Another Pandemic Christmas Eve

I was busy updating my favorite poems for Christmas Eve when a colleague posted about permission for a beloved Christmas poem she hoped to use Christmas Eve. It was just another one of those reminders that pastors, like you dear one, are juggling so much right now. You’re not just crafting worship but tending to all of the legalities that might exist around every bit of artistic inspiration you might use.

I use a lot of poetry on the highest of holy days to give new meaning and insight to our hearing of those more familiar stories from scripture — but this season is busy enough. You don’t need to chase down permissions for the rest of Advent. You need to print the bulletin, assemble the slides and move onto the next thing. So I’m giving another option for Christmas Eve that doesn’t require chasing down permissions. Everything is either public domain or permission has been granted for this purpose by the artist. Credit should be given to the artists those attributions are at the very end of the liturgy. It will require you to click through to find these things in other places because I did very little actual writing for this liturgy — and my colleagues in the United Church of Christ are just so dang talented.

The liturgy follows the Proper II for Christmas Eve because I never, ever choose it and I wondered what it might look like to use these lessons. It’s a lot of scripture because I think that scripture tells it best — and I wanted there to be a push toward Howard Thurman’s The Work of Christmas, which is my very favorite Christmas poem and how I like to conclude every Christmas Eve service but it’s not public domain.

I did find that Bosco Peters wrote a hymn with the poem text so that might be an option if you’re interested in introducing a new song on Christmas — though after a long season of not singing together and that thing where we don’t sing carols in Advent, people are likely to want to only sing carols. Maren Tirabassi also has this improv poem inspired by Thurman’s beloved words. Or you might swap out Michelle’s candle lighting for this simple Advent candle lighting also by Maren. Especially if you are using the Prayers of the People I offer, it might be worth doing the whole thing where the Advent candles are slowly lit in this service. It might need to be shortened a bit for that to work but it’s a really lovely option.

Carol: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Invitation to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 97

We lift our voices 
with all of creation 
in praise and wonder 
for all that will be 
born this night. 

We are listening
to all that can change
and all that will change
with this birth.
Light will dawn
and there will be 
rejoicing on the coastlands
and way up high in the mountains.

The landscape of our imagination
will shift and it will be glorious. 
It is this change that we have
been waiting for. We have been
waiting so long. 

Carol: O Come All Ye Faithful

Engage Worship offered these Christmas carol videos last year for free. They are still available and free to use for Zoom or other worship formations.

Prayer of Invocation (Responsive)

Prayer of our Savior

First Reading: Isaiah 62:10-12 from the Common English Bible

Prayer for the Lighting the Christ Candle

Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7 from the VOICE translation

Prayer for the Light
Inspired by Psalm 97

It could happen
like this where
a tiny spark changes 
everything. 

Tonight, O God, 
by this feeding trough
and listening
for the sounds 
of little ones
too delighted 
to keep quiet, 
assure us
that it could 
happen just 
like this.

The world
we have prayed
for could begin
with one light
that is shared 
again and again
and again. May
it be so tonight.

Carol: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Engage Worship offered these Christmas carol videos last year for free. They are still available and free to use for Zoom or other worship formations.

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-7 from the Message

What it Was: A Christmas Poem by Michelle Torigian

This is the big moment — and it deserves more than four voices in a choral reading. Consider adding sung responses to each bit of good news that is shared from beloved carols like Hark the Herald Angels Sing or The First Noel. Or move pieces of a nativity set into place as the readers share the story. (This would work on Zoom too if you focus the camera on a central spot and move the figures slowly toward that spot. This reading could also be easily shared by four readers in different households on Zoom.) It may even work to have the readers in costume as they read. For copyright reasons, I didn’t alter the text but I really want to make it inclusive.

Heralds of Good News in Four Voices
From the Voice Translation 

First Voice
Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, 
a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks 
from predators in the darkness of night. Suddenly 
a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, 
and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—
the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!

Messenger
Don’t be afraid! Listen! 
I bring good news, news of great joy, 
news that will affect all people everywhere.
Today, in the city of David, a Liberator 
has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, 
the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him 
when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, 
lying in a feeding trough.

First Voice
At that moment, the first heavenly messenger 
was joined by thousands of other messengers—
a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.

Heavenly Choir
To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God!
And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!

First Voice
As soon as the heavenly messengers disappeared into heaven, 
the shepherds were buzzing with conversation.

Shepherds
Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!

First Voice
So they ran into town, and eventually they found 
Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough. 
After they saw the baby, they spread the story of what 
they had experienced and what had been said to them about this child.  Everyone who heard their story couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning. Mary, too, pondered all of these events, 
treasuring each memory in her heart.

The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God 
for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God 
for the way the experience had unfolded just 
as the heavenly messenger had predicted.

Carol: Joy to the World

Engage Worship offered these Christmas carol videos last year for free. They are still available and free to use for Zoom or other worship formations.

For this next moment in worship, I imagine each person is given a globe stress ball or eraser or whatever palm-sized globe you can find in bulk with the current supply chain issues. If that’s not possible, maybe just a small coloring page of the globe would work with some crayons. You will want to edit the italicized directions based on what you find and also edit the OR in the Christmas Prayers.

