Pandemic Prayers for Proper 16

That pressing question that Jesus asks of his followers just didn’t grab me when I first read it this week. It didn’t hit the nerve that it usually did perhaps because I need a Messiah to be vivid and real for me right now. Dear friends have joked that they’ve steered away from the inherent goodness in all people in this pandemic. Their theologies have now skewed more toward depravity. It feels like there is so much depravity in humanity right now. I’m not sure where I am in my theological wonderings when it comes to humanity, but when it comes to God and the Son of the living God, I need them to be everything especially in this pandemic.

I wasn’t sure where to go with these words in liturgy until I read Liddy Barlow’s reflection for Sunday’s Coming. She grabbed me first with a favorite place where I used to shared so many pastoral visits wandering around those rocks, sunrise services, bible studies and so much more as my first call was just down the street from Fort Williams Park, but it was her language about stones that truly inspired these prayers and ideas.

Gathering into Worship

I might begin worship with something as simple as this video. It’s only 30 seconds long so it might need to played on a loop.

Or maybe it’s played on a loop while the church musician plays something more familiar like The Church’s One Foundation or God is our Fortress and our Rock. Or perhaps a more secular song like this might better suit your context. (You would, of course, need to triple check on copyright issues there.) Or perhaps the above clip plays before these words are offered as an invitation.

Call to Worship

We come
wobbly
and unsteady.
We come
feeling
like sand
that might wash
away in the tides
rather than the firm
bedrock that
God needs for us
to be the church.
Still, we come.
We come to balance
upon each other’s hope
and thank God that
that there is a more solid
place to steady our hearts.
We come to praise
our rock and our redeemer
with all our rough
and jagged edges.
We come.
We come
to worship
and wonder.

I also really like this Call to Worship by the very talented and funny Joanna Harader. Though it’s not Easter and this would need to be adapted, I think this would be a fun option too especially if you opt for the Mumford & Sons.

Confession and Assurance

While I like a wordy lead in to the prayer of confession that reminds the gathered body (meaning me, honestly) why we do this every week, it seems awkward in digital formats. It leaves me wondering how much people are actually praying that prayer. So I’m opting for just a confession meant to be shared in unison.

Prayer of Confession

Rock of Hope, we have doubted
that the church could thrive
when our physical doors remain closed.
We have questioned
what we thought we knew
about you, O God.
We have bumped into
hard places
and we haven’t
believed that
more good could come.
We see only disaster ahead.
Forgive us, Rock of Hope,
and redeem us with your
steady faith
for all that
you have created.

Assurance of Grace

Blessed are you, the Rock of Hope calls out.
Blessed are you for telling the hard truth
and trusting that love will find you again on the other side.
Blessed are you, dear child of God,
for on your rocky faith, God still builds the church.
You are forgiven. You are loved.
This is the good news that will never end. Amen.

Another Thought

Last year, I wrote a liturgy for my little Texas church around a Robert Frost poem. I called it A Service to Break Down Walls. There was a ritual action in the service where the gathered community got to deconstruct a wall and take a stone to carry through the season of Lent.

I can’t remember if this actually happened on the last time I was ever in that building because my daughter vomited in the middle of the service but I wonder if this could be adapted for this moment particularly for congregations that are struggling with political division charged by factions fueled by QAnon or whatever else. There’s a lot right now and it is only more intense because of this liminal space we find ourselves in.

The interim in me wonders if the Robert Frost poem could be read after or even in concert with the Gospel Lesson. The meditation that follows could be constructing a wall which would involve you having to have rocks and a table in front of you. You could talk about the ways the universal church has stumbled, the boulders of sin that we have carried personally (maybe even focusing on present or past leadership, pastoral or otherwise), the faults of this particular church or some combination of in laying down each stone. You could adapt the Call to Repentance in that service to pick up on themes in the Gospel Lesson and then slowly remove stones as we remember what needs to be repaired and mended in the season of Coronatide. It would need to be tinkered with for your context and your people but it might be something that would help you to name some hard things and not have to preach a traditional sermon.

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.

A Simple Graveside Ritual

Graveside services are often very, very short. Some simple prayers are repeated by the presiding minister. Tears are shed, but there isn’t much else for the grieving family to do. There is nothing asked of them. There’s no action for them to take.

What if that’s what the family needs most? They need something to do, something that will express their grief beyond the words that are said. They need some action. A ritual could change that. It could allow for the grieving family to move beyond the words and allow their grief to have movement.

It was movement that I was looking for when I sat down to imagine the graveside and memorial service for my husband’s grandmother a fewweeks ago. The words didn’t say enough. They didn’t say it all. Where the words failed, I wanted there to be something else to allow the family to move with their grief.

I wasn’t looking for more words. I’ve done that before. I’ve added a scripture or an opportunity for the family to share stories through laughter and tears at the graveside, but I wanted something more than words. I wanted an action. For whatever reason, I got to thinking about stones. I remembered that there is a tradition that people will often leave stones on the tombstone of their beloved when they visited the grave but I couldn’t find what I really wanted. I couldn’t find some ritual around this tradition, so I wrote my own.

The stones laid down for Joy

It is simple. It invites the grieving family to lay down stones upon the gravestone. To lay down their regrets, their grievances and most importantly to lay down their love.

The stones we used had appropriate “bling” for Joy. She loved to wear anything that sparkled. So the stones we used required a trip to the craft store in order to bedazzle them appropriately to fit the radiant soul she was in life. Any stones can be used for this. Plain stones pulled from your garden would work fine, but it might be meaningful to personalize it. I can imagine painted stones by grandchildren for the man that loved children, American flag painted stones for veterans, stones wrapped in fat quarters for the avid quilter or wrapped in yarn for a knitter. There could be so many other possibilities.

This ritual follows a beautiful responsive reading from Kathy Galloway’s The Pattern of Our Days in which the gathered repeat “we lay you down.” I offer it here in the hope that others might find it meaningful for their

Laying Down Stones

Minister: Looking around a cemetery anywhere in the world, you might notice stones resting upon the headstones. There may be lots of stones from several visits. Or from when a whole family went to the grave together. Or there may be one single stone perched upon their loved one’s final resting place.

It’s an act of love to place that stone, cementing the relationship that continues even after death. Love never ends. It goes on and on.

Today, like every other day you come to visit your mother, your grandmother, your sister and your dear friend, I invite you to leave a stone. To mark the visit with a symbol of your love. Place this hardened earth upon her grave to remember that love never ends.

Though there may be ordinary stones in the future, red stones from Utah or polished creek stones from Kansas or even a pebble found on your way to work, today you’re invited to leave stones with bling. It’s how Joy would want it.

 

Minister invites gathered congregation to come forward, take a stone and place it on the gravestone. Silence may be appropriate.

I offer this ritual as part of Ingredients for Worship. If you use this ritual, and I hope you do, don’t forget to change the places and names so that it is meaningful for the family to whom you’re ministering. (I know, you would never forget.) Please do share what you’ve cooked up for graveside services in the comments below! I’d love to hear other ideas.