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The Liturgy of Wearing Masks

What can we do to care for others in the midst of a pandemic? Blog Contributor Amanda Opelt shares how the act of wearing a mask can be a simple yet significant exercise in holy obedience. Choosing to protect the health and well-being of others while surrendering our own personal comfort is a beautiful display of mercy and grace.

By Amanda Opelt, Blog Contributor

Our country is experiencing a great divide over the issue of masks. To wear or not to wear? Does the government have a right to force me to wear one? What about my personal freedom? Does it even make a difference?

While official recommendations have been inconsistent on this issue, we are now in month five of the COVID-19 health crisis. We have a lot more information than we did in the beginning. And while scientists, epidemiologists, and doctors are now saying with confidence that masks do make a difference, many have politicized the issue and used it to divide us even more.

I’m not here to talk about politics.

I’m here to talk about service and worship.

These are strange times. As COVID-19 cases rise across the nation, churches that hoped to meet again soon are having to go back to the drawing board. We have no idea when we will be able to gather as a large group to worship and pray together. Moreover, the very act of singing—what many Christ-followers consider to be the quintessential embodiment of our adoration of God—is said to be particularly dangerous as the virus spreads airborne through our collective breathing and vocalized worship.

But as we’ve said at theHeart countless times: church is not canceled.

Worship is not canceled.

Practice What We Preach

In fact, for those of us who espouse the idea that worship is a lifestyle, now is our time to shine. As singer/songwriter and pastor Evan Wickham said, "now is the time to practice what we preach." What if wearing a mask was one of the most powerful acts of worship we can aspire to right now?

Science says that there’s a chance that wearing a mask might protect you from getting the virus from others. But what’s more certain is that wearing a mask will protect others from getting the virus from you. It is an act of selflessness to wear a mask. It is a way of saying to your neighbor: your health and wellbeing are more important than my rights or my comforts or my convenience.

That’s worship. That’s the display that you love God enough to love the people He has made and on whom He has bestowed His image.

Through Sacrifice, We Learn Godliness

It’s hard. I don’t enjoy wearing a mask. They make me feel a bit claustrophobic. They can make it feel hot or hard to breathe. I don’t like that people can’t see the expression on my face and that I have to talk louder to be heard.

But all of that is a small price to pay for someone else’s safety. The Bible teaches us that through sacrifice, we learn godliness. It is by emptying ourselves of our own freedoms, preferences, and comforts that we become like Jesus (Philippians 2).

North Carolina has made masks mandatory for the time being. But what if I didn’t begrudgingly put on a mask out of obligation? What if I chose joy every time I put it on? What if I thanked God for the opportunity to love my neighbor so practically and tangibly? What if donning a mask was an act of worship?

"Work of the People"

Endurance for the longevity seems to be the need of the moment. We still don’t have an end date to this pandemic. We may be wearing masks for another 6 – 12 months. With that in mind, I’ve begun to think of mask-wearing as a form of liturgy. Liturgy literally means a “work of the people” and suggests a scripted, time-honored, communal obedience of worship. While some people find liturgical services too rote or repetitive, I find them comforting. Sometimes, being a person of faith means following a script out of obedience, even when our hearts aren’t in it. Liturgy gives us language when we have no words, when we don’t know how to feel or what to say. Liturgy is submission when there is no end in sight.

Liturgy is “a long obedience in the same direction.” —Eugene Peterson

Liturgy really is a form of ritual. The dictionary defines ritual as “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” Rituals are often very physical in nature, involving gestures, holy objects, recitations, and holy spaces. If wearing a mask is liturgy, and putting it on is a ritual, then I want to make it as holy of an act as I can.

So now, whenever I drive up to the grocery store, park my car, and open the glove compartment to pull out a mask (some of them crinkled, some of them in need of washing), I try to perform a small ritual. I remember Philippians 2 or John 13:34 (“as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”) I steady my breathing and remember Christ’s endurance on the cross for me. After I return and remove the mask, I remember the faces of those I encountered in the store and remind myself that I am to regard them as more important than myself. I remind myself of the image of God in them.

We may feel helpless in the midst of this pandemic. In the spirit of liturgy, wear a mask when you don’t know what else to do. When you have no words, allow your body to follow the motions of a well-scripted act of ritual. When you don’t know how to feel, obey. Put on a mask, say a prayer, remember the Lord. Choose others over yourself.

By doing so we remind ourselves once again that church isn’t canceled. Worship isn’t canceled. It is alive and active and breathing in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Even behind a mask.


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