Pandemic Prayers for Proper 20

It has been six months. I lost count.

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

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

Gathering Together for Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayers for the Day

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

Prayer of Confession

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

Assurance of Grace

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

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

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

Prayer for the Waiting

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

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

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

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

Prayers of the People

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 19

Though I didn’t do anything with the text last week, I’m still thinking about the question Kathryn Matthews posed in her weekly musings in the United Church of Christ’s Sermon Seeds about the grieving parents in the Passover story. How is this OK? How is any of this OK? How can God come along and strike down the first male child in every Egyptian household? How can we hold that grief now when 189,000 have died in our own country to COVID-19?

It’s a question she repeats in her reflection this week when she asks about the Egyptians swallowed up by the sea. It’s the same question that is stuck in my throat. It’s the grief that feel constant in these pandemic days. So, these prayers might not part any waters but those walls of tears that we are all so carefully holding at bay.

Gathering Together for Worship

A dear friend of mine texted a few weeks ago looking for words of comfort after a death in her family. It sent me looking for some of my favorite poems and reminded me that the early days of the pandemic added to my files with some lovely words that might be just what is needed to part the waters in your worship experience, including If the Trees Can Keep Dancing, So Can I. I also rather like If you had been here, Lord by Mark Goad and Kaddish by Marge Piercy. The last of which really fits well with the Exodus reading.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 114 and Romans 14:1-12

Tremble, O earth,
for everything that feels strange
and new. It has already shaken you.
It has already caused you to wonder.
It has shaken your faith
because every day feels the same
and it is harder and harder
to believe that tomorrow will be a better day.

Tremble, O earth,
feel that shiver down your spine
and that stirring in your heart
that knows, deeply,
we do not live to ourselves,
and we do not die to ourselves.
We live in hope.
We exist in love.

Tremble, O earth,
we gather in the presence of God,
the God of Jacob, Leah and Rachel,
Moses, Aaron and Miriam.
We gather to praise God who
never stops bringing wonder
and new life to the living and the dead.

Tremble, O people,
let us worship all we wonder.

Gathering Our Grief

I don’t think that there are enough prayers to articulate the tremendous loss that we are experiencing in the global community. There have been several beautifully stunning essays that have appeared upon my screen recently that I could imagine using in worship as sermon fodder or even to read excerpts mingled with scripture as a sort of lessons and carols, including one on collective and personal grief and this one that will just break your heart open again. You’ve made this worship thing happen remotely on the fly for over six month now, dear pastor. You can take a break from preaching. You deserve it. Here is a prayer to speak to the grief we all feel.

O God, there have been six million cases.
Over six million people have gasped for breath
and lost their sense of smell. 
Some have recovered by a number
that is too hard to account. 
Others have been on ventilators
in Intensive Care Units.
They died in sterile
hospital beds under the careful 
attention of nurses and doctors
hidden behind masks. They said 
goodbye to their families at 
the hospital doors without comprehending
that this would be the last time. 
O God, nearly two hundred thousand lives 
have been lost. Eight hundred ninety-eight thousand
lives around this earth have been lost.
It causes us to tremble. 
It shakes us to the core
and so we need you God.
We need you to stretch out your hand
to offer comfort hope. Bring your full 
presence into this pandemic moment 
so that we might feel your grace again. 
We pray in your wonder. Amen.

Praying Through Rage

Though I knew that the reality of this pandemic was impacting minority and immigrant communities ten times harder than others, I had not imagined how hard until I read about the ministry of this Mexican pastor in New York City. This prayer speaks to the tears I shed reading this story.

I’m not assuming your whole congregation read this story and so you might need to adapt it for your context or headlines that are more familiar to your people. If this doesn’t sound like grief to you, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross thought that the second stage of grief in death is anger. It comes after refusing to believe this thing is real. It’s where I find my current pandemic reality.

Hear Our Rage
Inspired by Exodus 14:19-31

Angel of God, move behind us
so that we might find ourselves
in a protected place
away from the corruption of empire
and greed, away from the powers that
make their own gods.

Light up the night
for there are things that we need to say
that only you can bear, O God.
Drive back the seas of polite prayers
and get ready for the pillar of grief
that has been wedged into our lives
since we first heard of COVID-19.
Stretch your mighty hand over
this fury and rage, O God.

