O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.Psalm 96:1
Thinking about our church re-gathering has been an encouragement to me. A way to deal with the quietness, the loneliness, and the sheer sadness of it all. There will come a day – I hope and pray soon – when we can safely come back together to worship. We won’t be sharing the peace, I suppose, and there will be other changes, too. But at least we’ll be worshiping together.
And then, as I thought more about what it will look like in this “new normal,” I began to realize that we’d all probably need to wear masks and keep social distance, at least at first. We’d be sharing the peace in a new way. Handshakes and hugs would be out, for sure. We’d need more changes, I realized, than I had first anticipated.
And that led me to think about holy communion. One of the things that I have missed the most during this pandemic. How could we safely distribute communion? I began to wrestle with the reality that we would be re-gathering in phases, and that the first phase would probably not include the celebration of this precious sacrament. That was really hard for me to accept, but at least, I thought, we’d be worshiping together.
And then, this week I read that singing as a community would not be advisable when we first re-gather. (You can read about it here: Singing, the Church, and COVID-19) There is no safe way to do this together without possibly spreading the virus. No singing? Really? For some reason, this one made it all even more real, and even more disheartening. My reaction to this makes me think of times in my life when I have grieved a difficult loss – there is that day when you finally start feeling a little less grief after the loss, only to have something unexpected hit you out of the blue that plunges you right back into the depths of it. That is how it was for me to think about worshiping together without singing.
And I know, I suppose, that this is not a big deal, in the grand scheme of things. In the midst of this pandemic, there are far more important things to be concerned about than whether we can sing when we re-gather in worship. But, still, for whatever reason, this is the one that got to me, that seemed like the last straw, in a way. Because I can’t separate a congregation worshiping the Lord from a congregation singing to that same Lord.
I heard my bishop quote the hymn, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” as he reflected on this possibility, and read a (very meaningful) blog post written by a Lutheran pastor quoting this same hymn (You can read it here: How Can We Keep from Singing?). Because that is the question, isn’t it? How can we keep from singing? And how much more will this virus take from us?
But, then again, as I thought about it more, isn’t that the point of this hymn? That there is no storm that can take away our faith, and at least our desire to sing? “No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” How can I keep from singing praises to my God, even if we can’t physically sing together? How can our hearts keep from singing?
Maybe we won’t be able to sing when we first re-gather, and maybe we won’t be able to celebrate Holy Communion either. But Christ, Lord of heaven and earth, will be present. “Where two or three are gathered in my name,” he said in an oft-repeated quote, “I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20). That is his promise. And all that he asks is for us to gather in his name.
So, I say to all who might read this, let’s gather in his name, as soon as it is safe to do so. Let’s wear our masks, for now, and let’s keep social distance. Let’s continue fasting from communion, if we must, and let’s give up singing together, too. But let’s not give up the desire to do these things. Let’s not give up on God, either, or on each other. Wherever we are – wherever the church is – let’s gather in the name of Jesus, as soon as we safely can and in whatever way that we can. And let’s in the promise from Jesus to be there among us.
“Through all the tumult and the strife,” the hymn goes, “I hear that music ringing. It finds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?” When we gather for worship, amidst all the tumult and the strife, I will be rejoicing. And my heart will be singing. It will be a new song that we’re singing, a song from the heart. But my heart will be singing, and no virus can take that away from me, or from you. No storm can. Not when we cling to the Rock who is Christ our Lord. When we do, how can our hearts keep from singing?
My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far off hymn
that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?