Silent Prayers for All Saints Day

As #metoo trends on social media, and stories that have been kept as secrets are spoken aloud, I’m keenly feeling the hurt and trauma that has made so many quiet for so many years. The resounding chorus that seems to lash out in response to say “you’re doing it wrong” or even worse “I don’t believe you” makes these conversations unsafe, even terrifying.

Terror brings more silence. It breaks relationship and isolates those that tried to tell their truth.

A response is necessary. It’s important, but at moments like these, I find myself wondering how we listen more than what we say. Perhaps, when fires have charred the earth in the Pacific Northwest and California and hurricanes have wreaked havoc upon the people of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and God only knows where else, we would do better not to explain or rationalize but simply to listen. To listen for what God might say about these things.

And so, I’ve been thinking about this liturgy I wrote last year — one with song and silence that I created to solve the problem of what to do without a church musician. I’ve adapted that liturgy here for All Saints Day because it feels that as we remember the saints — and even find the courage to believe that we ourselves are saints — we need a bit more silence to grasp the holy mystery that God invites us to enter every day.

It doesn’t name explicitly the context I’ve just offered. I struggled to write words for a prayer of intercession, but I’m not sure there are words that speak to what I’d hope this worship experience might offer. Depending upon the congregation, I might adapt this with an invitation to worship or I might add a prayer that speaks more concretely to the hurt and confusion that so many are feeling right now.

The full liturgy follows below. It requires only a tiny bit of preparation including gathering all of the candles you can find in the church and arranging them around the communion table. Provide a couple tapers or some other source of lighting candles for the middle of the service. You’ll also need a bell. A youth might be recruited to do this, but be careful that it is not a joyful ringing but a more somber affair.

Opening Words from Revelation 7:9-12

Offered by Worship Leader, read from preferred Biblical translation

Shared Silence for the Great Multitude

Offered by Worship Leader or printed in the bulletin

No one could count the number of people from every nation and tribe, these people came robed in white, speaking different languages to sing their praises to God. Find yourself, seated right where you are, in that great multitude and wonder what might make you feel like singing of the glory, wisdom, blessing or power of God at this moment.

Prayer of Invocation

Offered by Worship Leader

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!

Holy One, from your throne or just seated here beside us, we invite you to come close to hear the hopes and prayers on our hearts. Come to hear what we have dared to speak aloud and what is so heavy upon our hearts that we’ve retreated into silence, refusing to utter one world. Come to listen. Come to pray with us on this day, with all of your saints at the table you have prepared for us, so that we might hear more than our own thoughts and ideas, more than our own good intentions and pearls of wisdom, more than our own confessions and truths, but to hear from you in the quiet.

In the silence, Holy One, let us spend more time listen more than we speak. Let us strain our voices to sing of your glory, wisdom and power and let the silence settle again so that we might listen for your response. Let us listen for your grace.

Ring bell three times.

Prayer for Presence (Unison)

Holy One, what we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is this: you are here. You are listening.
Let us become fully present to your glory, your wisdom,
your power and your blessing.

Ring bell once.

Shared Silence for Presence

Hymn In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful

Reading from 1 John 3:1-3

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

O God, we struggle to keep silent. We crave a quiet place away from the busyness of the world, but even as we grant ourselves that space, it is hard to slow down, to see what your love has given us, to believe that we could be your saints. Saints are patient, brave and true. They toiled and fought and lived and died for the love they found in you, but we’re not so sure that same glory will be revealed in our own lives. We do not feel like your children, never mind your saints. Our mouths are too big. Our words are too pointed. Forgive us, O God. Come into this silence so that we might hear from you. Turn us away, this day, from our doubts and our criticisms. Let us hear you speak to us words of love and life. Help us to choose that blessing from you rather than the curses we place upon ourselves.

Shared Silence for Confession

Words of Assurance (Responsive)

Through every silence, may we hear this blessing:
In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

Hymn A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing

Reading from Matthew 5:1-12

Ringing of the Bells

Offered by Worship Leader

Ring bell once.

Jesus saw the crowds, the great multitude robed in white, wanting to sing their praises and offer blessings yet unspoken. From high up on the mountaintop, Jesus gave them words for their praise, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are those who mourn…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the meek…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the merciful…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the pure in heart…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Ring bell three times.

Where Jesus speaks, we are silent, ever uncertain how to name aloud the blessed saints that have graced our lives and changed this world. They are the peacemakers, the merciful and the meek in whose company we hope to be. We invite their memory and even their presence into this place by lighting candles not only to remember the blessing they have been but to remember the blessing we hope to be revealed in us.

Invite the great multitude to come forward and light candles for the saints in silence. After all have returned to their seats, ring the bell three times.

