Pandemic Prayers for the Second Sunday of Advent

Last week, I shared my own candle lighting liturgy for Advent but then Maren Tirabassi posted this beautifully simply liturgy inspired by Howard Thurman and I love it. If you haven’t chosen something because you’re exhausted and it’s Thanksgiving and all of the other things that are taking up your time, go and find this wonder.

I was also delighted to find these offertory prayers by Joanna Harader in my email a few days ago. These are just delightful and a blessing to hand off to any nervous layleaders that aren’t quite sure how to find words of their own. (This is a compliment to you, dear pastor. You do such an amazing job crafting worship that these dear souls only want to addd to your hard work. They might not have the words for it so I’m here to remind you.)

This is that Sunday where John steps into the murky river waters and starts pointing fingers. It’ll happen again in the early weeks of January and I like that full story told then. Here, I want hints of what it means to welcome such change.

I found myself singing this after reading the lections for this week. This is a quiet, meditative version that could work for the beginning of worship if your licenses allow use of it. It might lead into the following call to worship.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Baruch 5:1-9

It is morning and 
sleep still clings to our eyes.

It is morning and 
there are new wonders
awaiting our tired eyes.

It is morning and 
we have shuffled into 
the living room to find
community and praise 
before we've really prepared
for the day. We cling to
our mugs and sip on hope
because sorrow and affliction
clung to us all night. It has wrapped
us up and held tight for too long.
We are ready for something else.

It is morning and 
we are ready to put on Jesus.
Let us put on our robes of splendor
and may God show us glory in
every thing under heaven.

It is morning and
we are ready for glory.

Could there be a wee hint of those angels singing from Angels We Have Heard on High here? Why not? Really, bring on the glory. We all need it. Or at least I need it. I also really like Jesus, O What a Wonderful Child but I can’t find a version that I like.

As I wonder about singing in these Advent days, I wondered about what would lead to singing a Nunc Dimittis. It’s so often used as a blessing or even a funerary song as this collection of variations from Natalie Sims reveals. I wanted it to be something else for those other moments of worship when we are not sure how to praise but we want to find God’s peace. I wrote this thinking that it might lead toward singing one of these songs. Or maybe just listening to a soloist sing as it is in these pandemic days.

Sometimes Prayer for Peace
Inspired by Luke 1:68-79

Sometimes it is hard 
to remember all that is promised
and imagined to be with
God's glory. Sometimes
we forget or we are 
just too tired from another 
restless, sleepless night
so full of worry for the world.

Sometimes we are not
sure what blessing 
looks like or feels like.
We get stuck on what it was 
back then so that it feels
impossible to find now.

Sometimes it doesn't feel
like anything will ever change.

That is when it is too hard
and we need a tender hand 
to hold. We need to know 
that we are not alone in 
these shadows and frustrations.
We need to remember
that God is with us
just as God has always
been with us leading 
us to the peace 
we need most.

Sometimes this 
is what peace feels
like. Sometimes it 
is just like this.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

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

Pandemic Prayers for the First Sunday of Advent

It was just yesterday that I was in a Zoom meeting daydreaming about what Advent might look like in 2022 with my collaborators at Seasons of the Spirit FUSION. It was such a fun conversation with so many ideas on how we might claim ritual and community in whatever stage of the pandemic we might be then.

Pandemic Lighting of the Advent Wreath

I’ve already been daydreaming about this year. Hopefully, you’ve already found the Pandemic Lighting of the Advent Wreath I wrote for multiple voices and storytelling within your church community. It will 110% work on Zoom but it will take some extra planning. That might not be what you need to hear, dear pastor. You might be looking for something simple and easy to cut and paste.

I wrote the following prayers for that reason and though they’re intended to pair with the wreath lighting I wrote last month, you could opt for this beautiful Advent Wreath liturgy infused with poetry by my friend Martha Spong. It’s written for the Narrative Lectionary but I still think that it works for the mood of this year. Another Narrative Lectionary version written by another friend is this God-With-Us Advent Candle Lighting but if you’re not interested in reworking anything then there is this one from NEXT Church.

I find myself wanting there to be singing perhaps because I still haven’t felt that wonder of singing together in worship. It’s an active part of my pandemic grief and I long for a song to sing that will make sense for the living of these days when I’m exhausted by the waiting and wondering what Christmas will look like this year when it seems that lockdown is just around the corner here in Germany. I find myself — again — leaning into our most ancient hymns for lyrics to stir my heart.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 25:1-10 and Luke 21:25-36

Come, lift your hope 
to listen for the singing
echoing from the hills.

Come, lift your wonder
to hear the gentle humming 
of neighbors and friends
needing a song to sing.