Just as it was not fair to drown
the entire Egyptian Army that day, it is no more fair
to condemn your beloved kin to this virus.
On our best days, we believe its not your fault.
We know better. We are mature in our faith
but it is not OK that a man lies in terror

next to his dead brother in a studio apartment in New York City
because he fears deportation and lacks the funds
for a proper burial for his brother's decomposing body.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

"Why did you bring him here?"
should not be the first words 
shouted in English to an immigrant
who has just rushed his brother 
to the emergency room.
We are all scared of getting sick
but a language barrier should not deny anyone care.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

Our pastors phones constantly rings
their email dings every second
and their social media is haunted by the doomscrolling
of every tender heart in their care.
They need a break.
They are tired but this virus
refuses to retreat.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

There is no dry ground to stand on.
This pandemic rages on our right
and on our left. It towers over us.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

We are spinning our wheels
only to churn up mud and despair.
We are spinning our wheels
only to churn up mud and despair.
There is no escape
and we fear we might drown
in our lack of care for each other.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

We need your grace to lead.
On our left and on our right,
we need a waters of love and hope
to gently ease us into 
whatever comes next.
Move behind us and before us, O God.
Hold us in our fury
and help us to discover what good
this anger can become. For we know, O God,
even when we doubt,
that we do not live to ourselves
and you will bring new life
even out of death. We pray it will be so.

Another Thought

Years ago, I first heard the story of Nachshon who stepped into the water after Moses raised his staff over the water and nothing happened. He waded into the water until it was up to his nostrils and it was only then that the waters split. It didn’t feel like a story for this moment until I read this reflection that concludes:

When Nachshon and his people get to the other side of the sea, what is there to greet them? Not a Promised Land, but a wide, wild desert that will take years to navigate. Just because the sea splits doesn’t mean we know exactly where we are going or how we’re going to get there. But we do know this: The first steps are the hardest ones, and the most necessary. With those steps, with Nachshon, the story really begins.

Rabbi Adam Greenwald

I do not know exactly how this would tie into worship but it feels like there is something there because we are not yet on the other side of this pandemic, as much as we might dream about it. As with grief, we do not know where we are going or how we will get there but there is something about the steps we are taking now. There is something to the lament, the protest and even the dreaming. Something is beginning. I have to believe that.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. I’ve also shared some ingredients (though maybe not a whole recipe) for stewardship and backpack blessings. This particular Sunday makes me wonder how we will honor the saints on All Saints Day and has me thinking about what Christmas Eve will look like for my family and yours when worship is not in-person. Maybe I’ll start some liturgies for those sooner rather than later. God knows, you are already thinking about those things.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 14

This gorgeous reflection on 1 Kings 19:9-18 by Richard W. Swanson has got me thinking about silence. Silence feels all consuming right now. There is so much of it. Or, at least, there is for me.

We live on the edge of the desert now. It is so quiet. I almost never see or hear my neighbors. There is just silence. Even when I leave the house, there is only the sound of the air conditioner humming through the vents in my car mingled with the sounds of my children and whatever might be on the radio. We don’t go to restaurants to hear the clatter of silverware and the gentle buzz of conversation. We don’t even go into stores to hear other children crying or music I didn’t select on the intercom. There is no laughter of friends that isn’t by FaceTime. It is silent. Is that familiar? Or is there more noise in your pandemic life than there is in mine?

My sweet Texas church is leading a series through some favorite hymns this month. Worship is full of music and I confess that I like that it gives me a song to sing, but is hat because I’m uncomfortable with the silence that consumes every other hour? Can you even have meaningful, meditative silence in online worship? How might that silence speak to parents, to school children or to aging adults who just want to know that they can be buried in the church they love and have a ‘normal’ funeral? What does that silence say in the midst of protests, mask fights and hurricane winds? Is it a silence that both crushes and encourages you?

Gathering Together

There are so many things that jump out to me in these ancient words. So many phrases that spark curiosity and wonder. Words that seem particularly for this moment: seek God’s presence continually, battered by the waves, descend into the abyss, here comes this dreamer, he went there alone, wind was against them.

Could worship begin with that wind?

Would we find it relaxing? Would it call us to attention? Would we feel more alert in watching waves crash?

Could even a short 30 second clip lead us into worship? Here are two possible invitations to follow this silence of the natural world.

