During COVID-19, churches turned to online formats. Cell groups, bible studies, and youth groups used online meeting software to connect and continue on until the stay at home guidelines were lifted. Sunday worship gatherings happened as individuals gathered around a website or Facebook and viewed a pre-recorded or live service.
My church service followed the format we had used each Sunday. After opening with worship and praise, the pastor delivered the sermon and we ended with communion as is our regular practice. However familiar it seemed, there were many differences.
The Sunday morning rush to get ready and out of the house slowed to a leisurely pace. Since we didn’t need to drive anywhere or even go out in public, what we wore didn’t matter. While I often wear jeans to church, the nicer shirt I generally chose gave way to a t-shirt. Jewelry was limited to the basics and make-up stayed in the containers. Shoes abandoned, I “attended” church barefoot. It did remind me of the medical mission trip I took to Thailand a few years ago where every indoor activity was barefoot…but I digress.
Worship and praise was just as uplifting…except for the fact that my voice was no longer drowned out by the congregation singing together. The volume could be adjusted to account for that but you had to remember to turn it down before the sermon. Since I’m familiar with watching video sermons or bible study lessons, watching the sermon was not all that different.
The first week we had online service, everything went well…once we figured out how to hook up our phone to the TV for a larger screen. Then, after the sermon, the pastor invited us to share in communion during the next song. With a start, I realized we had not prepared. Our congregation takes the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and I had forgotten to make sure we had supplies. That week, I purchased grape juice so we would be ready the next week.
Or were we?
The next Sunday, I got the phone hooked up and went to gather our communion supplies. Since I have celiac disease, I purchase and take my own Gluten Free communion wafers in a small Tupperware container each week so it was easy to share these with my husband. I grabbed the grape juice I purchased and experienced a new challenge–what was I going to put it in. Drinking glasses were much too large. The service was beginning and they were singing the first song. In my haste to get things ready, I remembered we had something small enough. Souvenir shot glasses!
We had exactly two of them. One was from the Alaskan cruise we took for an anniversary trip and the other was from a Paula Deen restaurant gift shop. I know that communion was never the intended use but these glasses have fulfilled a sanctified use since that first week we had to use them for just that reason. As I washed them that first week, I had a chance to think about each of them.
The one from the cruise has a ship wheel on it with the logo for Princess cruises. I was reminded that Jesus walked on water in the midst of a storm and provided peace. Since COVID-19 was our current storm, I needed someone who could calm my storm of anxiety. The logo reminded me that I had been accepted into God’s family and since he was the King of kings, I was, in fact, a princess. My heavenly Father is in charge and I can rest secure.
The second cup from the Paula Deen restaurant was labeled with a simple Southern phrase “Hey Y’ALL”. In this, I was reminded of the church united even in isolation. We may have been in our individual homes taking communion with a few family members but we still belonged to a larger group of Christians all over the world. The blood of Christ, represented in the juice that filled this unusual glass, turned a simple “you” (single) into “y’all” (plural). Our salvation was an individual event, not based on the faith of our families, but a personal response of faith and trust in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
So, my husband and I keep using these secular containers for a sacred purpose. And, each week, I am again reminded that Jesus provides peace in my storm, the King of kings remains on the throne and in charge, and although we are isolated by walls, the gospel unites us beyond those walls. No virus is powerful enough to stop what God is doing during this time. During a crisis, many may turn to God and some who would not dare to step foot into a building may view an online sermon and open their heart to the message of the gospel.
Church pews (or chairs) might be empty, but my heart is full of hope.