Culture,  Uncategorized

Worship Woes: A Return from Quarantine

When the quarantines began to shut down schools then states, then the nation at large, it’s no surprise that churches were caught up in the crushing wave of the COVID crisis. Many have taken the possible instances of First Amendment overreaches by offering the other cheek–permitting a time of online worship until the day congregants can gather once more. Or, at least with fewer restrictions. Those days seem to be drawing near, and for some states, that day is here, such as for my state of Indiana.

The idea of not gathering, in person, for worship is something Christians should not take lightly. We are incarnational people, in the flesh kind of people, we relate best to each other as we encounter one another in person. The reason for this truth is that this is how Jesus encounters and best relates to us. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).”

Jesus’ advent into his creation as a child who grows in the humility of the flesh through wisdom and stature (Cf. Luke 2:52) makes evident how we by the same frail flesh make sense of God and this world. But as we interact with this Living Word by live-streaming worship and social distancing it is worth wondering with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord (Cf. Psalm 13)?” How long until we can come back into the house of God’s presence in Church and rejoice in the calling of the Holy Spirit to gather together in the flesh for worship and reception of all of God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament?

What I feared at the beginning of this quarantine is already beginning to rumble through social media and a diversity of personal exchanges: people do not want to go back to worship. This could be for a variety of reasons, none of which do I claim to know for certain, but among them is fear of the virus and satisfaction with current worship practice: online, drive-in, or nothing at all. I want to address in particular the satisfaction with current quarantine worship practices by speaking to the importance of in flesh worship and life.

The exchange of God’s gifts and discipline have always been delivered in the flesh. When God spoke to his people it was through Moses and the Prophets, and now in these last days through Jesus, the Son of God (Cf. Hebrews 1:2). And these words are not merely transmitted by Books or Letter of the Apostles but are taught by pastors to this day. It doesn’t speak to the weakness of God’s Word that doctrine is handed down this way but to the fact that God’s Word is unchanging and true ministers of the Gospel still speak God’s Word as Moses and the Prophets and as Jesus and his Apostles.

The blessed gifts of the Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, were not relayed from a transcendent voice from heaven but given to the Christian Church from Jesus as he came to his people. The Mediator met with his people, in the flesh, and gave to us what is necessary for salvation.

Likewise, the necessary use of discipline is a person to a person matter. When St. Paul addressed Cephas for his sin, he “opposed him to his face… (Galatians 2:11)” and when we stand condemned for sin we confess before God and one another our sin (Confession and Absolution in the Divine Service). We confess before our pastor all the sins we are aware of (Individual Confession and Absolution), and we confess our sin as others confront us according to the discipline of Matthew 18.

Worshiping together lends itself to the way we live together. Our way of worship has been disrupted so our way of life together has been disturbed. This time can be an opportunity for reflection upon the goodnesses of God’s presence among us but it cannot be an excuse to claim a new normal. The ordinaries of worship and life should not be forsaken because we have come to crave something outside their usual practice, worship: online, drive-in, or not at all.

If something can be learned among Christians as we return from quarantine let it be the joy of our incarnational nature in Christ with one another, and a general caution toward novelty.

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