Pandemic Prayers for Proper 25

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

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

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

We do not know yet. We are not gods.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Matthew 22:34-46

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

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 90:1-6

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

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

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

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Psalm 90:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

Emily Soctt

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 24

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

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

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

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 96:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 23

The President has the virus.

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

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

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

Call to Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 21

It has been a bad week.

Can we admit that? Can we conspire in that little bit of honesty?

A lot of bad shit is happening. I’m not sorry for my language. I am mad and you’re probably mad too. There are countless things that might make you feel like bashing your head against a rock. But, then, oh look! There’s Moses in the wilderness pounding the living daylights out a freaking stone because God told him that water would spring forth. Then, there is that bit in the Gospel about being afraid of crowds. Their reasons were different than those that occupy my pandemic angst but it is that phrase that leaps off the page to me. Well, that and the whole question of authority. Is there any authority now? Anywhere? At all? I appreciated Kentina Washington-Leaphart’s reminder that the “pathway to the other side [of all this shit] won’t be an easy one, and getting through it successfully will require sacrifice, patience, flexibility, and trust—trust in human leadership and, for people of faith, in God.”

I’m leaning into music this week because I need a song to sing. I miss singing in church and I need these songs to echo in my head so that all of that confusion that will surely come next week might have a new rhythm.

Gathering Together for Worship

I might just begin worship with this or a version of this using the talents within my congregation. Or if you are leaning into the trust we need to find in God, you might opt for this golden oldie.

Or instead I might begin worship with these words of poetry somehow figuring out a way to end the video before the promo for Leonardo DiCaprio’s website. (No offense Leo. We need your activism.) It speaks exactly to the grief I’m feeling in this moment and dares to catch a glimpse of what is on the other side of all of our complaining. (That’s the concluding line of Kentina Washington-Leaphart’s reflection in my email this week.)

Riffing on an Old Prayer

Just after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died, a snippet of a prayer I had written years ago for Proper 20A was shared in the United Church of Christ Instagram feed.

Humbling? Yes. Completely.

It is always surprising to me when words that I’ve written continue to have life. I thought it might be fun to actually adapt that prayer for this Sunday because we still have work to do. We have so much work to do.

Invocation 
Inspired by Philippians 2:1-13

Call us together, O God,
to find courage and comfort,
compassion and sympathy.

Call us together, O God, 
with all our lamentation and despair
all of our frustration and sorrow,
to make our joy complete.

Call us together, O God, 
to find ourselves of one heart
and one mind which admittedly
feels impossible in 2020.
Help us not to zero in 
only on our own interests
but to find the heart
and mind of Christ.
Humble us.
Empty us.
Bend us.

Call us together, O God, 
to strike the fury and passion
of your work into us again.
We have so much work to do.
Let us find your good pleasure 
in the work we share here and now, 
in Christ's presence we pray. Amen.

Other Service Prayers

I want to play with striking the rock but anything that I’ve attempted sounds too violent. There is enough violence. There is enough violence we are doing to ourselves and what we really need is trust. That is where these texts pull me. We can put our whole trust in God even as we fight against the divine. God can take it.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Exodus 17:1-7 

We thirst for answers, O God.
We thirst for clarity
and some prayer 
that this will all 
be over soon.

We thirst for comfort
and assurance because 
we are no longer certain 
that everything is going 
to work itself out.

It is why we thirst for justice 
for a broken healthcare system
and the sins of white
supremacy. We cannot believe
some of the things that we have prayed 
for in these weeks and months
and we thirst for your wisdom.

We thirst for your presence and
assurance but we have been 
so busy fighting with you
about all of the things that 
have gone wrong 
that we haven't really 
stopped to wonder
if you trust us anymore.

O God, what will you 
do with your people?
We are not yet done 
complaining because 
the infection rate still creeps up
and 200,000 people have died
for no reason. We are outraged
and exhausted. We thirst
for your grace and love
especially when we quarrel 
with you again. 

Quench our 
thirst, O God,
just enough to remind us
that we have work 
to do in your name. Amen.

If you find yourself without words again for the Prayers of the People again this week, I suggest this beautiful composition by Christopher Grundy. As the artist himself explains it, Leaning In is a “gentle, sung prayer of intercession” that breaks “down the sense of “us” and “them” that is often the pattern of such prayers.” There are several options for purchase including an audio file, lead sheet and piano accompaniment. There is a refrain that could be sung by a virtual choir while a cantor leads the verses. It would be lovely this week or any week.

Closing Worship

Though I haven’t offered a suggestion for closing worship before, I want this to be my prayer into the days ahead.

That’s all I’ve got for worship planning this week, though I seem to continually be editing this post so maybe you want to check back. I did, however, want to share a few other things. I discovered this week through social media that the fantastic Lindsay Andreolli-Comstock has created some wonderful pandemic-focused resources including one for those of us that are disappointed that trunk-or-treats and trick-or-treating should not be happening this year.

The planning packet Lindsay has created includes all sorts of goodies for a multi-day scavenger hunt among your congregation’s homes. It’s all socially distanced and includes instructions for everything. It’s the exhausted christian education director’s dream — and all for ten dollars. Be sure to add Trek or Treat to your cart. (And you might want to add the digital Christmas pageant to your cart while you’re at it.)

I’ve also been thinking about actually launching the newsletter I dreamed about years ago. (Has it been years? What is time?) My primary motivation at the moment is to do a better job in planning ahead so my goal would be to provide planning ahead materials on a monthly basis while I’d probably stick to a similarly unpredictable schedule on a weekly basis on the blog itself. There are some big things coming up like Advent and Christmas and I know I’m not the only one daydreaming about these things. Especially you’ve found my round-up of materials for stewardship, Backpack Blessings and World Communion Sunday helpful, I would love if you’d subscribe here. And to the 44 of you already subscribed, you’re the greatest.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Labor Sunday

This weekend celebrates the end of summer. It is one of those American holidays that is celebrated with backyard BBQs and family gatherings before school starts (or at least that was my norm as a child in the Northeast) without anyone really paying any heed to what Labor Day honors.

It seems especially important this year to pause and reflect on the true intention of this celebration that began back in 1882 with the Central Labor Union in New York City. It was, in fact, a day off of work with picnics and parades. The intention was to celebrate the economic and social accomplishments of workers. For those that hope that labor conditions will improve so that meat packers and teachers are safer and women are not drastically setback in their careers by this pandemic, it is on this Sunday that we dare to imagine what justice in the work place and in the field and in the factory and especially within the labor unions looks like. Maybe it’s also a Sunday to talk about how we care for the furloughed and jobless in your context. It’s a little late in the game to organize Labor in the Pulpits but there are certainly ways to uplift the rights of workers right now in your prayers and in your preaching.

Having just read how farmers in Wisconsin may determine the election, I’m find myself thinking a lot about farmers and food justice. I might find a way to include this superb video from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Or in the spirit of Labor in the Pulpits, I might use one of these personal reflections from the Interviews Playlist on their YouTube channel. I might even use the epistle as the focus text and follow that reading with and use one of these videos to highlight what it might look like to live honorably in this day.

Gathering Together for Worship

I wonder what might be the most familiar sound to begin the work day for those in your congregation. Might it be the coffee pot percolating or the sound of a time card being punched? Might it be a whistle or an alarm clock? Is it the sound of a computer booting up after slumber or the sound of children doing what they should not supposed to be doing on the baby monitor next to your head? (That might just be me.) Maybe that’s the first sound that begins worship before even the prelude.

Or if you can find a version of Bringing in the Sheaves that doesn’t hurt your ears (or eyes) on YouTube, that would be a lovely start as would O God, We Call for Justice by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. Whatever sound you choose to begin the work of worship with your people, here is an invitation to follow.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 119:33-40

Wake us up, O God.
Rub the sleep out of our eyes
and put us right into
the work of justice and love.

Wake us up, O God.
Open our eyes to the needs
of essential workers and day laborers.
Call our attention to those
booting up their computers
to toil over the kitchen table
for another eight hours
and those that are flipping
through the classifieds
after being laid off five months ago.
Give us understanding
and open our whole hearts
to what love and justice
mean right now.

Wake us up, O God.
Lead us into this new day
guided by your commandments.
Give us cause to delight
and turn our hearts away
from selfish gain.
Remind us again,
O God, what can happen
when two or three
gather in your name.

Here is an alternate version that I wrote last year. I’ve adapted it to reflect the epistle reading for this year. I feel like it should reflect the psalm but I don’t like it. I might still like the old version better. It also only reflects one voice rather than a responsive reading that is so commonly used in in-person worship.

Call to Worship
Adapted for Romans 13:8-14

Worker God, whose hands built the earth,
molded our bodies, and sowed the stars across the sky,
we gather in your presence this morning
to remember your commandments
summed up in the this word, love your neighbor as yourself.

Meet us here, Worker God;
it is now the time to wake from sleep
and fulfill your law in love for each worker
and so that all might live honorably every day.

Confessions and Collects

Though I feel like I should write something new, I have now gone to look at last year and I’m just going to post those prayers. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not convinced that the unison prayer to confession works in the streamed format. This prayer reflects that with a call to confession that leads to silence. It is perhaps an unfamiliar format but it’s what I’ve got.

It has been adapted to reflect the gospel for this year and I’ve also expanded the particular workers named. Please adapt to your context, like maybe Whataburger isn’t such a thing where you are. It is here. Oh, but it is here.

Call to Confession
It’s time to put away smugness, clichés,
and worn out self-serving political sound bites.
Let us come before God to seek new understanding of
what is fair and what is just. Let us listen
not to one or two laboring beside us
but let us listen to the needs of all
workers so that we bend our ears
to hear from garbage collectors, census takers,
Whataburger employees, ranchers and farmers,
contact tracers and scientists, bartenders and cooks,
volunteer fire fighters, domestic servants, hospital and hospice workers,
teachers, professors and administrators, and so many others
that are overlooked or undervalued as this pandemic rages on.
Let us confess before God that we are too comfortable
and that we’re more likely to concern ourselves with our own fairness.
Let us repent of our selfishness and open our hearts to still more love and justice.

Silence for personal prayer and confession. 

Assurance of Grace
What has been in the past does not have to define the future.
God’s grace can transform us, will transform us.
Receive this good news and move in a new direction.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

I spent too much time wondering about the volunteer fire fighters. That is what existed in my hometown and I know that is true in many places but I did not know exactly how to parse this grave injustice into one phrase. It is just one example in this pandemic of what worker conditions are, never mind the sheer disregard for human worth in the prison system as it exists right now.

There are some more lovely prayers created by and for the United Church of Christ and some possible sermon illustrations particularly focused on essential workers have been gathered by the Communities of Calling initiative of the Collegeville Institute.

I confess that when I am in doubt about how to pray, I turn to the Book of Common Prayer because there is always one that nearly speaks to my particular concern. There are so many that could be linked together for a pastoral prayer: for social justice, for agriculture, for schools and colleges, for the unemployed, for sound government (cough cough)… Each collect could be followed by “O God, hear our prayer” or “In your mercy, we pray” before wrapping it up with that familiar prayer that Jesus taught us. It’s not how the prayer book was intended to be used but it will work if you are tired and have no words of your own, dear pastor.

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 planning together. I’ve also shared some ingredients (though maybe not a whole recipe) for stewardship and backpack blessings.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always. I’m also sorry that I’m posting this so late in the week. I know many of you post your services on Thursdays. I’m praying for you all the more.

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 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.

Pandemic Prayers for Easter 3A

Our whole lives have been interrupted. We are attempting now to live as people of the resurrection when death tolls continue to rise. Some states are lifting their orders for shelter in place. Businesses will reopen slowly. Some are even bold enough to say that life will go back to normal while the people of China are living this horror story all over again. Restrictions return. Life does not go on.

We don’t know how long these interruptions will continue but somehow we are called to be “witnesses” to the resurrection. We weren’t there but neither were those that heard Peter preach this sermon in Acts. Neither were they to blame for his death. They weren’t the ones in that crowd. I love how this interruption is explained here. Maybe life feels so interrupted and turned on its head that the Road to Emmaus seems longer this year. I confess that I was inclined to skip over this passage and opt for the emerging church in Acts, but then I read this wisdom from Richard Swanson fixated on the words “we had hoped” (Luke 24:21).

It is my hope that these prayers feel interactive and do what the Spirit needs to bring your people into greater connection and community. I recognize that some are sharing live worship experiences online and others are sharing edited videos through YouTube, Facebook Premiere and a bunch of other platforms that I didn’t even know existed. Still others are publishing liturgies for their members to lead worship together in their homes. For this reason, I’m giving some options.

Opening Worship

I’m not convinced that the more traditional responsive Call to Worship is the best way to begin worship. I attended worship at the Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City this past Sunday. I did my field education there in seminary and the faithfulness that my colleague the Rev. Kaji Douša has brought to this congregation. Worship began on Sunday with some praise songs and a video meditation shot with Kaji’s phone of something outside her kitchen window. If I understood correctly, it served as an invitation to a faith-filled conversation later in the week so it wasn’t directly connected to the liturgy but I really liked how it called me into greater awareness of the things that God-filled moments in the everyday of this pandemic. It’s made me pause more than once since then.

I am not sure that I would be so tech saavy though so I might opt for this lovely prayer of illumination. Or I might begin worship with words of poetry to center us from the whirlwind of the pandemic. Maren Tirabassi always has beautiful words to offer and this old poem might be something to interject into your worship perhaps in particular awareness of the devastation of COVID-19 among the First Nation peoples. Another poem that shattered my heart when I discovered among the collected poems to Shelter in Poems from the Academy of American Poets was this one by Denise Levertov. This poem, especially, could read as a prayer.

Here are two more traditional responsive readings to begin worship.

Opening Litany

We had hoped that resurrection would be proclaimed
as we’ve always remembered it
inside the comfort of our sanctuaries.
We had hoped to hold one another’s hands
and say again, “Peace be with you.”
We had hoped that graduations and weddings
would be celebrated. We would have danced all night.
We had hoped so much.

Set our faith and hope in you, O God.

We had hoped that the church would grow.
We had hoped that we might raise enough money
to send the youth on the mission trip
and maybe even fix the roof. We had such high hopes, O God.

Set our faith and hope in you, O God.

We had hoped that 170,000 people would not die
and that there would be enough
to keep our doctors and nurses safe.
We had hoped that this wouldn’t happen.
We have thought about it so much
in these past six weeks and
we still cannot understand how any of this has happened.

Set our faith and hope in you, O God.

Call to Worship (Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19)

Death’s ropes have bound me;
the distress of the grave has found me again and again—
I come here today face-to-face with trouble and grief.

I love God;
and I’ll call out to God as long as I live
but especially today, I pray:

O Lord, save us.

I’m wondering today
what I can do after 170,000 lives have been taken
around the world by virus that has consumed all of my prayers
because I fear for my own life.

O Lord, save us.

I fear for the lives of my children
for the lives of those secluded to nursing homes
without visitors to bring a breath of fresh air
and for the essential workers
who deliver my mail
and stock the grocery shelves.

I can’t help but notice
each deep breath
each drop of moisture on my face mask
each time my lungs do what my God made them to do.

O Lord, save us.

O God, save us from our fears.
Gather us in hope.
Bring us together across wifi connections
and firewalls to call upon your salvation.

Confessing Our Sins

Both the account in Acts and the gospel story (especially in Richard Swanson’s translation) point fingers at you. It resonated with me enough to make it into these prayers. I was also drawn to the Message translation of 1 Peter 1:17-23 where it is said that “your new life is not like your old life” followed by “love one another as if your lives depended on it.”

Call to Confession

This is an invitation that is most often led by the pastor or liturgist. Words do not need to appear on the screen or in the bulletin. 

You who had hoped for so much.
You who had dreamed that life would be different
and has quietly scoffed at every mention of the “new normal.”
You who have asked God for things
that had never once crossed your mind before,
stop here and feel the heavy weight upon your shoulders.
Let us pray.

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

O God, we aren’t quite sure who we are called to be in this moment. Our lives have changed. Everything has changed so that our new lives will never be like our old lives. Nothing will ever be exactly as it was. Everything will change and this is terrifying. Forgive us for doubt and fear. Forgive us for not putting our whole faith in your love and grace. 

Assurance of Grace

Beloved in Christ, your sins are forgiven. You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Know that you have a future in God and do so knowing that you are to love one another as if your lives depended on it. Your new life will indeed not be like your old life. Love will change us. Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

Prayers of the People

I do not know how to write anything better than this prayer right now. If you are unfamiliar with The Work of the People, who produced this video, I commend them to you.

If you are a United Church of Christ pastor and eager to connect your church with the wider church, you might want to offer yourself the blessing of this Conference Wide Worship from the Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota Conferences. I understand there may be other conferences doing something similar. I’ll update as I find them.

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

Ingredients for Worship in Holy Week

Though I’ve continued to write liturgy throughout the season of Lent for my lovely church here in Texas, I have completely failed to pepper my blog with any of those prayers. I managed to share semi-regular posts during Epiphany but it seems that my writing project which has long since surpassed 70,000 words has taken up all of my head space. Or perhaps I’ve been cooking up other things. I’m honestly not sure.

Nonetheless, Holy Week is here. On Sunday, we’ll wave palms and find ourselves in the midst of a confusing celebration before we find ourselves washing feet and weeping at the foot of the cross later in the week. Pastors and musicians are busy creating meaningful worship moments for this holy season of transformation and change.

These particular prayers pick up on theme of stones and hard places as you may have found in the liturgy I wrote for Ash Wednesday. On Palm Sunday, we pay particular attention to the stones shouting out and focus our devotion on Easter on the stone being rolled away.

Poetry plays heavily into the style of worship at my lovely church and so I’ve included a selection of poems we shall be hearing in these holy days, plus a few that I found just yesterday from the beautiful offerings of my sisters in the RevGals community.

Poetry for Holy Week

States of Being by Luci Shaw

Sweet Darkness by David Whyte

Who Baked the Bread by Katherine Dale Makus

Like The Water by Wendell Berry 

Roll Away the Stone by Janet Morley 

It’s All About Her by Liz Crumlish

If These Were Silent by Rosalind C. Hughes

Ingredients for Palm Sunday

Call to Worship

One: We begin here, together,
waiting and wondering
what could happen.
Many: What will happen when
Jesus enters through those gates.
We wonder what will change
and how it might change us.

One: Hosanna! We chant with the whole crowd
for we need saving. We need for things to change.
Many: Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

One: We begin this holy week
pushing through the crowd
kicking at the stones
and hoping that this year will be different.
Many: We begin waving our palms
and hoping that God’s steadfast love
really does endure forever.

Benediction

One: Go into this holy week
raising your voice:
shouting for justice,
speaking your questions,
naming even your doubts aloud.
Many: We will ask for God’s salvation.
One: Dare to hope and dream
that change can come. Change will come.
Love will endure again.
Many: May love find us when we are silent.

Ingredients for Maundy Thursday

Call to Confession

On this holy night, when we remember
friends gathered in an upper room,
we step into the sweet darkness ourselves.
We wonder if this new commandment includes us,
and we lament all of the ways we already fall short.

Prayer of Confession (unison)

Holy One, our worlds have been small.
We have settled. We have made exceptions. We haven’t felt like we could
ever be enough. We have felt way beyond love, even your love.
So we have wondered where we fit, believing that someone else could
bake the bread. Someone else could make the wine. Someone else could clean up
the fragments left behind. Someone else could mop up the spilled water
on the floor. We are thirsty for your love. Forgive us
for all the ways that we have allowed ourselves to believe
that we are beyond your love.
A time of silent meditation and personal prayer follows.

Assurance of Grace

One: Lift up your heads, dear ones, to hear the good news:
It is a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as Christ has loved you, and will love you to the end,
we are to love each other but do not miss out on the fact
that God in Christ has loved you from the very beginning
and will love you to the end of the age.
Many: Thanks be to God!

Ingredients for Resurrection Sunday

Call to Worship

One: No more shall there be in it an infant
that lives but a few days, or an old person
who does not live out a lifetime.
Many: No more shall the sound of weeping be heard
or even a cry of distress.

One: They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
Roll away the stone from your hearts.
Remove the rocks from your eyes
and dare to see the new heavens and new earth
that God has created.
Many: Create joy in us, O God.
Fill our hardened hearts
with your delight.

Benediction

One: Roll away the stone.
Dare to be perplexed, even amazed.
Many: We will look for new life.
We’ll try not to expect death.

One: Roll it away! Let the former things
not even come to mind,
but go into this world be glad.
Go and rejoice in what God is still creating.
Many: God is doing a new thing. Alleluia!

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes.