyberspace is one of the most powerful metaphors for prayer that human beings may ever develop.

Our bodies are bound by physics.

God’s love in this world isn’t.

This is why religious buildings are important. It is also why they are not important.

Every Eucharist is a Virtual Eucharist.

Every Eucharist always was a Virtual Eucharist.

Of course it was.

10 Discussion Points about the Church and Virtual Reality

A very interesting discussion last night with Anne Tomlinson as part of the Church in the Academy series at the University of Glasgow’s theology department. (Or faculty or school or whatever the thing is right now).

We were discussing the possibilities for the church with the new opportunities that new social IT technologies have brought us.

After thinking about it overnight, here’s 10 discussion points and questions, some made last night and some fresh ones.

  • The church is actually very good at doing virtual reality – so good we don’t realise we are doing it half the time.
  • The Easter resurrection appearances seem to cast doubt on the necessity of the physical. Thomas was invited to touch but Mary Magdalene was forbidden to do so. The risen Christ seems to be no respecter of physical space, time or geography and we are the body of [the risen] Christ. Are we not?
  • If we believe in the Real Presence, do we believe that presence to be physical?
  • Prayer generally takes place in virtual space.
  • Virtual reality is most likely to be used successfully as a way of enhancing rather than replacing more common forms of perception, friendship and social interaction but that should not rule out new possibilities altogether.
  • The internet is a world-wide web of megaphones drowning out the voices of those who do not know how to use it. I tweet therefore I am.
  • In evolutionary terms, the voices of those who choose not to engage online simply may not be voices that matter.
  • Whenever we perceive new territory we send out missionaries. Current experiments in cyberspace fit that experience.
  • One day we will need to provide special ministries to the cyber-poor. (We should be planning this now – those who engage in these ministries will release the rest of us).
  • Cyberpoverty may stem from actual poverty, fear, lack of education, low personal expectation or low self-worth. Churches have a mandate to address such societal evil and should not shirk the task of digital inclusion.