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.

Pandemic Prayers for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

We began the new year with Jeremiah. It was the same chapter even though it was a few verses earlier. There was still the invitation to remember and hold onto what might be coming. We are still in that space so many weeks later as Lent begins to turn into Holy Week.

Likewise, we heard the words from this psalm when Lent first began. We need to be reminded of God’s steadfast love again. We can’t hear it enough especially after the calendar turned to mark one year of this pandemic. Photos have been shared from those last moments before it became real. Some have wondered what we would have told our past selves while so many of you, dear pastors, created gorgeous meaningful worship to mark this time physically apart.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming.
This is the good news
that we need to hear
right now. It is 
why we come
to find wonder
and possibility 
in the days ahead. 

The days are surely coming
is what we need to hear
after this long year
of isolation, worry
and fear. We come
to remember that 
this is not all 
there will ever be.
This is not the end 
but a beginning of 
the days ahead  
where we will be
a new people. 
We come, O God, 
to wonder who
we might become 
in your love.

I would be tempted to include some meditative time for writing to happen in this service so that there can be greater intention as Holy Week approaches and to speak to what God is writing on our hearts right now. I might offer these words as an invitation to that quiet contemplation. It could also be used as a confession, I think, with some adaptation.

Invitation to the Heart
Inspired by Jeremiah 31:31-34

We have guarded our hearts
so carefully in this past year 
of disease and distress. We have
just been trying to survive
that we are not sure 
how to open ourselves
to what might come next.

As much as we have 
hoped and dreamed that 
this pandemic would end, 
such possibility seems beyond
our grasp. It still feels too big
to pinpoint and so we haven't 
allowed our hearts to soar into 
the wonders that await us.
We believe there are wonders
even if we are cautious. 
We know there are wonders
that awaited our Christ after the horrors
of betrayal, suffering and even death.
We believe that new life awaits us 
too and so we share in this time
through quiet wonder
with pens and paper
to write down the promise
that we dare to believe await us 
in the days that are surely coming. 

We write these on paper
with our own hand
hoping that you, O God,
will write this hope 
on our hearts as
surely as you have 
written your law of love. 

Dear pastor, I hope you are getting the rest you need in this busy season. I hope you are caring for your soul with good friends and time away from any and all responsibility. I hope you’re planning for vacation even if it’s staycation or an escape to a quiet cabin in the woods far away from even your children and spouse. I hope that this Easter Pageant for a Pandemic Year might give you that escape for one Sunday where this resource can be given to talented leaders who can do all the work to assign parts and gather videos. By God’s good grace, I hope that there is enough talent in your congregation by now to actually have someone else do the video editing so you don’t have to — but I know that’s a long shot and I hate that for you. Still, I hope it’s enough to give you a break if you’re not already prepared to use resources from your denomination or others for the Sunday after Easter. And if you are still trying to figure out the days before the resurrection, there are some ideas here.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

An Easter Pageant for a Pandemic Year

This year, we have done things differently. Worship has been different and there have been surprises.

There are things that have happened in worship that never would have been possible if we had not been forced into online worship for the care of every beloved child of God. Sometimes, different is good. It invites us to dream. It challenges us to imagine what else is possible.

It might even challenge us to take risks.

A pageant might not feel like that much of a risk because our first association is so often the costumes on the sweet cherubs that refuse to stay in the chancel and tell the story of Jesus’ birth. It especially might not feel risky because so many of the pageants I saw online this past Christmas were so wonderful. They had all of the wonder and all of the joy that warms our hearts every other year.

The risk, instead, is in telling the story of death and resurrection in a way that speaks to this moment. It does not feel faithful to leap into the good news of new life when so much has been lost this year. We still need to find space to lament and grieve. We need to honor the liminal space we still find ourselves in waiting for the world to change again.

The risk is inviting households within your church family to tell this story in a way that is meaningful to them.

This Year is a pageant for this pandemic year that encourages creativity and honest storytelling for asynchronous worship. It offers scripted narration that might be shared between two or more narrators and detailed explanation for each of the seven scenes including Last Supper Preparations where Peter has to make a curbside pick-up for provisions and a brief scene where we feel the heaviness of our grief in seeing Mary weep. It is a telling of how hope comes alive in that focuses on that space between death and new life so there is a scene where the disciples are Trapped in an Upper Room. It is familiar to us what their feelings may have been because we have felt that tension build in our closest relationships while in quarantine. My favorite moment might actually be where the tension breaks and the disciples try to do something normal and familiar. They go fishing but there is an invitation to share images and videos of what so-called normal feels like now.