Hymn We Sing for All the UnSung Saints

Shared Silence for Holy Communion

begin with a bare table
put table-cloth on the communion table
bring up Bible
take, hold up and show congregation, place on table
bring up candles
place on table and light
bring up cross
take, hold up and show congregation, place on table
bring up loaf
take, hold up and show congregation
hold hand over loaf as sign of blessing
hold loaf up high and tear it in two
bring up wine and chalice
take, hold up and show congregation, place on table
pour wine from chalice into cup
hold hand over chalice as sign of blessing
hold up bread and wine
quietly say: “As our Savior taught us, together we pray:”

Prayer of our Savior

Sharing of the Bread and Cup

Shared Silence for Thanksgiving

Hymn For All the Saints

Closing Words from Revelation 7:13-17

Benediction (Unison)

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor and power
and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!

If you use this liturgy in your worship or even a single prayer as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear how you use this service — especially if you choose alternate hymns or make other tweaks for your congregation.

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Half-Baked Ideas for All Saints Day

On Sunday, I went to church.

I sat in the pews to worship. But, before worship even began, there was a wave of sadness that fell over that gathering of God’s people.

There were words of thanks offered, gratitude for the hospitality that had been offered earlier in the week in the midst of two funerals. The names of the deceased were mentioned but they were not names that I knew. As a first time visitor in worship, I could only feel the sadness that was left after these two saints have died.

It’s not just something that is felt in this one church I found myself on Sunday morning but something all too familiar. We are not sure what the future of the church might look like. We are trying to imagine it and prepare for it but our saints are dying. The people that gave their hearts and souls to the work of the gospel, the very people we all hope we’ll one day be like and the people that made the church what it is today are dying. We’re going to their funerals. We’re saying prayers over their bodies and what remains is this overwhelming sadness because it’s not just that one life, but the many. So many of our saints are dying. It seems to be happening all at once. Maybe it is always this way. Maybe it feels like this for every generation and it is just the way of things that we wonder how we might match their goodness. It may be normal to look around the sanctuary and wonder who will be the next Lee or the next Janet or who will always be there with a joke like Gordon always was. Maybe it never feels like there are enough new people wandering in through those doors and we never quite feel like we could be the ones to follow in the footsteps of those saints. We are instead always looking for someone else.

I don’t know but it sure feels to me like we are burying some amazing people. It feels like there is so much death of so many great people. So much so that I had to unsubscribe from my former church’s weekly email because the prayer list was just too much to bear. It’s that familiar feeling that I felt as worship began on Sunday. It hovered over us through the entire time we attempted to lift our praise. If this is something we are all feeling, in churches all over the place, how do we honor that sense of loss? How do we make a space for it? What might be different about this All Saints Day?

It is no secret that this is one of my favorite observances in the church year. There are lots of wonderful moments of worship that use candles and ribbons and bells to remind us of these beloved people. There was a time when those bells were ringing to remind the living of the dead. It is not lack of memory that plagues us but how we might make sense of so much death in our time. Count those in your own congregation who have died. List the names of those that died in combat in a war most of our country doesn’t believe we are fighting or list every name that has died just this year because we refuse to believe that black lives matter. There are so many names that we could say. This year, let’s actually say the names.

I don’t have a full liturgy to offer you this week but two ideas to inspire your worship planning.

  • Say their names. It is a hashtag that is trending on Twitter. As violence and brutality increase, there is a cry that is being heard on social media to #saytheirnames. There is power in naming. We know this as we name and pray for people each time we worship. They stay on our prayer lists for a week or two until they disappear from our memories. We are too distracted or perhaps we’re just too upset to stick with the pain for too long. For All Saints Day, meet with the deacons or the worship committee and together make a list of names to be read during worship. You might go back over the prayer list and remember every saint who has died or other names that really need to be said. There has been a lot of death in the past year. Do not shy away from a long list. Decide how the names will be read and who will read which names. You might choose to ring a bell after the reading of each name, as is the ancient practice, or you might choose a piece of music to play softly under the reading of the names.
  • Write letters to the saints. I know that there are assigned readings for this particular feast day that don’t actually coincide with Proper 26 or Proper 27, but I really like the opening words to the church in Thessalonika from Proper 26. It reminds me of the letters I often write to my mom so that I wonder what would happen if we gave space for our church people to write to the saints of the church. Imagine that salutations and thanksgivings they would write to those they had admired and then what would be said next? What would they want to say about their church or their own discipleship to this saint now? It could be good sermon fodder but I’d want to find a way to have everyone write letters perhaps in place of the Prayers of the People. Maybe we’d find some way to send them. Fire? Big post box on cotton balls? I’m not sure… What do you think?

These are just ingredients that need a little more time in the kitchen. Good liturgy is the work of the people and every idea needs to have a little time to cook within a community. I would love to hear what might happen with these half-baked ideas within your church family. Please let me know and maybe I’ll even see you for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday!