There are angels
announcing good news
here and there and everywhere. 

Come, come and join 
the song. God leads you in truth. 
God sings to you with wonder.
Come, lift your voice and sing. 

Advent is one of those seasons where we want to sing the familiar hymns that we have sung for so long. Full disclosure: they are some of my favorites. There are even some who think that this is a time to sing carols. Tsk tsk. I don’t even know if I am kidding about that anymore. Is that a hardline to hold? I remain uncertain especially in this second year of the pandemic but this particular invitation to worship makes me wonder about this hymn that isn’t commonly heard in Advent.

There’s a version of this that has been made popular by John Bell but I rather like this recording and confess I have no idea what the permissions might be for this talented choir. According to Hymnary, it appears in quite a few hymnals so that might help you out. I love chants like this one as they can be learned and repeated throughout the worship service.

As you look beyond Advent, you might be looking for new poems to tell the story on Christmas Eve or during Christmastide. It’s a list I update every year — but I haven’t done so yet. Last year, I also shared this Lessons and Carols Service in Coronatide and this year I created this Pandemic Fireside Prayers for Christmas to use in on that Sunday immediately following Christmas Eve.

There are other wonders in my kitchen for Advent and Christmas and if you sign up for my email list, you’ll be the first to know about this new release I’ve linked to way too many times. I’m putting final touches on it now so get excited!

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

Pandemic Fireside Prayers for Christmas

There are other things that might be done on Christmas Eve. I have a few options in my kitchen for your pandemic planning. This might not be that.

It could be. You know your people best and what might work to best share this good news but I imagined this service for the days after Christmas Eve when we are still trying to share this story in a way that makes it come alive. This year, after all of the presents are unwrapped and you’ve taken a nice long nap, it’s Sunday again. It will be a low attendance Sunday and you might not want to even push out into the cold to lead worship. (I know you love what you do, dear pastor. You’re allowed to have days like this too.) I imagined this service for Zoom where no one has to bother leave the house.

It is a service that turns back to the story you heard on Christmas Eve and doesn’t opt for the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary that day. It’s not something I do often but I wanted to hear the Christmas story again. Maybe because I can’t hear it enough. I’d encourage you to find spaces in this service after words are shared to listen to the crackling fire together. Allow that meditation to be what it is in the comfort and hope that we need.

Ten hours is surely way too much fireplace action but it might be fun to have this in the welcome screen for those that don’t have fireplaces at home. It might even remain in the spotlight through the Zoom worship experience so that it really feels like we are all gathered around the fire.

Invitation to Worship

Curl up by the fire
and feel the warmth
of the Spirit in
your body and soul.

Gather here
with compassion
and kindness after 
when it seems 
like the celebration
might be over. Everything 
has been unwrapped
but we still long 
to tell this story 
of wonder and
hope. We still 
need hope. 

Stretch out 
and relax for
God is here
and invites us 
to worship and praise.

Poem

Imagine us all together gathered around this fire sharing stories and imagining what could be. Feel the comfort of gathering together all in one place where we can share what this good news means. Listen for the movement of the Spirit in your heart and in the faces of those warmed by the fire as you hear these words of hope and wonder from Wendell Berry in his poem Remembering That It Happened Once.

Song

This version of O Come All Ye Faithful by Audrey Assad may or may not be covered by your licenses. Please remember to check before using any artist’s work.

Prayer

O God, we come.
We come adoring
and uncertain for what 
to do with this good news. 
It's a story we love to hear
and one we tell again and again
in song and story but this year
it needs to be more than a story.
Come, O God, give us
new understanding
of this birth today. 
We pray in your hope.
Amen.

Scripture

This is the story we hear every Christmas Eve before the lights are dimmed and Silent Night is sung. It’s the same story we hear Linus share to disrupt the commercialization of the play in A Charlie Brown Christmas and the story we still long to hear told with wonder of what it could mean around this fire.

Hear again the story of Christmas as Luke tells it in Chapter 2.

It might be fun to share this story from a less familiar translation like this one by Richard Swanson.

Story

This is one of those stories that you’ve probably heard many times before but it’s one of those stories that is meant to be shared around the fire. This is a YouTube version of the 195 recording of Paul Harvey reading it but you can easily find Man and the Birds in many places on the internet, and perhaps in your own files.

Song

YouTube won’t let me post the video here but I really like this version of Joy to the World (You Are My Joy) by the Rend Collective. It may or may not be covered by your licenses. Please remember to check before using any artist’s work.

