Pandemic Prayers for Returning to In-Person Worship

I have hesitated to share any particular prayers for gathering together in-person again because it feels so unique to each circumstance. There is something particular about this experience.

It involves a particular group of people. It is the unique story of how the pandemic took hold in that exact location among those blessed souls and maybe there are universals. There are things we have all experienced in this pandemic but we are not all in the same place as this shift to in-person worship occurs.

I can’t think about this possibility — which for me is just a possibility as I continue to worship online with my sweet Texas church and have no options for in-person worship in our German city — still, I can’t think of this possibility without thinking about music. I remember vividly standing in my kitchen when The More We Get Together played for the third time that day on my kids’ Pandora station and I burst into tears. And then, there is this beloved hymn that closed every worship service in the early days when we thought this would only be a few weeks.

I will never hear this song again without remembering what it felt like to sing these words through broken sobs to my computer screen. At that point, I knew I was moving. I didn’t know that there would ever be a return to this group of people or this sanctuary. I had no idea we would move again within less than a year. And maybe especially because of my story, I am curious what it would be like to sing or hear this song again at the close of worship back in the sanctuary.

Music, as you know dear pastor, changes us. It gives us a melody to our struggle and a harmony to our hope. It pinpoints our memory to a particular time and place and congregations are full of these memories. So, what have been the songs that carried your people in this season? What would it look like to sing those songs again?

I might be extra tempted to shell out some extra dollars from the worship budget for some musicians to help us celebrate this reunion but I won’t assume that that is possible for every congregation. I know too that each church has chosen a different date for this reunion and that makes it really hard to choose focus texts but I’ll go with some old favorites including Psalm 133, Isaiah 65, and Ephesians 4:1-16 because it’s actually in the Revised Common Lectionary on the first of August if you happen to have chosen that day to gather. No matter what the chosen day might be, I pray these prayers might bless your regathering.

These prayers are still written for one voice as my other church in Pennsylvania — who I think you’ll be hearing about more and more — has wisely decided not to have responsive readings in their regathering. I want to honor that commitment but go ahead and adapt these prayers as they fit your worship experience.

Call to Worship

Inspired by Psalm 133 and Isaiah 65

How very good and pleasing it is
when people come together
through wireless routers
and cables buried in the earth
to pop up on each other’s screens
with a familiar smile that remind us
again that we your people, O God, 
are made for community.

We dwell together in harmony.
Or at least we tried
after servers crashed
and internet was lost
when we wanted most
to be together and praise 
your wonder and grace.
We tried so hard, O God.

And now, now
we are all together again
in the same place to 
worship and praise
so that it really does 
feel like expensive oil 
poured over our heads,
running down our collarbones
with blessing and joy.

There is such joy
today. There is delight
in this fellowship even 
when we know that all is 
not as it was. We are not 
the same people who last gathered
here in this blessed place.
We have become 
a new creation in your sight
and so we pray that our praise 
will have such movement
for the people we have become
and the God that has shown 
us how all things become new again. 

If this prayer sounds a tiny bit familiar, it is adapted from one I wrote in August of last year for Proper 15A when Psalm 133 was last in the Revised Common Lectionary. I want there to be something that recognizes what has been lost. There is a nod to it in the previous prayer but I imagine it will be strange to be gathered back together again and know that there are some missing. Some might still be online as many families with small children may well choose but more than 600,000 have died in the United States now. It’s hard to believe that that toll won’t impact churches in some way.

For those using an outdoor space, I wonder about using a fence to create a community weaving as part of this remembering. Maybe a shape like the church building or logo that could be filled in with scraps of colorful cloth or even yarn.

If this is happening in the sanctuary or far from a fence, a temporary loom could be constructed. People might need to be reminded to socially distance as music is played and they each come forward to add their bit of color but I don’t think it would take much more than a reminder. I think it’s worth the effort to make something beautiful to call us into this new creation.

Or if that all sounds too daunting because it’s been a hell of a year and you don’t have time for something so large scale, maybe steal this wedding guest book idea to make a large poster board that can be a focal point in the narthex or even in the worship space. I might tweak the language in the following prayer to draw a stronger connection to the chosen ritual.

