With Unveiled Faces
Wearing a facemask has been one of the most awkward and difficult things to get used to during this pandemic. They’re not nearly as difficult to come by as they once were. In fact, many places will freely provide you with one upon entering if needed (including when you come to worship here at St. Michael). Facemasks are now available in so many different styles and patterns that they have almost become a fashion statement. They surely have come to communicate for many people their sports team loyalties. But as fun and fashionable as we try to make them, they’re still annoying (especially for those who have to wear one most of the day), and they continue to represent an out-of-the-ordinary medical situation and health risk.
As much as I’m delighted to see faces again in our pews for worship, it remains sad and troubling that those faces still need to be mostly covered with cloth but that’s just the way it is. At least as far back as May, with regard to worship services the CDC told us to “Encourage use of cloth face coverings among staff and congregants (for) face coverings are most essential when social distancing is difficult (and) are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms” (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/faith-based.html). Up until recently, the guidelines from the governor of Michigan have not said much about places of worship in particular. But according to MLive, on July 10 her declaration of monetary penalties for those not wearing a mask in public places had some specific exemptions for those officiating at religious services, and while “congregants are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings during religious services,” those not wearing one in worship are not subject to penalty (https://www.mlive.com/public-interest/2020/07/michiganders-mostly-have-to-mask-up-but-here-are-9-exceptions.html).
Personally, I’ve worn a facemask while interacting with people in the nave and narthex, but not when I’m in the chancel conducting liturgy and preaching. Prior to the communion distribution, I’m very careful to sanitize my hands, but unlike the Lay Ministers assisting with the distribution, I’ve not worn a mask at that time. But the other day, I did order a clear plastic face-shield and I plan on wearing that during the distribution, so that people will feel more safe and be able to see me at the same time. In fact, I’ll probably wear it everywhere in which I’m encountering people before and after services, but just not while speaking up in the front.
All this veiling of one’s face in proximity to God’s presence makes me think of Moses. When he first met God in the burning bush, “Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6). But eventually God invited Moses to enjoy more intimate communion with Him than anyone else, such that his obituary reads that he alone interacted with God “face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). But then when Moses came down Mt. Sinai, having been in face to face conversation with God, “he deliberately put a veil over his face (because) his face was radiant” and the people were afraid to come near him (Exodus 34:29-34). So Moses was unguarded before God, but sensitive and considerate when it came to his interaction with people. As a pastor, when I stand before God at the altar of worship, I do so with an uncovered face. But when I minister in close proximity to people, out of consideration for their health and welfare I put a mask over my mouth and nose and give them some assurance that they can safely approach me.
Admittedly, all this is awkward and annoying, and I pray that the day would come when we don’t have to bother with it any longer. But in the meantime, while we endure the necessity of face covering in this fallen world, we can enjoy the confidence that we need not hide our face from God. We need not be covered by anything but the blood of Christ. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” and therefore by God’s grace we can “with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18). May you come before the Lord in that place in which He is present in His Word and Sacraments both with the confidence that He receives you as His beloved child for Jesus’ sake, and that your pastor and fellow worshipers are being considerate of your health and wellbeing, in the name of Jesus.