Some Thoughts After Restarting Worship

Yesterday was sweet and bitter. It was a tremendous blessing to have people back in the room again. I wanted to share some thoughts I had after yesterday.

Congregational singing is faith giving. One of our core principles is that the one voice of the congregation is the focus of our music. It’s our way of saying, the music team isn’t the focus. Their job is to assist the people of God in singing praises to their Savior and God.

But there is an extra benefit from this that is baked into the design by the Lord — our faith is strengthened when we sing together. When the music team stopped playing yesterday during the main service, and we just heard each other’s voices, I wept with joy.

But, there is a loss here too. There are many voices that we aren’t hearing because of their vulnerability to the Corona Virus. I miss looking out and seeing their hands raised in praise, or tears on their faces from the comfort the gospel brings.

We need to be together. It was tremendous to get to see faces again. The word for the church that the writers of the New Testament use mean “called out ones.” It’s a word that is loaded with theological meaning to a first-century Jew. The “called out ones” were the ones who were gathered around Mount Sinai after being called out of Egypt. The church is the official gathering of God’s called-out ones.

In God’s design of redemption, we are meant to be in an embodied community of other called out people. We need each other.

All of the pundits are saying that this is the time when the church will pivot to a fully online presence. Thankfully, Silicon Valley doesn’t write the script for what a flourishing person is. We are embodied souls — and we need to be in embodied communities.

But not everyone was there yesterday. Shepherd’s love their sheep. They love seeing their sheep. They love talking to their sheep. And they miss their sheep when they are not there.

So there was still a sense of loss yesterday. The plague of the Corona Virus has taken away our ability to all be together.

Worse — it has taken away the ability of our most vulnerable people to meet with us. These are the very people who we need the most in our midst. These are also the people that need to be back in worship, but shouldn’t be there. That is an odd tension.

Nimble is necessary. I said this yesterday during corporate prayer — 200-year-old churches aren’t known for being nimble. But we have been forced to adjust…adjust…adjust. I think one of the things that the Holy Spirit is doing is forcing us to demote our preferences and make decisions based on God’s mission in the world rather than on what so-and-so might prefer.

I welcome this change. But it is an exhausting change. We will probably run our current set-up for 4 weeks before we make any more major changes. There will be some slight modifications along the way, but no major changes for at least a month (unless the circumstances force us to change again).

The Lord’s Supper is received by faith. I was debriefing yesterday with one of our elders, and we both said that the Lord’s Supper felt sterile. Then we laughed because it is sterile! That’s the intention. We are trying to protect from the Corona Virus.

As we talked about how to fix it, he wisely said, “If we are receiving Christ by faith through these signs, then it really doesn’t matter. All of the benefits are still the same.” I thank God for wise elders like this!

Our felt experience is not as important as the objective reality. We are still receiving Jesus and the benefits of his work on our behalf when we peel back the bread and wine (that is a line I never thought I’d write).

Our faces are important. I long for the day when we can all be back together in the sanctuary without masks. Besides just being annoying and uncomfortable, it is difficult to have conversations with a masked person. You can’t see their mouths smile, grimace, turn downward in sorrow, etc. It’s just not the same because a level of intimacy is removed. I miss seeing everyone’s whole faces.

But even masked faces were an encouragement for me. I know that some of our people believe the masks are an unnecessary overreaction. But they still had their masks on out of love for others. When we do what we think is unnecessary out of deferential love and deferential obedience, we are taking up our cross and following Jesus. A cruciform community of called-out people is truly counter-cultural.

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