Pandemic Prayers for Proper 12B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer of Illumination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 10B

I loved the movie. I did. I still do but I always found this one repeated line creepy.

It’s the same line that I hear repeated in the Gospel Lesson forcing us to wonder how any one of us will answer that question, “What should I ask for?”

It is a woman that asks this question and we rarely hear women speak so boldly in Mark’s story or any other gospel account. I really wish that I had my copy of the Women’s Bible Commentary unpacked. (I also wish that I wasn’t still living in a hotel.) There is something both about the femaleness of this question and the overwhelming privilege that unsettles me. It’s this that I’m praying out in the following confession and assurance. I warn you: it’s dark but if you’re brave enough to choose this text as a preaching text then it may be what you need.

Invitation to Confession

We come today thinking that we know 
how the story goes. We know the plot
lines and the story arc but we come
together as people of prayer and hope
because we are disquieted with
the idea that some things have to 
be this way. We come to share 
in our human struggle 
by confessing our sins.

Prayer of Confession

Inspired by Psalm 48 and Mark 6:14-29

It doesn't feel like we danced.
It doesn't feel like we could have had
such rhythm getting to this point
but maybe we were more graceful 
than we imagined.

Maybe. Maybe that's how it went
or how we just managed to survive
to this moment in time. Maybe that's 
what it feels like now that vaccines are
widely available and the world shifts 
into a new normal that anything is possible.

Whatever you wish can happen 
now. That's the temptation. 
That's the tipping point
but it comes with caution
because our choices make 
a difference. Someone's head
could end up on a platter
and that was never our intent.

It was never our intent
but we always have the best
of intentions. We would never
mean to cause harm. It just happens
sometimes. That's what we tell ourselves. 
O God, we are so frail 
and so human.
Save us.

Words of Assurance

Inspired by Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed are you, dear child of God,
for being brave enough to name the discomfort.
You have set your hope on Christ
and you will live in praise of such glory.
You are part of the great story of redemption.
You are forgiven. You are loved. Amen. Amen.

It was two cycles ago when Amos’ plumbline came along in the Revised Common Lectionary that I was candidating for my last settled call. I preached on Amos that day but the liturgy I shared was rooted in the psalms. I’ve adapted the following prayer from that morning for the present day.

Prayer of Illumination

Inspired by Psalm 85

Show us, O Holy One,
as we come together as your people 
with our hearts open to your steadfast love
show us what you see. 

Because our eyes 
have grown tired.
Pass us that pair of bifocals.
Hand us that magnifying glass.
Uncloud our vision 
so that we can see what you see.
Show us, O Holy One.

Search with us
for that moment 
when love and faithfulness meet
because it has happened
and it will happen again
but we have forgotten to look.
We have forgotten so much
in our languishing and 
we need to open ourselves
to possibility again. 

Open us to the wonder
and delight in seeing 
righteousness and peace kiss
and feel faithfulness spring up 
like tiny bubbles of hope.
Come, O Holy One, 
into our worship and wonder
and lead us onto 
that path of possibility. 
Guide us there. 
Lead us with your love.
Come, O Holy One. 
Come.

That’s all I’ve got for this week though I know that you are busy with many things. As it helps you prepare for the ministry ahead, I want to share these prayers for Vacation Bible School from last year and encourage you to think about what options there might be for Labor Sunday this year. These suggestions from last year might not be the liturgical gifts you need for this year’s lections but I hope the prompts encourage you to think about another Sunday off from preaching. Some of you may already be planning for Backpack Blessings in Coronatide even if that title feels so last year.

I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for Returning to In-Person Worship

I have hesitated to share any particular prayers for gathering together in-person again because it feels so unique to each circumstance. There is something particular about this experience.

It involves a particular group of people. It is the unique story of how the pandemic took hold in that exact location among those blessed souls and maybe there are universals. There are things we have all experienced in this pandemic but we are not all in the same place as this shift to in-person worship occurs.

I can’t think about this possibility — which for me is just a possibility as I continue to worship online with my sweet Texas church and have no options for in-person worship in our German city — still, I can’t think of this possibility without thinking about music. I remember vividly standing in my kitchen when The More We Get Together played for the third time that day on my kids’ Pandora station and I burst into tears. And then, there is this beloved hymn that closed every worship service in the early days when we thought this would only be a few weeks.

I will never hear this song again without remembering what it felt like to sing these words through broken sobs to my computer screen. At that point, I knew I was moving. I didn’t know that there would ever be a return to this group of people or this sanctuary. I had no idea we would move again within less than a year. And maybe especially because of my story, I am curious what it would be like to sing or hear this song again at the close of worship back in the sanctuary.

Music, as you know dear pastor, changes us. It gives us a melody to our struggle and a harmony to our hope. It pinpoints our memory to a particular time and place and congregations are full of these memories. So, what have been the songs that carried your people in this season? What would it look like to sing those songs again?

I might be extra tempted to shell out some extra dollars from the worship budget for some musicians to help us celebrate this reunion but I won’t assume that that is possible for every congregation. I know too that each church has chosen a different date for this reunion and that makes it really hard to choose focus texts but I’ll go with some old favorites including Psalm 133, Isaiah 65, and Ephesians 4:1-16 because it’s actually in the Revised Common Lectionary on the first of August if you happen to have chosen that day to gather. No matter what the chosen day might be, I pray these prayers might bless your regathering.

These prayers are still written for one voice as my other church in Pennsylvania — who I think you’ll be hearing about more and more — has wisely decided not to have responsive readings in their regathering. I want to honor that commitment but go ahead and adapt these prayers as they fit your worship experience.

Call to Worship

Inspired by Psalm 133 and Isaiah 65

How very good and pleasing it is
when people come together
through wireless routers
and cables buried in the earth
to pop up on each other’s screens
with a familiar smile that remind us
again that we your people, O God, 
are made for community.

We dwell together in harmony.
Or at least we tried
after servers crashed
and internet was lost
when we wanted most
to be together and praise 
your wonder and grace.
We tried so hard, O God.

And now, now
we are all together again
in the same place to 
worship and praise
so that it really does 
feel like expensive oil 
poured over our heads,
running down our collarbones
with blessing and joy.

There is such joy
today. There is delight
in this fellowship even 
when we know that all is 
not as it was. We are not 
the same people who last gathered
here in this blessed place.
We have become 
a new creation in your sight
and so we pray that our praise 
will have such movement
for the people we have become
and the God that has shown 
us how all things become new again. 

If this prayer sounds a tiny bit familiar, it is adapted from one I wrote in August of last year for Proper 15A when Psalm 133 was last in the Revised Common Lectionary. I want there to be something that recognizes what has been lost. There is a nod to it in the previous prayer but I imagine it will be strange to be gathered back together again and know that there are some missing. Some might still be online as many families with small children may well choose but more than 600,000 have died in the United States now. It’s hard to believe that that toll won’t impact churches in some way.

For those using an outdoor space, I wonder about using a fence to create a community weaving as part of this remembering. Maybe a shape like the church building or logo that could be filled in with scraps of colorful cloth or even yarn.

If this is happening in the sanctuary or far from a fence, a temporary loom could be constructed. People might need to be reminded to socially distance as music is played and they each come forward to add their bit of color but I don’t think it would take much more than a reminder. I think it’s worth the effort to make something beautiful to call us into this new creation.

Or if that all sounds too daunting because it’s been a hell of a year and you don’t have time for something so large scale, maybe steal this wedding guest book idea to make a large poster board that can be a focal point in the narthex or even in the worship space. I might tweak the language in the following prayer to draw a stronger connection to the chosen ritual.

Prayer for Re-Membering

Inspired by Ephesians 4:1-16

We have come this far 
with all humility and gentleness.
Or so we pray O God.
We pray we've had 
patience though
we know we did not
rest easy in this time apart.

