My tenure as pastor of a local church concluded in mid-April. At that time, I was leading Sunday worship on Facebook Live, doing my best to offer some semblance of normalcy and consistency in a chaotic moment that, at that time, hardly anybody foresaw lasting as long as it has.
As I increasingly resigned myself to the probability that worshipping in this format would last right up until my final Sunday, I realized that I needed to think about how to provide a meaningful experience for the events of Holy Week, which happened to also be my last week there.
I wondered specifically what Maundy Thursday would look like, which in years past had always featured the sharing of communion and a liturgy of Tenebrae, during which the story of Jesus' final hours would be told and we would pause intermittently to extinguish candles. It's a very powerful service to experience in person, but I wasn't sure how well it would translate through the screen of one's electronic device of choice. I suspect that, despite my best efforts, for most people it was not as meaningful as it usually was.
Most people who are accustomed to attending Christmas Eve services will have to do so through their computer or phone, just as we've had to for months. Some had perhaps held out hope that this would all be resolved by now, or at least contained enough that it wouldn't affect such a sacred time of the year. But it hasn't, and so here we are preparing to log in once again, candles and lighters at the ready, to sing "Silent Night" from our living rooms.
Nobody planning to celebrate Jesus' birth wants to do it this way, including worship leaders who made the decision to do so. It's harder to think about safety when what we'd really like is familiarity, especially now. This year has taken a lot of other things away from us; the least it could do is give us this one night where the rest of our anxieties are held at bay for an hour or more.
I haven't yet decided on how I'll spend that evening. Like many others, I know that logging on will feel the same. But as down as I've felt about this season in years' past, the music and the story has always had a way of lifting up a tired and anxious spirit. If I denied myself that, even in a less-than-ideal way, I'd be denying my soul even the opportunity for that to happen again.
At the end of this long year of depending on screens for so much, this time I'll hope in its ability to provide a bit of balm for all the times that came before. Even two-dimensionally, what would this night be without it?