The word that continues to loom large in my head, when I think of worship in this time of pandemic is the word “weird.” It’s not an uncommon word, to be sure, and it’s not a terribly good word. And, yet it’s the word that I keep coming back to, whenever I think about my recent experiences with leading online worship, especially worship on the most significant of Sundays, Easter.
It’s weird. So terribly weird. All of it.
At the start of this whole social distancing thing, I was worried that the older congregation that I serve would simply disengage from the church, that the new online platform would feel too perplexing in the sea of new challenges that we face. I’ve been gratified that so many people have gotten onboard and online. People have asked if they can share the worship link with friends and family far away, and a few of those have “zoomed” in. All of my daughter’s college roommates, for instance, from their various locations (Philadelphia, Syracuse and Michigan), attended Easter worship. And, there have been those who have taken the opportunity to try to mess with my head. One person joined Easter worship without video, and called himself “Napoleon Rodriguez.” My husband and I got a bit nervous about that, since the name was not one we (at first) recognized. While we haven’t recognized every name that has appeared at our “Zoom” worship, we have recognized the great majority. Later, I discovered it was my brother, chiming in using a name from the 1980s cult classic, Repo Man. Ha ha.
For our Easter Sunday worship, many of the women (and a few of the men) wore Easter bonnets. A few people got dressed up, with clothing that one would expect to see on an Easter Sunday morning in the sanctuary. The organist had gone to the trouble of videotaping the postlude, early last week, from the church sanctuary, playing on the church organ. I had told people there would be a surprise at the end of the service, and the postlude did not disappoint. It looked like at least a few people were crying.
The service itself went reasonably well, with the technology cooperating, which allowed the organist to play during the service (on the piano, from his home), the soloist to sing from her home, and the chair of the Outreach Team to share information about the church’s latest outreach project.
But, it was all so weird. My husband and I have set up a small studio, of sorts, in what used to be our bedroom (the lighting is the best there). I’ve set up an altar, and Joseph takes care of managing the pieces of the service from my computer. I have to remind myself to look at that small box perched on the top of the tripod. I’d prefer to be looking around the sanctuary, into the familiar eyes of my congregation. Alas.
It’s just all so weird. And strange. And unsettling. It feels so completely and utterly distant. I realize that that’s the point, but having no visible congregation in front of me, allowing me to get some sense of whether or not I’m making any sense, or offering anything (like body movement) that allows me to know what resonates with them, is very disconcerting.
What would the Sermon on the Mount have been like, had it been shared over Zoom or live-streamed through Facebook? What would be remembered of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, if the participants had to feed only themselves at home? What would have happened with the bleeding woman, if she had no cloak to touch?
There’s so much about Jesus and the church that involves a sense of touching, and physical proximity (appropriate touching and closeness, of course). Even in John’s version of the first Easter, we know that Mary wanted to touch the risen Christ, probably started to reach out to him, but he warned her against that action. I can’t say that I’m much of a toucher, but I miss the in-person gathering of the people of God, the body of Christ.
What can I say? It’s weird.
And, the weirdness will continue, as it looks like our worship in captivity will go on for a while longer, much longer than I would like. I can’t imagine that it will ever be anything but weird, and strange. But, I’m also eager to discover what will come of this new way of being the church. What sort of resurrection does Christ have in mind this time around?