We have been broken open 
by what we could not comprehend
and what has taken to many lives
so that we cannot look around
today without remembering
what we have lost. We pray
that we might truly bear one another
in love and grief and hope.

Today, O God, we pray
you will take the lonely remnants,
the frustration, the grief
and the shreds of hope
with re-member us 
into one body and spirit.

Gather who we once were
with what we have lost
and all that still remains uncertain
to equip us for ministry
and the building up of the body of Christ.
We have been so tossed and blown about 
by every kind of thing since we first 
heard the word coronavirus
and we need you, O God.

We need you to be above us all
and through us all 
and in every bit of this 
new creation we are 
becoming together.
There are variants 
and variables we cannot control
but we pray you will take our whole lives,
knit/graft us together 
and build us up in love
and truth. Amen. 

That’s all I’ve got for right now because my children are totally losing it. Still, I hope you’ll share your hopes and dreams for this regathering. Or if you have already shared in this reunion, please share with us what most inspired you about this first in-person worship.

I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Weaving Bridges by Laurie Wilson

Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth of July

I confess that I don’t really know the date. We have lived in this hotel for nearly a month now and I have lost all sense of time so that it was not evident to me that the calendar would soon turn to July. It was even less clear that the first Sunday of July would be none other than the patriotic holiday in the United States celebrating independence and freedom.

Nonetheless, I have started to see a number of clergy looking for something — anything else — to do on that Sunday when they don’t want the entire worship experience to be devoted to patriotic hymns. There has been so much work done already to remove the flag from the sanctuary and grapple with the history of these United States to let this be what happens on that Sunday. Of course.

I also see that a need and desire for a worship experience that doesn’t require preaching. Some of you are going on vacation. I am so elated for you, dear pastor. May it be a blessed rest but even if you are not so lucky to have a summer holiday, I wanted to offer something of an outline for worship on this holiday that isn’t a Christian celebration.

I suspect that the people in the pews that are eager to have such a celebration of Americana will not be too pleased to hear something like this poem at the beginning of worship though it’s one of the first I thought to use in this wandering through love inspired by Psalm 48. I hope these alternate selections might not cause too much discomfort but just enough to stir the heart.

Invitation

Inspired by Psalm 48

Today we come 
to worship and wonder
to praise and to glorify 
and to pause
to reflect
on what 
freedom rings
from sea to 
shining sea.

Today we come
after all that has 
happened and all that
still needs to become real
to ponder your 
steadfast love, O God.

We come today
to wonder how our 
praise might 
reach the ends 
of the earth.

Prayer of Illumination

Inspired by Psalm 48

Come, O Great Love.
Come into our hearts
and minds. Fill our bodies
with your strength
and hope. 

Come into the broken 
cracks of despair 
to find beauty. 

Come to fill 
our lungs with song 
and remind us how to sing
with your goodness
hanging on every note.

Come, O Great Love. 
Come into this place
and this moment. 
Come to guide us
into world
you imagine. 
Come. O Love, 
come and 
be here 
in this place.

Poem

Here in this place, poem becomes prayer. These are the first lines of the poem You Still Dream by Nikki Grimes. Hear these words of challenge and hope now.

Song

Prayer for the Work

O God, we might not have known
or understood what work needed to be done
before this long year of watching 
and waiting. We had wanted to believe 
that it wasn't this bad. It wasn't like this.

Now, O God, we know. We know
that there is work to be done
for your glory to reach 
the ends of the earth.

We pray your blessing
on our hands 
as we commit
again 
to the work 
of freedom 
and healing. 

We pray 
for your
grace and 
your guidance
for there is so much 
work to be done
in this land
of the free 
and the brave.
Amen.

Poem

Listen to Let America be America Again by Langston Hughes. You might not opt for the video but instead choose a young voice within your congregation read these words.

Quiet Meditation

Offer this invitation:

In the quiet stillness of this morning, let us sit with the discomfort of these words. Let us confess to God what only God can hear with grace. Let us ponder with the psalmist God’s steadfast love. Let us wonder what that love will do now in this nation and this world. Let us find your guidance together here in this place of quiet.

Poem

Share in hearing America the Beautiful Again by Richard Blanco. Though you may well choose someone within your community to read these words on Zoom or in-person, I recommend hearing it read in the poet’s voice in one of the extras for Richard Blanco’s appearance on OnBeing.

Song

It should feel different to sing or hear this favorite song after hearing this poem, but it might be interesting to adapt this reflection to wonder how this song urges us to do better right now.

That doesn’t mean that you need to do a sermon, dear pastor. You could ask a veteran, an elected official or a teenager to read this article essay and put to words their own response. Additional questions that they might explore might include:

  • What is your most vivid memory of this song? What made the song so powerful for that moment?
  • What lyric in this song most speaks to your sense of social justice right now?
  • What ideals are we still trying to achieve as a nation?
  • What is beautiful about where you come from?
  • How shall we sing?

Or you might skip right ahead to the prayer.

Prayer for the People

O Great Love, sing to us
of beauty. Remind us
of all of the places that 
we have called home
and how we have been shaped by
those fields and plains,
mountains and hills,
brooks and streams, 
rivers and oceans. 

Sing to us of this place
that we call America -- 
united and divided -- 
full of ideals and possibilities 
of what could be 
for all of the people
who call this land home.

Sing to us, O Great Love,
of the beauty of your people.
Invite us into their stories 
and let us praise you
again for the wonder
of your creation 
in each body and soul.

We grieve what 
has not yet come to be
and struggle with what 
we thought we knew. 
We grieve but we dream.
We still dream that 
love will change us.
Love will inspire us
to reach our ideals. 
Love will show us again
how much beauty there
is here in this place.

O God, our Great Love,
let us never tire 
of pondering your 
steadfast love. Let it 
be this wonder that 
guides the work of our hands
so that this love
encourages us 
to dream new dreams
that will truly change everything. 
Amen. 

Blessing Song

I’ve been wanting to use this song since it was released for Advent by The Many. It was intended to be used with the Sanctified Art worship series by the same name but I like how it picks up on the first poem. If you want to opt for something more traditional, you might opt for Be Thou My Vision.

There is so much goodness out there. I wanted to include this song that I adore so much but I feared it might be too much. Still, I love this video and I’m going to go ahead and share it because beauty should be shared.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I hope that whether you use the prayers, the poetry or the song suggestions or the whole thing, this is a blessing to you. Maybe it’s something you file away for next year when you actually get a vacation over this weekend. I pray you get the rest you need.

I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

I adore the repetition that the beloved community offers in trying to embody the call to love. It’s why my prayers these past few weeks have been drawn to the epistle first but it doesn’t quite reverberate with the way of the world right now.

There is too much despair in India. Too much death. Too much unknown as to how to care for the bodies and souls of these beloveds experiencing a second wave of this pandemic. We have comforted ourselves in the United States of America believing that the vaccine distribution is changing things but it is not exactly what we hoped. We have to redefine our understanding again. Herd immunity will not be the way. There will be another that will hopefully reach beyond the borders of one nation.

At times like these, we need to assume that we don’t have the answers. We don’t know the way but we are listening. We are learning what love does now.

Call to Worship
Inspired by 1 John 5:1-6 and John 15:9-17

Again, we come 
to learn about 
the way of love.

Again, we come
together in head
and in heart to discover
again how this abiding love
might conquer the world.

We have doubts.
We are uncertain
even how this love
abides in our own
heads and hearts.
We have not 
loved so well.

Again, we come 
to find the way
of love calling
us to bear fruit.

I like the way that last line hangs and offers a completely new image that is so foreign to most of us. Fruit trees might be in our backyards and we might rejoice in the appearance of their gifts but how do we bear fruit? Could the next moment of worship be something that meditates on this question of bearing fruit? Maybe there are visuals of fruit ripening on the vine and slow, gentle questions that encourage wondering about what this means in the gospel and in our lives.

Or if that sounds like too much work, I think you could also use Let Us Love that I created with the amazing talents of Work of the People a few weeks ago. It was written for an earlier chapter in the epistle but I think it would still work well here.

I know many of you are busy planning ahead and so I hope to send out my next newsletter for the next liturgical season that starts with Pentecost and stretches all the way through the summer. I’m making the leap from TinyLetter to Substack so this is a great time to join in this potluck of ideas and possibilities for the liturgical season ahead. You can sign up here.

I offer a lotus flower today in my constant prayers for India.

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

Pandemic Prayers for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

I have seen pictures appear in my feed of pastors taking that much needed break after Easter. Some didn’t go much further than their backyard but they have their feet up and they are relaxing. Others — having been fully vaccinated — are enjoying the pleasure of good friends and family for the first time in a long, long time.

It was at this time several years ago now that I was enjoying such company. It wasn’t just a break after Easter. I had invited all of my nearest and dearest to celebrate new life with me among the vines in Northern California. It was my thirty third birthday which was a big deal for me because it was at that age my mother had died. Most little girls dream of their wedding. I dreamt of the party I would throw for that fated birthday. It was everything that it needed to be and right now I miss all of those people so much.

It might also be that I can’t think about the true vine without thinking about how connected we are to the people that make our hearts sing. I wanted to play with that imagery and I’m also sharing a pastoral prayer that I wrote for a sermon series led by a pastor friend that not only drank wine with me all those years ago but teaches me still what love can do.

Prayer of Invocation
Inspired by 1 John 4:7-21

Come, Beloved,
to take up root 
in the tender 
soil of our lives. 

Graft with us
hope that 
will show us 
again what love
can do. Reveal 
to us that which 
is alive because
we have felt so 
dead. We have
felt so dead and buried
that is hard to know
how to come alive
so come. Come
to water us with 
possibility. Come, 
Beloved, so that
we might grow
in love. Amen.
Prayers of the People

O God, the heavens
and the earth have been shaken. 
We have felt unsteady and uncertain. 
We’ve been tempted 
to relish in the past
when everything seemed easier,
but things are not what they were. 

We are not 
where we were 
anymore. The world
looks different now. 
We are different.
Or so we pray
now that we find 
ourselves here 
in this new place of 
possibility and hope. 

It’s not what we imagined.
O God, it is nothing like 
we ever imagined 
hope would feel. We thought it
would be something else
that we find here 
in the promise of vaccines
and healing. There is so 
much to heal, O God. 

We have lost of many lives
to this virus. We have lost
lives that were untouched 
by the coronavirus 
but consumed 
by other diseases.
There has been 
so much death
and not enough 
hands to hold
in the loss we share. 

We have lost income
and financial security. 
Best made plans
dissolved with 
all our savings and 
we felt powerless 
as our favorite local businesses 
shuttered and closed. 

We have lost more, O God, 
but the list is so long
and you know
what has been on our hearts.
You have heard our prayers.
And what we really need 
now is courage. 
We need strength
and assurance
that love will guide us. Love has 
been guiding us. Love has never left us
but we might not believe it 
until we can see your shalom
take root. O God, lift our heads 
so that we might see
the wholeness and your people. 
Help us to see restoration
and even peace
on the other side 
of this pandemic. 

O God, give us the courage
for the work ahead. 
Abide with us. 
O God, abide with us.
Amen.

Whether or not you have switched to hybrid worship, you might encourage vaccinated groups of people to meet together and walk together using Resurrection Awe Strolls. As the world shifts again, this might be used to notice where new signs of life are appearing in your neighborhood and might even invite your people to think about new ministry opportunities in this new season.

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

Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Is it cheating to just share last year’s post on these familiar images of shepherds? Is it? Because I really like the prayers I wrote last year especially the one I wrote riffing on Rebecca Solnit’s essay.

Have you read her book on hope? It’s worth the read in the Easter season. Brainpickings offers a great peek into her inspirational words. It’s a work that keeps getting updated which I find heartwarming but I think this is the most recent edition.

No, of course I can’t do just share last year’s post. We are in a different moment in time and there is something more than our prayers need to say.

I confess to you, dear pastor, that there are times when I really want to open up to invite prayers as so many of you are posting on social media to encourage your good people. I want to know the prayers on your hearts when you are tending so much to the concerns of others. I am so curious what you are trying to imagine in this wild time when anything and everything is possible in how we worship — and you are doing all of it. You are doing multiple services to bring people together online and in person and give full glory to God and you just got through Easter. You are truly a wonder, dear pastor. I’m so grateful for you and I know that I am not the only one.

Though you have been busy shepherding, these prayers are not so focused on the Good Shepherd theme. Not exactly. I adore the Johannine epistles and so I am drawn there first.

Call to Worship
Inspired by 1 John 3:16-24

Little children, dear
children of God, let us find
ourselves here together
united in such heart
that we can
learn all that 
love does.

Love is 
more than words.
It is more than 
what we can say
but love has 
a movement.
It has a heartbeat 
and a pulse.

It is the rhythm
we seek to find
ourselves this morning
in our worship and praise
so that love might abide
in this fellowship
in this ministry
in this hope 
for the world.
Let us love.
This song is covered by the CCLI license.

I am thrilled to have partnered with The Work of the People to create an additional prayer for this Sunday. Let us Love continues my meditation on 1 John 3:16-24 where love feels like something we need to practice more. The gentle words of invitation in the epistle made me wonder again how little children first know what love does and how we might still be learning to practice this holy act.

As you may well already know, I cooked up this recipe Pandemic Easter Affirmations that might add some spice with new words from your community about what resurrection means now or you might encourage vaccinated groups of people to meet together and walk together using Resurrection Awe Strolls. As the world shifts again, this might be used to notice where new signs of life are appearing in your neighborhood and might even invite your people to think about new ministry opportunities in this new season.

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

Pandemic Prayers for the Third Sunday of Easter

It’s hard not to hear that last line in the Gospel Lesson and not instantly think of the trial surrounding George Floyd’s life. Or to recall the witnesses that stood there documenting the injustice that they had no control to change. I’m not sure about that. It seems that to witness always means that we have to get involved. We are never just a bystander — at least when it comes to matters of faith. It makes me wonder how we witness to this moment and how very stubborn hope can be.

While hiking with my children this week, I saw three of these cacti blossom with these fantastic bursts of joy. It felt like that. This part of the desert is used to yellow poppies interrupting the abundant brown at this time of the year but there hasn’t been enough rain. I was even told that there were not enough fires in the mountains this year for those poppy seeds to burst. There are still blooms though. The landscape is peppered with these tiny bursts of color. You just have to look a little harder. This prayer today is about how I am looking for resurrection in this Easter season.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 4

We are people 
of the resurrection 
who believe that 
the worst thing 
is never the last thing.
We have put our
hands and our hearts
into this hope
but the world 
is still is not as 
it should be.

We believe in possibility 
and renewal and it is
because of this that 
we still bellow
how long?

How long will
we allow this horrors
to persist? How long
will we love vain words
that do nothing to change
our corrupt systems?

We come, O Resurrecting One,
to share what keeps us up
at night and find a way
for the good. We know
that you are calling 
us to this work again.
We come together
to listen.

