We sang with wild abandon. For the first time in four months, we sang. In public. Masks off. Hymnals in hand. Because I was on camera, I had to control my tears, but it was hard not to weep for joy.
Under what possible circumstance would someone be so irresponsible as to sing in a pandemic, spreading tuneful droplets into everyone else’s air? Don’t worry. We were absolutely safe.
I preached yesterday at a retirement community in our neighborhood, where a number of our members reside, and with whom I have a long and collegial relationship. The center hosts chapel for their residents every Thursday, though since early March the worship service has been live-streamed into resident’s homes and apartments. The chaplains have started inviting others into the facility to preach. “I think the residents are a little tired of our faces,” they said.
So, after threading the single, secure driveway on to the property, masking up, passing the temperature check, verifying my good health, signing in and slathering in sanitizer, I was invited into their chapel. The steps to entry were not as onerous as I had imagined. And it was worth it to enter their bright worship space to preach. To sing. To pray in the presence of three (strategically distanced) other worship leaders.
As we sang, I was conscious of the danger we posed. Studies indicate that aerosols launched by a singer can travel 26 feet through the air. Who could have imagined, even four months ago, that I would have at my fingertips scientifically-verified data about aerosol spread, contact contamination, social distancing, and the emotional/spiritual toll of isolation? But I do. You do, too. We have all become experts on viral spread.
How ironic that the text on which I was preaching was about just such a launch, just as wide a throw, just as dangerous an experiment. Just such viral spread.
“A sower went out to sow,” I read to the camera. “And as he sowed, seeds went absolutely everywhere. Hard path. Rocky ground. Thorns. Rich loam.” Like virus particles expelled absolutely everywhere, the sower in Jesus’ parable sowed with wild abandon. (Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23) But Jesus wasn’t launching illness, he was launching hope. Foolish hope that some of those wildly scattered seeds would take root and grow.
The 45-minutes I spent in the presence of others yesterday, spreading droplets with great joy, offered a different take on the familiar text of the Sower and the Seed. Throwing both caution and seed to the wind, Jesus’ farmer littered the earth and air with words of hope. And like the unmasked shopper who arrogantly roams the aisles of my local grocery store and enrages others, Jesus’ indiscriminate sower drove his hearers to madness.
What is he thinking? Why so wasteful? He is trespassing! Who knows what vermin these seeds will draw? Who knows how much avian output (bird poop) will be dropped by the birds those seeds will attract?
It was just Jesus going viral. In a good way. A hopeful way. A life-giving way.
It will be some time before I have opportunity sing, unmasked again. But our leaders and staff at Ascension are crafting plans, imagining ways to be together again for worship (with limits), to spread the gospel like seed, like virus. Until we see one another again in person, I pray Jesus’ foolish launch sprouts in your home, your heart. That the good news of the gospel—unquestioning welcome, limitless forgiveness, passionate love—will float, virally, to you.
“See” you Sunday.
Pastor JoAnn Post