Blessings on Your Right and on Your Left (More Prayers for the Fourteenth Sunday of Pentecost)

The Exodus passage begs to be performed in some way and may be best done in a blessing. Using the aisle in your sanctuary (whether formed by pews or chairs), invite those being blessed this morning (Sunday School teachers, backpack holding kids, adults holding their iPhones or calendars, and anyone else) to stand in the aisle. Use blue streamers or even long bolts of cloth to create the “waters forming a wall” and invite those on the right an those on the left each offer a blessing to those in the aisle. Streamers should surely be waved as that blessing is offered — and if a wall is used, then it may end with a big hug wrapped in the waters of baptism.

This was the prompt that I wrote for the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways for the Fourteenth Sunday of Pentecost (or September 14). What is mysteriously missing from this prompt is how to do this. There is a reason for this. I was rushing and uncertain. I had missed the deadline — and was trying to at least leave myself (and hopefully others) a suggestion that something creative could be done here. Now, as I prepare for worship one week ahead of time, I’m setting out to write that liturgy for all to share.
In verse 22 of the Exodus reading, we are told: “The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left.” Walls offer support and structure. They define space, creating a boundary where there wasn’t one before. Sometimes walls separate and divide, like the Berlin Wall. Sometimes they go on for miles, like the Great Wall of China. But, they can also be something to lean on. Walls can be something that offer support.
This seems particularly important for the Israelites making their way through those blue walls of sea. Walking on that dry land, they would have been protected by those walls. It would have been a reminder of God’s support and guidance. On their right and on their left, they would have seen and felt that sacred and mysterious feeling of begin held — like a hug. As we move into this next season, where things go back to “normal,” I hope that we all feel that sense of being held by each other and by God and I hope this liturgy will offer a reminder.
First, we need two walls — which is gleefully provided through the architecture of our Sanctuary. The center aisle will be the dry land that the Israelites find. It will be upon that dry land that all those seeking blessing in the midst of change will stand: children with backpacks, adults and teenagers with smartphones, folks with paper calendars, Sunday School children and their wonderful teachers. But, those walls don’t just appear with architecture. Those walls appear and reappear when God tells Moses to hold out his hand (Exodus 14:16, 26, CEB). So, it will be the action of those on the aisles that will form the walls by extending their hands in blessing. In their hands, they will have the option of waving blue streamers simply because some blessings need streamers — and because it is way too difficult to hold your hands out in blessing, wave a streamer and hold a bulletin, it will not be a litany. The dominant voice will be my own, as the worship leader. Here is the blessing that we will share with necessary instructions.
These words will welcome the worshippers:
As you enter worship this morning, you are invited to take a blue streamer to use in a ritual of blessing for our calendars, our backpacks, our children and our Sunday School teachers in this new season of life together.

Beside these words will be a heaping basket of streamers pre-torn to 2-3 feet in length. 
Then, we jump ahead. After the Words of Assurance & Passing of the Peace, the children will be invited forward and share in a story that sets the scene. (Because our Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries is truly awesome.) That is when the worshipper will see Blessings on Your Right and on Your Left listed next in the bulletin followed by this prompt.

Anyone who finds themselves in a season of change is invited to come forward 
and find a place standing in the center aisle wearing their backpacks, with calendars, briefcases or smartphones in their hands, with Sunday School curricula under their arms or with any other symbol of that recognizes a change in their routine. Those in the pews will reach out their hands to offer the blessing of God with the streamers provided. 

I will offer these words to the congregation. (I will actually have them practice making the wall before it happens because even holy moments take practice.) 

When the people were afraid, when they didn’t know how to move forward, Moses told them: “Don’t be afraid. The Lord will protect for you. God will keep you safe.” But, even Moses had a hard time believing these words. It wasn’t until God told him to reach out his hands over the sea that he found that faith.

Look! See now, how the hands of God’s messengers stretch over your heads! See how these tender, loving hands make a wall on your left and on your right. See the shimmering light of the sea waving in their hands. See how they encourage you, bless you and urge you forward, saying like Moses, “Don’t be afraid. The Lord will protect for you.” With Moses faith, we offer this faith to those in need of God’s blessing.

This is our prayer for every child seeking knowledge.
Don’t be afraid. The Lord will protect for you.
This is our prayer for every retiree carefully keeping a calendar of activities.
Don’t be afraid. The Lord will protect for you.
This is our prayer for every person who struggles to sync their digital calendar.
Don’t be afraid. The Lord will protect for you.
This is our prayer for every person bustling to find meaningful work.
Don’t be afraid. The Lord will protect for you.
This is our prayer for teachers looking to share their love even more than their wisdom.
Don’t be afraid. The Lord will protect for you.
This is our prayer for teenager that struggles to get up with the alarm.
Don’t be afraid. The Lord will protect for you.
This is our prayer for all that worry that there is not enough time.
Don’t be afraid. The Lord will protect for you.

In this faith, we pray with hearts full of blessing and our hands stretched out in love: May we all remember how these walls on our left and on our right wave not only streamers but songs of joy and love so that whenever we doubt and worry, we only need to lean upon these hearts and these hands. Because in these hands, there is the glory of God. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

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