Midweek Message: "Toward the Greater Fullness of Worship on Sundays Outdoors"

Week of the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Dear Christian Friends:

Eastertide continues as we continue to proclaim that Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Our Sunday morning worship outdoors in person has been an admittedly modest diet of what our usual orders of worship offer. For the sake of the safety of erring on the side of caution, we have limited our worship to an order for confession and forgiveness, the Prayer of the Day, a single reading from the lectionary, some brief homiletical comments on the reading, the prayers of intercession, Lord’s Prayer and final blessing. All of this takes place in about fifteen minutes’ time, about a quarter of what is a typical Sunday morning service.

Now that we have a solid track record with the safety of these outdoor gatherings and given that the weather is moderating to make being outdoors more pleasant and comfortable, it is now time for us, I believe, to begin to engage the greater fullness of our liturgical assemblies. My conversations with many of you reveal that you also concur with this view.

In coming weeks, therefore, watch for a further evolution of our orders for worship outdoors – the inclusion of the full set of lectionary texts, more congregational singing of hymns, a more involved homily, safe ways to share the Peace of Christ, and most notably, thanks be to God, safe ways to celebrate Holy Communion.

We have had a long suffering fast from the central things in Word and Sacrament. This we did motivated by love for our most vulnerable neighbors. We still honor these commitments, but now with the knowledge that we can, in fact, undertake the greater fullness of our liturgical life outdoors safely and appropriately.

In fact, we need this greater fullness for the sake of our individual and communal well-being in faith. Just as fasting from food in our diets should not be a long-term venture for the sake of our physical health, we likewise benefit spiritually from what God in Christ has to offer in the full range of the means of grace. Moreover, we are beckoned to be more fully fed so that we may feed others in Jesus’ name in the power of the Holy Spirit. For the sake of the world, and the divine mission entrusted to us, our days of leanness should begin to come to an end.

Indeed, Eastertide is a season of feasting. Therefore, let us begin to return to keeping the feast! Furthermore, the Day of Pentecost approaches, that festival day on which the Holy Spirit’s coming birthed the new order of life in the church, where “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) We do well to pursue the fullness of our ordered Christian lives.

In addition to pointing to the coming of our more complete liturgical celebrations outdoors and in person on Sundays, I also want to speak to the “fellowship” dimensions of our times together on Sunday mornings. Yes, it’s lovely to socialize and to connect with each other again. But please know that we engage each other not merely as a social club, but as the body of Christ, we who are members of and therefore integral to that body. We greet each other and converse with each other in Jesus’ name.

I know from my growing experience with you that many of our conversations with each other on Sundays become occasions of Mutual Conversation and Consolation among God’s family. Remember that Martin Luther included such holy conversations among the means of grace alongside preaching, baptism, Eucharist and confession and forgiveness. Thus, it is a holy thing indeed to be in blessed conversation with each other. These conversations are not ancillary but integral to Christian community. Let us not miss or overlook the holiness of our ordinary encounters with each other in Jesus’ name when we gather outdoors on Sundays.

As your pastor, I cannot emphasize enough how crucially important these conversations are to me, charged as I am to care for you, members of the flock that is Resurrection Church. These conversations are central to my work as a pastor. Especially as I am comparatively new to you, our Sunday morning conversations in person are among the principle means through which we are getting to know each other. What happens in person is far richer and more nuanced than what transpires in email exchanges, on Zoom, or even during phone conversations. It’s also true that our conversations outdoors contribute to our spiritual and emotional well-being, especially during these pandemic days of social isolation. So it is that I am available to you about an hour before the time for worship, and then for some time afterward.

So, join us on the parsonage side of the church this Sunday for worship, first and foremost, in our substituted outdoor place of Christian assembly – where the parsonage deck is our chancel, the patio serves as choir loft, the parsonage yard fence functions as an altar rail, and the wider yard becomes our nave. In Jesus’ name, for Christ’s sake, in the power of the Holy Spirit active in Word and Sacrament, this place is holy ground indeed!

Appreciatively in Christ with hopeful anticipation,

Pastor Jonathan Linman