A new year dawns. 2020 is over.
That is the hope that we have put all of our energy into as we count down the last few days of this wretched pandemic year. We are waiting even after Advent is over. We are waiting for what is still to come. Maybe this will be the year that we will grasp that Christmas continues for all twelve days when so many that haven’t put up a tree in years have done so just to experience a little bit of joy. Will they also log into Zoom to hear the promise that this season offers? Will we imagine that this good news will truly lead to better days?
I confess I’m not there yet so I’m gonna keep singing carols for as long as it’s even remotely acceptable. The first Sunday in January is the ninth day of Christmas and is technically the Second Sunday of Christmas though many will likely celebrate Epiphany on that day. I would have zero qualms about putting a carol into worship especially one that is as beautifully fresh in these new words.
I had shared in my last newsletter some ideas from Epiphany including recommending Traci Smith’s resource for families looking to practice a new way into experiencing the twelve days of Christmas. You can find it in her Etsy shop.
Maren Tirabassi wrote this beautiful communion liturgy for this Sunday as she has for each month in coronatide. She plays with the imagery of the Twelve Days of Christmas which I confess I had to sing through all nine days until I could remember that there are nine ladies dancing. I think singing the song or playing the song instrumentally before communion (even if its secular) might help for the worshipping community to hear what I didn’t catch too quickly. It’s fun though. We need fun and I will always recommend Maren’s words.
This could be the Sunday that you preach the Prologue of John. I’ve been playing with that for next Christmas and I have no more ideas than what I’ve already written for it so these prayers might not speak to you. I am using a hybrid of inspiration from the second Sunday of Christmas and Epiphany Sunday so I hope these prayers might carry you into the new year. If you find yourself leaning into the hope of the new year, there are a whole bunch of new year prayers on re:Worship. I’m also not assuming that all of these prayers go into the same service but wanted to provide options and follow where the sections led me.
Call to Worship Inspired by Jeremiah 31:7-14 With weeping we have come, feeling blind and lame and barren without hope even in this season full of hope. We come wobbly and uncertain but God assures us that we will not stumble. We will not fall but we will rejoice. We will sing. We will dance and hold hands and be merry. We shall not languish forever. God will shepherd us into the future. God is leading us under the stars.
I’m not sure where this song should go but I like it and I thought this pastor did a lovely job with the visuals. It also wouldn’t let me save it to my epiphany playlist which I found annoying. Because it is still Christmas and I am not one to put away the Advent wreath until Christmas is actually over (that is, after January 6), I always include a liturgy for the lighting of the Christ candles. That version is responsive with the same refrain repeated by the congregation. I don’t think that works online so it’s been adapted again.
Lighting the Way of Christ Inspired by Sirach 24:1-12 and Isaiah 60:1-6 In this season of possibility, of wisdom telling of her glory to all the people, of love made known and peace kept close at home, still we seek light. We seek light from the highest heavens wondering what this year will hold, fearful and hopeful and praying with all our hearts that this year will be different. [Light first of the Advent candles] We seek light over the waves of the sea, and all the earth, for creation is hurting and we too often feel like we have no sway. [Light second of the Advent candles] We seek light as we listen for God's command and wonder what the ministry of the church, this church and every church, will be when the world has changed so much in just one year. [Light third of the Advent candles] We seek light because we have not yet found a resting place to dwell where there is enough for the immigrant, the refugee, the poor and the widow, or even for those who abide in black and brown skin. [Light fourth of the Advent candles] We come seeking light in the One is Light and Wisdom and Love. It is in this great light that we will rise and shine for our light has come. We will open our mouths and share in the glory that continues the work of Christmas. [Light Christ candle]
Epiphany is rich with so many images but my favorite has always been the stars. I am fasciated that the star stopped or that it felt that way as it does when the hairs stand up on our necks and we know that we have touched some glimmer of God’s grace. I went back to look at old liturgies I have created for this day and none of them seem to speak to this moment of online worship in ten million months into a global pandemic. Can we speak of these things in the same way? Do we need new inspiration to speak of what the heavens reveals in these tiny bursts of gas?
I might find a prayer that speaks to this moment like Joyce Sutphen’s Naming the Stars which names the hope of those future reunions full of hugs, at least to my reading. Or maybe this poem by Mary Jo Bang written early in the pandemic. Mary Oliver has a lovely poem on stars and Ann Weems has a whole bunch of poems that might work especially well if you are doing star words. I think it would be fun to adapt this poem by John Daniel into a Call to Worship but I’m not sure we all share the same vision of the post-pandemic future. There are some universals, of course, but do we all begin in the same place with that hope? I’m not so sure but it would be fun to play with that poem and the Gospel. Here are a few prayers that muse on the wonder of stars.
Prayer of Confession Inspired by Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21 and Matthew 2:1-12 O God, lead us on different roads from the paths that brought us here into this new year. Open us to new treasures from the chests that we have carried over so many miles always assuming that this was what was needed because you imagine more than just one moment of revelation. Your light does not stop with that star in one spot in the night sky. You continue the orbit of love beyond that brief pause. We have thought we were holy and blameless. We thought so all last year and so we did what we thought was right. We took risks that were comfortable for our own comfort and read headlines only to the point that we could sit with our own racism and privilege. We still don't really know what freedom means for those that are truly oppressed. We thought we knew. We thought we were so wise. Lead us by another way, O God, where light teaches us humility and grace. Lead us through all our blunders and missed opportunities to find new signs and wonders that overwhelm us with joy. Lead us ever into joy, O God.
Like so many, I really wanted to do something with this Christmas Star business. I went outside at dusk with my children to try to find it on the horizon. In one of the many news reports I listened to for some hint that this could have anything to do with Christmas (and I confess I’m still unconvinced), it was suggested that the Star of Bethlehem might actually have been an alignment of planets as Jupiter and Saturn aligned on the Longest Night. I can no longer find where I heard that. Sorry. I am using a lot of poetic license with this prayer and so my apologies to the scientists and maybe also to the psalmist.
Prayer for the Stars Alignment Inspired by Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 Will the stars align, O God, so neatly in the sky that it might feel like this is what you always dreamt would be? Will the paths of planets reveal more to us of your justice and love? Will these celestial events change how we live in this world as it was once sung in ancient song? Will we see your justice come into the mountains and hills? Will hope for the poor and needy rain down in stardust? O God, we need a little bit of that hope right now. We need some sign in the heavens that will assure us that you are leading us, all of us, into justice and joy. Align the heavens above with our hope-filled prayers for justice and joy.
That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. You’ve made it into the next calendar year. You have done amazing things for the love of Jesus. I mean that. You embody the love of God right now. Hold fast friends. We will get there.
4 thoughts on “Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany”
Wonderful, wonderful prayers. Thank you so much. And Shirley Erna Murray is one of my very favorite hymn writers and much mourned in her death last spring. I do celebrate her claim for the season for the southern hemisphere. But, ah, your words are beautiful.
I love her hymns too — and thank you for your kind words on these prayers! And I must say I am even more delighted by your new book than I thought I would be. It’s the type of poetry book to savor slowly with tea. It’s so wonderful.
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Well, now I’m blushing. thanks.