Our Christian worship has been sadly curtailed these last few months. Gathering together has been prevented.
We have a God of history, so let us be reminded of the people of Israel and Judah in 587 B.C. The people’s homes and temple had been demolished. People were carried off by the enemy into captivity in Babylon.
Their captors mocked them and called out, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” They responded in their grief, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Now, could we be so sad that we couldn’t even sing?
We are now limited in our worship, with some experiencing a sort of gathering. Unfortunately, singing in groups is a way to spread COVID-19. It is also difficult behind a mask. But we can sing at home, and especially find comfort in the old hymns that tell the story of our faith.
One hymn I am reminded of is Robert Lowry’s “My life flows on in an endless song.” The words speak of experiencing earth’s lamentations, and yet the chorus ends with, “For Christ is Lord of heaven and earth; how can I keep from singing?”
So, how does worship go for us as we shelter at home, or with social distancing and protective masks? Consider again those ancient believers who were deported to Babylon. They were isolated and had no temple or gathering place. Yet, every Sabbath, they would gather around their home table. The father would begin their Seder worship with the words, “Lift up your hearts.” The family would respond, “We lift them to the Lord.”
The early Christian church incorporated these words into their worship. Every hymnal contains these ancient words. They are part of regular liturgical worship in many churches, particularly during communion.
Liturgy is simply singing Scripture. Even at home, as we sing or say these words over and over, they are written in our hearts. Let us not forget the Psalms, which were never meant to be spoken in Israel, only sung. Our greatest hymns from antiquity to today are based on the Psalms.
In the throes of atheistic communism, the Russian authorities took everyone’s Bible away. The Russian Orthodox Church was persecuted. Never mind! Believers had liturgically changed and sung all of the gospels at worship. They knew Matthew, Mark, Luke and John by heart.
Working as a nurse or chaplain or doing pastoral visits, I met believers whose minds were challenged – but they could say the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the 23rd Psalm and join in singing a well-known hymn. These words were all implanted in their memories.
Our centralized worship communities will come again in God’s time. This is not our time to gather in high mode with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now is a good time to consider how God is protecting us as God uses doctors and scientists to guide us in wearing masks and social distancing. No matter where we are, we live under the shadow of God’s wings – regardless of COVID-19. This is grace, pure and simple.
Pastor Carole Shelby is a retired Lutheran (LCMC) pastor and a member of the Park Rapids Ministerial Association.