There are other video clips, as we have chosen to call them, where the beloved community can share the wonder and glory of their garden. That was inspired by the church member in my first call that would bring photos of her garden to the church office each week. It is our hope that this isn’t a story that is just told by the youngest in the congregation but an invitation to tell the story in a meaningful way for every age.

There are music suggestions included as the story unfolds from the Gospel of Mark. We chose to include both endings in the gospel telling where there is space for both terror and amazement and space for proclamation of the good news. I love how this script evolved in collaboration with Skyler Keiter-Massefski.

Years ago when Skyler was wee, we sat at their parent’s kitchen counter for one afternoon during Christmas Break and wrote a fresh new pageant for the church I then served as their pastor. Skyler was a determined youth with strong ideas who had just confirmed their baptism the year before. I remember that it wasn’t too much later after that that I wondered aloud if Skyler might consider the ministry.

Now, Skyler is a candidate for the Masters of Divinity at Yale even though I told them to go to my alma mater. They are busy presenting brilliant ideas at the Academy of American Religion and caring for children and youth at the South Amherst Congregational Church where they have already generated enthusiasm and excitement about this script. I am so humbled they said yes to collaboration on this project and so grateful for the wisdom and creativity they shared.

As we were chatting about this project, we didn’t just want to make space for the grief of this past year. We also wanted to provide moments for each congregation to celebrate the ministry that has been done and the ministry that awaits. This Year begins and concludes with opportunities to celebrate and remember. It gives an opportunity to look forward to what hope looks like in this particular place at this particular time as resurrection becomes real again. You can purchase this full and complete script with suggestions for props, costumes and locations here.

I am so excited to share this pageant for this pandemic year and hope it is a blessing to each congregation that chooses to share in its story during Holy Week. As always, dear pastors, I offer it to you this resource for purchase with many prayers for your faithful ministry in this season and beyond.

Holy Week in Coronatide

I hadn’t yet started writing pandemic prayers when Holy Week came along last year. Like so many, I was blissfully unaware of what was ahead. We had cancelled a vacation that we will actually be venturing into next week. My husband had just redeployed from Korea. I have had a mental block about how closely related all of these events were. We weren’t really sure what was happening but I remember my friends were already tired. They were just trying to figure out this whole wild new world of online worship and were struggling with the technology so much that I’ve never heard it said that seminary never taught this.

I had to remind myself of that when I went looking for what I had offered last year because it feels like I’ve been doing this a long time, but it hasn’t been a year yet. Not for me. Not for this practice of caring for my colleagues in ministry. I didn’t start this project until after Easter came and went. We still believed that it would only be a few more months and I thought I could write weekly prayers for a few months. I love writing liturgy after all. Why not?

It wouldn’t be the same kind of experience this year though. We still find ourselves in this liminal space between what was and what could be. We are keenly aware that something is coming but it is not here yet. That is what interests me this year and how I hope to imagine these high holy days.

Palm Sunday

I still want there to be a parade this year. I want there to be the pageantry and the sense that things are going to change. The world can and will turn upside down when hope parades through our streets. Maybe it would look something like this with strikers and spirit signs. Or maybe it could be adapted from this interactive liturgy. I wanted to write one of my own but I haven’t had the inspiration yet. I’m still thinking about it.

I also wanted to offer something that might tell the whole story of these high holy days that might be something special but totally different from what we usually do at Easter.

I found that I was not the only one with this brilliant idea and most of these good souls got these materials out way faster than I did. Glenys Nellist offers a lovely adaptation of her new children’s book as an Easter Pageant. There is a super brief version offered by Carolyn Brown on Worshipping with Children. Church Publishing offers both a Passion Play and an Easter Walk. Illustrated Ministry recently released their Easter Pageant and I think any one of these would be a wonderful way to begin the week in worship.

I recruited one of my former youth who has now become a colleague as a brilliant third year seminarian to write a version of my own. We had written one together when they were wee in one afternoon — and I could think of no one better to create something meaningful for this season. Ours is a little different from those that I’ve previewed (and I haven’t gotten my hands on all of these wonders to review them) because we really wanted this telling of the good news to reflect what good news feels like right now in another pandemic Holy Week. It includes lots of opportunities for people of all ages to act, sing, film and share photographs that help to tell the story in a meaningful way within that community. We also really wanted something that would not be exhausting to edit into a seamless video to launch on Sunday morning and pray that we were able to accomplish just that. You can purchase This Year: An Eager Pageant for a Pandemic Year here.

