This past Sunday, as Joy and I were worshipping virtually with our premiere on Facebook, the most wonderful thing happened. While I was onscreen leading the affirmation of faith, Joy started saying it along with me completely on her own. The affirmation I used this past week is from the United Church in Canada and is familiar to the Embry Hills congregation:
We are not alone, we live in God’s world.
We believe in God: who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the church
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.
We are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Just as (onscreen) I began to say, "We are not alone," her voice joined in: "We live in God's world." She was saying these words that we say often in gathered worship that have clearly made their way into her memory and, therefore, into her being. I was so proud later that day as I told Dave about it and said, "We say this often at Embry HIlls; it's really sinking in!" Dave replied, "She started learning that at Druid Hills."
Dave served the Druid Hills UMC from 2011 - 2015. When he left that appointment to go to the United Methodist Children's Home (now Wellroot Family Services), Druid Hills had successfully merged with Epworth UMC in Candler Park to form the church that is now called Neighborhood Church in Candler Park. Joy was 3 when Dave became the pastor at Druid Hills. She has been hearing these words regularly for the last 9 years.
I was both embarrassed for taking credit for something that is not my doing and reminded of the long-sustaining work and power of the Church. It has been almost a year since Joy was in public worship. We have struggled at times to keep her engaged with the church because of all the reasons that everyone else is struggling to stay engaged with all things virtual. At times it has felt like we were just watching TV. She has not felt the peer pressure or pressure from other parents to sit quietly (as much as possible!) and at least pretend to pay attention. She has, at times, been focused more on what was happening in the screen around the person talking (what's on the walls around us, whether or not we're looking at the camera, how our hairstyles have changed throughout the pandemic) than on what any of us is saying, especially her mother.
But this past week was delightfully different. She was participating. And not only was she participating, but she was reaching back into her memory of gathered worship to connect to virtual worship in a way she had not before. And in doing so, she made it so much more meaningful for me.
Like me, you probably have a preference for either gathered worship or virtual worship. I am grateful that we have a virtual option. And, I'm grateful that new people can participate virtually who might not participate in gathered worship. I'm also grateful for my experiences in gathered worship that help make virtual worship meaningful for me, like the creeds, and the Lord's Prayer, and music that is familiar. Familiar music helps me appreciate new music. Lee's prayers each week have deepened my own personal prayer life and reflection. Seeing lots of you read the Bible in your homes helps us remember the importance of having and studying the Bible at home and in the parts of our lives that are lived away from 3304 Henderson Mill Road, which for most of us, is most of our lives.
The moment that resonated most deeply in my soul on Sunday was when I heard Joy say, "In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone. God is with us. Thanks be to God." In that moment, it was no longer just the two of us sitting in our home office worshipping virtually. You were all here with us. And folks from Neighborhood Church were here, too. There was a virtual cloud of witnesses on this side of the communion of saints that have helped my 12-year-old daughter be able to sit in our house on a random February Sunday morning and affirm that she is not alone, that we are not alone.
When Jesus entered the temple near the Passover to drive out those who were selling religion for a profit, the crowd reacted, and the children began to cry out. "But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself”?’ (Matthew 21:!5-16)
Jesus quotes Psalm 8 here in Matthew 21 as he responds to the surprise and anger in the mouths of the Pharisees. They do not like the disruption Jesus brings every time he crosses their path, but on this particular occasion, he is completely upsetting the accepted routine of Passover preparations at the temple. And the children are among the ones who notice his new way and get on board right away. God had prepared praises for Christ in the mouths of those children that spoke to the moment in which they found themselves.
God prepared praise in the mouth of my own child that spoke to the moment in which we now find ourselves: "In life, in death, in life beyond death (no matter how we feel right now), we are not alone. God is with us. Thanks be to God." She turned over a table or two in my heart at that moment. And even though it's not in my nature, I'm leaving the mess made there for a little while as I discover comfort, peace, and inspiration for another passing over of God's protective and loving hand.
Open yourselves up to the new ways you can experience God in the virtual world where we find ourselves. We will, one day, be able to be gathered again, but for now, God is still speaking, still working, still turning things upside down. And, we are not alone. God is with us. Amen.