Call to Worship
Inspired by 1 Kings 19:9-18, this translation

Look:
the God Whose Name is Mercy
is in the silence
and the trees/waves,
and your own breath
sighing into this space
where the world feels both far away
and as close as the God Whose Name is Mercy.

Listen:
Not in muted silence on Zoom,
but listen for the laughter,
the sighs, each exhale and inhale of wonder.
Listen to hear what crushed hope might become.
Listen for the courage in each gasp.
Listen to how love becomes a song.
Listen. Look.
The God Whose Name is Mercy is here.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 105

Give thanks to the God Whose Name is Mercy;
Call upon that name
and proclaim every good thing
that gives you reason to sing.
Sing to God;
sing praises to the God Whose Name is Mercy
so that you can feel
the winds of change
stir in your heart.
Let your hope crash onto the shores of creation
as loudly and boldly as a clanging cymbal.
Make noise. Make a lot of noise
because you dare to believe
in freedom and justice.
You believe in peace and love
because you believe in the
God Whose Name is Mercy.
Praise God’s name.

Prayers of Confession and Assurance

I often prefer silence to a shared confession said in words. If you prefer one with words and seek to center your worship on the Gospel, here is a beautiful prayer by my friend Teri. I offer instead an invitation to confess led by the liturgist or preacher and some words of assurance to follow an extended silence. You could even play another section of the above clips during that silence if it feels too uncomfortable to stare at each other’s faces in Zoom.

Call to Confession 

Like Christ, we come alone.
We come full of grief and despair.
We come battered
and overcome by all that weighs against us.
We come to confess that we don’t have all the answers
but long to hear the wisdom from someone or something other than ourselves
in the silence we now share.

Extended silence.

Words of Assurance

Beloved, feel the winds
of grace sweep over creation
and over your head. There is music there too,
over your head reminding you again
that there must be a God somewhere.
Everyone who calls upon the name
of the God Whose Name is Mercy will be saved.
You are forgiven. You are so loved. Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. If you find these prayers helpful and would like some help thinking about the fall, click over here to do a little pandemic worship planningtogether. I’d love to know what might be most helpful.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 13

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

Gathering Together

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

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

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

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

Call to Worship

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

Prayers of the People

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

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

A Pastoral Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Easter 6A

When this all started, there were lots of reflections about God’s absence.

It wasn’t my experience. I didn’t feel like God had given up or disappeared anymore than I felt like God had brought this pandemic upon the global community.

It’s eight or nine or fifty-two weeks later and I’m not quite sure I have words for what God is doing right now. My faith tells me that God is always up to something. It pushes me to get in the balcony and look for the big picture. It assures me that I don’t need to be anxious and worry because somehow it will be alright in the end. My husband loves to say this. He loves the bright side and it has made me bite his head off more than once in the past few days. I am not proud of this but it’s a fact.

These lections push me to go looking for what God is doing. I was pushed further into this search after reading this encouraging word from Karoline Lewis. It reminded me of this essay by Sara Miles from years and years ago. These prayers search for that divine accompaniment.

Opening Worship

I’m opting for simple phrases that can be repeated again and again by the congregation. I want for there to be a musical element that is sung in response to the spoken word. I can’t figure out how to make it work but that’s where I keep going. Maybe this favorite Taize song follows the Invitation to the Spirit below. Or instead, maybe worship begins with this teaching bit from John Bell.

Call to Praise

This week was harder than the last.
We do not know when this will end
or what the world will become when it is over.
Still, we come to praise.
Bless our God, O peoples,
let God’s praise be heard.

God has heard every prayer.
God has listened to our deepest fears.
God will not give up on us.
Bless our God, O peoples,
let God’s praise be heard.

We have been tested.
We are being tested every day
so that we struggle to know what is right.
God waits with us
and hopes with us.
Bless our God, O peoples,
let God’s praise be heard.

We do not feel like we are doing enough
in one moment and in the next
feel like we should be doing more
to end the pandemic of racism,
the virus of hate,
and the greed of capitalism.
The burden is heavy on our backs
as we hunch over screens
wishing and praying
for a better world.
Bless our God, O peoples,
let God’s praise be heard.

God is with us.
God will not leave us orphaned
even when we cannot see what God is doing,
God is listening.
God mourns with us. God hopes
and God dares to dream with us.
Bless our God, O peoples,
let God’s praise be heard.

Invitation to the Spirit

Words inspired by Richard Swanson’s Gospel Translation

Come breath of truth
and blow through our fears
about what could have been
or should have been. Come
into this beautiful broken world.
Come, O Spirit, come.

We do not see you.
We haven’t noticed
your place by our sides
but we know it is promised.
You are coming. You are here.
Come, O Spirit, come.

Come dear advocate
to remain in the discomfort
with us. Come to hold our hands
and breathe your truth
into our own lungs.
Come, O Spirit, come.

Affirmation of Faith

When I shared last week’s prayers on Twitter, I joked that I didn’t include a confession. It’s honestly felt clunky to write these and I couldn’t figure out why. I got an instant reply to my tweet from RevGalBlogPals that there are others that skip confessions and assurances in the Easter season. (They are also curating this gorgeous thing called Worship Words that you should check out.) Right. I would usually swap the confession and assurance for some words to remember what we do believe.

Listening to Nadia Bolz-Weber reminded me that I need to remember and repeat these words. We don’t just need good preaching. We need to put words to our own faith.

Here are my very favorites.

A New Creed from the United Church of Canada

The Affirmation of Faith from page 481 of the New Zealand Prayer Book

United Church of Christ Statement of Faith in the form of a doxology

A Statement of Faith by Ann Weems (Reaching for Rainbows, 1980)

Advent Statement of Faith by the Rev. Rebecca F. Harrison

Creed by Meg Kearney

The Immigrant’s Creed from the Book of Common Worship (PCUSA)

Oh, I should probably mention again that I’m ordained in the United Church of Christ. As part of a non-creedal movement of faith, I believe in a holy bit of irreverence. This is why poetry makes the list and I think that’s fine.

I also really want to insert this somewhere into worship. Maybe it goes here. Can an Affirmation of Faith be sung?

Prayers of the People

I can’t stop reading hymn lyrics since we found out we can no longer sing together. This might also be why I want to insert a hymn into the Affirmation of Faith.

This Sunday, I’d be tempted to offer the words of In Our Brokenness as the Pastoral Prayer. Another option might be this prayer originally from RevGalBlogPals.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Easter 5A

I join the circle of preachers who have expressed their familiarity with this text at the graveside. It’s the Gospel Lesson I always choose when the family doesn’t steer me in another direction, not because of the many mansions or rooms but for what it says about grief. I love the repetition that Jesus holds before us. I am in you. You are in me. 

I feel the tremendous wonder of these words in the eighth week of sheltering in place. I feel the weight of it as the news ticked across my screen last week announcing the death toll was now higher in the United States than the lives lost in the Vietnam War. As I sit here with my laptop in my lap watching my children enjoy their third snack of the day after our morning walk, that death toll is reported to be 67,465. The Washington Post reports that number will double by June 1 with the number of states relaxing restrictions. Lord Jesus. I am in you. You are in me. 

I have watched as clergy post masked selfies at their first graveside service in the wake of this pandemic. I’ve listened as they’ve carefully considered how to keep the grieving socially distanced. I’ve heard their sorrow and regret and felt their tears. This is a new season for grief. It is different and still the same. Mourning hasn’t yet turned into dancing. We need space. We need time. We need to remember that no matter how death came, there is this promise in life after death. There is the mysterious power of love that continues. It lives on.  I am in you. You are in me. 

These prayers lean into that grief and the strange awareness that we are even more connected than ever.

Opening Worship

I know that we are not able to sing together and won’t be able to do so for some time but I want to believe that there is still a way to do so. I want to believe that video worship will somehow allow us to sing from the comfort and safety of our own living rooms while still hearing each other sing so I keep checking Singing from the Lectionary for something that might work. This week, I found John Bell’s Don’t Be Afraid which might work for a recorded response after the stanza of a poem like Amber Tamblyn’s To A New Dawning or this community sourced poem If the Trees Can Keep Dancing, So Can I. This could be a lovely way to begin worship.

This Gospel Lesson also reminds me of one of my favorite John Bell songs that would be a lovely gathering into worship. You can find it on YouTube here.

I also found When Human Voices Cannot Sing which is set to LAMENT but could also be sung in the more familiar (at least to me) ST COLUMBA. The lyrics spoke to my heart so much that I adapted it below to gather the beloved community into worship with the words of Psalm 31. The second option leans into the confusion of what will emerge from this. I know there are pastors leaning into this strange interim season. This might be something that works for that intention. There’s another beautiful option for this intention over on Spacious Faith.

Gathering in Grief and Hope

Words adapted from Shirley Erena Murray’s When Human Voices Cannot Sing

When human voices cannot sing
and human hearts are breaking,
we bring our grief to you, O God,
who knows our inner aching.
Incline your ear to us, O God.
Be our rock and refuge.

Set free our spirits from all fear —
the cloud of dark unknowing,
and let the light, the Christ-light show
the pathway of our going.
Incline your ear to us, O God.
We commit our spirits to you.

Make real for us your holding love,
the love which is your meaning,
the power to move the stone of death,
to find the hope of Easter morning.
Lead us and guide us, O God.
Our time is in your hands.
Our worship and praise is in your name.

Gathering into the Way

Thomas shares our doubt.
He doesn’t know what will come next.
We do not know where we are going.
How can we know the way?

Christ calls us to remember.
We do not know what God is doing
but we know who Christ is, so we know God is too.
We have known God and have seen God.

Philip pushes against the new normal.
He leans into what he thought he knew
before everything changed.
We have done the same.
Show us what God can do.

Christ soothes our troubled hearts
and invites us to believe.
I am in you and you are in me. 

Let us find a way into this truth.
Let us worship God together.

Shared Ritual Action

Instead of a confession, I was inspired by this prayer I saw on Facebook from Rabbi Valerie Cohen. (I jotted this down on scrap paper when I saw it but now I can’t find the actual post. If you can find it, please link to it below. I hate that I can’t find it.) Way back when on Good Friday, I virtually wandered through a Stations of the Cross where each reader donned a mask. This was before I owned one. It was before they were recommended in Texas though my husband reports to me how many people he sees actually abiding by this practice. On that Good Friday, before each reader read the station they were assigned, we watched them pull off their mask and then replace it after they had spoken. It was powerful.

Then, there was this horrific news in Michigan. I need a prayer to remember that this simple action is a prayer. I thought it might fit well into this worship experience. It appears below as a graphic that you’re welcome to share.

Sweaters Up for Grabs!

I might also include a blessing for the face masks. I know this is highly charged territory among some of my Christian sisters and brothers. (If you aren’t familiar with this struggle, read this.) This isn’t for everyone but I think we need a blessing. We need to remember that the choices we make are a prayer for the world and for ourselves.

Blessings always remind me of this amazing collaboration from years and years ago. I commend it to you as you figure out how to best outstretch hands in blessing upon face masks. Perhaps words likes these might be shared in your worship on Sunday.

Blessing for Face Masks

O God, bless these face masks.
May the fabric that protects each nose and mouth
be as strong as the fabric that knits together the human family.
May the strings not bind our ears
as we struggle to listen to the fears
of your people. May we feel every bit of sweaty discomfort
as a reminder of our shared humanity
and may that connection give us more courage
to wear these masks upon our faces.
O God, bless these masks
as surely as you bless your people. Amen.

Prayers of the People

As I wondered last week, I’m still not sure what this particular moment of worship should look like. I offer you a prayer below that has been adapted from one in the United Church of Christ Book of Worship.

Be with us through all the unknown days lying before us:
days when where the flowers bloom and trees bud
but every day feels like the day before,
days when the headlines seem to emerge from the worst dystopian reality
but we remind ourselves again that this is the new normal,
days when we are consumed with worry
for the vulnerable, the poor and the sick
but we do not know what to do with our troubled hearts.

Be with us in this unknown, O God.
Do not put us to shame.
Be our refuge and strength.
so that we grow in union with all our sisters and brothers,
so that we may see more deeply into ourselves.

Be with us in this unknown, O God.
Show your full self to us
and allow us to see ourselves in you.
Resist the temptation to show great works
but remind us where you dwell.
Show us your heartbeat.
Let us feel your breath
as close as our own.

Help us to find the faith to believe:
I am in you and you are in me.

Help us understand that for those who are faithful to you
life is not ended but only changed.
Help us join together with all you have created to say:
Great and powerful is our God.
God fills heaven and earth with love and beauty.
It is a beauty we see in doctors, nurses,
chaplains, grocery workers and delivery workers.
It is love that we see smiling in the eyes
above each face mask.
Even in the unknown, O God,
we believe in you.
Help us to believe in each other
and even in ourselves.
In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Easter 4A

After I posted the prayers last week, I felt awkward. I wondered if these prayers could speak to such a broad audience. I wondered if it was even possible to capture the vastness of this pandemic into a few words.

I felt that strange tinge again on Sunday when I gathered again with my sweet Texas church for another Zoom gathering of God’s people. I noticed immediately that the words to welcome us into this time of prayer and praise didn’t emphasize the isolation or even the virus. The prayers were instead like any other Sunday in the Season of Easter. Is that what we need?

I wonder that especially as we center ourselves into the familiar and comforting words of Psalm 23 and John 10:1-10. I don’t know. Quite frankly, I haven’t had much time to think about what my own faith needs. I’ve focused — as I did before quarantine — on what is best for my children and my family. I’ve spent time cultivating experiences for the family and allowed the grace of these experiences to be my prayer. I do not know how working parents are doing this but I’m glad to see that there is a conversation starting here and here. The fact is that I only really know my own experience of this new reality and this gives me even greater pause in wondering what our prayers should say. Or is there something to be said in leaning into what I can only pray is emerging in Acts 2:42-47. These prayers will do a little bit of everything.

Opening Worship

Though I’m uncertain about this style right now, these responsive prayers are what I’ve written to begin worship forever and ever. It’s a hard habit and so here are some prayers to begin your worship.

Let Us Gather Here

Let us devote this time to breaking bread and sharing prayers.

Let awe come over us.

Let wonders and signs
flicker across our screens
in the faces of this beloved community
and the familiar words of faith.

Let us share what we have.

Let us find ourselves with glad
and generous hearts.

Call to the Possible

Words from Rebecca Solnit’s The Impossible Has Already Happened

We have reached a crossroads,
we have emerged from what we assumed was normality,
things have suddenly overturned.

Shepherding God, open your gate to us.
Lead us into whatever comes next.

We know, O God, that for now —
especially for those of us who are not sick,
not frontline workers,
and are not dealing with other economic or housing difficulties –-
it is to our task to understand this moment,
what it might require of us,
and what it might make possible.

Prepare us, Shepherding God,
to think big thoughts around your table.
Assure us that goodness and mercy are already here.

Confessing Our Sins

It can be so hard to write prayers around such familiar texts. I liked this confession that I found after I wrote my own. A friend shared this article on effective crisis leadership and it compelled me to write an alternate confession as it seems that our real task right now is not so much worrying about what will come next but how we love each other in the here and now.

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

O God, we have doubted.
We have doubted you.
We have doubted those you love.
We have questioned what will be left
after this is all over. We’ve wondered
if it will be better than it was
and we must confess we’ve feared it will be worse.
Forgive us. Open the gates of our shuttered hearts
to your abundant grace. Amen.

Alternate Prayer of Confession (Unison)

O God, we have devoted ourselves to so much.
We have wanted. We have resisted your leading.
We have ignored green spaces and still waters
pooling around the dirty dishes piled in the sink.
We haven’t felt goodness and mercy
and what is worse: we haven’t offered it.
We haven’t cared for your people
behind our locked doors. Forgive us.
Forgive us for not holding all that you love
with the same grace you hold us.

Assurance of Grace

Very truly, I tell you, God knows your fears and doubts.
You are forgiven. God opens the gate and calls your name again
to lead you to the goodness and mercy
that will follow you all the days of your life.
God will be with you, now and always. Amen.

Prayers of the People

I have been tickled to watch one of my pastors juggle the prayers in the chat in Zoom, those that were posted on Facebook earlier in the week, those in the church bulletin and it appears a few last minute prayers she just got by text. She has lots of devices and paper around her but every prayer is spoken. Every prayer is heard. It is a powerful thing and it warms my heart each time.

For churches like ours where prayers are usually shared from the floor, I imagine pre-recorded worship feels most distant and strange when it comes to this moment in worship. I confess I don’t know how to overcome that but I was awestruck by the cell phone children’s choir from my little Texas church that sang Halle Halle this past Sunday. There was something about hearing a child’s voice on Zoom that had such power so I wonder about offering a prayer like this from the good people of SALT Project.

Now is a time when I want to hear familiar words like these words from St. Francis. I noticed as well how many people asked for a copy of the gorgeous prayer that my pastor preached on Sunday. So I thought I’d create something pretty. Here is a Pastoral Prayer for Easter 4A adapted from one I wrote years ago. It is my intention for you to share it. Please do so as it helps your precious people.

Until then, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you.