If neither of these possibilities interest you, you might be interested in this complete liturgy for Palm and Passion Sunday or these other prayers for the drama of the whole week that I wrote a few years ago. I also really love this poem for this year especially. I found it last year but I really love it for this year.

Maundy Thursday

I recently got lost in gorgeous collection of illustrated poetry within the OnBeing YouTube channel. I’m imagining a service particular to this day centered around this favorite pandemic poem that I will soon share but I also can’t quite escape the questions about what it means to gather at table when we cannot be in the same place.

I wonder about the number of businesses that have struggled to survive as the pandemic has raged on and the amazing kindness of people who feel called to feed the hungry in all kinds of different ways. After all, the table is a metaphor for the world we imagine. It is always an invitation to possibility. I wonder about how we care for each other and how we talk about the kind of love that we are called to be in the Gospel Lesson for this holy day. I might use this song to explore this possibility.

Though this is available on YouTube, please support artists for their creativity. The Many offer this video for congregational use through the Convergence Worship Project.

Maybe this is a day where worship doesn’t happen online in any form but it is a day of service like this church did.

Maybe what is offered instead is a project to care for neighbors in this pandemic with a soundtrack to sustain the work and a big pot of vegetarian chili waiting in the church parking lot for people to nourish their bodies and souls after doing things with great love. That meal could be blessed with this Blessing of the Meal from enfleshed or you might opt for one of these Communion Liturgies. I’d be enclined to opt for the one entitled In the Uncertainty. That seems to name it all right now. I don’t think I need to say this but just in case: please don’t do a seder of any kind. If you are even a tiny bit tempted, read this.

Good Friday

I have never liked the violence that comes with the traditional observances of this day. I don’t know if this would be the year that I would tackle atonement theory but I’m glad to know that there is something out there for understanding the cross — and the good people at the SALT Project even though to make it a take home resource.

I wonder if there is another way to speak to the grief of lost life especially after so much has been lost this year. Maybe you wouldn’t do this in other years but what if this year, there was just lament on Good Friday. It was a space to grieve all that has been lost. You might opt for a using this pay-and-play service from The Many or these prayers collected by Sojourners that particularly speak to the loss that has become way too familiar in this pandemic. Another option would be this poem entitled simply God’s Grief.

Or you might allow the liturgy for the dying from your tradition structure how this holy observance feels. There is something about these familiar words that will care for the most broken parts of our hope. Somehow it feels like this could fit into that worship experience.

Jan Richardson shares the particulars on permissions for her work here.

I might also include this poem on The Seven Last Words. I would also be inclined to add to this worship experience any number of these prayer poems for grief and loss from enfleshed. They also offer this contemplative service of story and song among their free resources for Good Friday. This lovely prayer for healing might be a good fit too.

If you don’t opt for an Easter Pageant at some other point this week, or even if you do, you could host an Online Stations of the Cross including the gifts of these Illustrated Ministry Coloring Posters and a separate devotional, Virtual Stations from Busted Halo or possibly the Easter Story Walk in the packet of goodies from ‘Twas the Morning of Easter. Weather permitting, this could also be done as an outside event with large posters made at a local printer posted along the edge of the church parking lot or another smooth open space. Building Faith also offers this Way of the Cross with a video meditation and reflection guide that could also fit into this realm of possibility.

Or you could tell the story in worship using one of the many scripts that Joanna Harader faithfully provides on her blog Spacious Faith. I think this one might be most friendly to an online format. Living Liturgies also offers a contemplative Tenebrae-like service for Good Friday full of light and bravely naming the hardest parts of this story. Praying Light into the Shadows is available for download for a $20 fee for congregational use.

Holy Saturday

This is the day where nothing happens. We gather on Good Friday and then again to wonder about what has happened when most of us went about our ordinary lives. In this time that is far from ordinary, invite your people into the tomb. It doesn’t need to be somber or depressing. It can be expectant. There should be a sense that something is happening but it hasn’t come yet and we are going to do our thing by singing that hope into being after gathering songs of struggle and hope that are beloved by your members and share that playlist on Spotify to accompany the waiting between what is and what will be. (Roll Away the Stone by the Mumford Sons would be my addition to such a list.) Or instead encourage your people to go on Resurrection Awe Walks to hunt for signs of hope in their neighborhoods.

