Judson University made the decision last week to suspend traditional instruction, sending students home to finish the semester via online/digital methods. Numerous schools are doing the same; it feels like the prudent thing to do.
Typically, Judson’s Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts celebrates graduating seniors with an end-of-the-semester bash the last week of April. When the decision came Thursday morning, the DCWPA leadership decided we’d do the best we could to pull together a service honoring those students, even at short notice. I’m pleased to report that had everyone not known the celebration was planned with only 18 hours’ notice, it certainly wouldn’t have been obvious. Several of the eventually graduating seniors thanked us afterward for our efforts.
As DCWPA director, I typically offer a devotional thought in our opening liturgy, and I thought I’d share it here:
This is not supposed to be happening. We shouldn’t be here.
It is happening. We are here.
The people of God decried their Babylonian captivity in Psalm 137: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan country?” For our purposes today, we might amend the lament as follows:
At worst, how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in the midst of a global pandemic? At best, how can we sing the songs of the Lord while toiling in virtual, online classrooms devoid of the body-physical interactions that make the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts such a special place to so many people? Fair questions.
But think on this. Sometimes we are grateful for God’s numerous blessings, and so we worship passionately. Sometimes we are confident of God’s provision in our lives, and so we worship passionately. Sometimes we are mindful of God’s sovereignty over all creation, and so we worship passionately.
But sometimes I resent my lot in life, especially after I scroll through social media and see how wonderfully every single blessed one of my friends is doing, but when I choose to worship regardless, through that process I usually find myself grateful for God’s provision at the end of my worship.
Sometimes I fear for the future—the future of the world . . . the future of Christian higher education and the school that shaped me so well 35 years ago and to which I’ve dedicated the majority of my adult life . . . the future of my family—but when I choose to worship regardless, through the process I usually find myself trusting God for all my needs at the end of my worship.
Sometimes I feel the world is spinning out of control, going to hell in a handbasket, but when I choose to worship regardless, through that process I usually find myself in awe of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence at the end of my worship.
Dr. Ed Thompson, whose name (and that of his wife, Prof. Alice Thompson) graces our building, in paraphrasing the old gospel song, was fond of saying, “We don’t sing because we’re happy; we’re happy because we sing.”
We then sang “Cornerstone” and confessed our sins together, in a prayer read responsively:
Worship Leader: Let us pray.
People: O God, we confess in times like these we fall back on old patterns of behavior that aren’t healthy.
WL: You call us not to fear; too often we do.
People: Remind us of your words in the Sermon on the Mount: “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”
WL: You call us to pray; too often we don’t.
People: Remind us of your words spoken through the apostle Paul: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
WL: You call us to walk by faith, not by sight; too often we walk by sight and allow our sensory input and our feelings to cloud our faith.
People: Remind us of your words we just heard, spoken through the prophet Isaiah, that “those who trust in the Lord will find new strength” available for the powerless and those who feel powerless.
WL: We confess our frailties to you, O God. It is You (not we) who have made us; you know us better than we know ourselves.
People: Lord, today and every day, please help our unbelief. Amen.
Finally, we received assurance of pardon, feted our grads, and closed in prayer. It was a wonderful, if earlier than preferred, way to send our students off into an unknown future. In like manner, may the Lord be with you as you navigate these uncharted waters (for most of us) in the weeks ahead!