Imagining the Joy the World Needs

Joy to the world! And this world needs joy.
In another pandemic year, there is so much 
isolation and loneliness. We have seen how far
we are willing to go to take care of each other.
We have felt the earth weep from climate devastation
and have witnessed the acceptance of words like "Black lives matter"
and even "Love wins" even when violence toward black, brown and queer bodies continues. This world needs more joy -- 
the joy that we have seen and heard with the shepherds.

Tonight you hold the world in your hands
and it is your joy to imagine 
how you will begin the work of Christmas
to repeat the sounding joy of this good news.
What kind of joy can you imagine for this world this year?
What can your hands do to bring hope to hurting people?

Ponder these questions, like Mary, as music plays softly in the background. Sharpies might be provided to write a word representing your intention on the globe. Or you might ponder the joy the world needs in color with the crayons provided.

Christmas Prayers 

Emmanuel God,
it has happened again.

We have heard your good news
and just begun to imagine
your liberation and hope.
We have heard the familiar chorus
of the angels singing of peace.

We have considered your world
and all the joy it needs.

Like shepherds, we are cautious 
about this news and approach your possibility slowly, 
illuminating the shadows of this world with one candle,
and then another, and another, and another...
until we light your candle, O Emmanuel.

In your candle, O Christ, 
we see your face shining upon us, 
We see the miracle of our own light 
shining through the hopes and fears of all the years.
That candle reminds us that there is work 
to do toward your liberation and peace.
It is a hope that you ask us 
to share with our hearts and hands
even when we are still pondering 
these great mysteries in our hearts. 

Help us to shine 
and to announce peace, 
to encourage joy,
and to share the love that begins – 
but does not end – 
in this small child 
in a feeding trough.

May this love be felt 
especially by the sick and hospitalized...

May this love reach
around the grieving and broken-hearted...

May this love inspire us 
all to bring justice and peace to...

May love carry each of us
and encourage us to hope
through all that we do not understand
and all that we dare to dream
and may we find ourselves, like the shepherds,
so excited about this good news
that we can't stop thinking about 
it's meaning and how this good news 
might change how we live. 
We carry the world 
with us in our pockets
OR folded up in our wallets
to reminds us that this good news
repeats with our sounding joy.

Bless us, O Christ, 
with possibility and 
understanding. Wrap us
up in your love and
encourage us to grow
with you in the work 
of liberation and peace.
Amen.

Carol: Silent Night

Christmas Blessing

Carry your light
into the world to bring
joy where it needed.

Bring the love 
of this newborn child
into the whole wide world
so that all might see
their own image in God's glory.

This child was born
for you. It was born
for the hope of this whole world.
God is with us. Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Prayer of Invocation is by Eliza Tweedy. The Lighting of the Christ Candle and What it Was: A Christmas Poem are both written by Michelle Torigian. Used by permission with deep gratitude.

I know that this platform has made it very difficult to copy and paste for some. In the new year, I’m contemplating moving these prayers entirely to my newsletter on Substack. Or it may become a separate newsletter. I haven’t quite decided this but I’m troubleshooting as best I can. I offer this complete service for free download here.

I offer no instructions for Silent Night because I think you know what to do there. It’s everyone’s favorite moment and it simply requires some candles safely distributed within the gathered body. The blessing could be done in the dark or the lights could come up a little. Again, you know this part well.

I want there to be other rituals on Christmas Eve than gathering around the table. That’s me. I know I’m weird on this one so I didn’t include a communion service but you might opt for this one by Thom Shuman. His words at Lectionary Liturgies are ones that I’ve turned to often in my imagination of what worship could be again and again.

As Christmas comes again, I’m praying for you, dear pastor.

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.

Pandemic Longest Night and Christmas Eve Worship

If you’ve been clicking around From My Kitchen or found my newsletter earlier this week in your email, this is old news to you. You are busy, dear pastor. You have already seen this. You can go do the many other things on your list.

If you were not so lucky to find these things yet (and I do hope these are things that make you feel lucky and joyous), I’m thrilled to finally share with you the services I’ve been working on for Longest Night and Christmas Eve. These were surprisingly hard to write. I am not exactly sure why that is.

Advent began with decorations on our tree and lights filling the house. It wasn’t the same as hanging the greens at church. I am feeling that loss as I know so many are in this strange new season — further compounded by the fact that I couldn’t get worship to stream from our tiny Texas church. It is one of those pandemic frustrations of having technology fail when it is our life line and it still annoyed the crap out of me, but I’ve been working on these liturgies long before the tree went up. As the year ends, I’m finding it hard to both find words for the grief of this moment and to find the joy that should overflow when we’ve finally found our way to Bethlehem.

After all, Advent feels as though it started in March when the first stay-at-home orders swept across the country because of the rampant spread of the coronavirus. We have been apart from each other for much of this year which has made 2020 feel like an especially long year.

