Dear Friends in Christ,
“Performance or Placeholder?” That is the question.
This week I am working with five other Priests to celebrate The Great Vigil of Easter. The Easter Vigil (Paschal Vigil or the Great Vigil of Easter), is the first official celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus in the new year. The Vigil takes place during the dark hours between Holy Saturday sunset and Easter Day sunrise. The most common time for Easter Vigil is during the evening of Holy Saturday or midnight. The Easter Vigil is considered as the most important service of public reverence and Masses of the liturgical year.
This beautiful service anticipates the return of Christ with the lamps burning (the Paschal Candle), so that he shall find his followers awake and watchful. The service is divided into four parts, the Service of Light, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of Baptism, and the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist.
Four Priests plus myself along with three lay people will gather outside around the Paschal Candle to celebrate a form of this historic service. We will maintain our six to ten foot distance and move through the first three sections of the service. While we will be omitting the Holy Eucharist, I am excited because I dearly love the Vigil. It is a unique and very special component of our Holy Week observance and, though we have not done it at Creator in many years, there was a time when it was a glorious part of our Easter celebration. I will post the Vigil to our YouTube page and send a ling out for you to watch it Saturday night.
And, though I am enjoying our weekly worship in our very altered form, I am conscious of a “performance” aspect to worshiping in any empty sanctuary and filming it. There’s only so much “life” in live-streaming, if you know what I mean. For the Palm Sunday service, I enjoyed laying out the palms and planning my procession (of one!), knowing you would be able to see our beautiful sanctuary and the altar readied for Holy Week. I very deliberately hung the red banners and made sure the “camera” angle would capture a larger background. I wanted to make it so you could be where I was, see what I saw and experience the sacred space as much as I.
Along those same lines, I have spent a lot of time researching technology and platform to enable our corporate worship to continue uninterrupted. I am also giving much thought, energy a time and some cost to our audio/visual capabilities at Creator, trying to make our weekly gatherings more reliable and effective. If it’s the only way we have to connect, then it better be good. I am aware that it is not the same. You might still be in your pajamas! From your kitchen table or living room sofa. That is very different. Though this form of gathering has much in common with the practice of watching T.V., it is rather our holy spiritual offering to God on Sunday morning.
For as long as we are connected by various social media platforms, I see our weekly “Zoom” worship as a sort of placeholder, keeping the habit and practice in place until we can be together again. We will look back and see that there was never a Sunday our church was not prayed in. Never did our congregation not come together to glorify him, even in the midst of a terrible crisis. In fact, we came to him more. That gives me peace just thinking about it.
I want to suggest that our time together on Sunday is neither a performance nor a placeholder. Even in “normal” times, God is speaking to us in many different ways, but it is precisely because life is “too” normal, too satisfactory, complacent or predictable, that maybe we don’t hear him. Or we don’t listen. And even though worshiping on a laptop or cell phone with little “Brady Bunch” images of our Creator family is temporary; I believe part of the change will remain long after we are side by side in the pews again. Some change remains, because that which is changed is made new. The Bible is filled with transformation: think name changes, transfigurations, think healing both physical and spiritual. Think of the greatest transformation of all: From death to life.
I believe in the transforming power of shared time. If you are praying every morning at 8:15, then you are part of that power. I believe that gathering at the same time every Sunday has the same spiritual effect to transform, only previously maybe we were too “distracted” by physical presence to recognize it. Now that we are coming together in every format other than physical, the mystical reality is more obvious as it glorifies God and strengthens his people. We are more, because we are one, and worship plays every note of our Oneness. See it? There is a discipline there, and there is a dedication in your willingness to gather against all odds. God’s love and mercy, which is without glitch or barrier, which will never grow weary or sick, is here, among us in the incarnate Christ.
I know another word for transformation: Redemption.
I cut this sentence but haven’t deleted it entirely:
Change is part of our life in Christ. It began in his work on the cross and your personal reception of it, and it is being lived out through our new online worship
What do you think?
Father Bill Burk†