 

The Warmth of God’s Saints

33c93-img_2784All Saints is one of my very, very favorite liturgical celebrations. It is a ritual that was introduced to me in the liturgical laboratory of my seminary. Sitting in James Memorial Chapel, I experienced for the very first time what it means to call upon such a great cloud of witnesses. Tears rolled down my cheeks each and every time in this holy celebration when we were invited this mystical union. Because there just isn’t another time or place in the Christian calendar that we make a space for grief. We reserve that sweet communion for funerals and memorial services but neglect to include it in the rest of our preaching and proclamation.

It is the day I want to sit in the back of the church. I want to light candles and sing and quietly mourn for the loss of such amazing saints of God like my mother and my grandmother. I want to sit in awe and wonder that there is something that connects us — all of us — to the divine and to each other. No one is left out. We all share in this great heritage. But, I am called to to the front of the sanctuary. I’m called to lead the prayers. It’s my task to stand in the pulpit and share the good news. Except that grief doesn’t feel like good news.

So more often than not, when All Saints Day rolls around, I spend hours upon hours preparing liturgies that allow for that sacred space. I do not preach but I find readings and poetry that will say what I can’t find the words to say to intermingle with chanted prayers from Iona and Taize. But, not this year.

This year I’m serving a small little country church in Pennsylvania. I am the interim pastor in this church that believes this might just be a title to begin many years of ministry. They’ve had pastors that have stayed and an interim music director who had been there for forty years. Theirs is a church that claims tradition as if it is just one thing. Their worship reflects this so that I didn’t feel I could play too much. I had written no more than a call to worship as I tried as hard as I could to stick with what is familiar for this congregation. Still, I was restless and uncomfortable.

I was restless and uncomfortable until we came to the table. I stepped before that holy ground and invited the congregation to take a deep breath before we shared in reciting the Statement of Faith. We took a deep breath because these are bold words. These are important words and we need to recognize how much power these words hold. But, more than that, I need to catch my breath. I had just preached a hard sermon and I could see the tears rolling down each face. I could feel them about to come from my own eyes. I needed to catch my breath before sharing in this proclamation of who we are as God’s saints.

And then, before the invitation, I did something I wasn’t planning on doing. I invited the congregation to call out the names of those saints — alive or dead — that we wanted to invite to the table. I invited everyone to call out the names of those that they would like to dine with us. My own mind raced with people who know more about faith than I do and the people I miss so very much. I thought of famous people and the many, many people who don’t have a seminary degree but have taught me more about faith than my seminary professors because it would be so amazing to have all of those people in one place seated at one table. That was the image in my head as names were being called out from the congregation. For all of the liturgy that I have so carefully planned, there was this work of people that came with a simple invitation. Call out the names of those you wish to be here and the names kept coming — name after name after name. All of the saints were gathered in that sanctuary. All of them were there. We felt the warmth in the room as we broke bread together. We felt so much warmth.

For All the Saints

There are two days on the church calendar when I simply cannot preach. There are two days when I know that my emotions will get the better of me — and I will likely not be able to proclaim the resurrection that I so need to hear. One of these days is not liturgical. It’s Groundhog Day and the day my mother died. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed since she died. I still need this day to be honest with myself and my God that it still hurts. So I do not preach. The celebration of All Saints is no different.

I did not grow up with this tradition but discovered its lush wonder in James Chapel at Union Theological Seminary. Seated upon those green chairs, I was permitted a sacred space for my grief — and I claimed that space with my tears. And it’s that sacred space that I want for everyone.

So, every year, I attempt to create that space where others can feel what I have found so healing and so affirming. In a church culture that insists on an effusive joy all of the time, I long for a place where I can be honest about how heartbroken I still am. This year, this space was centered upon these words from the Gospel of Matthew with familiar words to those that have been attending church for years and years. For those saints, the wisdom that Jesus has never quite felt like good news. Or so I heard it discussed in our study earlier this week. This doesn’t feel quite so good: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” So I used it as a way to talk about ourselves as saints, including this prayer of confession that truly seemed to say it all as we prayed together:

Good God, we have heard you say so many times:all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.But, we are so humble that we hesitate to call ourselves your saints.Forgive us. Exalt us a little. So that we might see ourselvesso honored, so respected and so loved that we might be called your saint.In your mercy, we pray.

But, I did not preach. I could not. I choked up even mentioning my mother in the prayers of the people so instead I told a series of stories of the saints of God. I told the story of an old saint (one that is actually canonized), a child of color (who you might not expect) and one of the pillars of this church (who just deserves it). We shared these stories amid our prayers, those wonderful hymns that mark this day and sharing in the feast of God. It was a truly wonderful time of worship.