I dove into the ancient psalms of lamentation after trying really hard to make the creation story work in how we talk about the night at this moment. I found comfort in psalms that didn’t express my lament but reminded me of the hope that we find in God. Those are the words we love and need to hear again and again, right? I hoped to make space for how hard it is to name the immensity of our grief right now because it’s not just that we have lost someone dear. It is not just one death but millions of deaths worldwide due to a virus that is not yet contained or really understood. It is the devastation we have seen to our planet while glued to our screens. It is the anxiety of constantly refreshing our browsers for hope and maybe some good news and it’s the backward summersault that too many of us have done into anti-racism work this year. We have lost more lives than we can imagine and maybe we have wondered if we even lost a tiny bit of ourselves.

There has been so much loss. There is still so much that is unknown even as a new church year has dawned. When the Night Has Already Been So Long, we are looking for some way to speak to that immense grief. That’s what I hope this online worship experience will offer to the gathered community huddled around candles in their own homes. I hope it’s a chance to be together and hold vigil for a new day to dawn. 

I actually wrote the Christmas Eve service first. It felt really strange to me to write Advent liturgies before writing Christmas Eve this year because I have always worked backwards. I have always needed to know what Christmas is going to look like and feel like until I can really figure out how Advent might feel and I’m not sure these services are at all related. Shadows and Light is really a service that makes room for more grief than the typical Christmas celebration. I hope there is joy. I hope it gets there in the music and poetry I’ve selected but Christmas always has a quietness to it.

It’s that quietness that has always puzzled me. When the birth of Christ is most vivid, we turn out all the lights to sit in the dark and sing a lullaby. It’s beautiful. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just not really joyous. (I know. I know. Don’t mess with tradition.) But I did.

I did mess with tradition when I was in my last settled call. It came out of a worship planning conversation where we talked about more light and so I created an Advent wreath (except that it wasn’t a wreath) where more candles were added each week and we named the light we saw coming into the world aloud. Then, on Christmas Eve, I didn’t do Silent Night. It wasn’t there. I got lots of complaints because church people love tradition without questioning why we do what we do.

If you are reading this and you were one of the wonderful people at that church who allowed me to experiment and play so much, I want you to know I am grateful for the space you gave me. I’m even more grateful that I got to be your pastor.

If ever there was a year where we could do something a teeny tiny bit different, I thought this year might be it. I thought maybe we could try it again and see what we might learn. You know your people best, dear pastor. You know if this is what is needed this year or if tradition is really what people need right now. You know.

Inspired by the Tenebrae tradition that is so familiar to Holy Week celebrations, Shadows and Light flows like a service of Lessons and Carols with song and story weaving together the good news of this birth.

More and more candles are lit to welcome the Light of the World before Joy to the World is sung with full gusto and glory.

As usual, I use quite a bit of poetry and you’ll find I’ve updated Poetry for Lessons and Carols to reflect some of the choices I’ve made for this service. (Ok, I also added a bunch more that I just loved and didn’t include in this service.)

Both liturgies are available for $10 each using the above links by immediate download. Or if you are interested in both worship services, you can find this Shadow and Night Bundle for $15 here.

Music suggestions are provided in both liturgies and was quick to add a few more when I discovered these FREE Christmas Carol videos especially for online worship. I know that pastors are not the only ones that are tired right now.

I also decided to make Christmas Eve Under Pandemic Skies available for just $2 for those are looking for a safe way to worship outside in a pandemic. It was part of the outdoor prayer station experience I helped to design for my sweet Texas church. And yes, I know this won’t work on some church properties and especially in many climates. If anything, you can tell your worship committee (or other angry church member) that such a thing exists and you would be overjoyed if they would take a lead in planning it.

I know how busy this time of year is for you, dear pastors. I am holding you close and lighting candles for your courage, your strength and your abundant faith.

Pandemic Prayers for Advent and Christmas

Though I am not posting weekly prayers during these four weeks, I do not want to leave you orphaned. I also do not think that I am Jesus. For some reason, that Gospel Lesson is working on me so there it is. If you are looking for prayers for this season, I am here for you. That’s what I meant.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a Pandemic Liturgy for Advent. It is a complete liturgy centered around a series of worship videos with some things left open for you to customize to your context.

If you are looking for more prayers, be sure to check out RevGalBlogPals Worship Words updated each and every week. I will look forward to sharing in that collaboration and you can look for my words on Advent 4 but I really love this collection of voices. Use these gifts. I also commend to you the work of LiturgyLink which includes some of my older prayers. There’s a search bar on the left to find the particular Sunday you need. You might also check the archive of News from My Kitchen to find a few other wonders I found. (Click on the previous link and then click on the red View Letter Archive.)

I can’t resist not sharing SALT Project’s Advent Candle Lighting Litanies. I just think that everything they do is gorgeous and I’m so excited my little Texas church sent me a blessing box with some of their materials for Advent. I know there are other great candle lighting liturgies out there and I’ll attempt to link to them on Instagram. You can find me @pandemic.prayers.

Oh, but I also want to share one more from the amazing Theresa Cho who shared this At-Home Advent Ritual Set last week. It’s just stunning. Download it even if it’s just for you.

You might also wander over to YouTube which I never thought I’d spend so much time on before the pandemic where I am always adding songs to my playlists for Advent Music and Christmas Music.