The church I served in South Portland, Maine held a vigil from after the Good Friday service through the Sunrise Service on Easter. The Christ Candle was carried from the Sanctuary to the Chapel where two or three would keep watch in two hours shifts all night. Prayer books were provided in this time of silent meditation. This seems possible online with hourly prayers led by deacons, elders or someone capable and generous that is also not you, dear pastor. These hourly invitations to prayer could be streamed to Facebook or another chosen platform and an eternal flame thing could stand vigil on the church building steps or a candle in an online chat room. I’m less certain of that part but I think that the hourly calls to prayer would be lovely.

Resurrection Sunday

Just as I shared a bonfire experience for Ash Wednesday, I am offering a free liturgy for an Easter Watch Service. It’s not really a sunrise service and not even close to the full drama of the Easter Vigil but if your people are looking to gather at a safe distance and share in some spark of hope, this Easter Watch Service might be what you need. You can read more about this special service here.

There is this gorgeous Communion Liturgy for this day by Joanna Harader and this invitation to possibility might be a wonderful way to begin this service of exploring the resurrection this year. I could link all day to Maren Tirabassi’s gorgeous poems for these high holy days. I have them saved in my files and use them year after year but I am particularly curious about this Latvian tradition of hanging swings. What a fun way for a church to celebrate Easter that is socially distant and playful. I can’t resist linking to this poem she offers inspired by another favorite by Howard Thurman. Easter Sunday might also be when you encourage your people to find words to speak to this wondrous power of resurrection in their own words. I offer Pandemic Easter Affirmations for just this reason and hope that it gives you a break to find hope again in fresh words of brave faith.

I don’t tend to include ideas for the blessings bags that I know many of you send home but you might want to include this Easter Scavenger Hunt to encourage the searching that we all do in the unknown. If you frame it this way for parents, it will add depth to their participation though this framing will make little sense to young children. I also shared a Pandemic Neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt with coloring sheets suggestions that could be mailed out and posted in windows for a socially distanced hunt in the neighborhoods among your church community.

I would also keep an eye on the Brim Worship Project as they will soon release materials for Holy Week. I hope that this offers inspiration to your worship planning. Though it has become my custom to offer these seasonal roundups in my newsletter, I decided to mix it up and offer it instead in the pages of my blog and I pray it wasn’t posted too late. I am also working on a similar roundup of Eastertide resources in my newsletter.

I pray blessings upon you dear pastors for all of the wonder and hope you are busy creating for this holy and tender time. I pray that you are taking extra good care of your sweet soul in this season by calling your spiritual director and coach for the support you need along with that particular cohort of clergy that you can be most yourself even if it is over Zoom. It’s not like all the other Zoom you’re doing right now. I’m praying for you to find joy and hope this Easter. May the resurrection work its wonder through your entire being.

Waiting for Resurrection in Coronatide

Easter will come just as it has every year before because resurrection is promised. It happens even when we cannot fully comprehend its possibility. Resurrection still happens.

I have been thinking a lot about hope this Lent. I’ve been thinking about its texture and its sensation. It can come to live inside us and it can feel as distant as the setting sun. Glorious but incomprehensible to the ordinariness of our lives — and our lives have been so ordinary in this pandemic. We have not traveled. We haven’t visited with those that we love most for fear of infection. Death has been so close.

Death is still too close but hope does not give up. It doesn’t sound like there will be widespread of the vaccines for COVID-19 until later this summer. There are other concerns in our world. Or there should be as we struggle against the powers of white supremacy and Christian nationalism and maybe Easter can be that grand celebration where we have overcome all of these terrors. Maybe. To me, it feels like we need to remember this year — and maybe every year — that hope is not always triumphant.

Sometimes hope is quiet and gentle. Hope is a flicker of creativity or.a hint of possibility.

It may not be apparent. It might not be something we all see or feel but something we have to believe into our own reality.

It might be something that actually requires witnesses where we need other people to be there to see and hear this thing. We don’t want to be alone in this moment. We need others to be there with us.

