“Hey! HEY! HEY!!!!! Everyone sit down and listen. It’s Christmas Eve. We are worshipping here in this living room. Jesus is going to be born. AND YOU’RE GOING TO LIKE IT.”
My family looked at me like a crazy Pastor-Mom gone wild. I had worked for countless hours putting together a special virtual Christmas Eve service for our church family. For once, I was going to have the opportunity to worship with my family for Christmas Eve … if they would just all sit down and be quiet… for the love of the precious baby Jesus in the manger!
But they didn’t.
My son, 13 months old at the time, couldn’t make it another minute. He wailed in exhaustion. My husband took him up to bed, making my exhausted-and in-need-of-some-worship-husband miss the beginning of the service. My daughter (3.5 years old) remained quiet after my outburst but dumped a bag Legos on the floor and started to build. I let it go. At least it was quiet. I settled in to worship from our couch in my cozy robes and slippers, while my daughter played on the floor, seemingly oblivious to Christmas Eve worship whatsoever.
On the TV, Pastor-me proclaimed the Assurance of Pardon: “Friends, believe the Good News of great joy…”
My daughter looked up, “Mommy, you said that wrong.”
I said, “Hmmm? I said what wrong, love?”
“It’s the Good News of the Gospel. That’s the right words.”
I was stunned. She was right. I had changed our Assurance liturgy from “Good News of the Gospel” to “Good News of Great Joy” for the Christmas Eve Service.
“It’s always the Good News of the Gospel” she repeated and then went back to her Legos.
Apparently through her play and noise, God’s Words had come through and lodged in her heart. Somehow, someway, she has been listening and absorbing and worshipping all this time. This, my friends, is quite a miracle. My husband has been worshipping from home with two small children for a full year now. Every Sunday, he has high hopes of participating in the liturgy, bowing his head in prayer, and finding a word for his stressful pandemic life in the sermon. Yet for 52 weeks, he’s only heard bits and pieces through the squeals, giggles, and needs of our two children. Yet, my husband has kept worship blasting loudly anyway. His insistence may not have helped him worship, but it has helped immerse our children in the words of God.
Friends, believe the Good News of the Gospel: Jesus comes despite the noise.
This past Sunday, March 14, 2021, marks the 1-year anniversary of the COVID-19 lock down. It has been 1 full year since our church family has fully worshipped in person. 1 entire year. While we opened to a hybrid service in October, most of our church family (including my own family) remain online. While we broadcast Live to the majority of our church family at home, we have 15-20 people in the sanctuary each week.
It’s hard to say what I miss the most about worship in the “before-times”: singing, seeing, hearing, interacting, talking, shaking hands, praying together, simply existing in the same space… While I miss all these elements of in-person worship, my heart misses our voices joined together in prayer the most. I long to hear the “people” part of our liturgy.
Until just a few weeks ago, I hadn’t realized just how lonely I’ve felt doing one-sided liturgy. For nearly a year, I’ve been speaking both sides of the liturgy (Leader and People), and hoping those watching at home will join in. Even though I do envision folks joining me, my ears only hear my voice. Quite honestly, I’m getting pretty tired of hearing my own voice.
Friends, believe the Good News of the Gospel: Jesus comes despite the quiet.
When we decided to go fully virtual on March 15, 2020, we made a conscious decision to do our full worship service, not a paired down one. I led worship alone from the sanctuary. I played audio recordings produced by our music director and organist. I’d play their recordings, as I stood alone and sang (not my best moment, for sure). I read the full liturgy every week – both the leader and people parts. It felt silly and awkward, but also important to keep normalcy for worship – to help a grieving people find solace in the things that has always given us rest and peace in God. What was formerly rote, felt significant and needed.
As the year has gone on, the way we’ve delivered worship has changed – Live, Pre-recorded, In-person, Fully virtual, Hybrid — but the worship has been the same. Together, we call each other to worship in God’s presence. Together, we confess our sins, individually and corporately. Together, we are assured of the Good News of the Gospel. Together, we hear God’s Word read. Together, we hear God’s word preached. Together, we offer our lives and our gifts. Together, we sing praises. Together, we leave worship, renewed for service.
Friends, believe the Good News of the Gospel: Jesus comes where 2 or more are gathered.
Even when we opened our doors to in-person worship with many safety guidelines in late October, a few things remained the same: my music director still sang alone, and I still said the liturgy and prayers alone.
Friends, believe the Good News of the Gospel: In Jesus Christ, we are not alone.
Yet as the year has worn on, I’ve found it hard to hold onto this promise. In the “before times”, my voice would be drowned out by the volume of the voices from the pews. In fact, I rarely joined in the “people” parts of the liturgy, preferring to hear the “people’s” voices rise above mine. I used to take solace in that pause: the beautiful sound of all those voices joined together, carrying each other, confessing together, professing together.
When we opened for hybrid worship, our guidelines specified no congregational singing and no congregational liturgy. A few months later, after consulting a variety of studies on air-droplets (i.e. things they don’t teach you in seminary), we voted to allow voice participation in liturgy and spoken prayers. Yet still, even though this was permitted, those voices from the pews did not speak up. I would say the Leader part, but from my place up front, behind plexiglass and mask, I heard the people in a whisper.
Friends, believe the Good News of the Gospel: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
However, a few weeks ago, something shifted. I stood, 50 weeks into saying it alone, and rote-ly proclaimed: “Friends, believe the Good News of the Gospel.” But this time, the people responded back:
In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
Full voices joined together in proclamation. There it was. My people. Their voices. Together. My head snapped up. My brain woke up. My soul leaped. My eyes teared up. We were in this together.
Friends, believe the Good News of the Gospel: In Jesus Christ we are not alone.
Somehow, someway, no matter where we have been, we have been listening, absorbing, speaking, proclaiming, and worshipping all this time … together.
On the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 shut down, my church family was back to virtual worship again (because of my family’s quarantine status – read more here). So once again, my family gathered in our pjs to worship around our TV. I had high hopes for our worship, just like my husband has had for 52 weeks and counting. It quickly descended into chaos, as it has for 52 weeks and counting. By the time we reached the Prayer of Confession, my children were fighting over a plastic play phone. During the Silent Confession time, they were both crying. I yelled out: “Hey! HEY! HEY!!!!! We’re praying and confessing our sins right now!” The screaming continued. My husband and I looked at each other and in unison called out to the abyss: “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. FORGIVE US!” At that, our children stopped and looked at us like we were 2 crazy parents gone wild.
On the TV, Pastor-me proclaimed the Assurance of Pardon: “Friends, believe the Good News of the Gospel.”
My daughter pointed at me and called out: “In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!”