I created a few resources for this season that are unique including Keeping Watch Under Pandemic Skies. It is an outdoor meditation that wanders through Advent into Epiphany. You probably want to opt for the shorter path if you’re just finding it now but it includes an outdoor Christmas Eve service so you could check that off your list.

I also created a group discussion guide based on the devotional that I had written years ago to explore the grief that is so palpable in the third wave of this %$#!@ pandemic. And just so you don’t have to go searching for it, you can find all the info for Twinkly Lights in Blue Pandemic Days by following that link.

If you are planning ahead to Blue Christmas or Longest Night, I have something in the works for you. If you cannot wait, this Pandemic Liturgy for All Saints Day could be adapted. Unless you already used it in November and then you’ll have to wait for what is yet to come or find one of the other gifts that other talented souls are offering in yet another pandemic holy season. Remember how we thought it would just be Easter? That was funny.

If you are planning even further ahead, you might want to use Lessons and Carols for Coronatide for Christmas Eve. I really recommend it for the First Sunday of Christmas — not only because I’m working on something else for Christmas Eve but also because it gives you a break from preaching and extends the joy of this season. We need some joy. We need lots of joy. Also, you have the option of the outdoor Christmas Eve service from Keeping Watch Under Pandemic Skies unless you are in a northern climate where there is already three feet of snow, then that’s the worst idea ever. If you are not in that category and want just the Christmas Eve service and not the whole bundle, shoot me a note.

In these four weeks, I’m going to write two more liturgies for the Advent and Christmas season. I might even write one for Epiphany. I have a rough idea on that one where the others are already drafted. I’ll be sending out the next edition of News from My Kitchen including some ingredients for your worship in the season of Epiphany and Lent. I plan to return to weekly prayers after Christmas.

This is a busy season when it is not a pandemic. This is a time of year full of sweet memories and time honored traditions and all of those things will look and feel different this year. I know you will hear this from members of our community. They will lament, but I’m going to hold the space for you, dear pastors, because I know that you are carrying some sadness about this season too. Laura Stephens-Reed named this well way back in September. You are doing an amazing thing right now, dear pastors. You are offering wonder, light and hope even if you do not feel those things yourself.

You are light. I promise you that.

Lessons and Carols in Coronatide

Christmas will look different this year.

Our favorite traditions will not have the same warmth as being gathered in the same sanctuary singing beloved carols and lighting candles for the Light of the World. It will be different, but the promise will remain the same. Christ will be born.

Miracles will never cease.

As I’m busy writing other liturgy for this holy celebration, I wanted to also share a service for Lessons and Carols. It was all I knew as a child growing up in church. It was what Christmas Eve was but I’ve come to really love sharing this tradition in the midst of the Christmas season. It’s what I opt for on the Sunday following Christmas as a reminder to everyone — including myself — that the season is twelve days long and we should embrace the mystery of telling and retelling this story. (It’s also when I remind the deacons or altar guild that they are not to take down the decorations until after Epiphany. Ahem.)

Here is a simple liturgy for this beloved tradition that makes room for the weirdness of this season in which we still find ourselves. It is, of course, a wonderful Sunday to feature the musical talents of your congregation. Bring out those handbells and voices. Adjust carol suggestions as needed. I didn’t include a blessing carol so you can feel free to choose something that I would not think to choose. You might even choose to include different lessons. You might find some other poetry here. It’s a list I update every year.

BIDDING PRAYER

Let us pray:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!
We gather once again to journey with you 
Through the deepest darkness of our hopes and fears
To be warmed by the mystery 
That your light shines in the darkness.
But, the darkness will not overcome it.

Even as we pray these words of joy,
We know that we pray amid the slaughter of innocents,
Lives lost in earthquakes and battles, persecution and genocide 
and hatred and viral outbreak.
We come searching for your light 
while the poor and homeless huddle in dark corners, 
while the hungry and sick search for wholeness,
while the lonely and unloved wail in despair.
So come into those dark places with us, Emmanuel God.
Let your light shine in the places we fear most.

Help us to follow the light of that star.
Let it illuminate our lessons, our carols and our lives
So that we might be filled with
More hope, more peace, more joy 
And most of all, Emmanuel God, 
More love.

Let us each, in our own way, 
join the chorus of praise, proclaiming the greatest of wonders,
The redeeming presence of God among us here and now.
Teach us in these lessons and these carols to search for that redeeming presence in every place that we might call out your name. 
Let our voices rise like candle flames,
Brightening this place to celebrate a holy child
That is born in our hearts and in our wildest imaginations
On this most holy night. Amen. 

BIDDING CAROL Once in David’s Royal City

FIRST LESSON   In the Time of Plague by N. Scott Momday

SECOND LESSON Isaiah 40:1-8

LIGHTING THE ADVENT AND CHRIST CANDLES

adapted from Maren Tirabassi's Advent Wreath Ceremony for Christmas

Leader: 
           
In our homes / in our church and homes
we gather around wreaths
to pray our lost hopes,
broken peace, limited joys,
and love so hard to find and share
in this season of coronavirus.  
We affirm that our candles mean
we claim the power to call this season Advent,
when God’s light comes into the world
and nothing can overcome it.
We light the candles of hope, peace, joy and love.

People/ SL:   
 
We now light the candle of Christ candle
even though we have been so afraid. 
We haven’t truly believed that there is good news, 
but light still shines in the shadows.
Emmanuel, God with us now.
May your love shines through us
and make us radiant with hope. Amen.

CAROL We Light a Candle by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

THIRD LESSON Hush by Lucinda Hynett

FOURTH LESSON Gabriel’s Annunciation by Jan Richardson

CAROL Mothers and Shepherds by Common Hymnal

FIFTH LESSON Luke 2:1-14

CAROL Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

SIXTH LESSON Luke 2:15-33

CAROL Joy to the World

SEVENTH LESSON You Still Dream by Nikki Grimes

EIGHTH LESSON Now the Work of Christmas Begins by Howard Thurman

PRAYER FOR CHRISTMAS

BLESSING CAROL

BLESSING

If you’re finding these pandemic prayers for the first time, dear pastor, please know that the liturgy here is yours to use. Adapt it. Edit it. Don’t worry about giving me credit. You are doing enough right now. You are doing so much.

You are in my prayers, as always, dear pastors and worship leaders especially as Advent approaches.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 27

As I continue to try to write these prayers ahead of the Lectionary cycle, I’m writing these prayers when early voting is still happening in the state of Texas among others. I’ve cast my ballot but I do not know what will happen.

I have my fears. I know I’m not alone in those fears either.

I remember when the results came in last time after I showed up in my pant suit to vote. I wasn’t serving a church then. I didn’t pastor through that moment but I remember the intensity of that grief. I hope that history doesn’t repeat itself as much as I wonder how much politics (does this really count as politics?!?) should impact how we worship.

God will still be God. God is still doing something even if I struggle to see what that is in this moment. This is happening right now and I am really struggling to see the good in my fellow human. There’s that but then there’s Wisdom. How fabulous is she and there’s these words from Amos that have inspired our faith before. What do they say now?

Invitation to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 78:1-7 and Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16

Give ear, dear people.
Incline your ears.
Bend your necks
so that you might
hear this with your 
whole heart.
Feel your weight
shift to make room
for this teaching.

Wisdom is 
radiant and unfading.
She will be found
in every musing
and quandary.
She will appear 
in every waking thought
and burning question.

She may be
hard to understand.
Her radiance
more dusty and antiquated 
than you had hoped
but listen. Listen, dear people,
for you are worthy 
of good news. 
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Matthew 25:1-13

Open to us, O God,
your compassion 
for we have grown weary
with another wave 
of infection and illness.

Open to us, O God,
your mercy 
for we have
so little left.

Open to us, O God,
your hope 
for we do not 
know how or when 
this will end.

Open to us, O God,
and show us your grace 
because we need to feel
known and loved
especially by you.
It feels foolish
and absurd,
but we no longer 
know what to believe
about this world.
Show us your faith.
Amen.

I haven’t included Words of Assurance in the past few weeks. I haven’t found the right words and have let the confessions stand for themselves. I’m not sure that’s what we need but this week I need something that fills that gap even when I am without words. So, I rely on music.

It does not appear that this song is covered on CCLI license though a number of their songs are including this one. There’s a curated list of lyric videos by The Many here intended for use in worship that are currently being offered with free streaming rights. That might actually include the above video. I’m unclear. If you’re smarter than me when it comes to these things, please drop a comment below for all of us.

I wonder if I’ll come back and write another prayer after the election or if this addition will be enough. It’s a different format and I’m wondering if it’s easier to copy and paste. That’s the whole point here. I’m trying to make this easy so you don’t have to worry about credit but can copy and paste these prayers and give yourself a little grace.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Amos 5:18-24

O God, we cannot sing.
It is not safe to sing
or even gather for worship
in the same indoor sanctuary.

Do not tell us that 
in our separate sanctuaries
connected as we try to be 
in praise and wonder 
that you will not listen.
Do not say that.

We do not know
what to hope for
in the darkness of these days
but we know we haven’t
done all we can
to care for the poor
and unemployed.
We‘ve focused 
on our own survival
when you have wanted
justice to flow for our 
hearts and souls.
Help us. Hear our 
broken melodies 
try and help us 
to learn your 
rhythm of hope
and change.

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

I am always praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. 

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 25

My constant refrain in these days is to bellow “what is time?”

I think I might intend it as a joke when it shows up as a blue bubble reply in a text message chain, but I’m not really sure. Time feels elusive. I decorated my house with tons of fake pumpkins (real ones rot fast in Texas and it is gross) in order to create some sense of time. Or was it that I wanted to feel festive? Or that I hoped that my children would remember these strange days with delight even while we were stuck in the house?

Psalm 90 made me laugh out loud after reading that fourth verse and so I find myself drawn there to meditate on the mystery of time in the pandemic. I’m thinking particularly about the way that time is unfolding in our congregations. My sweet Texas church is building a time capsule for future generations to muse over how we spent these days. At the same time, they are in the middle of an interim season asking all of the big questions about what it means to be a church now and into the future. As US churches are considering the harvest, the gifts of stewardship and Thanksgiving, it feels important to keep God’s vision on these pandemic days — and I don’t mean like all the white men who have already published books and articles about what churches have learned from the pandemic.