It is everything that I’ve ever felt in those early morning experiences of waiting for the sun to rise on Easter morning. I am not a morning person and this is a feat of God for me to even be at this service. It is even more miraculous if I am the one leading this service but there is something quiet and powerful about the hope that is felt in those services. It’s not the loudness of the festival worship that happens in the sanctuary later that morning.

It is an expectant kind of hope.

I wanted to create something like that for this year. Something that was full of expectation of what could be when we overcome the terrors of the present. Something that would invite us to watch and wait together. Easter Watch is that something. It is available to you here for free.

Unlike the bonfire experience I created for Ash Wednesday, I wanted something that could happen as a worship event outside. It would be masked. It would be possible to maintain six feet so that even those that are not vaccinated could watch and wait in community.

It is adapted from a service I created years ago while I was an interim pastor for a tiny church in rural Pennsylvania. They were used to a sunrise service in the graveyard behind their church but they knew that it couldn’t be that this year. The forecast wouldn’t make it safe for any of us to traverse that uneven ground. So much had already changed there anyway. This could change too so that there was an opportunity to gather and wait for the good news to come. It needed to be different because they were different than they were the year before.

That service had more of the familiar notes of an Easter Vigil but this one is really focused around quiet contemplation around a bonfire as the sun begins to rise. It’s a service to welcome the possibility without knowing really what will come next and I pray a worshipful experience that invites each participant to make hope come alive. As with Fire & Ashes, it is a simple pamphlet that can be shared among the worshipping community. It doesn’t require an ordained leader but invites a few voices to speak between the silences of personal meditation.

The one thing that it doesn’t include is music and I think there could be music. I just don’t think it should be music that requires lugging a laptop or a portable speaker to make it beautiful. It feels like the kinds of experience where a talented musician or soloist (or both) could offer some familiar Easter hymns to make this worshipful experience even more wonderful.

It does, however, require a few worship elements for this worship experience to happen including:

  • Firewood
  • Twigs and sticks
  • Matches, lighter or other tool to start fire
  • Large pitcher full of water
  • Large vessel like a bowl
  • Shovels

As with other things I offer, it is yours to adapt and imagine into new life. I hope it’s a blessing to you this Holy Week as you wait for the power of resurrection to become real.

May it be so.

Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

I’m thinking about my own prayer life a lot right now. I’m wondering about how I’m caring for the tender part of my soul that needs to grieve and sing and wonder — and it’s hard. It’s hard to find that space in this long season for parents whether we have children learning online or toddlers who can’t understand why we can’t go to the playground.

I have been so worried about so many things that prayer has continued to fall to the bottom of the list. Seriously, I work out first. That’s how bad this is. It is that bad. I work out first, friends. I’m thinking about that as I offer these prayer for communal meditation for your weekly worship. There are the prayers that we mutter when the siren blares and the governor makes a really stupid decision for the good of the entire state, but there are the things that we need to hear from God in the stillness. There are things that we can only find in the quiet when we allow ourselves to listen for what God might be saying to us.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Tears have been 
shed this week
and just yesterday
in frustration and anger.
O God, we are impatient
and restless and so very tired.

We have cried for 
people and places
and things that 
don't even make sense. 
We have cried to you, 
O God, in the trouble 
of this year and you 
have saved us 
from our distress.

We come to worship
and praise the mystery 
of your love that is 
with us always. It is 
with us now and so 
we sing with joy 
for all you are doing
right now. O God, 
we come to worship
your goodness.  

In the online worship formats I’ve been attending in coronatide, I haven’t seen silence been used a lot. It has been brief if it has happened at all. I suspect that there are reasons for this. We are spending so much more time with the silence of our own souls that to spend those few blessed moments when we get to escape that inner quiet only increases the chaos when we try to be silent together, but it has been a year. It has been a whole year now and silence in worship is important for our collective listening. I think it can be done without it feeling like there is nothing happening.

I have wondered if it could be as simple as lighting candles for the lives that have been lost. In the United States, we jumped from 400,000 lives to 500,000 lives in way too little time. Maybe grief is what needs to be felt in this moment or maybe it is frustration of hitting this last pandemic wall. Can I say it’s the last? Will that ruin everything?

Opening for Silence
Inspired by Numbers 21:4-9

We have spoken against God
and each other. We have let words get 
in the way of our hope 
for we have feared that 
this will never end. 

More death will come
and we don't know 
how to make it stop
other than to close our mouths
and open our ears. 