Shared Story

There is joy in these songs, poems and stories and it reminds of of other joys. It reminds of us of other Christmases and other times that we have felt like this is what it really means. This is what it’s all about. As you feel the Spirit lead, unmute yourself and share a glimpse of that time when Christmas had new meaning for you. Share your story around the fire.

If your congregation hasn’t done this kind of sharing in the passing of the peace or in the prayers, this will be clunky and awkward. It’s OK. Simply remind people to re-mute themselves after speaking and enjoy in the sharing.

Song

Prayers for Christmas

Holy One, we are humbled 
by what you can do 
for it surprises us
again and again
that a child 
could change
our whole world.

It challenges our
privilege and comfort
to hear that it was a poor one
that dismantled the powers
we still assume 
should lead. 

Remind is again
what love can do
when it lives and breathes
for we know that there
is still much hurt
among your people...
as this pandemic still rages... 
as lives have been lost...
and creation withers...
when we resist justice...
and fail to understand
what it might mean 
for Christ to live
in our flesh...

You have come into
this world, O Christ Child, and illuminated
the way ahead with mystery and grace.
Fill creation and our very lives 
with justice and mercy
as only your love can do.

Be our hope again
as we imagine what this 
good news will do to change 
our hearts and mind this year. 
Amen.

I really don’t like writing blessings that others might say. I feel like it comes from you and your love for your people and I know you love your people, dear pastor. You have proven that again and again in this pandemic. So I end this service with this prayer knowing that you will fill in the rest with blessing in song or in words.

My newsletter went out today with all of my thoughts and wonderings for Advent and Christmas. If you missed it in your email, you can find it here. (This link sends you to the sign up page but if you click on Let Me Read First you can see if you want this in your inbox in the future.)

I shared at the very end of that email that I’m working on a new liturgy for those first weeks of January after you’re exhausted from Christmas and have no new ideas but it’s still Christmas and there is still something magical about how we tell these stories. I’m calling it New Year Epiphanies and hope to release it soon.

I’m praying for you, dear pastor, and the ministry you offer this season. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 11

As you may know, I recently moved. I’m in a new place where the landscape and the unbearable heat (even though I’ve now lived in Texas for three years) make this place feel so foreign and strange. I live in a new construction home which is something I’ve avoided for 41 years. The houses all look the same in my neighborhood and it pushes me to think about diversity in creation, people and, yes, even houses.

I feel dislocated on top of the isolation that I’ve felt for the past four months. I’m now in a place where I don’t know my neighbors. I don’t have friends or family that I can socially distance visit so that I’m instantly drawn into that Psalm. I long for the familiar: to be known and loved. I miss that.

It’s where my heart leads. I wonder how many might feel the same at this moment.

Gathering Together

I love this Opening Prayer by my friend Teri Peterson so much that I’m tempted to not write my own. Or I might take this video suggestion from Singing on the Lectionary to begin worship (or maybe use in the time for children) to learn this song in English and American Sign Language.

I want there to be art. Maybe that includes Vincent Van Gogh’s The Sower with the accompanying reflection by Liam O Comain as Suzanne Guthrie suggested last week to begin worship because I want to see myself among the scattered seeds. Or maybe you just watch this guy garden in some mix of silence and words of poetry, scripture or words like these that follow. (You probably have some gardeners in your community and could make a better version of this too, right? Because you totally have time for that. Kidding.)

Gathering Words
Inspired by Psalm 139 and Romans 8:12-25

We have groaned
so much as the days and weeks
have added up
and the frustrated
arguments have escalated
about whether or not to wear a mask.
All of creation has groaned
with us and we are waiting
still. Our backs are tired.
Our knees are weak
and we shudder to wonder
what it means now
to reap what we sow.
O God, search us.
Search us out in this
time of worship
and wonder.
Know that we are looking for you
in every tiny plant
growing in our gardens
and the cracks in the sidewalk.
Sit down beside us
and dial in
so that we might rise
with you in hope and love.
Lead us on your way
again, O God. Amen.

Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Grace

These prayers have been adapted for some I wrote for an interim season at the United Christian Church of Austin. I wrote these prayers as a volunteer because I could help in this small way and when I concluded this service, I received a card thanking me that included a celebration especially of hearing the words poopy diapers in a prayer. Well, it’s here for you too. This is my reality and maybe now the image at the top makes sense.

Call to Confession

We have been led together to this very moment
where it feels like God is both near and far,
when we wonder what the future might hold.
Let us confess our fears together.