We do not know yet. We are not gods.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Matthew 22:34-46

We hang between
question and answer.
We hang in the tension
between what is known 
and unknown. We hang
on every word 
of hope and possibility.
We hang our
whole lives
on the law and the prophets
trying so very hard to
love God with all our hearts
with all our souls and 
with all our mind.
And so, we come
to hang out
by internet wires
and wi-fi devices
to find answers
to questions we haven't 
yet thought to ask.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 90:1-6

Dwell with us
here, O God.
Dwell in
our screens
and in our hearts 
as you have from
generation to generation.

Dwell with us
in this time 
of worship
enough that we can 
feel the ground begin to shift
and new horizons emerge.

Dwell with us
in all our pandemic 
confusion and worry
to find new
dreams and wonders
for ourselves
for our church
and for the world.
Dwell in 
our worship,
O God.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Psalm 90:1-6

For a thousand years
in your sight, Holy One,
are like yesterday
when it is past.
That is fine
for you but
we cannot remember
yesterday. It feels
indistinct from 
any of the yesterdays
before it. We want
to feel reassured
by your measure 
of time, Holy One,
but it does not feel like
this pandemic season 
will just sweep away.
We want to watch
the night and the day
with your vision
to see this world
and our dreams
renewed each morning
but our hope has faded
and our patience has withered
into nothing. Forgive us
for what we cannot 
see and expand our vision
with your boundless love.
Amen.

Writing these prayers made me remember this lovely essay on roads and pandemic wandering by Emily Scott from several months ago. An excerpt might be lovely as a meditation before the selected scripture for preaching or it might fit as an excellent illustration somewhere in that beautiful sermon you are writing, dear pastor. As it helps, this would be the section I’d feel called to highlight:

Start looking, and you’ll see roads all over the Bible. These solitary travelers journeyed in situations of great uncertainty, much like our own. Their destinations may have been clear, but their futures were less so. Somewhere along the way, however, they always encountered something unexpected: the astonishing presence of the sacred.

Jacob, for instance, ended up in a wrestling match with God as he journeyed. A court official of the Ethiopian queen is baptized by the side of a thoroughfare. Two disciples trudging along a dusty byway, having heard the news of Jesus’ death, find that he was walking with them all along. And Paul hears God’s voice and ends up blind on the way to Damascus.

A road is an unlikely metaphor for a pandemic that has us stuck at home. But what happens when we see ourselves as purposefully scattered — sent out on an unexpected journey, traveling solo? In the bible, the road is often a place of desolation and isolation, but also of encounter. A road has direction; it carries us from an old life to a new one.

Emily Soctt

I would also be inclined to find an opportunity for this hymn to be sung in some way.

Finally, I shared a Prayer for the Church on the RevGalBlogPals’ weekly Worship Words that could also fit with this slight bend toward harvest and thanksgiving. Though it picks up on the epistle from last week, it could also be used along with this theme. You can find it here.

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

I am always praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. 

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 24

October brings celebrations in our house and so I’m working on planning ahead as you may have seen over on RevGalBlogPals last week. I shared prayers last week in their weekly Worship Words for this week’s worship including a Prayer for the Church and a Prayers of the People inspired by the Hebrew Scripture. You can find those prayers here and be sure to click that tiny blue button on the right sidebar to follow RevGalBlogPals so you can relish in the wisdom offered in weekly scripture reflections for both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary, prayers and a bunch of other treasures.

My eldest daughter will turn three later this month on the same day that her Daddy turns a year older. We are planning lots of pandemic style fun outside of the house. It is finally cool enough to actually enjoy the outdoors here in Texas. This weekend, we are enjoying a four day weekend filling our National Park passports with stamps.

I wrote these prayers early in giddy anticipation of actually leaving my house and I pray that you too are taking some time for rest and renewal in these strange days. I hope especially this year that the wonderful people in your congregation are looking for meaningful ways to celebrate your gifts.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 96:1-9

Tell us of salvation
from day to day. 
Tell us what
that word means 
to you in these days.
Is it as big as
you once thought
it was? Is it something
that will only happen in the 
end? Or has the end 
already come? 
Is that where
you are today,
dear friend?
Are you so 
exhausted 
that salvation 
doesn't seem 
possible anymore?
Tell us, dear friends,
what new songs
you are singing 
in the kitchen. 
Do those songs bless
God's name? Or 
do you kinda hope
God isn't listening
in on your dance party?
What is it that you
declare that is marvelous?
Tell us. Tell us 
what is working
and let us 
bless God's name
in all that we share
today.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Exodus 33:12-23

How many times
have we prayed, 
along with Moses
and all of the faithful,
"If you presence will
not go, do not carry
us up from here."

Do not take us 
any further
with our church,
our vocation,
our climate's
health, or even
our nation's 
health, O God, 
if you are not 
going to come
along beside us.

If you are not going
to be right here
in the middle of
all of the fury
and fear, 
leave us.
We have
tried too 
hard to do
this all on 
our own. 

O God,
we cannot
do this anymore.
We have asked
so much. We know. 
We know.
We just don't 
see what you
are, O God. 
There is no glory
nor really any goodness.
We haven't shown
our best selves 
in the stress 
of all of this.
We need to
catch sight 
of your image
in our own reflection
so that we can 
dare to proclaim
the gospel in
these days. Amen.

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

I am always praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. 

Pandemic Liturgy for All Saints Sunday

This is one of my very favorite celebrations of the church. I have long lamented that there are not enough spaces in the church calendar to share our grief. This is one of the few.

This year, when the death toll of COVID-19 continues to rise over 200,000, it feels especially important to give space for all that we are grieving right now. In my first newsletter, I shared this old liturgy with lots of space for silence. I confessed that I didn’t think it would work for online worship but I wanted to write something else to honor this holy day. If All Saints is new to you, as it was to me not too long ago, I offer this very brief history from an old worship bulletin from one of the churches I’ve served.

As early as the fourth century, days were set aside to commemorate all the saints at once. Today we continue this tradition using the varied practices of All Saints Day, All Souls Day and the Day of the Dead all of which are celebrated on November 1 or 2. Though in the Catholic tradition where this celebration honored unknown saints and to remedy deficiencies in people’s observance of a particular saint’s day, we do not canonize or pray to saints, but we look to these towering figures of our heritage for inspiration and encouragement in our own Christian pilgrimage. All Saints Day should challenge us by presenting us with a variety of figures from different times and places whose often contradictory styles of faithfulness enlarge our notion of what it means to be a disciple and a saint.

Unlike the other prayers that I share on a weekly basis, I wanted to offer a complete liturgy for this day. I not only hope this gives our pastors some space to worship themselves, but it also allows me to play a bit more. Play is good for all our souls. I need to play even if in relishing in the joy of playing I managed to pick the epistle for Proper 27 instead of the selected readings from Proper 26. I knew I was going to ignore the lections for actual All Saints Day though there is a nod to the gospel in one of the songs I’ve selected. I decided not to change it and let the text speak to the lamentation of this time.

Gathering for Worship

Remember When by The Many is available to be freely streamed from YouTube in worship or can be purchased on a sliding scale based on congregational size here. It is covered by the CCLI license.
Invitation to Worship

Let us begin 
our lament here, O God, 
in an act of memory
of all that has happened
in all that we could not 
believe was possible
as good white people
as people who had
never known how far and wide
a virus could actually reach
as people who 
who thought we 
had enough faith. 

Show us 
what we do 
not want to remember
and what we cannot 
bear to remember
after so much has been lost
in only a few short months.
O God, let us begin here
in all full lament.

Lighting of the Christ Candle

On the central screen that guides your worship (which would usually be the primary speaker in Zoom), place a large white pillar candle upon a candle holder or even a recognizable parament from your church’s treasure of beautiful things.

Go slow. Start by laying out the parament or candle holder onto the table on screen and then slowly place the candle in the center. Using a candle lighter or just a match (but please not one of these awful things), light the wick. Do this all in silence. Create a slide to follow these words or simply pray aloud:

O Light of Christ,
bring your steadfast love
here to illuminate 
all that will be gathered here. 
Redeem us from trouble
in the fire of your love. Amen.

Readings for All the Saints

A Reading of Poetry The Truly Great by Stephen Spender

A Reading from Scripture 1 Thessalonians 2:9-10, 4:13-18

Lighting the Memory of the Saints

With the Christ candle at the center of the screen, push a basket of tealights so that it is just barely visible on screen. Use these movements as liturgical actions where you are setting the space and preparing yourself and those watching for prayer. (You’ll need room so don’t push it too close.) Begin by offering these words:

We will not be uninformed about those who have died. We grieve so many. We feel such loss even as we cling to hope. We encourage each other by remembering their names.

You may choose to have gathered a list of names from within your congregation as is your tradition each year. You may search the necrology of your church as you do every year for those that have died in the past year in your community. Or you could choose to use this list of saints that will, sadly, probably need additions before the first of November.

Paul of Tarsus
Priscilla 
Francis of Assisi
Julian of Norwich
Teresa of Avila
Martin Luther
Harriet Tubman
Sojourner Truth
Mahatma Ghandi
Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Mother Theresa
James Lipton
Ahmaud Arbery
Kenny Rogers
Rev. Joseph E. Lowery
Breonna Taylor
Vanessa Guillen
Bill Withers
John Prine
George Floyd
Cornelius Fredericks
Little Richard
Betty Wright
Priscilla Slater
Larry Kramer
Hugh Downs
John Lewis
C.T. Vivian
Regis Philbin
Herman Cain
Chadwick Boseman
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Eddie Van Halen

After each name is spoken, softly and gently, reach for a tealight. Light the tealight from the Christ candle and place it underneath the light of Christ so that the light of Christ radiates with the light of the saints you have named. Continue until the last name is read. Pause. After pausing, then close in prayer with these words.