Together, we will listen 
for a word from God 
that will remind us 
of what it means to live. 

In the silence we will share,
ask God for a word 
of hope and renewal.
Ask God for a word 
of corsage and strength.
Ask God for a word 
in the silence we now share.

I would conclude this silence that should be no less than 120 seconds with some music. I would choose this hymn because it’s what popped into my head as I was writing this invitation and then I might follow up on social media by asking people for their words. There are hundreds of creative ways to share such words that you’ve probably done already in this pandemic but in this moment it might not be so much about the creativity as the attentiveness to listen to each other’s prayers.

I have wondered how to mark that it has been one year since worship shifted online. It has been more than a year since so many have died. It has felt like an eternity since we adjusted to this new season of living. I want there to be something to mark the moment and remind us that we are in this together which reminded me of something my spiritual director taught me. She led me though this sensory grounding practice in one of our recent sessions. A grounding practice like this seems like a good way to mark the moment that we are in now and so I offer such a possibility for such a practice as the calendar reminds us that it has been a whole year of coronatide adapted from the gifts my spiritual director gave me. It functions like a guided meditation that could work anywhere in worship.

Pandemic Call to the Senses

Beloved, find yourself here with two feet planted on the ground. Take off your slippers or socks or whatever is covering your feet. This is holy ground right here in this place where two or three are gathered in worship and wonder. 

Take a deep breath full of the dust of the ancestors and the lives lost this year. Feel the the presence of the whole cloud of witnesses here with us now. Breathe in and breathe out.

Look around this space where you have spent so many hours in this past year. Life has happened here. So much life had happened here. Notice five things that you can see from where you are sitting that remind you of what this life has felt like this year. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Reach from where you are sitting to touch four things that connect you to someone you have loved. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Notice in this space where you have lived abundantly three things you can hear. Listen for the hum of life that is in this place. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Call to your awareness two scents, aromas or smells that remind you that there is goodness here in this moment. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Notice what stirs on your tastebuds and excites you about the future and for now acknowledge one thing that you can taste. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

For these things that you have tased, smelled, heard, touched and seen, we give thanks. We give thanks for the rich blessing of this life and for the ways that we seek to live into the days ahead. We give thanks for the life we have shared across internet connections and telephone wires. We give thanks and praise to God. Amen. 

I would invite the worshipping community to share in coffee hour (if your church is doing that kind of thing) what they found through their senses. I might even suggest some simple discussion questions to suggest what felt most like life in this pandemic or what felt like it was missing.

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 Lent

I am trying to spend some time working on Holy Week things this week but I will confess I don’t think that I have ever preached on the Ten Commandments but opted to skip over it.

It never felt like there was more to say about these words etched in stone. In these pandemic days, it feels different. There is something comforting about these words that remind us of who we are and what matters. It feels harder and harder to name these things right now for this time. I find myself wondering how we might rewrite these familiar words for this time. I wish I had the brainpower to imagine it right now but luckily there is a beautiful remix offered by enfleshed so I don’t have to do so.

I offer only one prayer this week but commend to you the Worship Words shared weekly by RevGalBlogPals. I will hopefully get my act together to share some more prayers there for next week in addition to the gifts I hope to offer you for Holy Week including an Easter Pageant. Click over to my kitchen to see more hints of what else I’ve got cooking.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Exodus 20:1-17 and Psalm 19:1-4

We have ordered 
our days as best as 
we could in this season.
It has been a whole year
and we have tried to be
faithful. Even if we 
haven't changed out 
of our pajamas
or left the house, 
we have been waiting
for you to speak, O God.

We come to worship
today needing to hear some 
word of good news. 

We come to worship
today listening for what
we have forgotten or ignored
about your steadfast love
in these days that 
we are just trying 
to survive. 

We come together, O God, 
waiting for you to speak.
Pour out your speech
and declare your knowledge.
We are ready, God. 
We are ready.

That’s all I have for you right now, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for the Second Sunday of Lent

I really relate to Abraham falling on his face.

I don’t think that has anything to do with the pandemic but the simple fact that I’m always tripping over myself. I am my own worst critic. I am endlessly hard on myself for things that I have said and done. I always believe I can do better. I want to be better. I’m not sure how to be better this Lent. I still haven’t landed on what this season needs to be for me but I relate to Abraham with his face in the dirt.

