Midweek Message: "On Having Returned to Worshiping Indoors"

Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

On July 4th, the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, I had the privilege of welcoming home those of you present in our usual place of Christian assembly, the nave of our church building where we engage the greater incarnate fullness of our life together. This word of welcome for this homecoming occurred at the baptismal font, the place of our beginnings and our endings in church, in life, in faith. I said, “How good, Lord, to be here,” an allusion to Peter’s remark on the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus appeared before the disciples in dazzling apparel and in converse with Moses and Elijah, a mountaintop experience, literally and spiritually.

This past Sunday’s return to worshiping indoors was a mountaintop experience for many of us gathered in that place – there were 69 in attendance. Prior to the pandemic, we might have taken for granted our routine of weekly Christian assembly for worship. For some sixteen months we fasted from those ordinary and most central of Christian practices. Lest we take for granted even our pandemic routines of worshiping at home in diaspora, think for a moment about how unprecedented this year-and-a-half has been in the full length and breadth of two thousand years of Christian history. There have been few times and occasions in all of Christian history when so many of the faithful in so many countries have absented themselves, by choice or necessity, from public Christian worship for such a length of time. In this season of our life together, we’ve been part of Christian – and world – history that is one for the record books, a season of intersecting crises which scholars no doubt will write extensively about in years to come.

Thus, given this wider historical context, it was its own transfiguring, mountaintop experience for us to return to our extraordinary ordinary practices. Indeed, as we sang the entrance hymn together, accompanied by our wonderful pipe organ played by our skilled organist, and the liturgical ministers proceeded down the center aisle, I was verklempt. Maybe some of you present were, too, at some point(s) during the liturgy.

It was, on the one hand, wholly ordinary for me as a pastor to do what pastors do in preaching and presiding. While it’s been an entire year and half since I’ve done indoors in a proper church nave what is so central both to my personal and vocational identity, and I’ve only preached and presided in our nave one previous time, the experience on Sunday was quite natural. Kind of like riding a bike after a long time of not doing so – you don’t forget how to do it.

Yet, on the other hand, our return to Christian normalcy had a transcendent quality as well because of our longtime hiatus, our extended period of fasting from our feasting. Our ordinary routine this past Sunday could not help but be extraordinary. Sacred, transfiguring, experience is like this, when ordinary routines are broken open with glimpses into the extraordinariness of transcendence in Christ. And in those openings, new, renewed, poignant holy meanings come flooding forth – from the pages of scripture, from the texts of hymns, maybe from the sermon, from the prayers, from the sacramental and other ceremonial moments. Old words and routine practices suddenly emerge as new and fresh, full of living, divine presence. This is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work in, with, and under the means of grace which serve as the focal point of our worship. The intersections between the given-ness of timeless, revealed, objective truth and the changes and chances of our ever-shifting circumstances make for eruptions of holiness. Sunday was one of those points of confluence which made our routine time together more extraordinary, dazzling, illuminating in holy ways centered on Jesus Christ.

And like those on the Mount of Transfiguration, we descend back into the valleys of our lives, and our ordinary routines, despite the fact that Peter in the story wanted to make three dwelling booths so they could all remain on the mountaintop. But we cannot stay on the mountaintop. Again, spiritual life is like that, more ordinary and routine than extraordinary. But thanks be to God for the occasional mountaintop experiences. Thanks be to God that we’ve gone back indoors for worship to resume again the greater, three-dimensional fullness of our live together in person.

Our return indoors this past Sunday was conceived by our leaders as something of a soft return to our practice, occurring as it did on a holiday weekend when others may have been traveling or may have had other plans. Thus, we will more formally mark our return indoors this coming Sunday, July 11, with a rite for re-gathering at the beginning of the service. This rite, developed for use throughout our ELCA, will give us occasion to lament that which and those whom we have lost during the time of pandemic as well as to give thanks and praise to God for our return to our more usual life together.

Join us as you are able this Sunday – and in the weeks and months ahead!

In Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman