On the Third Sunday in Lent, the Rev. Dr. Robert Pace, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, the first person in Tarrant County to test positive to the Covid-19 coronavirus and who, as a result, has been in isolation since March 10, joined hundreds of other Episcopalians across the diocese in online worship.
On Saturday, Bishop Scott Mayer called the people of the diocese into a Lenten Fast from public worship, suspending in-person worship for at least the next two weeks. So on this Sunday, Episcopalians in the Diocese of Fort Worth did church differently.
In The Episcopal Church and other liturgical denominations, worship services often begin with a prayer called a Collect. Collects (pronounced call-ect) are available for each Sunday and major feasts and saints days, for categories of saints, for special subjects, and for special rites such as ordination, marriage, or baptism. These collects are gathered in the Book of Common Prayer, and so clearly are written well in advance of the days they are used.
The Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent was, as often happens with the Lectionary (a pre-selected collection of scriptural readings from the Bible), eerily apt for the times in which we find ourselves:
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Online Morning Prayer
On this first week of doing church differently, some people gathered in worship with their families at home. Many participated in online worship services. Several churches offered online Morning Prayer, including Trinity Episcopal Church, which livestreamed their service via Facebook Live.
The Rev. Canon Janet Waggoner preached.
She said, “If we haven’t already realized it, this prayer lays it right out there for us. We are living in a time when we desperately need the God who created us and who loves us to KEEP US because we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. Sure, we can keep calm and wash our hands. Sure, we can stay at home to slow down the rate of disease transmission. But that’s pretty much all the power we have. We need a God who is Father and Mother, a God who calls us each by name and who knows us so intimately that she knows the number of hairs on our heads. This God IS our God. This God is Emmanuel, God WITH us, right now in the midst of the challenges to our bodies and our souls.”
Pace commented on Trinity’s Facebook Page after the service, “God “keeps” us body and soul…at all times… Thank you Canon Janet Waggoner.”
Diocesan online worship
He said, “In those moments when it seems as if we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves, your Creator keeps you both outwardly in your body and inwardly in your soul. And I don’t know about you but to me that sounds like really Good News.
Good news for Hebrew peoples wandering in a desert….Good news for a Samaritan woman standing at the edge of a well …Good news for the people of the Samaritan village….. outcasts, a people pushed to margins by the predominant culture…And even they don’t realize it at this point in the gospel story, it is good news for the Pharisees and the Sadducees. . .and those people who will cry out “Crucify him” (can’t you hear the panicked attempt to gain some control in what must have felt like chaotic out of control situation? “Crucify him!”) …
“Even when he is like that, especially when they are like that, even when you are like that,” God says, ‘I am going to love you. I am going to care about you. I am going to care for you. In body and soul.’
“That’s what today’s scriptures, uncannily, providentially, remind us this morning. And that is what God still does on this day. Sounds like good news to me.