Pandemic Prayers for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

I adore the repetition that the beloved community offers in trying to embody the call to love. It’s why my prayers these past few weeks have been drawn to the epistle first but it doesn’t quite reverberate with the way of the world right now.

There is too much despair in India. Too much death. Too much unknown as to how to care for the bodies and souls of these beloveds experiencing a second wave of this pandemic. We have comforted ourselves in the United States of America believing that the vaccine distribution is changing things but it is not exactly what we hoped. We have to redefine our understanding again. Herd immunity will not be the way. There will be another that will hopefully reach beyond the borders of one nation.

At times like these, we need to assume that we don’t have the answers. We don’t know the way but we are listening. We are learning what love does now.

Call to Worship
Inspired by 1 John 5:1-6 and John 15:9-17

Again, we come 
to learn about 
the way of love.

Again, we come
together in head
and in heart to discover
again how this abiding love
might conquer the world.

We have doubts.
We are uncertain
even how this love
abides in our own
heads and hearts.
We have not 
loved so well.

Again, we come 
to find the way
of love calling
us to bear fruit.

I like the way that last line hangs and offers a completely new image that is so foreign to most of us. Fruit trees might be in our backyards and we might rejoice in the appearance of their gifts but how do we bear fruit? Could the next moment of worship be something that meditates on this question of bearing fruit? Maybe there are visuals of fruit ripening on the vine and slow, gentle questions that encourage wondering about what this means in the gospel and in our lives.

Or if that sounds like too much work, I think you could also use Let Us Love that I created with the amazing talents of Work of the People a few weeks ago. It was written for an earlier chapter in the epistle but I think it would still work well here.

I know many of you are busy planning ahead and so I hope to send out my next newsletter for the next liturgical season that starts with Pentecost and stretches all the way through the summer. I’m making the leap from TinyLetter to Substack so this is a great time to join in this potluck of ideas and possibilities for the liturgical season ahead. You can sign up here.

I offer a lotus flower today in my constant prayers for India.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

I have seen pictures appear in my feed of pastors taking that much needed break after Easter. Some didn’t go much further than their backyard but they have their feet up and they are relaxing. Others — having been fully vaccinated — are enjoying the pleasure of good friends and family for the first time in a long, long time.

It was at this time several years ago now that I was enjoying such company. It wasn’t just a break after Easter. I had invited all of my nearest and dearest to celebrate new life with me among the vines in Northern California. It was my thirty third birthday which was a big deal for me because it was at that age my mother had died. Most little girls dream of their wedding. I dreamt of the party I would throw for that fated birthday. It was everything that it needed to be and right now I miss all of those people so much.

It might also be that I can’t think about the true vine without thinking about how connected we are to the people that make our hearts sing. I wanted to play with that imagery and I’m also sharing a pastoral prayer that I wrote for a sermon series led by a pastor friend that not only drank wine with me all those years ago but teaches me still what love can do.

Prayer of Invocation
Inspired by 1 John 4:7-21

Come, Beloved,
to take up root 
in the tender 
soil of our lives. 

Graft with us
hope that 
will show us 
again what love
can do. Reveal 
to us that which 
is alive because
we have felt so 
dead. We have
felt so dead and buried
that is hard to know
how to come alive
so come. Come
to water us with 
possibility. Come, 
Beloved, so that
we might grow
in love. Amen.
Prayers of the People

O God, the heavens
and the earth have been shaken. 
We have felt unsteady and uncertain. 
We’ve been tempted 
to relish in the past
when everything seemed easier,
but things are not what they were. 

We are not 
where we were 
anymore. The world
looks different now. 
We are different.
Or so we pray
now that we find 
ourselves here 
in this new place of 
possibility and hope. 

It’s not what we imagined.
O God, it is nothing like 
we ever imagined 
hope would feel. We thought it
would be something else
that we find here 
in the promise of vaccines
and healing. There is so 
much to heal, O God. 

We have lost of many lives
to this virus. We have lost
lives that were untouched 
by the coronavirus 
but consumed 
by other diseases.
There has been 
so much death
and not enough 
hands to hold
in the loss we share. 

We have lost income
and financial security. 
Best made plans
dissolved with 
all our savings and 
we felt powerless 
as our favorite local businesses 
shuttered and closed. 

We have lost more, O God, 
but the list is so long
and you know
what has been on our hearts.
You have heard our prayers.
And what we really need 
now is courage. 
We need strength
and assurance
that love will guide us. Love has 
been guiding us. Love has never left us
but we might not believe it 
until we can see your shalom
take root. O God, lift our heads 
so that we might see
the wholeness and your people. 
Help us to see restoration
and even peace
on the other side 
of this pandemic. 

O God, give us the courage
for the work ahead. 
Abide with us. 
O God, abide with us.
Amen.

Whether or not you have switched to hybrid worship, you might encourage vaccinated groups of people to meet together and walk together using Resurrection Awe Strolls. As the world shifts again, this might be used to notice where new signs of life are appearing in your neighborhood and might even invite your people to think about new ministry opportunities in this new season.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Is it cheating to just share last year’s post on these familiar images of shepherds? Is it? Because I really like the prayers I wrote last year especially the one I wrote riffing on Rebecca Solnit’s essay.

Have you read her book on hope? It’s worth the read in the Easter season. Brainpickings offers a great peek into her inspirational words. It’s a work that keeps getting updated which I find heartwarming but I think this is the most recent edition.

No, of course I can’t do just share last year’s post. We are in a different moment in time and there is something more than our prayers need to say.

I confess to you, dear pastor, that there are times when I really want to open up to invite prayers as so many of you are posting on social media to encourage your good people. I want to know the prayers on your hearts when you are tending so much to the concerns of others. I am so curious what you are trying to imagine in this wild time when anything and everything is possible in how we worship — and you are doing all of it. You are doing multiple services to bring people together online and in person and give full glory to God and you just got through Easter. You are truly a wonder, dear pastor. I’m so grateful for you and I know that I am not the only one.

Though you have been busy shepherding, these prayers are not so focused on the Good Shepherd theme. Not exactly. I adore the Johannine epistles and so I am drawn there first.

Call to Worship
Inspired by 1 John 3:16-24

Little children, dear
children of God, let us find
ourselves here together
united in such heart
that we can
learn all that 
love does.

Love is 
more than words.
It is more than 
what we can say
but love has 
a movement.
It has a heartbeat 
and a pulse.

It is the rhythm
we seek to find
ourselves this morning
in our worship and praise
so that love might abide
in this fellowship
in this ministry
in this hope 
for the world.
Let us love.
This song is covered by the CCLI license.

I am thrilled to have partnered with The Work of the People to create an additional prayer for this Sunday. Let us Love continues my meditation on 1 John 3:16-24 where love feels like something we need to practice more. The gentle words of invitation in the epistle made me wonder again how little children first know what love does and how we might still be learning to practice this holy act.

As you may well already know, I cooked up this recipe Pandemic Easter Affirmations that might add some spice with new words from your community about what resurrection means now or you might encourage vaccinated groups of people to meet together and walk together using Resurrection Awe Strolls. As the world shifts again, this might be used to notice where new signs of life are appearing in your neighborhood and might even invite your people to think about new ministry opportunities in this new season.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for the Third Sunday of Easter

It’s hard not to hear that last line in the Gospel Lesson and not instantly think of the trial surrounding George Floyd’s life. Or to recall the witnesses that stood there documenting the injustice that they had no control to change. I’m not sure about that. It seems that to witness always means that we have to get involved. We are never just a bystander — at least when it comes to matters of faith. It makes me wonder how we witness to this moment and how very stubborn hope can be.

While hiking with my children this week, I saw three of these cacti blossom with these fantastic bursts of joy. It felt like that. This part of the desert is used to yellow poppies interrupting the abundant brown at this time of the year but there hasn’t been enough rain. I was even told that there were not enough fires in the mountains this year for those poppy seeds to burst. There are still blooms though. The landscape is peppered with these tiny bursts of color. You just have to look a little harder. This prayer today is about how I am looking for resurrection in this Easter season.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 4

We are people 
of the resurrection 
who believe that 
the worst thing 
is never the last thing.
We have put our
hands and our hearts
into this hope
but the world 
is still is not as 
it should be.

We believe in possibility 
and renewal and it is
because of this that 
we still bellow
how long?

How long will
we allow this horrors
to persist? How long
will we love vain words
that do nothing to change
our corrupt systems?

We come, O Resurrecting One,
to share what keeps us up
at night and find a way
for the good. We know
that you are calling 
us to this work again.
We come together
to listen.

I also want to offer Brynn Saito’s poem Stone which was shared through the Atlantic Daily email this afternoon with 7 poems to read this spring. I can’t link to it apparently but you can subscribe here. Assistant Editor Megan Ome offers that this is a “poem that bears witness to Japanese internment from the perspective of a rock. Saito often explores Japanese American history through a personal lens, but here, she uses an inanimate object to help readers access the pain—and resilience—of those interned. This year, I’ve felt that the country has started to reckon more fully with its legacy of racism toward Asian Americans. Like the stone in this poem, I hope that more people will see themselves not as a bystander, but as a listener and an empath.” I hope so too.

If you are looking for a little something extra for this season, I cooked up this recipe Pandemic Easter Affirmations during Lent that might add some spice with new words from your community about what resurrection means now or you might encourage vaccinated groups of people to meet together and walk together using Resurrection Awe Strolls. As the world shifts again, this might be used to notice where new signs of life are appearing in your neighborhood and might even invite your people to think about new ministry opporturtunities in this new season.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for the Second Sunday of Easter

I hope and pray that you have this Sunday off. I hope that you are enjoying rest and renewal after proclaiming the good news with such love and joy.

I hope that you have found some way to curate worship that doesn’t involve you having to edit videos this week together to create a worship experience for your good people but that extended time of rest that you so need might not have come yet. It might be in the days ahead and even if you are off caring for your soul, the people of God will still gather to worship so here are some prayers for that low Sunday following Easter joy.

Call to Worship
Inspired by 1 John 1:1-2:2

From the very beginning
when the world was 
still without shape 
there was joy.

There was the light
of love that shone
through the expectation 
of what could be 
and what we dared 
to believe would be.

What we have heard,
what we have seen,
what we have looked
at and touched 
with our hands
has revealed
that possibility.

It is this beginning
in which we find
ourselves where
still so much could
happen and so much 
could be possible. 
It is in this wonder
that we worship
and praise.

We come together
again to find our joy 
complete. 

I wrote a Call to Worship based on Psalm 133 last summer that might be an option if this prayer doesn’t strike the right note fro what you are imagining. It might need some slight tweaking since the world has changed some since then. Thanks be to God.

Gathering Prayer
Inspired by Acts 4:32-35 and 1 John 1:1-2:2

O God, there is so much that 
we don't know. We have doubted.
We haven't been sure that 
there would be good news
or that joy could ever be complete.

We haven't believed with
one heart and soul. We weren't
even sure we had anything to share
but we believe that resurrection
changes us all. We are not yet
complete. Our joy is not yet 
complete and this is good news.
There is more, O God, that 
you will show us. We pray
for your wisdom and grace
in this time of rebirth. Amen.

There is only one line here that hints at the Gospel Lesson for this week. It’s a text I’ve preached often after the Senior Pastor proclaimed the important stuff on Easter. Ahem. It is not that it is not worthy of focus but I think that we know this story well. We know doubt and especially now as we live into this liminal space where some are vaccinated and others are not, it is hard not to doubt when this crisis will end. If you are looking not to preach this Sunday, you might share this award winning short animation film which is about the same length as a sermon after hearing the Gospel Lesson.

It seems so many of the videos that are out there focus on self doubt. After showing this film, I would encourage discussion in breakout rooms in a Zoom format or if you are streaming worship you might provide questions for quiet contemplation that appear on screen with background music. Questions might include:

  • Where or when does your hedgehog show up?
  • What do you imagine was the moment behind Thomas’ hedgehog? What is the moment behind yours?
  • Where is there a hedgehog in our community or even in our congregation right now?
  • What surprises await us in this season of resurrection?

You know your people well enough to know what can get them talking and thinking. I offer these to get you thinking. They are far from perfect. I hope that this conversation pushes beyond self doubt and allows for some naming of the pandemic doubts we are all carrying right now.

As you look ahead, or even for this week, I cooked up this recipe Pandemic Easter Affirmations during Lent. The pastor of my sweet Texas church used it to write a lovely affirmation for Easter Sunday and I encouraged her to recruit the elders — who already post weekly prayers in our congregation’s Facebook group — to write their own affirmations to carry us all through the season. I don’t know if it will happen but I offer the same encouragement to you. I am certain there are some wise souls in your church that have a gentle way of reminding the gathered community what matters and I’m sure they would love to offer the blessing of their words especially so that you, dear pastor, do not always have to be the one with words.

You might also encourage getting out of the house even among the unvaccinated with this recipe for Resurrection Awe Strolls. Easter is, after all, a season. Not just one day.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for the Resurrection

Hope comes again despite all that has happened.

The worst thing is not the last thing. There is still more that God will do.

There is still more that God is doing and I pray that is especially true for you, dear pastor, after a whole year of curating worship, fellowship and care remotely. I pray you are finding that there is newness. There is a sense of the possible and even an opening to wonder. I pray you already found inspiration in my thoughts in Holy Week in Coronatide but I wanted to offer something more pepper your worship on this most holy of days and the days that follow.

Likewise, Maren Tirabassi again offers a liturgy for Holy Communion for those gathering around the table on the Resurrection Day that could easily work for the following week with little or no adaptation. Those that subscribe to my newsletter know that I shared this liturgy that includes communion from another talented United Church of Christ clergy.

I’m grateful for Elizabeth Palmer who helped me find words for these prayers.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Mark 11:1-11 and John 20:19-31

When we thought it was over,
there was another wave.

When we believed 
change had finally come,
there was another shooting.
Another black body
was dead in the street.

When we told ourselves
that the worst was behind us,
it happened again.
We shut the doors
on possibility in our terror.
That feeling has seized us 
again and again.

Again and again, we have 
come to believe that 
resurrection 
still happens.
This is what 
we come to see.
It is what we 
need to see today. 

This is our joy today.
Resurrection
still happens.
This is what 
we celebrate.

This is one of the songs from a very short playlist of Easter music on YouTube I created for Easter. It is not something you should stream in worship as far as I can tell but it’s just so good. We all need this kind of joy. Learn more about these talented artists singing for the resistance here.

Pastoral Prayer for the Resurrection
Inspired by Mark 11:1-11

O God, however tempted
we might be to stop in the fear, 
we know that this terror 
is not all there is. It is 
not all there will ever be
for even in the terror
there is amazement. 

There is good news
that cannot not be shared
because joy
teaches us what
is possible. O God, we
have seen your wonder
this year in the fellowship
we've found through our modems
and the community we've continued
to build. We have found joy
in [name particular joys in your life together].

Joy won't stick around
forever. It comes in a moment. 
It is unexpected and maybe 
that's why it alarms us.
It rolls back our expectations 
and urges us to stay. To stay
and see this thing
that is happening just
as we are trying to witness
to [name particular injustices in our world and in your community].

O God, our eyes are open
to what could be for 
we know that this is
not the end. This is not 
where your good news ends
with the disciples fleeing
from the tomb in fear
but there is more to this
good news that begins
with you and me. Joy is like that.
It pushes us onward. It reminds
us again that there is goodness in this world.
There is goodness and joy and love
even with all that terrorizes
and overwhelms.
We will not let
the worst stop 
us from finding 
the promise of resurrection
because resurrection
still happens. It is happening right now.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

There are a thousand things on your plate and the last thing that you might have been worried about was the Egg Hunt that a faithful volunteer plans every year. I hope that that kind soul followed through this year but if you find that you are frantically trying to make this happen, this Pandemic Easter Egg Hunt might help. You might also opt to extend the storytelling of this good news with a pageant in the season of Easter because why not. You can find the one that I co-wrote especially for this pandemic year here. If you are eager to encourage your people to find words to this hope, you might encourage them to write Pandemic Easter Affirmations.

Over on Instagram, I’m offering daily prayer practices especially for you, dear pastor, in the chaos that is this week. Sometimes I even post them on other socials. Sometimes. You can follow along with @pandemic.prayers if you’re on Instagram.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for Palm Sunday

I have been so lucky to write prayers in this season that I know have been a blessing. Some of you have kindly commented and encouraged me. Some have messaged me and thanked me personally. Others have commissioned me to curate prayers for their congregation through a series of their own design. (If you are interested in such a blessing to your creativity, contact me here. I would love to work with you.) Still others comment in those groups of clergy on social media looking for a particular kind of prayer and I quickly chime in with questions.

The Call to Worship I offer for Palm Sunday in is the last of these wonders. There was a request for a readers theatre or a choral reading with cheering and waving that would work for an online format.

There will need to be instructions for this which I usually do not enjoy and try very hard to avoid, but this is a listening challenge to hear good news with fresh ears. So there will be certain things that will call to the attention of the worshipping body in this Call to Worship. Those responses appear in bold in the invitation below but would be omitted if it is to appear in print. I wouldn’t even have the leader read those parts but allow for the worshipping congregation to fill them in which means there will be gaps and the reader will need to pause for those words to be filled in. If you are using multiple readers, that might be where you cut to the next person so that there is a natural gap.

I offer this suggestion for a lead into this Call to Worship:

Today, we begin again to wander into the unknown as we have done so many times before. We enter in a city full of life and love where it feels like anything and everything is possible, but where still so much could go wrong. The days ahead will hold death and destruction. There will be grief and devastating loss but all of that is still unknown just as it was one year ago when this pandemic first became real. 

We didn't know. We couldn't know and so we listen closely for what good news might feel like now. Listen for good news and respond with your whole body so that every time you hear "God is good," you reply, "All the time, God is good!" Each time you hear "gates," you respond, "Prepare the way!" Each time you hear "Jerusalem," you respond with booming organ music that sounds like "Duh duh daaa."  Every time you hear "the people shouted," you fill in their response with "Hosanna!" 

I recommend practicing these prompts a few times so that they become familiar. I also didn’t include anything about waving palm branches as it doesn’t feel that there is one prompt that works best. Shouldn’t there be all kinds of palm waving anyway? I would suggest this Blessing of the Palms for that possibility but don’t let that limit you in adding it to the Call to Worship. Here is what I imagined for such an interactive experience in worship intended for all ages.

Interactive Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Mark 11:1-11

Give thanks to God
for God is good. 
All the time, God is good!

Give thanks to God
for love that knows 
no limit. God loves
across every boundary
and division. God's love 
opens the gates.
Prepare the way!

Love makes a way
through every city 
and village but on 
this day when still 
so much feels unknown
and the future is hard to see
God's love makes
way into Jerusalem.
Duh duh daaaaa.
God's love opened 
that city's gates.
Prepare the way!

Nobody really knew why
this was happening.
The disciples made 
preparations in Jerusalem. 
Duh duh daaaaa.
Once they got to that city
near the Mount of Olives, 
they did just what Jesus 
had told them but they did not know 
what would come next.
They couldn't have believed it 
even though they knew that
God makes a way where there is no way,
even though they believed 
with all their hearts and minds
that God is good. 
All the time, God is good!

Give thanks to God
for something was happening
that day. God's love is 
always busy moving
and changing what
we think we know
and that day was no 
different when 
love paraded 
through Jerusalem. 
Duh duh daaaaa.
There was a sense
that things could be different
as the people shouted, Hosanna!

We come today
with the same hope
trying to believe with 
all our hearts and minds 
that God is good.
All the time, God is good!
We open our hearts
as the city opens its gates.
Prepare the way!
Like the people throwing
palm branches and cloaks
on the ground, 
we are shouting just 
as the people shouted, Hosanna!
Again, the people shouted, Hosanna!
This song is covered by the CCLI license.

I wanted a song to followed the Call to Worship that functioned as a meditation on Hosanna. I don’t have to tell you, dear pastor, that this is so often confused with celebration and it’s really a bit more complicated than that. Icky atonement hints aside, I like this one. As I went through my files, I found an old benediction I really liked but didn’t save where I found it. Oops. Nonetheless, it’s been adapted so it isn’t exactly what the original was and I love how it leads into Holy Week for those of us that aren’t ready for the passion part of this Sunday yet. (Sorry. I’m in that camp this year.)

Benediction
Adapted from an unsaved source 

May we have courage as 
we move into the unknown 
that awaits us. We do not go alone.
Love will carry us.
The nights ahead will be long.
Love will carry us.
It will not be easy 
and we may fear
nothing will ever change. 
Love will carry us.
We go now together 
into the unknown.
Love will carry us.

If you haven’t yet planned something for Holy Week, you might relish in the gift that is this Easter Pageant for a Pandemic Year. It does require some legwork so it’s not recommended for the last minute planner. There are some other ideas here including some alternate suggestions for Palm Sunday. I also have a very short playlist of Easter music on YouTube that might help your sermon writing or worship planning.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

We began the new year with Jeremiah. It was the same chapter even though it was a few verses earlier. There was still the invitation to remember and hold onto what might be coming. We are still in that space so many weeks later as Lent begins to turn into Holy Week.

Likewise, we heard the words from this psalm when Lent first began. We need to be reminded of God’s steadfast love again. We can’t hear it enough especially after the calendar turned to mark one year of this pandemic. Photos have been shared from those last moments before it became real. Some have wondered what we would have told our past selves while so many of you, dear pastors, created gorgeous meaningful worship to mark this time physically apart.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming.
This is the good news
that we need to hear
right now. It is 
why we come
to find wonder
and possibility 
in the days ahead. 

The days are surely coming
is what we need to hear
after this long year
of isolation, worry
and fear. We come
to remember that 
this is not all 
there will ever be.
This is not the end 
but a beginning of 
the days ahead  
where we will be
a new people. 
We come, O God, 
to wonder who
we might become 
in your love.

I would be tempted to include some meditative time for writing to happen in this service so that there can be greater intention as Holy Week approaches and to speak to what God is writing on our hearts right now. I might offer these words as an invitation to that quiet contemplation. It could also be used as a confession, I think, with some adaptation.

Invitation to the Heart
Inspired by Jeremiah 31:31-34

We have guarded our hearts
so carefully in this past year 
of disease and distress. We have
just been trying to survive
that we are not sure 
how to open ourselves
to what might come next.

As much as we have 
hoped and dreamed that 
this pandemic would end, 
such possibility seems beyond
our grasp. It still feels too big
to pinpoint and so we haven't 
allowed our hearts to soar into 
the wonders that await us.
We believe there are wonders
even if we are cautious. 
We know there are wonders
that awaited our Christ after the horrors
of betrayal, suffering and even death.
We believe that new life awaits us 
too and so we share in this time
through quiet wonder
with pens and paper
to write down the promise
that we dare to believe await us 
in the days that are surely coming. 

We write these on paper
with our own hand
hoping that you, O God,
will write this hope 
on our hearts as
surely as you have 
written your law of love. 

Dear pastor, I hope you are getting the rest you need in this busy season. I hope you are caring for your soul with good friends and time away from any and all responsibility. I hope you’re planning for vacation even if it’s staycation or an escape to a quiet cabin in the woods far away from even your children and spouse. I hope that this Easter Pageant for a Pandemic Year might give you that escape for one Sunday where this resource can be given to talented leaders who can do all the work to assign parts and gather videos. By God’s good grace, I hope that there is enough talent in your congregation by now to actually have someone else do the video editing so you don’t have to — but I know that’s a long shot and I hate that for you. Still, I hope it’s enough to give you a break if you’re not already prepared to use resources from your denomination or others for the Sunday after Easter. And if you are still trying to figure out the days before the resurrection, there are some ideas here.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

An Easter Pageant for a Pandemic Year

This year, we have done things differently. Worship has been different and there have been surprises.

There are things that have happened in worship that never would have been possible if we had not been forced into online worship for the care of every beloved child of God. Sometimes, different is good. It invites us to dream. It challenges us to imagine what else is possible.

It might even challenge us to take risks.

A pageant might not feel like that much of a risk because our first association is so often the costumes on the sweet cherubs that refuse to stay in the chancel and tell the story of Jesus’ birth. It especially might not feel risky because so many of the pageants I saw online this past Christmas were so wonderful. They had all of the wonder and all of the joy that warms our hearts every other year.

The risk, instead, is in telling the story of death and resurrection in a way that speaks to this moment. It does not feel faithful to leap into the good news of new life when so much has been lost this year. We still need to find space to lament and grieve. We need to honor the liminal space we still find ourselves in waiting for the world to change again.

The risk is inviting households within your church family to tell this story in a way that is meaningful to them.

This Year is a pageant for this pandemic year that encourages creativity and honest storytelling for asynchronous worship. It offers scripted narration that might be shared between two or more narrators and detailed explanation for each of the seven scenes including Last Supper Preparations where Peter has to make a curbside pick-up for provisions and a brief scene where we feel the heaviness of our grief in seeing Mary weep. It is a telling of how hope comes alive in that focuses on that space between death and new life so there is a scene where the disciples are Trapped in an Upper Room. It is familiar to us what their feelings may have been because we have felt that tension build in our closest relationships while in quarantine. My favorite moment might actually be where the tension breaks and the disciples try to do something normal and familiar. They go fishing but there is an invitation to share images and videos of what so-called normal feels like now.

There are other video clips, as we have chosen to call them, where the beloved community can share the wonder and glory of their garden. That was inspired by the church member in my first call that would bring photos of her garden to the church office each week. It is our hope that this isn’t a story that is just told by the youngest in the congregation but an invitation to tell the story in a meaningful way for every age.

There are music suggestions included as the story unfolds from the Gospel of Mark. We chose to include both endings in the gospel telling where there is space for both terror and amazement and space for proclamation of the good news. I love how this script evolved in collaboration with Skyler Keiter-Massefski.

Years ago when Skyler was wee, we sat at their parent’s kitchen counter for one afternoon during Christmas Break and wrote a fresh new pageant for the church I then served as their pastor. Skyler was a determined youth with strong ideas who had just confirmed their baptism the year before. I remember that it wasn’t too much later after that that I wondered aloud if Skyler might consider the ministry.

Now, Skyler is a candidate for the Masters of Divinity at Yale even though I told them to go to my alma mater. They are busy presenting brilliant ideas at the Academy of American Religion and caring for children and youth at the South Amherst Congregational Church where they have already generated enthusiasm and excitement about this script. I am so humbled they said yes to collaboration on this project and so grateful for the wisdom and creativity they shared.

As we were chatting about this project, we didn’t just want to make space for the grief of this past year. We also wanted to provide moments for each congregation to celebrate the ministry that has been done and the ministry that awaits. This Year begins and concludes with opportunities to celebrate and remember. It gives an opportunity to look forward to what hope looks like in this particular place at this particular time as resurrection becomes real again. You can purchase this full and complete script with suggestions for props, costumes and locations here.

I am so excited to share this pageant for this pandemic year and hope it is a blessing to each congregation that chooses to share in its story during Holy Week. As always, dear pastors, I offer it to you this resource for purchase with many prayers for your faithful ministry in this season and beyond.

Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

I’m thinking about my own prayer life a lot right now. I’m wondering about how I’m caring for the tender part of my soul that needs to grieve and sing and wonder — and it’s hard. It’s hard to find that space in this long season for parents whether we have children learning online or toddlers who can’t understand why we can’t go to the playground.

I have been so worried about so many things that prayer has continued to fall to the bottom of the list. Seriously, I work out first. That’s how bad this is. It is that bad. I work out first, friends. I’m thinking about that as I offer these prayer for communal meditation for your weekly worship. There are the prayers that we mutter when the siren blares and the governor makes a really stupid decision for the good of the entire state, but there are the things that we need to hear from God in the stillness. There are things that we can only find in the quiet when we allow ourselves to listen for what God might be saying to us.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Tears have been 
shed this week
and just yesterday
in frustration and anger.
O God, we are impatient
and restless and so very tired.

We have cried for 
people and places
and things that 
don't even make sense. 
We have cried to you, 
O God, in the trouble 
of this year and you 
have saved us 
from our distress.

We come to worship
and praise the mystery 
of your love that is 
with us always. It is 
with us now and so 
we sing with joy 
for all you are doing
right now. O God, 
we come to worship
your goodness.  

In the online worship formats I’ve been attending in coronatide, I haven’t seen silence been used a lot. It has been brief if it has happened at all. I suspect that there are reasons for this. We are spending so much more time with the silence of our own souls that to spend those few blessed moments when we get to escape that inner quiet only increases the chaos when we try to be silent together, but it has been a year. It has been a whole year now and silence in worship is important for our collective listening. I think it can be done without it feeling like there is nothing happening.

I have wondered if it could be as simple as lighting candles for the lives that have been lost. In the United States, we jumped from 400,000 lives to 500,000 lives in way too little time. Maybe grief is what needs to be felt in this moment or maybe it is frustration of hitting this last pandemic wall. Can I say it’s the last? Will that ruin everything?

Opening for Silence
Inspired by Numbers 21:4-9

We have spoken against God
and each other. We have let words get 
in the way of our hope 
for we have feared that 
this will never end. 

More death will come
and we don't know 
how to make it stop
other than to close our mouths
and open our ears. 

Together, we will listen 
for a word from God 
that will remind us 
of what it means to live. 

In the silence we will share,
ask God for a word 
of hope and renewal.
Ask God for a word 
of corsage and strength.
Ask God for a word 
in the silence we now share.

I would conclude this silence that should be no less than 120 seconds with some music. I would choose this hymn because it’s what popped into my head as I was writing this invitation and then I might follow up on social media by asking people for their words. There are hundreds of creative ways to share such words that you’ve probably done already in this pandemic but in this moment it might not be so much about the creativity as the attentiveness to listen to each other’s prayers.

I have wondered how to mark that it has been one year since worship shifted online. It has been more than a year since so many have died. It has felt like an eternity since we adjusted to this new season of living. I want there to be something to mark the moment and remind us that we are in this together which reminded me of something my spiritual director taught me. She led me though this sensory grounding practice in one of our recent sessions. A grounding practice like this seems like a good way to mark the moment that we are in now and so I offer such a possibility for such a practice as the calendar reminds us that it has been a whole year of coronatide adapted from the gifts my spiritual director gave me. It functions like a guided meditation that could work anywhere in worship.

Pandemic Call to the Senses

Beloved, find yourself here with two feet planted on the ground. Take off your slippers or socks or whatever is covering your feet. This is holy ground right here in this place where two or three are gathered in worship and wonder. 

Take a deep breath full of the dust of the ancestors and the lives lost this year. Feel the the presence of the whole cloud of witnesses here with us now. Breathe in and breathe out.

Look around this space where you have spent so many hours in this past year. Life has happened here. So much life had happened here. Notice five things that you can see from where you are sitting that remind you of what this life has felt like this year. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Reach from where you are sitting to touch four things that connect you to someone you have loved. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Notice in this space where you have lived abundantly three things you can hear. Listen for the hum of life that is in this place. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Call to your awareness two scents, aromas or smells that remind you that there is goodness here in this moment. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Notice what stirs on your tastebuds and excites you about the future and for now acknowledge one thing that you can taste. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

For these things that you have tased, smelled, heard, touched and seen, we give thanks. We give thanks for the rich blessing of this life and for the ways that we seek to live into the days ahead. We give thanks for the life we have shared across internet connections and telephone wires. We give thanks and praise to God. Amen. 

I would invite the worshipping community to share in coffee hour (if your church is doing that kind of thing) what they found through their senses. I might even suggest some simple discussion questions to suggest what felt most like life in this pandemic or what felt like it was missing.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.