The Psalmist had a message for me – for us – as we gathered in the pews this morning. Which, you’d have to agree, is quite a trick considering that the verses were written 2,500 years or so ago.
On this, the second day that our parish resumed “public Mass” in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdowns, I noticed that a great deal has changed within our worship space.
Green tape cordons off half the pews. Seat markers have been placed in all the rest, to ensure that we Mass-goers maintain our social distance. Songbooks and missalettes have been removed. And a Plexiglas shield has been installed in one aisle, to serve as our Communion station. There are new (and apparently permanent) liturgical fixtures, too – new candlestands, a gargantuan crucifix – so many changes that the sum total was quite disorienting. I barely recognized the place. This place, my parish of record for the past 36 years, my beloved Holy Ground.
Frankly, I found the whole experience a bit disheartening yesterday…our first day back at daily Mass. My sense of loss was palpable: Yet another example of something precious and dear that COVID-19 has taken away. Beautiful, soul-stirring liturgy? Poof. Gone, at least for the foreseeable future. Gone, too, was a full and deep experience of my connection with the Body of Christ, my parish community.
Then into my sorrow, into my aching heart, broke Scripture.
The first reading today really caught my attention – a story from the Acts of the Apostles, recounting the time Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi. In the middle of the night, an earthquake breaks their bonds – but, curiously, they choose to remain in place so as not to subject their jailer to punishment.
It occurred to me that we have something in common with Paul and Silas. We current-day congregants – all masked up, like bandits – choose to relinquish a bit of our freedom in order to be fed here, at the Lord’s table. As we approach the Plexiglas shield, it even looks a bit like the visitor’s room at a prison.
Certainly, it is not an ideal situation for liturgy. Far from it. And I found myself pleading not unlike Paul’s jailer, who “asked for a light” to help make sense of all these strange happenings.
Moments later, the answer came in the form of those ancient words penned by the Psalmist. “Your right hand saves me, O Lord,” the Psalmist wrote… and I was reminded that even in this state of COVID-19 diminishment, we have not been abandoned by God.
Just the opposite, in fact: God enters into our isolation…our misery…and finds a way to feed us, again. A different way than I’m used to, for sure. But this COVID-19 Communion is real food, indeed. Eternal food…the bread of angels…shared freely – even with a bunch of sinners, all masked up like bandits.
As this light, this Eucharistic grace, dawned in me at daybreak, I found that I could then pray the rest of today’s Psalm with a much lighter spirit – and even a measure of joy:
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple,
and give thanks to your name.
Yes, much has changed about my worship space in recent weeks. But I’m grateful to be back at the table, being fed. And I realize, too, that I shouldn’t be so surprised about this turn of events. Instead of looking back, perhaps I should be asking for the grace to move forward. Christ promised us, after all, that he intends to “make all things new.” (Rev 21:5)
Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Amen, Alleluia!
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.