O Light of Christ,
we have witnessed
lives well lived and lives cut too short.
We are left below this great 
cloud of witnesses
to continue the struggle
for justice and love
in this world. Still, we lament
that we've lost these partners. 
May their memories be a blessing
and a light to our labor. Amen.

Though I would be more inclined to recruit the talents within the congregation to sing We Grieve the Many Thousands by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette (O Sacred Head, Now Wounded) or We Grieve 200,000 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette (O Sacred Head, Now Wounded), I provide the above video as another option. It is covered by the CCLI license as shown here.

Sharing the Feast of God with All the Saints

As much as possible, and assuming that the presider has also spoken the earlier liturgy, keep the Christ candle and tealights in view as communion is shared with the great cloud of witnesses. Bring the loaf and cup alongside. As you share the story of that Last Supper, do not hesitate to make elaborate gestures of the bread breaking and the wine being poured. These things tell the story beyond words.

Invitation to the Feast

More than even the flickering lights,
we feel the waves of grief rise
as we gather around this table
to do what we have always done:
remember, share and bless.

To remember the goodness of God
as we shake the crumbs off 
familiar paraments faithfully mended
over the generations. We remember
who was once here with us.
We feel their absence.

To share in the mystery 
of sacred story that reaches
across lifetimes and generations
to be broken and poured out
with new meaning again.

To bless the grief
that tastes as salty as the bread
and bitter as the wine 
puckering our lips. 
We gather here 
with all the saints
to remember
to share and 
to bless.
Prayer of Blessing

Ancient Spirit, rise
from sacred story
to everyday truth
so that we can find you
again in these ordinary
elements on our shared table.
Even when we are not in one place,
may we find in this bread your wholeness.
May we find in this cup your joy.
Fill our humble bellies with your wonder
as you bless this bread and cup.
Bless our hearts with fullness. Amen.
Prayer after Communion

Holy Three in One, thank you for this feast.
We have remembered who’s we are and who we love.
We have blessed our grief and tasted goodness
so let us go now to be light and salt for this world. Amen.

Blessing

I would let music be the blessing for this time of lament. Allow the candles to keep burning as the Light of Christ and all the saints go with us into the days ahead. I offer two options. I prefer the above song. You can find CCLI license information here. You could instead choose God Will See Us Through which has options for a video download or sheet music for the talent in your congregation.

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.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 23

The President has the virus.

In some capacity, we are all reacting to this. We are reacting to how he is responding to treatments. We are questioning our own faith as we try to summon prayers and compassion. Some of us are angry at the kind of medical care that is available for him when 200,000 others have died. We are all reacting. We are all feeling something about this and I wonder how we will feel at the end of the week. So much and nothing seems to happen in one week in these pandemic days.

I find myself thinking about these words from Matthew Skinner because I have pushed off confession in the worship elements I’ve written here. (That would also be true for my own prayer life.) I feel the despair deep in my bones but we are people of resurrection hope. We believe that the worst thing will not be the last thing.

I am also looking to simplify things a bit as I try to prepare for some new things I hope to share with you. I won’t share as many links as I have in the past but that shouldn’t stop you from sharing other excellent prayers in the comments.

Call to Worship

O God, we come
stiff-necked and imploring you
because we don't really want 
to admit to ourselves
that we've given up.
We've found other
comforts and 
made our
own way. 
We have 
had enough of 
the outer darkness.
We have wept
and wailed 
so that it feels 
like nothing left.
We are not sure 
what you could do,
O God, but we 
are stiff-necked 
enough to show up 
again and ask
you to act.
Come, O God. 
Your people 
are waiting. 
Prayer of Confession

O God, we haven't prayed
as we should. We have
hidden our thoughts 
from you so that 
our necks are
now quite stiff.
We have been 
stubborn
but determined.

O God, we had
so much hope.
We want to believe 
there is still hope
but the outer darkness
of this pandemic
has thrown us.
It has tied us in knots
and we feel stuck.
We no longer 
remember how 
we got here. 
We aren't even 
sure what day it is.
We are that close 
to despair, O God,
but we believe
in your redemption
and your liberation. 
We believe that you 
can make a way 
where there is no 
way. We believe that
even though we do not know 
where we are going, 
you are guiding us 
into the future with love.

We pray now
for the tiniest
glimpse of that love
so that we can feel
that grace thump within
our hearts to find 
the courage to face another day.
We pray in your
endless hope. Amen. 

If your confession leads into the Passing of the Peace, I would seize the power of this liturgical moment this week. Maybe it’s a flash of waves and smiles upon your Zoom screen or maybe it’s a short testimonial from two or three people about God’s love. Or maybe you ask the youngest members of the church family to share their visions of the future.

Give them hope. I hope in that gift you find even more for yourself.

If you are planning ahead, and I can’t really fathom that in my own pandemic reality, I shared prayers for next Sunday in the RevGalBlogPals’ weekly Worship Words including a Prayer for the Church and a Prayers of the People inspired by the Hebrew Scripture. You can find those prayers here. As I try to make space for what I’m hoping will emerge in the future, you’ll see more hints that I’m working at lease one week ahead in the Revised Common Lectionary.

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

I am always praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians.