In the ancient near east, there was a time when one would prepare to enter a holy place with precision and attention. Wash ahead of time. Wash again before entering. Again when entering the vestibule. Each washing, an opportunity for prayer. This attentiveness to preparation is found in those long sections of laws in scripture that Protestants like us are sometimes apt to pass over as antiquated and too-old-to-matter. But now, as COVID continues to reshape our lives, we’re moving into a moment in which such preparation will be key to our ability to be present in community. Our “how to” for in person outdoor worship includes how to prepare (RSVP online, bring a mask), how to enter (check in with an usher), and how to sit (bring your own chair, stay spaced 6 feet apart). The precision and attention we are taking now for the sake of the community’s health only serves to highlight how we’ve gone this ancient way before: preparation for worship is part of what makes holy our gathering, what opens us to sacred quality of being together. It’s only when our habits of preparation are disrupted, like they are now, that we notice that we’ve been doing it all along: getting ready, moving toward a holy space, entering, finding an embodied place amid community.
May we pray as we prepare.
Let us pray:
O God, who hast bound us together
In this bundle of life,
Give us grace to understand
How our lives depend upon
The courage, the industry, the honesty, and the integrity
Of our fellow human beings;
That we may be mindful of their needs,
Grateful for their faithfulness,
And faithful in our responsibilities to them;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
—Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892–1971