Pandemic Praying Our Goodbyes

I wonder how much we’ve said goodbye to in this pandemic season. We have said time and time again that things will never go back to the way they were. We are forever changed. We won’t go back. There is only this.

We have said goodbye to so many things. So many times. And sometimes we have had to say goodbye more than once. This got me thinking about Joyce Rupp’s Praying our Goodbyes where she reminds the reader that there is ritual in each and every goodbye.

The word goodbye — originally “God-be-with-us” or “Go-with-God” — was a recognition that God was a significant part of of the going. When you dreaded or feared the journey there was strength in remembering that the One who gave and cherished life would be there to protect and console. Goodbye was a blessing of love, proclaiming the belief that if God went with you, you would never be alone, that comfort, strength and all the other blessings of a loving presence would accompany you.

Joyce Rupp

I wanted to bring this into what All Saints Sunday could be especially for those on Zoom and not able to be physically present to each other. What follows is my pandemic adaptation of one of the many rituals of goodbye that Rupp offers in the book. This is adapted from one she entitles Prayer When A Loved One Has Died and another entitled Prayer for a Lonely Day.

Remembering the Saints

On the central screen that guides your worship (which would usually be the primary speaker in Zoom), gather photographs of church members, famous people and local celebrities that have died this past year. You might even opt to flip through the church directory or the obituary section of the local newspaper. Another way of doing this might be in gallery mode where each person is invited to hold up a picture of a beloved saint who has died this year or in years past. If your congregation is on multiple screens, it will be hard for everyone to be seen so this might not work as well.

Invite the gathered community to look upon these faces and consider:

There have been so many goodbyes
this year. And the year before. 
We have lost so much --
so much has been lost 
and our grief is so complicated.

We have felt incomplete, 
needy, empty and lost in
wondering what it might 
feel like for peace and wholeness
to come again.

Wonderful, loving souls
have been lost to us 
and we haven't been there 
to hold their hands
and tell them we love them 
one last time. The virus
didn't allow us in the room
to say goodbye.

There is still 
so much unsaid
and so many things that 
we wish could have done.
It is this tender awareness
we share together in 
contemplative silence.

Contemplative Silence

You might offer a few simple questions to ponder on the shared screen as quiet music plays in the background. Questions might include:

What are the strongest feelings within your spirit?
Where does it feel like that feeling begins?
What will you always carry with you from these saints? 
What might God say to your honest sharing of these feelings?

I recently found this song about the great cloud of witnessed with words by Brian Wren and kinda love it — but please be sure to triple check licenses before using this song especially if your worship is being streamed.

Praying Our Goodbyes

At this time, you may choose to have gathered a list of names from within your congregation as is your tradition each year. From the shared contemplative silence or following the necrology, share in praying this prayer together. It might be lead by one voice or several.

O God, we give you these saints.
We have said their names 
and whispered our gratitude 
for their many blessing. 

They have changed us 
as much as this pandemic 
season has changed 
who we will be. We give
you thanks for their lives
and entrust them into your
loving care. 

We are aware of our many
feelings in this goodbye.
Our grief is so complicated
and we pray for the ache and longing
that stays with us. Take our sad 
and broken hearts and assure 
us of your comfort and grace.
Lead us through the hollow
emptiness that seems to be
our constant companion 
and remind us that you
are with us always. 
You are always near
and offering us hope
and healing. Amen.

Adapted from Prayer When A Loved One Has Died and Prayer for a Lonely Day in Joyce Rupp's Praying Our Goodbyes (1999) by Elsa Anders Cook for All Saints Sunday 2021. 

Though I’m not terribly concerned about getting credit for these pandemic prayers, this is one where credit should be given to its origins. I’ve included a sample above.

As it is the first Sunday of the month, Maren Tirabassi offers another full communion liturgy as she does for so many months in this pandemic season. She hasn’t posted it yet or I’d link to it but look for it on her blog. I also wrote a full liturgy for All Saints Day last year that includes prayers for the table. You might choose to borrow other prayers for this Sunday from that liturgy too.

As always in these pandemic prayers, you are welcome to use part of this liturgy or all of it. I am not asking you to bend over backwards to offer me credit. I am instead offering this as a gift because you are doing so much and I’m praying for you and the ministry you are doing with such love.

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