Sunday, March 29, 2020
Not the new normal. . . I pray
Let me suggest the obvious -- that there is nothing catholic or Lutheran about sidestepping the norms of our practice and make it possible for people to commune in their homes with bread and wine (or grape juice) while listening to or watching the Divine Service being broadcast by the pastor from an empty church building. It pains me to see and hear that some are doing exactly this in an effort to bring comfort and consolation to their people. But that is exactly the point. There is no comfort and consolation where confidence does not exist. Such home communions with technology providing a live or recorded broadcast of the service and the Words of Institution put a question mark precisely where an explanation point is needed. What are they receiving? If we cannot answer that question with confidence from Scripture, tradition, and our Confessions, then we are mistaken in our well intended efforts to serve the people of God. For in time of fear, panic, and anxiety, it is precisely confidence that is needed.
Adding to this is the constant assault of email, print, audio, and video to our people. I have refrained from posting much precisely because Facebook and other platforms and overflowing with pastors broadcasting on a daily basis. It has been our practice too direct people to the Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary, the Word Endures Forever by Pastor Weedon, and the daily devotions of our Synod President. There are more than enough faithful offerings for our people. We supplement this with a liturgy or two recorded from our live services (we are holding 18 Divine Services per week with ample capacity for more than 150 to attend and still meet the recommended limit of 10!). We send out one email a week WHEN there are changes to be noted. I am not saying you have to do what we do here but to consider the overload of offerings being given to the faithful -- unprecedented (even though that is an overused word). Can we keep this up after the viral threat is over? Should we? Will our people expect it? Will this replace face to face contacts? For some? For many?
I also have a word of concern is how the recorded or live Divine Services are being received. If our people are sitting at home with a cup of coffee in their pajamas watching the Divine Service as they would any other Facebook offering or YouTube video, we may have taught them something that we did not intend. If you watch the Divine Service at home, dress up, put aside distractions, and give your full attention to the liturgy of Lord's House. If our people are subjected to weeks, perhaps months, of watching at home with a casual attitude toward their outward and inward preparation to hear the Word of God, we have not helped them mature in their life of faith and prayer. In essence, we will have taught them that what happens in worship is no different that the cute meme on Facebook or the funny YouTube video and that worship itself is basically a spectator sport. Is that what we intend to do? Then it would help our people if we encouraged them to watch with the same attitude and posture they would if they were in the Lord's House.
So perhaps you will fault me for raising these concerns but I know from experience what it takes to unteach something you did not mean to teach. Extraordinary times require extraordinary courage, strength, and faithfulness on the part of both pastor and people. What they do not require is the kind of innovation which may suggest that live streaming is an apt substitute for being together in the Lord's House or holding up your bread and wine to the screen at home is the same as Holy Communion or that the constant stream of communications will continue when the day comes and the doors to the churches will open again and life will, hopefully, continue as it was -- at least with respect to our lives of faith and worship! My appeal, therefore, is to make sure that what we are doing in time of pandemic does not become another problem we must deal with when the pandemic and panic ends. Faithfulness is still the primary expectation of those who lead the churches and of those who sat in the pews -- especially when times preclude our weekly meeting together in the Lord's House (as Hebrews reminds).