This post comes to us from Andrew Johnson:

It’s Sunday morning. I’m spreading apple butter on a homemade biscuit. An organ sounds, so I’m grabbing my coffee mug and hustling to the living room for church.

Live on television: the organ pipes in the loft of Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral. The angle of the camera happens to be set from the pew where my family normally sits on Sundays, as if I am actually there, craning my neck rightward and looking up.

Where my family normally sits doesn’t mean much right now. This year, where my family normally sits actually means right here on this couch.

Are you tired yet of hearing that the times are not normal? Church doors closed since March, no proper Communion since then, unless you count Easter Sunday in mid-April when a generous parishioner delivered a few consecrated wafers and a Dixie cup of holy wine to our doorstep and we were invited to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior on Facebook Live and take Communion remotely. Remote Communion — can you hear how awful that sounds? It wasn’t Communion so much as it was sipping wine in our jammies, which ‘round here is now normal.

Also now normal: On the couch today our Sunday Best includes my wife, Kristen, in her sweatpants and puffy winter coat, my eldest son with a hoodie pulled up over his head, my middle son wearing a dinosaur costume two sizes too small, and my daughter wearing a princess nightgown and hauling a stuffed unicorn wherever she goes. I’m wearing what has become my weekend attire since June: sweatpants and a t-shirt featuring a serenely seated Buddha and a phrase that is now my weekend mantra, Let That Shit Go. I wear a stocking cap daily now to contain my unruly mop of hair. I had fancied myself into believing it would grow to look like Kurt Russell circa Overboard. But last week Kristen sat me down, took my hand, and told me that I’m starting to look like Kid Rock.

I asked her if she would be my Sheryl Crow and sing “Picture” with me. She promptly exited the room. I knew then it was time to schedule a haircut.

Anyway. We’ve not tuned in for church in a few months. Ever since Easter, this digital broadcast has felt like a poor substitute for what these busted souls of ours need, just like so many things right now, including remote school, home offices, Zoom happy hours, and even my homemade biscuits. So most Sundays we sleep late, drink a full pot of coffee while reading the Sunday paper, and make subpar homemade biscuits to accompany our eggs and bacon. Through clenched teeth we try to practice gratitude for what we’ve got.

But today is the First Sunday of Advent, my favorite season in the liturgical year. Advent asks us not to avoid feelings of despair, but to actually dwell deeply in the surrounding darkness and squint our eyes in search of the light that is to come, which feels particularly crucial this year. So here I am, seated with my family on the couch, looking for some small hope.

There is no congregation, only a priest and a few others to help lead the online service. The rest of us are scattered on couches throughout the city, watching on screens, listening to the organ play. The organ music is reduced to a digitized buzz that rattles the plastic on the back of the TV. I’m too cheap for a decent set of TV speakers, and now I’m reminded of one more thing we are missing: the experience of being in a room where melodic wind moves through organ pipes, moves through the room like the Holy Spirit herself. Screens are no match for what melodic wind set loose in a cathedral can do: The bass notes rumble floorboards and bones alike.

The first hymn begins. The screen cuts to camera two. At the front of the Nave stands a priest, a choir of four, a scripture reader, and a robed woman who at first I mistake for @KingGutterBaby, a Covid-19 vaccine researcher and axolotl enthusiast whom I follow on Instagram.

What’s SHE doing up there?? I accidentally say out loud.

Who? says Kristen.

I don’t answer that. I just start singing instead. Hark! What a thrilling voice is sounding …

My wife joins the hymn. The hooded monk declines to stand and sing, the dinosaur is tossing cushions from the couch, and the ballerina is draping a blanket over the dog and tying a rope to the poor pup’s collar. I genuflect. Blessed be God’s kingdom, now and for the love of God you’re going to strangle the dog, child!

The princess and her unicorn release the dog. The dinosaur wields a Zelda Master Sword and swings it at the hooded monk. The monk, unbeknownst to me, has been concealing a machete. The two swing their plastic blades ferociously as we now sing the Kyrie.

Lord, have mercy.

The Psalm is sung by the small choir on the screen. In normal times Kristen sings soprano in the choir. Today she sings from the couch as she slathers her own portion of apple butter onto a biscuit. We chant Psalm 80, You have fed them with the bread of tears, you have given them bowls of tears to drink. As I think about the many times Kristen has quietly wept because she cannot sing in her beloved choir this year, I glance over and notice that she has paused from spreading the apple butter. She is using the knife to gently conduct the song, nodding the blade back and forth with such grace in her wrist. Bowls of tears to drink, indeed.

The monk and the dinosaur have moved their sword battle upstairs, praise be. The princess and her unicorn have built a fort from the discarded cushions. Kristen and I listen to the homily, recite the Nicene Creed, participate in the Prayers of the People and the Confession. We pass the peace, even if only to each other for now. And when it comes time for Communion, I watch on the screen as half a dozen real live people gather in a real live sanctuary and wear masks and keep space and yet are still breaking real bread and dipping it in real wine. I am struck by how deeply I long for all that I cannot have right now, how much I have grown weary of waiting, weary of being in these stretches of darkness long and short, these worlds of darkness large and small, how hard it is to even know what to hope for when the world itself seems to grow dimmer beneath this obtruding cloud of disease.

And yet, perhaps the Church diminishing itself for the sake of others is simply what the Church is always called to do. Or in the words of John the Baptist, “I must decrease.”

I lean forward and grab the last biscuit. I pour a bit of apple butter from the jar onto the plate. My wife says, What are you doing?

I don’t answer that. I just, you know, do this for the remembrance. I dip the unconsecrated biscuit into the unholy apple butter. I lift it to my mouth. Bless whatever the hell it is that’s happening here, I pray without speaking, bless the broken biscuits of our tears. My Eucharist tastes sweetly diminished. It leaves so much to be desired. We sing the final hymn. I turn the television off.