Of course, I don’t want to just be a better version of myself. I want a better world than the one that exploded into this new year with riots and protests and more death. There has been so much death. I believe we can be better. These prayers lean into that hope even if I have dirt on my face.

Call to Worship

Do not be afraid.
It was what we come 
together to worship 
and praise to remember.
We do not need to fear.

It is the encouragement 
we are given through angels
and visions. Do not be afraid.

Here, we come to tell the truth.
We have been afraid. 
We've feared so much 
in this past year
for ourselves 
for people of color, 
immigrants and refugees
for the common good
and the goodness of people.
We have been in awe
of how terrible things
could get and felt
like we couldn't do 
anything to change
the arrogance and hate
that overpowered our hope.

Today, we come to hope.
We come to put 
that horror behind us
and lean into the possibility 
of what will be in the days ahead. 
We come to worship
the One who makes
all things new
and assures us 
again and again
not to be afraid.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 and Mark 8:31-38

O God, we need to feel
your presence behind us
as much as we need to know 
you are leading us forward.

We need you behind us 
to encourage us and push us forward
for if you are not there, we will 
drag our feet and refuse to move.

We have wondered so much this year
about what our lives are worth.
Masks have covered our nose
and mouth because we believe
that others have worth
but if we are honest, O God, 
we haven't found our own worth. 
We have been scared
by unknown particles 
and airborne germs
and we have felt so human.
We have been so aware 
of our humanity and 
all of its limitations
so that we haven't really
allowed ourselves to see 
beyond this moment. 
We are just trying 
to get through this disaster
so that we can think 
of blessings and 
other such divine things. 

We are wrong, O God. 
We need to feel your push
square in the center of our backs
to dream and wonder 
and believe that 
there will be more than this. 
Get behind us and 
push us toward 
the fruitfulness of tomorrow. 
We pray in your hope. Amen.

I don’t feel ready yet to write an affirmation. I want to but I haven’t yet found the words. So, that’s all I’ve got for you this week so far, dear pastors.

I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for the Return of Lent

I do not feel ready for this season to arrive.

I know that it will be different. It will be less disciplined but no less introspective than every other day since that first case changed our whole lives. There is the Lent that I typically yearn to experience where I exert extra energy on figuring out who God is now. I don’t know that I will do that this year.

I’m still not sure what I will do to mark this season for myself. I know that sometime on Wednesday or Thursday my family and I will begin the practice of welcoming apologies just by saying thank you. That’s the first practice in A Hopeful Lent. I’ll read some special bedtime stories to my children and maybe I’ll convince my husband to talk about some big questions. (My husband is not a person of faith and though I designed these questions with him in mind, I’m still not sure I can convince him. We are both so tired.) I bought the book my sweet Texas church is sharing in for this season and I hope that that connects me to that community currently covered in ice and so many without power.

Lent will begin even if we don’t have pancakes today. I decided that teaching my toddlers to play with food in pancake races was really a recipe for disaster. Their table manners have already plummeted. Still, I want there to be joy and hope as we wonder together about the promises of God.

Responsive Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 25:1-10

It seems impossible 
that we find ourselves here again
to wonder about who we will be
and what God can do.
We lift up our souls.

We have been waiting
and wondering what will be. 
We yearn for hope 
and knowing more 
of the ways of God.
We seek what is true.

Our minds are quick 
to wander and we have lost
focus more times than we can count
but we hope that in these days 
we will be more and more 
aware of mercy and love.
We learn to walk this path together. 

Lent begins again.
May our souls awake 
to trust and hope.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Genesis 9:8-17

O God, it does not quite 
feel like the clouds have parted. 
It does not feel like the storm
has yet passed. It will rain
for several more days. 

We confess we are tired. 
We are so very tired.
We have given up searching
the heavens for new wonders
but it feels like nothing 
will change even 
as a vaccine ever so 
slowly rolls out 
and numbers of 
infections and 
hospitalizations
diminish. We 
don't yet see
hope in technicolor
reaching across the sky
and so we pray that you will 
wrap us possibility. 
Remind us again
that your love reaches 
through the doubts
and worries of this moment
and leads us into 
the promise of possibility.
O God, we pray
for the blessing of 
your colorful 
possibility. Amen.

