I woke up on Palm Sunday after sleeping a little later than I would have on a pre-shelter-in-place Sunday, and, from the comfort of bed, went to church. First, I navigated to the pre-recorded church service of my childhood home church, Reece Prairie Baptist, in Burleson, Texas. My dad was playing guitar with the praise band. It was good to see his face and the faces of those I love and have missed. I sang along with their opening numbers, and it felt like coming home.
After a little while, I moved to the Facebook page for St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal in Dallas to tune in to the live stream service that my husband produces. After the organist played a gorgeous, triumphant prelude, Rector Chris Girata encouraged us to join in the Palm Sunday procession by picking up anything we could find to wave around. The vision of families all over Dallas waving ferns and succulents and maybe a scarf or two made me laugh, and I wanted to join in the fun. I got myself out of bed, picked up my Trader Joe’s hyacinth from its cat-safe spot on a high shelf, and carried it with great pomp and circumstance to a sunny place near the window. As the service played on, I stretched and did some yoga to the sounds of scripture, song, and sermon. I prayed the Lord’s Prayer and chanted the Nicene Creed, and partook of the sacrament of toast and coffee.
After that service, I resumed my facebook scroll and saw live-streamed and pre-recorded services everywhere I looked. I laughed while watching a video of one of my colleague’s children telling the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry. I cried and sang along as my Uncle Ray sang all four verses of the old hymn, “I am thine O Lord,” acappella. He has been locked down during this quarantine at the hospital bedside of his wife, who became ill just before the shelter-in-place orders came. So, somewhere in that hospital, he took the time to put on his best Sunday tie, watch the recording of his own church’s Sunday service, and share an encouraging word and song with all of us on the internet.
I scrolled on and heard one of my best friends from high school lead a small group discussion about trusting God in times of uncertainty. I sent her a little heart over the facebook live stream. I stopped by my own church’s live stream and sang along to those country hymns. I heard preachers and praise bands, choirs and soloists from all over the United States and beyond, and one by one they testified to a shared hope and a shared witness larger than any one congregation on a given Sunday.
Of course there is great value in committing to a weekly gathering with a particular group in a particular community. Nothing can replace the energy and power of a physical congregation of believers, pouring out their worship to God. But this week’s virtual gathering lifted and cheered me in ways I hadn’t expected. Together we made our own joyous procession — a parade route cutting off the main streets of social media. “Hosanna!” we cried. “Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!”
I hope you have a blessed Holy Week. If you’re looking for your own experience of virtual worship, I recommend the website of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, where you’ll find a thoughtful worship experience for every day of Holy Week.