Online Worship: God is Present

As Covid-19 pandemic continues, we find ourselves doing things in much different ways than we are used to. However, the way we are doing worship is not unprecedented. Far from it. Of course, having our services exclusively online is new, but having Morning Prayer as the principal service on Sunday mornings was actually the norm for the vast majority of the time in the Anglican Communion since the Reformation. It has only been since the institution of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer that Holy Communion has been the Church’s principal service. We are truly returning to our roots.

The Daily Offices (Morning and Evening Prayer) emphasize the Word of God. When we come to Communion at the Lord’s Table, we rightly come expecting Christ to be present. What we might not understand, though, is that God is truly present in His Word, too — particularly in the Word preached. Read what Martin Luther wrote about the proclamation of the Gospel: “The gospel is essentially proclamation, Christ coming to us through the sermons.”

What is God doing in the proclamation of the Gospel? Luther again: “In the case of God, to speak is to do, and the word is the deed.” In other words, the Word of God — or the Gospel — speaks the new creation into existence just as God’s Word in the beginning spoke creation into existence.

This is why our pulpit is elevated. It is not to exalt the minister. It is to exalt and give special precedence to the preaching of the Gospel. This is also why, when we finally do the renovations to the church, we will add to the pulpit — we are re-emphasizing the Word in our service.

During this time of livecasting and social distancing, perhaps we are learning an ancient truth anew. We are learning that, during the proclamation of the Gospel in our service, we are actually on the operating table as the Great Physician operates upon our hearts, bringing the dead to life, and speaking a new creation into being. Perhaps we are learning that a proper church, the place where God speaks and provides His means of grace, is defined by Word and Sacrament, with the primacy resting with the Word. It is a lesson well-learned.

— David Browder