Prayer for Re-Membering

Inspired by Ephesians 4:1-16

We have come this far 
with all humility and gentleness.
Or so we pray O God.
We pray we've had 
patience though
we know we did not
rest easy in this time apart.

We have been broken open 
by what we could not comprehend
and what has taken to many lives
so that we cannot look around
today without remembering
what we have lost. We pray
that we might truly bear one another
in love and grief and hope.

Today, O God, we pray
you will take the lonely remnants,
the frustration, the grief
and the shreds of hope
with re-member us 
into one body and spirit.

Gather who we once were
with what we have lost
and all that still remains uncertain
to equip us for ministry
and the building up of the body of Christ.
We have been so tossed and blown about 
by every kind of thing since we first 
heard the word coronavirus
and we need you, O God.

We need you to be above us all
and through us all 
and in every bit of this 
new creation we are 
becoming together.
There are variants 
and variables we cannot control
but we pray you will take our whole lives,
knit/graft us together 
and build us up in love
and truth. Amen. 

That’s all I’ve got for right now because my children are totally losing it. Still, I hope you’ll share your hopes and dreams for this regathering. Or if you have already shared in this reunion, please share with us what most inspired you about this first in-person worship.

I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Weaving Bridges by Laurie Wilson

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 8B

I love the healing stories in the Gospel of Mark. There are two in this pericope and the first part is my very favorite. It seems all the more poignant this year when we are reaching for possibility and trying to be faithful to hope and love.

We are reaching with our hands outstretched for so much. For some of us, we are reaching out to hold the hands of beloved family and friends after nearly a year and a half apart. For others, it is the possibility of justice and the work we are committing to do for racial justice. For others, it is just to believe that this uncertainty is not all there will be. We are reaching into the unknown.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 30

Across and afar
Far and wide
we have searched 
for our God. 

From the pit of despair
and under the covers
when it has felt impossible 
to greet the new day
we have needed grace.

We have cried.
We have called out. 
We have not yet
found our way
out of the depths.

We come together
to watch for the morning
light to dawn and 
hope to revive our souls.

Most of my prayers — as in this call to worship above — have opted for a singular voice but this week and with this narrative to lead our hearts, I wanted a responsive prayer that I know some of you have kept on Zoom and others will be reintroducing as hybrid worship emerges.

Make Us Well, O God
Inspired by Mark 5:21-43

Here we are on the other side
of what has been so much suffering
and so much death. We have 
suffered. We have suffered 
for so long.

Make us well, O God.


We have crossed over
a chasm of impossibility
and some things have changed. 
Some things are different
but we are still reaching
into the unknown with hope.

Make us well, O God.

There are some things
that feel worse than they were before
but we have spent all we have.
We have used up every bit 
of energy on dreaming
and we are exhausted. 

Make us well, O God. 

We do not want 
this to be all that there 
is on the other side. No matter
how tired we might be, we have
faith that the world we imagine
could give us healing. 

Make us well, O God.

We extend our arms
to touch your grace
and transformation.
O God, heal us.

Make us well, O God.

Though this is not within my talents, I wonder about someone in your congregation who could teach a simple sung version of the above refrain that a cantor could sing alone on Zoom — and the congregation can join in singing from their living rooms and kitchens. A cantor may even work in in-person worship depending on the restrictions within your area but I love how a simple refrain like this can offer a responsive prayer throughout the week. Or maybe this is the song that needs to carry us all.

Your church may have resumed worship gathering together in-person. There may be people worshipping without masks or there may be arm bands to communicate individual comfort or perhaps buttons and bracelets like this Texas church. It might feel like you have reached the other side of this pandemic while my prayers continue to linger in this liminal space. I feel this awkwardness as I write these prayers and wonder if perhaps something should change in how I am composing these words so that they might be more helpful to you in your ministry. I welcome your comments or if you are looking for something more particular in your worship planning, please do contact me.

That’s all I’ve got for you, dear pastor. I am praying for you. I am praying for you so much.

