Pandemic Prayers for Proper 12B

It happened again. I missed a week. I’m so sorry and I hope and pray that you found words to inspire and delight you in worship. There are so many good words out there right now and I’m honored to share in the creativity of this moment in even the tiniest way.

Barn Geese Worship offers a six-week Bread of Life Series. It includes prayers for worship, eating meditations for personal devotion, preacher notes and pastoral considerations. I personally think that it should be paired with the great work being done by Edible Theology especially when it comes to children programming. Who doesn’t want to bake with the Bible? Ok, maybe not if you can’t imagine turning on the oven right now to cook dinner but what a treasure of gifts these two ministries offer as we wander through these crusty Gospel Lessons in the Gospel of John.

We move into our new home this week. We picked up keys just yesterday and the movers arrive on Friday with all of our things. Our stuff has been in storage up where that terrible flooding has been happening and so many of you have wondered if we are OK. We are. We are not close to that destruction so that I can think about baking bread again. Last year was the year I had decided I was going to learn to bake bread. It was a choice that I made before we knew that there would be a scramble to get yeast or that a global pandemic would alter everything we known. It’s why you see that bread book tucked into my worship books on the top photo of my blog. It has become one of the primary ways that I connect with God especially when I yearn for the wonder of incarnational worship with the gathered body of Christ.

I won’t get to return to worship with a group of familiar faces and so my faith is cultivated in the kitchen that I can’t wait to unpack this weekend. I wonder if I am the only one with this longing especially after this story was shared with me by Mary Luti. She read it from one of the great works by the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff and shares it in her own words:

“A woman approached [Leonardo Boff] after he finished saying Mass. It was many years ago, but he never forgot her. She told him that she had just received Communion unworthily, because she hadn’t been to confession first, and she was truly sorry. “But I haven’t eaten anything for days,” she explained, “and when I came in, you were handing out the wafers. So I ate one, because it’s bread.””

In the clergy group of United Church of Christ pastors in which this story was shared, she went on to point out the significance of hunger. It reminded me that sometimes we just need really delicious bread as sweet Melanie reminds us in this reflection and hymn that Mary offers on her blog. There is nothing that can separate us from this table, this mystery, this gift. It is an invitation to be nourished. To be fed in body and soul that so many of us need right now.

I offer but one prayer today to carry us through the weeks of bread. Each time we approach these holy words of leavened hope, we might pray these words to listen for the hunger within ourselves.

Prayer of Illumination

Rise with us, O God,
like yeast bubbling 
with expectation
for what could be. 

Make us ready
to to hear your 
teaching even
when it is difficult.

Fill our hunger
with holy words 
that will make 
us come more
and more alive. 

O God, knead
us with words
that will abide 
within us so dearly 
that we are forever 
changed. We are ready. 
We are waiting. 

It is written as a corporate prayer for worship but could certainly be used in personal devotion for the preacher preparing for study or the family sharing in meal time meditation. Either way, I wonder about adding a kneading gesture to the worship. It is not quite COVID-safe to gather around a shared table and knead play-doh as would have been my suggestion in the days before but it might be possible to invite worshippers to make their own stress-ball and knead it throughout the worship experience.

I wonder if you used linen that made it feel like a bread bag and maybe even added flour. I am not quite sure it would work but I wonder if that might add the senses of connecting to this hunger and longing.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 13

I’m finding it hard to enter the power of the miracle in Matthew’s Feeding of the Five Thousand. I feel myself withdraw and not in the prayerful and restorative manner that we imagine Jesus does in that thirteenth verse. I am tempted to play with that word especially as so many of us feel overwhelmed by parenting, protesting, watching and waiting to see change manifest when every day feels the same. It creeps into the pastoral prayer below but I find myself leaning in to hear the psalmist better.

Gathering Together

I want to swim into the words in Psalm 145. It made me want to go looking for a more modern translation like that in Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle edited by Martha Spong. I confess I haven’t ordered it yet because my husband and I are currently lamenting why we have so many dang books and no built in bookshelves in this new house. Still, it’s hanging out on my wish list and it should be on yours too.

Because I don’t yet have this book and couldn’t find a translation I liked better than the NRSV, that is what you’ll hear in this video. Sometimes all we need is the words of the psalmist to center our hearts and minds for worship.

I really miss the ocean right now. Can you tell?

I don’t know if these videos are more or less helpful so I thought I’d also include some gathering words that could actually be copied and pasted. Here are such words.

Call to Worship

Come tired and worn.
Come worried
and hunched with despair.
Come because you need compassion
and hope. Come because you are hungry
for good news and reassurance.
Come to remember that you are not alone.
You are never alone.
You are beloved
and you have come
with a hunger to
share in this mysterious
gift of life.
Come. Bring all that you are.
It will be enough. Come
and find that we have been waiting for you.
Come.

Prayers of the People

Maren Tirabassi wrote this gorgeous liturgy for Holy Communion for this day. I think you should use it. It’s just lovely.

I feel so beaten up by this pandemic this week that I have zero interest in writing a confession and assurance. There’s a lovely, sassy one here. I am instead still thinking about the pastoral prayer that I heard last Sunday in my sweet Texas church online. It was one of those prayers that dared to name that we are no good at praying. It seemed to capture all that I’ve been feeling. I was reminded of it again in reading this reflection on a God who feels.

A Pastoral Prayer

God, we come to you
in prayer and possibility.
We come with hearts wide open
and brains spinning
with so many thoughts.
We come to you
without having prayed
as we should
or as we wanted
or maybe even as we imagined
because our words have been elsewhere.
Our words have been in
the streets of Portland,
in every intensive care unit
around this globe,
in detention centers
and court rooms
waiting for justice
to finally come.

O God, we come to you
with names heavy on our hearts.
We come in prayer to name
Breeona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery,
Dion Johnson, Tony McDade and George Floyd.
We uplift the names of those
that white supremacy would
rather erase.
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

O God, we come to you
with doubt that anything will change
if a virus is found
when a virus is tested
and one pandemic ends.
We fear that the healthcare system
will still be broken, racism will persist,
our elders will still be overlooked and undervalued
and we will remain forever uncertain
how to best educate and care for our children.
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

O God, we come
seeking your grace and mercy
because so much feels as though
it has been deserted and lost
so that we are not even sure
how to name what needs
peace and hope. But you, O God,
open your hands to
the broken world and
so we ask for your words.
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We come with more names,
names of those close to us
who seek your grace and peace.
We pray for {names on prayer list}.
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for the hungers
and desires in our own city,
especially for {agencies like the food pantry and
local homeless shelter or headlines to be named.}
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for our country
and the election that awaits
tired people.
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for your love to wash over
this world and all your people.
We pray for your open hand to guide us
and lead us especially when
we are tempted to withdraw
from the good stuff.
We pray for your compassion,
especially for ourselves
for you are gracious and merciful
always. We pray in your grace, Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.

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