Our pandemic “worship at home” routine started out so well. I set up an altar on our dining room table. A lovely seasonal placemat served as the parament. There were altar flowers, fresh if possible. Two candles along the margins. In the center, the set up for communion: a pair of crystal aperitif glasses, normally used as sampling glasses for my husband’s Scotch tasting club, and a small pottery dish, intended for this very purpose in private communion, remnant of my pastoring days. Our laptop completed the set- up, as we tuned into the Facebook watch party.
We arranged all this and arrived at the altar on time every Sunday morning, dressed for the day. Week after week after week, as the pandemic stubbornly kept us from gathering in community, we sat side by side on dining room chairs and listened and prayed and sang – and it was good. Through those months, and still now, we have watched our beloved church staff adapt to this new way of doing worship, and found ourselves surprised at how satisfying it was. Not as good as being there, by any means. But still good, still engaging, still life-giving. Still holy.
But the pandemic raged on. I started doing jigsaw puzzles, big ones, ones that took weeks to complete and ended up spread out over half the dining room table. Our altar got swished to one end. One Sunday, I didn’t get dressed in time and I worshipped in my pajamas and robe and discovered the sky didn’t fall, lightning didn’t strike and I only felt a little guilty (but please, don’t tell my mom).
One day we discovered that even though our TV is not very smart, we could connect it to the laptop, make it smarter and watch shows that we couldn’t get before. Oh – and we could worship that way too! So we ditched the dining room altar and the small screen and now we worship side by side on our family room couch, in front of the TV.
The crystal glasses and pottery dish and a candle are still included, on the coffee table/altar. But there’s also the Sunday crossword, a couple of coloring books and a pile of magazines. Last Sunday during worship I caught myself slouched on the couch, coffee cup in hand with my bare feet on the altar (coffee table) and thought, “Good grief! This isn’t good. What next?” Images of dragging the computer into bed with jelly- toast fingers come to mind.
Still, some things have remained, and they are sacred things. The words of liturgy and sermon, prayers and sacrament. The pleasure of “seeing” who is worshipping with us and greeting them in the comment section. And the time every Sunday when Rich and I lift the bread (Wheat Thin) to each other and say, “the body of Christ given for you” and then the wine (sparking juice) and offer it to each other, saying “the blood of Christ, shed for you”. Precious, intimate, real. Holy.
God bless the church staff as they try to figure out when and how we can worship in person again. I’m trying to be patient, but I want so badly to be in the sanctuary. To turn in my chair and talk to the person behind me. Grin at the kids across the open space, experience the sights and sounds of worship without camera or screen involved. I want to sing with the whole room filled again. I can’t wait until we can hug and laugh and cry – together. And how I long for the day when we can all stand in a circle around the altar again. When we can be fed from one loaf and one chalice and receive again the blessing and the invitation in person. “Go now, fed and forgiven, to be God’s Good News in the world”.
I promise I’ll come dressed and ready for the day. I won’t put my feet on the altar. But I bet I’ll look across that circle and cry. And I won’t be the only one.