Honk if You Love Jesus (and Other Sacramental Pandemic Peculiarities)

Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.

The sanctuary is empty, the parking lot full,
folks maneuvering pick ups and sedans
into back row spaces instead of back row pews,

just like Sunday morning—except

nothing is just like anything used to be. So
Pastor calls out from a flatbed trailer: “Honk
if you are glad to be in church today!”

And on a Wednesday night before a high holy
pandemic Palm Sunday procession,
worshipers hungry for a face, a word, a hug

fellowship through car windows,
then parade away into the evening,
a cacophony of horns blaring—

Chevy pick-ups and Honda Accords. Four-door sedans and all-wheel-drive hybrids. They all pulled into the church parking lot on Sunday morning. But instead of getting out of their vehicles to shake hands and offer hugs before going into the sanctuary, worshipers stayed in their cars. They waved to each other and waited. At 11am, the pastor pushed open the church’s front doors and headed out to the top step of the church entryway to offer a call to worship: “Honk if you are glad to be in church today!”

Drive-in worship

That is how “drive-in worship” was inaugurated at a small rural church in a neighboring county several weeks ago. Folks rolled down their windows or tuned into a special FM station so they could hear the pastor, and when they felt Spirit-inspired, they honked their “amens.”

A bumper sticker that’s been around for a long time—“Honk if you love Jesus”—has taken on a whole new meaning for worshipers in this community.

Journalist Lisa O’Donnell wrote about local drive-in church experiments in a Saturday Winston-Salem Journal article. The drive-in worship services O’Donnell describes are in Surry County and are examples of one way faith communities are trying to stay connected and vibrant during these pandemic days of social distancing.

Together while We Are Apart

Gathering to seek sacred wisdom for life and hope in the face of fear and uncertainty has become even more vital, it seems, to people who are spending long days alone or at least apart from their communities of work, worship, and play. In response, pastoral leaders are imagining unconventional ways to gather communities together for worship.

Without intending to, we are learning what it means to be the virtual Body of Christ (a topic ripe for additional conversation in a later post).

Virtual Signs of God-With-Us

Signs and symbols of God’s presence are central to worship practices in my Christian tradition. In recent weeks, unable to break actual bread together or pass the peace through literal hugs, people have sought out new ways to embody and share signs of God’s presence, love, and grace.

Some people are sewing face masks as a collaborative and communal project. Others are joining forces and finances to provide meals for school children. People are also sharing their musical and artistic gifts through an array of online sources. Some of my colleagues are surprised to discover that worshiping through social media platforms has even energized them and their communities.

In these uncertain days, many faith communities are finding their own unique ways to substitute honks for hallelujahs.

Seeing Your Face Is like Seeing the Face of God

I believe that God and faith in God can be found both in the most ordinary and the most mysterious dimensions of human spirits and everyday lives. I glimpse (and sometimes taste and touch) the shapes, textures, and colors of God’s life-giving mysteries when I worship with others who are also seeking faith and spiritual understanding. For now, COVID-19’s threat means we have to rely on visual and aural dimensions of Christian worship and human connection.

I am reminded of a story in Genesis. In this ancient story, Jacob crosses a river to meet his brother, Esau. Jacob fears this encounter because of the way he mistreated Esau in the past.

The scene of their meeting is powerful. Esau embraces Jacob with grace and love. Jacob responds:  “Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.” 

In these uncertain days, being together as people of faith, even in unfamiliar ways, is important because of the hope and strength people find in seeing each other’s faces and hearing each other’s voices. Simple acts and gestures (index and forefinger in a V to pass the peace, emoji waving on Facebook live, honking an “amen”) remind us that God is with us, a belief that centers us and gives us hope.

And all God’s people honked an “Amen.”

Author: Jill Crainshaw

I am a professor at Wake Forest University School of Divinity and an ordained PCUSA minister.

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