How can we re-imagine worship in this time of CoronaVirus? Looking at the earliest Christians and how they invented their worship from scratch, what can we learn? What do we look at and go "I miss that", and what do we look at and go "we could learn from that"?
There’s so many different varieties of Christian worship -
In Mozambique they clap and wear colorful robes and when people come to give their donation they dance up to the offertory plate.
In a monastic service they are quiet, chanting, solemn, reflective..
A middle class British charismatic service might have soft rock music, 45 minutes of non stop singing, and lots of arms waving in the air.
A Cathedral Eucharist with a choir singing renaissance harmonizing and Mozart masses.
A small rural church with 6 to 7 people holding their hymns ancient or modern, with the organ that’s a bit too big for the building drowning out their singing, but it’s their church and they are devoted to it.
I wonder what you miss about our worship from normal times?
It will be different for each one of us.
One person might miss the piano, organ or trumpet playing.
One person might miss the choir.
One person might miss the taste of the bread and juice during communion.
One person might miss the hugs they receive when greeted.
One person might miss the chance to see and catch up with friends for the week.
One person might miss saying hello to new people who turn up.
One person might miss the call to worship or the scripture readings.
One person might miss the prayers.
One person might miss the sermon
One person might miss just being in church.
It will be different for each one of us.
I wonder what you miss about our worship from normal times?
Today's reading describes the life transforming worship of the very earliest Christians. It comes from just after the day of Pentecost it comes from Acts Chapter 2:42-47
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
This passage comes from a time of change. It is a time of creativity. Genesis 1 tells us that God is creator and it also tells us that we are made in his image, so we are called to be creative. For the earliest Christians they had no worship pattern to look back to, so they had to create things from scratch. For us, our two thousand year old pattern of worship has been thrown into chaos by CoronaVirus, so we have to reinvent it, we have to be creative too.
So as we look at these early Christians in Acts, we will see principles we can apply but will also see things that fill us with longing - they could do that, but we can’t at the moment.
The first verse - Acts 2:42 - one of my favorite verses in the whole bible - serves as a heading to the rest of the passage.
“42 and they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers”.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching
Teaching is probably the easiest thing not to lose out on during this time of distancing. It is easy for example for us to provide you with a sermon each week - whether you hear it via our podcast, a posted copy or a mailed copy. We are reflecting together God’s word and how we can apply it to this strange current situation. Several of you have generously commented on how helpful you are finding this and those words are greatly appreciated.
Teaching is the easiest thing for us not to lose out on during this time of distancing. Some people are working harder than ever, but some are having a bit more time, why not read some Christian books? Our church has a library full of them, just waiting to be read..
Currently I am reading many short stories for my Signposts class, we have read 2 short stories one called the “The Three Hermits” by Leo Tolstoy, and “The Lombardy Poplar” by Mary Wilkins Freeman. We took both of these stories and broke them down and really delved into the characters and what was happening with them, taking a step back from what is happening in the world and reading and really thinking about the characters is inspirational and mind and soul cleansing.
Back to our scriptures reading.
“They devoted themselves… to Fellowship”
"All who believed were together"
"Day by day, as they spent much time together"
"they broke bread at home"
Right now it is very difficult for us to be together but it doesn’t mean we can’t still devote ourselves in fellowship.
I was speaking to someone on the phone this week who said they just really miss seeing and being with everyone. Sometimes we don’t understand the importance of something in our lives until we aren’t able to do it.
Mother Theresa once said “loneliness is the leprosy of modern society”.
Church is fantastic at bringing people together. In our lonely, busy, crazy, modern world, people, particularly the retired, can go for days without seeing or touching another human being.
And now all that has to be reinvented.
I love the fact that some people are refusing to talk about “social distancing” - replacing the phrase with “Physical distancing but social closeness”
At times like this we need to be staying in touch with one another. Last Friday was my boss's 50th birthday. We aren’t able to be together in the office so the Sales team had a Zoom “Cocktail Hour” we all went into a chat room from 4:30-5:30 to celebrate my bosses birthday. Everybody had a cocktail, I had water and I told them I would be the designated driver. We played a game, we sang happy birthday, we chatted about what everyone had been up to. It was nice to share that time together in a different way. It kept us connected. We all realized how much we miss our little team and actually makes me want to get back in the office and get back to work!
Something I’ve noticed is so many people are offering to do shopping for so many of the vulnerable. It does feel that this awfulness is turning us into better, kinder, more compassionate people.
If I wanted to be controversial I’d say that back in the day when things were normal, we took for granted that we could invite people round to our house, It was always something we were going to do, but often something we didn't actually get around to doing. Covid makes you rethink your priorities.
There is a lady on the Litchfield Facebook page that spends her days baking and delivering her baked goods to anybody that wants them until she runs out. I see strangers posting that they are running to Giant Eagle etc. and would be happy to pick something up if anybody needs anything. We aren’t together, but we are fellowshipping together in so many different ways.