Last Minute Pandemic Prayers for Proper 7B

Though I am struggling to find a new normal, our world continues to turn. It has been announced that there is hope that the EU will open to American tourists leaving me to wonder if this is good news. Is this over? Can we go back to normal? Or does normal mean that we choose to embrace new holidays and traditions as President Biden demonstrates in making Juneteenth a federal holiday?

I was thrilled to discover this liturgy for Juneteenth Day from the Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America offers this worship resource for the day including a litany inspired by Lift Every Voice and Sing.

I remain uncertain if it is really appropriate for white congregations to sing this black anthem. There is a nice history of the song on the NAACP website that explains why. CNN goes a little bit more in-depth. If your white congregation opts to include the anthem, this would be a great time to use the gifts of other talents on the internet like this one though I can find nothing about licensure.

Or maybe what is needed is some poignant words of poetry to stir heart and soul about the power of Juneteeth. I was stirred by these words from Kenneth Carroll in his poem A People’s Historian. It seems to speak directly to the hymn. Or perhaps Fenton Johnson’s Tired might speak to the languishing so many of us feel in the pandemic and call us to the work of racial justice again.

I am assuming, dear pastor, that you have already done all you can to plan worship for the Sunday. I imagine you have perhaps already recorded or are just catching your breath before leading in person worship on Sunday morning for the first time. I offer one prayer of my own that might add to the work you’ve already done or perhaps it is a prayer to care for your soul in this season where so much weight is heavy on your shoulders.

A Prayer for the Other Side
Inspired by Mark 4:35-41 and Job  38:1-11

O God, it has been 
a whirlwind. We have 
felt caught up in the storm
of change. We have felt
stuck, hopeless and confused. 
We have languished and waited
on the other side 
of whatever
will be. 

O God, let us go
across to the other
side where you lead
us into tomorrow and
and next. Lead us through
these uncertain winds 
and across this great sea
of possibility to find peace
because we have been
so afraid. O God, we 
have felt like we needed
to move heaven and earth.
It has rested heavy
upon our shoulders
and we need to know
that you will make a way.
You will lead us, O God, 
to the promise of possibility. 
You will get us to the other
side if only we can find
a little faith. O God,
give us faith. Selah. 
Selah. Amen.

I know that many of you have already moved to hybrid or in-person worship. I’ve seen questions about liturgical gifts that might bless the regathering of the body of Christ. I hesitate to write something general as it seems that the particulars of each first worship service off-line will depend on so many variables but I would love to help craft something for you. If there is something that I can help imagine with you and your congregation, please contact me.

That’s all I’ve got for you, dear pastor. I am praying for you. I am praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 6B

We have been in Germany a whole week. In fact, it has been a week and a day now. I’m still not sleeping well as my tiny children adjust their bodies to a time zone a whole ocean away.

These prayers reflect a bit of my exhaustion and the curious wonder of hearing familiar words again.

Waking Up to Praise
Inspired by Psalm 92:1-4

O God, everything
in my body and soul
feels out of tune.
I feel unprepared
for what must be 
done. I don't really
know how to greet 
this new day.

But, O God, I am here. 
I am here with breath
in my body and a heart
pounding with hope
so I praise you
with my tapping foot
and my fingers 
drumming on the side 
of my coffee mug. 
I praise you with
readiness to find
your rhythm 
and work growing
in each step.
O God, I am here
and I praise your work
again and again.
I’m not even going to bother to search to see if this version is covered by a license because I can nearly guarantee it is not but it’s so good. And it’s what I want to wake up singing every morning.
Prayer for the Scattered
Inspired by Mark 4:26-34

We have been so scattered
between what was and 
what could be. We have felt
flung between what
we remember and
what we know
could be better
but we aren't quite
so sure where to plant 
ourselves. We feel
so small and so 
unprepared for 
the world that 
is to come. O God,
help us to find roots in 
your endless grace.
Amen.

I shared some other prayers in reflection of this Gospel Lesson last summer that may also inspire. It’s another version from another Gospel as the Revised Common Lectionary goes but perhaps it will be what you need.

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.

Pandemic Prayers for Trinity Sunday

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.
This song is covered by the CCLI license.
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.
This classic hymn is not covered by CCLI.

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.
This version is definitely not covered by a license but I love it.

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.

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.