‘Face to face’ used to mean being in the same room, talking to someone directly, seeing them and facing them as they face you. It was a reference to communication that wasn’t by phone, text, email, or letter. This week the ELCE pastors gathered for a meeting to discuss the Church Order document and it was pointed out that we were having a face to face meeting – except we were all on ZOOM. The term, it seems, has expanded and faces remain important but the location less so.
In trying to describe the current worship situation I have used the terms ‘in-person’ and ‘online’. I assume everyone understands the distinction I am making relates to geography even though people online are still in their person when they worship. We have new experiences and our vocabulary is changing brought about by our current technology and accelerated by a pandemic.
I think what we are facing are new versions of masks except that these masks are our faces on screens and possibly in front of a wide variety of digital backgrounds. Masks have a wide range of uses – from entertainment to magical to religious and spiritual purposes and for cultural, gender, and practical reasons – and we understand these uses, in fact we need not be that interested in the person behind the mask because we are looking at the mask for entertainment or service or because we accept the cultural reason. But someone somewhere will be interested in that person behind the mask, will want to see their face. When it comes to screens today, I suppose the question we might ask is, ‘Are people seeing our face or a mask?’.
We want to see faces! That’s such a key part of our relationships.
At every Divine Service the pastor says in the Aaronic blessing, “…The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you …”. Yet we don’t see God and the pastor’s face is hardly a good substitute! Unless the words are empty, they must mean something. For Christians, they point to particularly to Jesus, the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), who said, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). And the disciples struggled for all their time with Jesus to understand him and it was only by the light of an empty tomb that the crucified man made sense! But by then he was coming and going as on the road to Emmaus, in the lodging afterwards, in the locked room, and finally he ascended – and the disciples were not in despair for wherever they went Jesus was with them – a truth for all disciples of Jesus. Luke records, ‘And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (Luke 2:42). To see God one must meet Jesus and yes, the fullness of God dwells bodily in Jesus (Colossians 2:9) and so when Jesus talks about words, water, bread and wine they then also become more than what we see and hear.
As we with our technology expand our thoughts about human presence, faces, being together while still desiring personal contact, perhaps we might consider God and his technology and how Christmas, the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and words, water, bread and wine offer personal contact with people no matter where or when they live. Yes, it is a mystery. But it is also the truth and it is real. God in Jesus has reconciled the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). GS