I also want to offer Brynn Saito’s poem Stone which was shared through the Atlantic Daily email this afternoon with 7 poems to read this spring. I can’t link to it apparently but you can subscribe here. Assistant Editor Megan Ome offers that this is a “poem that bears witness to Japanese internment from the perspective of a rock. Saito often explores Japanese American history through a personal lens, but here, she uses an inanimate object to help readers access the pain—and resilience—of those interned. This year, I’ve felt that the country has started to reckon more fully with its legacy of racism toward Asian Americans. Like the stone in this poem, I hope that more people will see themselves not as a bystander, but as a listener and an empath.” I hope so too.

If you are looking for a little something extra for this season, I cooked up this recipe Pandemic Easter Affirmations during Lent that might add some spice with new words from your community about what resurrection means now or you might encourage vaccinated groups of people to meet together and walk together using Resurrection Awe Strolls. As the world shifts again, this might be used to notice where new signs of life are appearing in your neighborhood and might even invite your people to think about new ministry opporturtunities in this new season.

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

Pandemic Prayers for the Second Sunday of Easter

I hope and pray that you have this Sunday off. I hope that you are enjoying rest and renewal after proclaiming the good news with such love and joy.

I hope that you have found some way to curate worship that doesn’t involve you having to edit videos this week together to create a worship experience for your good people but that extended time of rest that you so need might not have come yet. It might be in the days ahead and even if you are off caring for your soul, the people of God will still gather to worship so here are some prayers for that low Sunday following Easter joy.

Call to Worship
Inspired by 1 John 1:1-2:2

From the very beginning
when the world was 
still without shape 
there was joy.

There was the light
of love that shone
through the expectation 
of what could be 
and what we dared 
to believe would be.

What we have heard,
what we have seen,
what we have looked
at and touched 
with our hands
has revealed
that possibility.

It is this beginning
in which we find
ourselves where
still so much could
happen and so much 
could be possible. 
It is in this wonder
that we worship
and praise.

We come together
again to find our joy 
complete. 

I wrote a Call to Worship based on Psalm 133 last summer that might be an option if this prayer doesn’t strike the right note fro what you are imagining. It might need some slight tweaking since the world has changed some since then. Thanks be to God.

Gathering Prayer
Inspired by Acts 4:32-35 and 1 John 1:1-2:2

O God, there is so much that 
we don't know. We have doubted.
We haven't been sure that 
there would be good news
or that joy could ever be complete.

We haven't believed with
one heart and soul. We weren't
even sure we had anything to share
but we believe that resurrection
changes us all. We are not yet
complete. Our joy is not yet 
complete and this is good news.
There is more, O God, that 
you will show us. We pray
for your wisdom and grace
in this time of rebirth. Amen.

There is only one line here that hints at the Gospel Lesson for this week. It’s a text I’ve preached often after the Senior Pastor proclaimed the important stuff on Easter. Ahem. It is not that it is not worthy of focus but I think that we know this story well. We know doubt and especially now as we live into this liminal space where some are vaccinated and others are not, it is hard not to doubt when this crisis will end. If you are looking not to preach this Sunday, you might share this award winning short animation film which is about the same length as a sermon after hearing the Gospel Lesson.

It seems so many of the videos that are out there focus on self doubt. After showing this film, I would encourage discussion in breakout rooms in a Zoom format or if you are streaming worship you might provide questions for quiet contemplation that appear on screen with background music. Questions might include:

  • Where or when does your hedgehog show up?
  • What do you imagine was the moment behind Thomas’ hedgehog? What is the moment behind yours?
  • Where is there a hedgehog in our community or even in our congregation right now?
  • What surprises await us in this season of resurrection?

You know your people well enough to know what can get them talking and thinking. I offer these to get you thinking. They are far from perfect. I hope that this conversation pushes beyond self doubt and allows for some naming of the pandemic doubts we are all carrying right now.

As you look ahead, or even for this week, I cooked up this recipe Pandemic Easter Affirmations during Lent. The pastor of my sweet Texas church used it to write a lovely affirmation for Easter Sunday and I encouraged her to recruit the elders — who already post weekly prayers in our congregation’s Facebook group — to write their own affirmations to carry us all through the season. I don’t know if it will happen but I offer the same encouragement to you. I am certain there are some wise souls in your church that have a gentle way of reminding the gathered community what matters and I’m sure they would love to offer the blessing of their words especially so that you, dear pastor, do not always have to be the one with words.

