I missed a week. I didn’t mean to do so even as I tried to plan ahead for another Pentecost in Coronatide. I still missed a week. Two weeks if you saw what I offered for Pentecost and thought it had nothing even remotely related to what might happen on Sunday morning on Zoom. I feel like I’m missing a lot of things right now.
It will happen on Trinity Sunday that we shall depart for our overseas move. We shall board a series of planes until we finally arrive in our new home in Germany. I will feel like we don’t have enough masks. I will be on edge about how often my almost two year old rips off her mask. And yes, I know that the guidance is that she’s too young to wear one but I need some comfort in knowing that she can wear one as we fly overseas.
I fear I will miss again in this faithful practice because I do not know what awaits us on the other side. I do not know if I should write prayers into the weeks ahead or if those words will fail to speak to the moment because everything is changing so fast. I imagine, dear pastor, that you are feeling this weight too. You are trying to navigate how to plan and lead when everything is changing. There is your own sanity and then there is the concern for the children sitting on the chancel steps. You are praying as much as you ever have in this pandemic nightmare as you try to be patient and kind with every vaccinated boomer who assumes their status is the norm. I pray you’ve found the work of the Wisconsin Council of Churches with their guidance for this moment. If not, please check out Love Builds Up and share it with your leadership.
I cannot imagine the dance you are doing, dear pastor, but I know that you are doing it with faith and love. You are preaching the gospel sometimes even with words. You are living it. You are loving just as you have done for more than a year. I hope you know that my prayers continue even when I fail to post. We are all doing what we can and sometimes I have to admit that I cannot do it all. (I am not good at this. Like at all.)
I wonder if this week you were to write a letter to Nicodemus as my friend Claudio Carvalhaes does on Working Preacher. Because I’m guessing that you too need a break. You, dear pastor, have found yourself without words. You are looking for something meaningful and powerful but you have so little left. Or maybe exactly because of this fact you need for the words of this letter not to come from you so that worship this week builds toward your people writing letters to Nicodemus.
Rachel Hackenberg has this wonderful book on Writing to God. It’s snippets from her work that I offer here as a suggestion to you in how you might structure this sacred time to ponder the wonder of the Trinity. She offers a free Small Group Study Guide for Lent that I’ve selected bits and pieces from to make this service come together. My copy of the book is regrettably packed in some box being shipped over the Atlantic Ocean so I cannot offer anything from its pages but I hope you’ll order a copy for your small groups this summer. I can almost guarantee that there would be something to use related to the particular passages for the day in this small tome. Or to use for the next time that you don’t have words of your own.
Call to Worship Inspired by John 3:1-17 We come without words to explain this moment or what we dare to hope will come. We come needing words to explain how these things can be. We need some expression of what it means for us to know the presence of God. The wind has blown and it will blow again. We hear its sound and feel its force but we do not know where it will lead. We can only notice another grey hair and another wrinkle from the stress of this long year. Bring us together, O God, to find that you are giving us words. Very truly, you will give us ways to understand how these things can be.
Opening Meditation Adapted from Rachel Hackberg's Small Group Study Guide for Lent In the middle of the night, a leader of the Jews called Nicodemus came to Jesus looking for answers. There were things that he wanted to know, things that he couldn't understand and hoped that this teacher from God could help him. He called him Teacher and waited for his response. After night turned to morning light, we come to find answers. Our emotions are high as they may have been for Nicodemus that night. We come to find words for all that we are feeling right now. Together, we will take two minutes to each write a few sentences to describe one of our emotional responses to Jesus. Pick the emotion that feels most powerful. You might begin, “I admire Jesus, because...” or you might choose, "I am frustrated with Jesus, because..." When we have each had time to find words for emotions, you will be invited to share a word or phrase in the chat box from your meditation.
This is not a complete service with all of the details that you might include but I do wonder about using Nicodemus by Malcolm Guite as an introduction to the Gospel Lesson. Perhaps another bit of writing would add inspiration to this meditation though words.
Reflecting Meditation Adapted from Rachel Hackberg's Small Group Study Guide for Lent Having heard how the good news is shared in the Gospel of John, we pick up our pen and paper again to allow words to flow however they might come in lists or poetry, prose or epistle in response to this prompt: “Now is not the time.” Dare to direct your words to the Holy Three in One. Tell God what is most on your heart. When we have each had time to find words for how this can be, you will again be invited to share a word or phrase in the chat box from your meditation.
My friend Erica Schemper offers this inspiring Prayers of the People for Trinity Sunday inspired by St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Or you might opt for a Responsive Pastoral Prayer that picks up on the beloved refrain in this favorite hymn. I want there to be a way to connect all of these words offered in personal meditation especially for those who do not find words to come easily. I wonder if using a popcorn prayer might work to gather all of this together.
Prayers of the People Inspired by John 3:1-17 Holy is what we long to name in our own words. Holy, Holy, Holy, Our God Almighty, we have stumbled what is possible and even how to name your wonder and possibility. It has felt like this isn't the time for... And we are aware that there are things that we have not found words to express how these things can be. Our words are not enough to name your glory and grace. We come close in naming that Christ Jesus is... But there is more to your power. There is more to your being than what sustains us in Christ Jesus. We pray, Holy One, that you will fill in the silences between our words and surprise us like a wild goose taking flight into the great blue skies. Surprise us again in your infinite grace. Disrupt what we assume must be with what could be with the blowing winds of hope and change. Holy, Holy, Holy, Our God Almighty, we pray in your many names. Amen.
Last, but not least, I loved this Benediction in the Time of the Pandemic for this Sunday last year. These are the words that I need to hear right now. These are the words that I hope will carry us all. Though if you use an Amen refrain like the one above, that might be where you end. That is all the benediction that is needed before virtual coffee hour.
That’s all I’ve got for you, dear pastor. As you prepare worship this week, please know that I am praying for you. I am praying for you so much.