I shared last week the possibility of sharing in Pandemic Easter Affirmations where people could share in the practice of proclaiming what faith feels like right now. I suggested a workshop and that maybe these could be gathered into a booklet to lead the congregation through the Easter season. I also mentioned that examples are helpful to get the creative juices flowing and that I might be sharing such affirmations for Lent. Here is the first for this season.

Affirmation for the Wilderness

We believe that 
God is working wonders
in the wilderness of our lives.
We have felt tested.
We've hit a pandemic wall
but walls crumble
with trumpet blasts
and hope grows 
through the cracks
on the sidewalk.

This is not the end. 
We know this. 
Of course, we know
this is true for we are people 
of possibility and hope
who know that the worst 
thing is never the last thing.

We are people 
who have wandered 
though the wilderness
to find the way to freedom. 
We've crossed seas
and moved mountains 
with faith as small 
as a mustard seed. 

We believe that
these wonders
will come again.
It is the promise of new life. 
It is the promise
that we cannot yet see
but God still reaches across
creation to show us
again and again 
that wonders 
never cease.

We believe 
God is working
wonders in us 
right now.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Easter Affirmations

I wanted to write a statement about what it means to be a person of faith when everything feels uncertain for the service I wrote for the Longest Night in 2020. I did it partially for myself.

I needed words to speak to what I believe right now, but I also wanted to provide some words for the confusion that is coronatide. I was super surprised to find that a friend had made this statement into a graphic when I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. It’s the image below.

There are — of course — the classic statements of faith that remind us who we are and what we believe. I shared my favorite affirmations here last year. It can be grounding to go back to those words and repeat that faith that has been shared again and again by Christians across the centuries, but there are times when we need words that speak to this particular moment. We need words that remind us what it means to be a person of faith right now.

I thought about writing a series of affirmations for Lent following the Lectionary. Then, I thought maybe I would wait until Easter. I might still but I wanted to offer something else that might carry us all into the resurrection season. I’m thinking particularly about things that don’t require clergy to lead and thought that it might be amazing to have a collection of affirmations from the church gathered together in one place. It would be an amazing things for the church archives but it would also be a simple way to support each other in the days ahead.

I’ve created a simple free printable on Pandemic Easter Affirmations that can be shared with one and all within your congregation. This is something that you could send out in the church email in the beginning of Lent and ask for submissions to be emailed to a designated email before Holy Week begins. Offer lots of reminders and offer samples in worship to inspire creativity.

All of the submissions can be collected into a Word document or you can get fancy and use Canva that could then be emailed or printed for distribution throughout the community. There are 50 days of Easter. Set that goal so that there is a affirmation for each day to share in the Easter season. Share the progress as submissions arrive in your inbox with teasers on social media: “We got two more submissions for our Easter Affirmations today. They are stunning. Have you written yours yet?” Or something like that.

Or you might lead a Zoom workshop to write these affirmations. Here is a sample outline for how that 60-minute workshop might look. I’m assuming you have talkers. It could be shorter.

1

Pray

Practice together some lectio divina as a group with one of your favorite affirmations.

Invite people to briefly speak about what speaks to them in the affirmation. If you’d like to offer more than one example, you could read another affirmation after sharing in group lectio divina. You might even provide a brief overview on common traits of such statements.

2

Explore

Use a whiteboard to brainstorm things that feel true in this pandemic season.

Pose that question first and if there is no movement then use the questions on the downloadable PDF.

3

Listen

Find a beautiful video of a favorite hymn of the congregation on YouTube (you know, the one that is always requested and no one ever grows tired of it).

Before playing the video, invite people to listen for what this hymn says about our shared faith. Encourage them to listen closely for scripture references.

Invite them to then to search for the lyrics of their favorite hymn and note what it says about their personal faith.

4

Connect

Create breakout rooms so that those in attendance can share what connections they’ve made between their truths and their faith.

Offer questions to encourage conversation, such as: What surprised you in the lyrics of your favorite hymn? Where do you find hope? What challenges you?What matters most about your faith in this pandemic?

In this particular format, the affirmations wouldn’t actually be written. You would bless them after the small group conversation and invite them to write on their own after sharing in rich conversation with trusted souls.

I imagine that there are several other ways that this could be used. I hope so. I hope it’s something that is easily passed on to a deacon or elder or someone who loves to lead adult faith formation kinda things with the encouragement, “Wouldn’t this be wonderful? Let’s try it.”

I hope it feels worth trying. I hope it’s a blessing for you, dear pastors.