You might also encourage getting out of the house even among the unvaccinated with this recipe for Resurrection Awe Strolls. Easter is, after all, a season. Not just one day.

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

Pandemic Prayers for the Resurrection

Hope comes again despite all that has happened.

The worst thing is not the last thing. There is still more that God will do.

There is still more that God is doing and I pray that is especially true for you, dear pastor, after a whole year of curating worship, fellowship and care remotely. I pray you are finding that there is newness. There is a sense of the possible and even an opening to wonder. I pray you already found inspiration in my thoughts in Holy Week in Coronatide but I wanted to offer something more pepper your worship on this most holy of days and the days that follow.

Likewise, Maren Tirabassi again offers a liturgy for Holy Communion for those gathering around the table on the Resurrection Day that could easily work for the following week with little or no adaptation. Those that subscribe to my newsletter know that I shared this liturgy that includes communion from another talented United Church of Christ clergy.

I’m grateful for Elizabeth Palmer who helped me find words for these prayers.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Mark 11:1-11 and John 20:19-31

When we thought it was over,
there was another wave.

When we believed 
change had finally come,
there was another shooting.
Another black body
was dead in the street.

When we told ourselves
that the worst was behind us,
it happened again.
We shut the doors
on possibility in our terror.
That feeling has seized us 
again and again.

Again and again, we have 
come to believe that 
resurrection 
still happens.
This is what 
we come to see.
It is what we 
need to see today. 

This is our joy today.
Resurrection
still happens.
This is what 
we celebrate.

This is one of the songs from a very short playlist of Easter music on YouTube I created for Easter. It is not something you should stream in worship as far as I can tell but it’s just so good. We all need this kind of joy. Learn more about these talented artists singing for the resistance here.

Pastoral Prayer for the Resurrection
Inspired by Mark 11:1-11

O God, however tempted
we might be to stop in the fear, 
we know that this terror 
is not all there is. It is 
not all there will ever be
for even in the terror
there is amazement. 

There is good news
that cannot not be shared
because joy
teaches us what
is possible. O God, we
have seen your wonder
this year in the fellowship
we've found through our modems
and the community we've continued
to build. We have found joy
in [name particular joys in your life together].

Joy won't stick around
forever. It comes in a moment. 
It is unexpected and maybe 
that's why it alarms us.
It rolls back our expectations 
and urges us to stay. To stay
and see this thing
that is happening just
as we are trying to witness
to [name particular injustices in our world and in your community].

O God, our eyes are open
to what could be for 
we know that this is
not the end. This is not 
where your good news ends
with the disciples fleeing
from the tomb in fear
but there is more to this
good news that begins
with you and me. Joy is like that.
It pushes us onward. It reminds
us again that there is goodness in this world.
There is goodness and joy and love
even with all that terrorizes
and overwhelms.
We will not let
the worst stop 
us from finding 
the promise of resurrection
because resurrection
still happens. It is happening right now.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

There are a thousand things on your plate and the last thing that you might have been worried about was the Egg Hunt that a faithful volunteer plans every year. I hope that that kind soul followed through this year but if you find that you are frantically trying to make this happen, this Pandemic Easter Egg Hunt might help. You might also opt to extend the storytelling of this good news with a pageant in the season of Easter because why not. You can find the one that I co-wrote especially for this pandemic year here. If you are eager to encourage your people to find words to this hope, you might encourage them to write Pandemic Easter Affirmations.

Over on Instagram, I’m offering daily prayer practices especially for you, dear pastor, in the chaos that is this week. Sometimes I even post them on other socials. Sometimes. You can follow along with @pandemic.prayers if you’re on Instagram.

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