Sunday, January 25, 2015

Deflated Worship

With all the controversy about deflated footballs, I encountered another “deflation” issue in a worship service recently. Held during a meeting, it was a complete service, Word and Sacrament (Lord’s Supper).

The setting in a local church was rather traditional, Communion Table front and center floor level, pulpit and lectern up a few steps on the platform, with stained glass windows for the backdrop. Oh, yes, there was one other item, off to the side on the left: an open projection screen had been set up.

Not being a big fan of audio-visuals in worship, I found the presence of the screen a nuisance, and its use an annoyance. By the time we reached the last hymn, I realized what the problem really was.

Projecting the words of the hymns on the screen was passable, for it made juggling hymnals unnecessary. And the responses for the Communion liturgy shown on the screen eliminated the need for a printed bulletin. (Although hymnals were in the pews and more paper was generated for the meeting than would be consumed by a few bulletins.)

What went wrong, however, was that when we looked over to the left to read, the whole experience of feasting at the Lord’s Table was reduced from three-dimensional, life-size, living color, real time experience, to a mere two-dimensional, 6-by-8-foot rectangle, shades-of-gray, image appearing before (and sometimes after) we needed to read it. The result was a persistent distraction, and because our visual attention was snatched away from the real action, the Eucharistic event at the table was deflated. It was flattened out in what we saw, and sagging in enthusiasm.

Sharing in the Communion meal requires focus, on the part of those who receive as well as of those who serve. We need not only to be attentive to what is happening at the Table, but that we are in the midst of a community sharing an intimate experience.

Having the screen off to the side requiring our attention was a rude intrusion to the service. It took our attention away from the main event, much like at a family gathering around the dining table when some kinfolk are gazing at the tiny screens of their cell phones. It tends to take the air out of interpersonal relationships.

The Eucharist is all about interpersonal, intimate relationships, between the worshippers and the Triune God, and among the worshippers themselves. Maybe we could set aside the technical gimmicks and pay attention to the gifts of God who has claimed us to be the people of God.

It has been said that deflating a football makes it easier to handle and improves the game. Puncturing a worship service this way, however, can make it go flat altogether.

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