File:The Incredulity of Saint Thomas-Caravaggio (1601-2).jpg

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is possibly the holiest object presented to your senses.”[1]

While I’ve been blessed during this quarantine time to live in community with my family, the absence of other forms of community has turned my thoughts towards the Incarnation.

I noticed this the first week of online church. We still had confession, prayers, and worship songs. We still read our three Scripture readings from the Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospels. My pastor still preached the Word. We even had a church member pre-record her recitation of the Apostle’s Creed for the rest of us to follow in some semblance of declaring our faith corporately. My pastor offered to visit for private communion and devotions. Thankfully, our church has also offered a drive-in option so that we can meet at the same time and at least see one another from our cars.

There’s something good in the stripped-down approach. It reminds us that we gather for prayer and the Word. It reminds us that the communion of saints transcends space and time: the Lord still hears all of our prayers, and we are still participants in the same body though we are apart. We have to use a little imagination and faith to remember that other believers are reading these same Scriptures and praying these same prayers. One of the things I’ve grown to love about old hymns and prayers from the early church is the reminder that believers have been struggling through their faith for centuries. And God is faithful. He is constant amidst all of the changes of this world.

But because we are human, we are very much tied to space and time. These are some of the means with which God chooses to meet with his people, as we see with the bread and wine of communion, the waters of baptism, and the call to live in fellowship with one another. Singing along with a PowerPoint or watching my pastor on a screen while taking notes isn’t the same. For years I thought that corporate worship meant something almost mystical, that you could be together and nothing really happen, so you had to really make it count. I suppose that may be true if we are distracted or gathering for the wrong reasons, but I’m not sure it happens as often as we assume. Maybe we’ve been so distracted by our own ideas of God’s presence and intimacy with Him and others that we’ve missed the small ways in which God meets with us and unites us during our time together.

What I’ve missed is not some conjured feeling of closeness but the sheer humanity.

I miss the sound of several voices confessing the same sin, reading the same Scripture, praying the same prayers, and confessing the same creed.

I miss the small children crawling under the pew, peeping over their parents’ shoulder, and babbling over my pastor’s reading of the liturgy.

I miss the hugs and wet kisses of an older man who treats every person who walks through the door as a son or daughter.

I miss the mixture of beautiful singing voices with others that are loud at best.

I miss the awkward moments in which we sing a song in which no one really knows the words or tune.

I miss seeing the pastor’s three-year-old son running up to sit in his lap first when it’s time for the children’s message, his daughter playing with his tie, and a toddler grinning and darting under the altar to escape his mother because he refuses to sit down.[2]

I miss the coughs, the sneezes, the obnoxious nose-blowing, the awkward giggle from a new couple a few rows back, even the half-whispered comments of the teenagers behind me that were once an irritation because I struggle with concentrating anyway.

I miss the regular typos in the bulletin, the ear piercing feedback of my pastor’s mic as we try to work out the kinks in our sound system.

I miss the snippets of conversation from a woman with laughing dark eyes who always comes up with a compliment and a question because she’s that darn intentional with people.

…families other than mine who take up an entire pew…the older woman usually holding someone’s infant, a look of perfect contentment on her face…the older man in the back with his dog lying by his wheelchair…

One of the best moments the past few weeks was Easter Sunday when my dad, the priest of our home, led believers in our family through communion after each of us read passages of Scripture revolving around the passion of Christ.

As we hunger for community with other believers whom we cannot see or touch right now, it hopefully reminds us that Emmanuel, God with us, came to us in the flesh, and through the Church, through ordinary human beings, He continues to reach and bless His people, perhaps in ways we once deemed insignificant or more so, overlooked.

Image “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio taken from Wikimedia Commons.

[1] Lewis, C.S. “The Weight of Glory,” The Weight of Glory and Other Essays. Harper Collins, 1980.

[2] For those of you starting to believe the Lutheran kids misbehave all the time: 1) You’re absolutely right, hence the term “little sinners.” and 2) Most of what we term misbehaving just might be them being kids, so lighten up.

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