So I have a mission for you if you choose to accept it - can you phone one member of the congregation this week who you would not normally phone? Maybe phone one person whom you don’t know very well or even don’t know at all? It might seem a bit scary but it is a great way for us to get to know one another better.
I have never phoned as many people in my life compared with before Covid struck - but even though it can at times be exhausting, I am finding it is really positive. I am getting to know you far better through these phone calls. So I encourage you - phone each other. Try phoning someone you have never phoned before. It is worth it.
Back to the scriptures.
“They devoted themselves to ...The breaking of the bread”
“they spent much time together in the temple,“
“they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,”
These earliest Christians met in small groups for the breaking of the bread - but they also went to the Temple daily - with it’s incense and robes and statues and sacrifices - and we know from Revelation that when the early Christians pictured worship in heaven it is was very physical again with robes and lamps and incense and people throwing themselves to the floor. GK Chesterton described Christianity as “the most materialistic of all religions”. We are based on God being born as a human baby, God saving us through dying physically on the cross. And of course, as we remember at this time of year - Jesus rising physically from the dead.
When we gather at church we talk, we sing, we laugh, we hug, we sometimes cry. We light candles, we meet Jesus in bread and wine. And right now all of that is gone
The fellowship is what we miss.
I encourage you to embrace what you are feeling. It is like a long lent - a time of enforced fasting. When we get back into church, let us never take church for granted again.
And also The disciples “Ate gladly and joyfully” - their physicality of worship extended to the little things in their own homes. We can all take a moment to say thank you as we eat our daily food. Hopefully all of you received palm crosses. Maybe you can use those or find other little ways to bring physicality into your worship in your own homes?
The disciples also “devoted themselves to - The Prayers”
“ Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles”
What makes people of faith different from people with no faith? We are not better people than those with no faith - though we can say that we are better people than we would be if we had no faith. We are broken hurting people whom God has lifted out of the mess through the death of his son. So we may be even more messed up than many people without faith.
Churches do many good things - run Toddler Groups, run food banks, clothing closets, night shelters - but churches are not the only people to do those things.
But the one thing that people of faith have that other people don’t is that we pray.
The war time Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple famously said “people often say that answers to prayer are just coincidences. But what I find is that when I pray coincidences happen. And when I don’t, they don’t.
Praying is something we can do anytime, anywhere, alone or in a group. So please continue to pray!
Finally - “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
We may be locked in our homes, but I am encouraged that many of you are being outward looking in your faith. Some of you have told me of how family members who haven’t engaged with faith for years are now asking you questions. Several of you have told me how you are sharing these sermons with family members, colleagues and neighbors.
In this storm we are going through, faith gives us an anchor. Let’s not be selfish and keep that anchor for ourselves. In a respectful and generous way, let us share it with others. Amen
Let us at this time prepare for our communion.
The Great Thanksgiving Hear the Good News: In fulfilling God's covenant with Noah, Abraham, and all creation, Christ was born to seek the lost and to lift up the down-hearted. God assures us, by Jesus' testimony, that no matter who we are, all can know the wonderful blessings of God’s rich creation and have fulfillment in paradise. Glory to God. Amen.
May God be with you. And also with you.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to God, the Lord of our lives.
Let us give thanks to God for all of our rich blessings. It is a wonderful thing to offer our thanks to You, O Lord Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. And so, we join others throughout the world and those who have come before us and all the company of heaven to praise You, saying: Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Holy and sacred is your presence, dear God; and blessed are we to see Christ in our lives. By his birth, sacrifice, and resurrection You gave birth to your church and brought us out of the depths of despair to a life of hope and promise. We remember that during that night when Jesus shared a last supper with his disciples where he gave of himself by giving thanks to You, breaking bread, and handing it to them; saying: “Take and eat; this is my body, which is for you.” Then Jesus took a cup, again giving thanks to You, and gave to them; saying: “This cup is God’s new covenant, sealed with my blood.” He told them to remember him whenever they eat and drink, for truly they had received him, body and soul, as a part of themselves. And so, in remembering Christ’s last supper and the Covenant, we offer our praise and thanksgiving as a living testimony and proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ came into our world, Christ overcame all difficulties, and in Christ we find our true home. Bless these elements of communion today. As we receive them, may we also receive your Christ in our hearts. Amen.
Lord, as we take this bread, We remember that You are the bread of life. You feed our souls, you nourish our hearts and You give us sustenance to run the race before us. As we take this bread, we feel the softness of Your love for us, take and eat.
Lord, as we drink this wine, We remember that You are the giver of life. You are forgiveness, You bring deep peace to our souls and Your love flows within us, take and drink.
We praise you for this heavenly banquet that you have so freely given us. Thank you that we carry in our hearts the riches of this eternal goodness. May we pour it out in whatever we do, lighting up the darkness with truth, speaking out hope where there is despair, and weaving Your unconditional love into all we do. Send us now in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit. May we live to be all that you have destined us to be.
In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
‒ Pastor Pam