Pandemic Prayers for Proper 20

It has been six months. I lost count.

I could have sworn it had been longer since my husband redeployed from South Korea and we almost immediately cancelled the vacation I’d been looking forward to for nine months and went into lockdown. We moved across the state but my kids and I remain in lockdown while my husband goes back and forth to work. Complaining feels good. It feels right. It matches my grief in this moment and so I’m drawn to the Exodus story where our ancestors find themselves, as Michael J. Chan points out, in the “uncomfortable space between departure and destination—or in the case of Exodus, between liberation and covenant.”

I feel less certain about the destination and more and more removed from the departure. I feel all the discomfort. I don’t think I’m the only one that feels this tension that is profoundly explored in the Letter to Philippi. I want to figure out what it means right now to “live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ” especially when I feel anything but firm in my Spirit. But then, there are many that are struggling with suicidal thoughts that I wonder how we dare to preach that bit about being pulled to depart but then choosing to remain in the flesh. There is good news in there. I know it, just as I know there is good news in you.

Gathering Together for Worship

Singing from the Lectionary suggests John Bell’s Stand, O Stand Firm for the epistle. I love the refrain and think it would be lovely to begin worship and repeat in the prayer time. You can find the full version for purchase here. You might even request your members send in pictures of themselves standing tall and use those images as a visual for this prelude.

Or you might be feeling really punchy and start worship with this. Kidding. Sorta.

I offer the words below but if you are focusing on the Gospel, you might prefer this beautiful invitation. Some of the prayers I wrote for Labor Day could also be adapted or you can find the liturgy I wrote six years ago for Worship Ways here. Here is another possibility that could work no matter what your focus text is.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Exodus 16:2-15 and Philippians 1:21-30

We come with the whole congregation
to find ourselves still in the wilderness
between where we were 
and where we are going
and we are full of complaint.

We cannot stop complaining
for what we do not understand
and whatever forces brought us here. 
We complain about our leaders
and the lack of available resources.
We bemoan every injustice
that now seems so obvious. 
We are tired and we are scared.

We come with this 
whole congregation
because we are convinced -- 
even in our constant complaint -- 
that there is joy.
There is abundant hope
when we can stand firm
in one spirit. Together,
we strive for the faith of the gospel.
Hope by hope, heart by heart,
we struggle together to see
what God will do.

Or for something completely different, you might start with a poem like Wait by Galway Kinnell particularly if you are wandering into the struggles of suicidal thoughts. It’s a poem I found reading this essay and I rather like the wildness of it. It might be followed by this favorite Taize song of mine.

Prayers for the Day

Picking up on the complaining spirit in Exodus, here is a confession and assurance to center this prayer time. I wonder if there might be an action for this week so that in the week ahead when members of the whole congregation notice that whine inside them, they could be compelled to act with hope. This simple recipe for gratitude might be an easy enough place to start. I’ve also wondered about neighborhood walks in the pandemic particularly for neighborhood churches.

Prayer of Confession

O God, we have complained so much.
We have felt stuck and scared
and so we've summoned the only power
we could find. We know you haven't seen our best sides.
Forgive us. Forgive us for ignoring that every whine
and worry reveals our hope. Help us 
not to not to get stuck in our fears 
but to lean into what we hope
will come in the future of your realm.

Assurance of Grace

I have heard your complaining, God assures us.
I have heard your worry and concern
and I will feed you with grace
and love and hope. I will assure you
that all is forgiven. You are my beloved,
now and always. Amen.

I also felt pulled to write a prayer that spoke to the particular words of the poem mentioned above and the issues surrounding mental health and the pandemic particularly in National Suicide Prevention Month. I wondered if I should write it as if this is happening to others but that would be dishonest for me. I’m not one of those people who has never considered this, particularly in my youth but even now. Still, I confess that this is an issue of which I’m still learning and so these words may drastically fall short and I hope that I will be corrected.

These words reflect my own struggle. As with so many things, we are works in progress but endlessly and completely in the struggle together. Or so I pray. Similar to the above prayer, this might be a good week to encourage some action particularly around suicide awareness if you use these prayers. I’ll link to the United Church of Christ toolkit because it is what I know best but there are tons of great resources out there.

Prayer for the Waiting

Wait with us, O God,
in the wilderness 
where it feels like we have been separated 
from every one and every thing we ever loved
only to be told to wait. We don't trust it.
We can't and maybe that is why depression 
and suicidal thoughts feel so familiar here.

We have complained 
and we have felt like nothing matters
even if we wish that everything did. 

Wait with us, O God,
in this wilderness
because it is familiar
and we haven't yet given up.
We are still waiting.

Wait with us, O God,
wait with all of us
who struggle with futility
and suicidal thoughts in this coronatide.
We pray in your holy name, Amen.

Prayers of the People

I haven’t written as many prayers of the people or intercessory prayers but I’ve seen that there is interest and need for them. It feels awkward to write as those prayers are so intimate for me. Those are the prayers I’ve prayed from the heart without a script for sheer love of these people God has called me to serve but I know you’re struggling for words so here are some great words that I found written by other wonderful people. It is admittedly a short list.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. I hinted last week that I was going to do some thinking about All Saints and Christmas Eve but I hope to spend some time this week daydreaming about World Communion Sunday. It’s apparently soon. Gulp. There is so much to think about. I am continually in awe of you, my dear colleagues. You are amazing.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always.