Many have commented that, because of the Covid 19 pandemic, this Easter is unique. Christians have not gathered physically to celebrate and worship. We have not heard the readings together. We have not shared communion. I recommend researching the many commentaries, sermons, articles and more that comment and reflect upon our current situation.
The inability to be physical together to celebrate the Triduum, including the Great Vigil, is difficult. But what has arisen from this are new electronic “virtual” ways to gather. Media technicians have joined with liturgists to help bring communities together through Zoom and other interactive meeting software, through Facebook streaming, through webinars. Zoom and Webinars have include the capabilities for “dialogue” in the form of Q&A and texts/comments. Facebook, often combined with YouTube, is more limited. Friends of the group can make comments on the Facebook event post but it is really more one-way. Hopefully the faith communities who have taken advantage of these media will continue in the post-pandemic world.
Trinity has been wrestling with how to take advantage of these media forms for quite awhile. When I was Operations Manager, I did not take the time to pursue the various means. We used meetings-to-go for remote connection to vestry and some other meetings. But we did not use Zoom. I’m not sure we had a license. I did participate in some JBL zoom meetings but that was because I had the software on my laptop and iPad. Now we are using it for Adult Spiritual Formation groups. Kelly Mieske used it for catechumenate meetings. Lectio sessions adapt well to this media. Establishing a home sacred space is important for remote lectio and for participation in other on-line liturgies. People have developed instructional You tube videos on how to create such spaces. Setting up such a space can be a challenge f there are others in the house who do not respect the need for such a space. Youth and Family ministry used Zoom for meetings. It would be easy enough to set up some youth meetings with it. In fact, one of the things has not done is seek tou our teens who probably have much more knowledge on how to develop and use this media.
Trinity is using Facebook streaming to broadcast the Sunday liturgies. They also used itl for broadcasting the Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Great Vigil Triduum. For them as well as other faith communities a challenge is how to have “remote participation.” Trinity asked people to wash their hands on Maundy Thursday, to have a cross present for Good Friday and to have candles, bells and paper “Alleluias” with them for the Vigil.
Mary and I have “participated” in several different faith community broadcasts. We have chosen to join in All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Pasadena more often than in Trinity Cathedral’s offerings. All Saints’ uses Zoom whereas Trinity uses Facebook streaming. Zoom allows more than one remote site at a time. The celebrant/officiant can be in one space; a lector in another; musicians in other spaces and so on. For us, there is more of a sense of participation in this rather than in Facebook streaming. We did participate in Trinity’s Good Friday and Easter Vigil services. Trinity usually has a noon-3:00 reflection service on Good Friday. That would lend itself well to either media. Instead they chose to have noon and evening services duplicate.
Mary and I have done several things to enhance our sense of participation. We stand and sit at appropriate places (e.g. sitting for the readings but standing for the proclamation of the Gospel). We do the responses out loud. We have had bread and wine that we receive from each other. We washed each others feet on Maundy Thursday. And she nailed me to a cross on Good Friday (just kidding).
My first experience of the Great Vigil was in 1971 when I stayed at Mt Angel Seminary for Holy Week. The entire Triduum experience was good, though I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I did appreciate the drama of the Vigil. It starts out on the church plaza. The Abbot and fellow priests wear gold colored vestments. The fire burns as we gather. The Abbot marks and blesses the Paschal Candle. Then all those gathered process into the dark Church. The monk who is carrying the candle leads the procession. The Abbot and then all of the monks and other participants follow. At Mt. Angel all of the Scripture readings are proclaimed with chanted psalms following each. This is done in the dark. The only lights are for the lector, the Abbot for the collect prayers, and the organist. These lights go on and off at the appropriate moments. They light the entire church before the reading from Romans Chapter 6. They process and incense the Book of the Gospel. The Abbot preaches.
Mary and I watched this year’s Abbey Vigil. It was good to “go back” in a sense. I think my love of the Easter Vigil has its roots in that early experience at the Abbey. Abbot Jeremy preached a wonderful sermon. His deep knowledge of the Scripture, of the liturgy, of all that the Vigil encompasses showed through in the reflection and teaching that we heard.
I hope Mt. Angel continues to broadcast their liturgies after we gain some liberty from the coronavirus. The Abbey has also broadcast some parts of the Liturgy of the Hours. I suspect Trinity will continue to stream services. We have wrestled with streaming the Sunday liturgy for years. The National Cathedral used Facebook and Youtube prior to the shelter-in-place practices. Grace Cathedral did the same.
The Good News (for there is always Good News in the midst of travail) is that many faith communities, including Jewish and Muslim, have discovered these media during this pandemic. Some larger churches have had the resources to incorporate them for years. Others, like Trinity, have not expended resources for this until now. Trinity will go forward with this technology.