Prayer of Confession

O God, we never feel ready for the good news.
It comes in a trumpet blast one morning
and we can’t help but feel like we should have done more to prepare.
We have our excuses: too old, too young, too many poopy diapers,
too little money, too immunocompromised,
not enough hours in the day, not really believing
that it’ll matter; but you know the truth, O God.
We don’t ever really feel like we could be called but we are.
You have searched us and known us and you know that
we are called to this moment. We will be the ministers of the future.
We are called to this.
O God, forgive us for all our self doubt.

Assurance of Grace

Who hopes for what they cannot see?
We hear the complaint in the epistles and our own tongues
but let anyone with ears listen. God knows your heart
and God forgives your fears. You are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

What I haven’t tackled in these words is the repetition of the word slavery. It should for American Christians push us to wrestle with our nation’s history of enslaving black and brown people. It should challenge us how we preach these words as good and force us into an uncomfortable place again. To that end, I commend The Word Is Resistance to you in particular to delve into these sacred words that can lead to such sin. The Rev. Anne Dunlap, who hosts the podcast, offers several other excellent resources if you follow the link.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I’ll be guest preaching next Sunday so you can expect that I’ll be more on top of things next week.

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

Silent Prayers for All Saints Day

As #metoo trends on social media, and stories that have been kept as secrets are spoken aloud, I’m keenly feeling the hurt and trauma that has made so many quiet for so many years. The resounding chorus that seems to lash out in response to say “you’re doing it wrong” or even worse “I don’t believe you” makes these conversations unsafe, even terrifying.

Terror brings more silence. It breaks relationship and isolates those that tried to tell their truth.

A response is necessary. It’s important, but at moments like these, I find myself wondering how we listen more than what we say. Perhaps, when fires have charred the earth in the Pacific Northwest and California and hurricanes have wreaked havoc upon the people of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and God only knows where else, we would do better not to explain or rationalize but simply to listen. To listen for what God might say about these things.

And so, I’ve been thinking about this liturgy I wrote last year — one with song and silence that I created to solve the problem of what to do without a church musician. I’ve adapted that liturgy here for All Saints Day because it feels that as we remember the saints — and even find the courage to believe that we ourselves are saints — we need a bit more silence to grasp the holy mystery that God invites us to enter every day.

It doesn’t name explicitly the context I’ve just offered. I struggled to write words for a prayer of intercession, but I’m not sure there are words that speak to what I’d hope this worship experience might offer. Depending upon the congregation, I might adapt this with an invitation to worship or I might add a prayer that speaks more concretely to the hurt and confusion that so many are feeling right now.

The full liturgy follows below. It requires only a tiny bit of preparation including gathering all of the candles you can find in the church and arranging them around the communion table. Provide a couple tapers or some other source of lighting candles for the middle of the service. You’ll also need a bell. A youth might be recruited to do this, but be careful that it is not a joyful ringing but a more somber affair.

Opening Words from Revelation 7:9-12

Offered by Worship Leader, read from preferred Biblical translation

Shared Silence for the Great Multitude

Offered by Worship Leader or printed in the bulletin

No one could count the number of people from every nation and tribe, these people came robed in white, speaking different languages to sing their praises to God. Find yourself, seated right where you are, in that great multitude and wonder what might make you feel like singing of the glory, wisdom, blessing or power of God at this moment.

Prayer of Invocation

Offered by Worship Leader

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!

Holy One, from your throne or just seated here beside us, we invite you to come close to hear the hopes and prayers on our hearts. Come to hear what we have dared to speak aloud and what is so heavy upon our hearts that we’ve retreated into silence, refusing to utter one world. Come to listen. Come to pray with us on this day, with all of your saints at the table you have prepared for us, so that we might hear more than our own thoughts and ideas, more than our own good intentions and pearls of wisdom, more than our own confessions and truths, but to hear from you in the quiet.

In the silence, Holy One, let us spend more time listen more than we speak. Let us strain our voices to sing of your glory, wisdom and power and let the silence settle again so that we might listen for your response. Let us listen for your grace.

Ring bell three times.

Prayer for Presence (Unison)

Holy One, what we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is this: you are here. You are listening.
Let us become fully present to your glory, your wisdom,
your power and your blessing.

Ring bell once.

Shared Silence for Presence

Hymn In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful

Reading from 1 John 3:1-3

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

O God, we struggle to keep silent. We crave a quiet place away from the busyness of the world, but even as we grant ourselves that space, it is hard to slow down, to see what your love has given us, to believe that we could be your saints. Saints are patient, brave and true. They toiled and fought and lived and died for the love they found in you, but we’re not so sure that same glory will be revealed in our own lives. We do not feel like your children, never mind your saints. Our mouths are too big. Our words are too pointed. Forgive us, O God. Come into this silence so that we might hear from you. Turn us away, this day, from our doubts and our criticisms. Let us hear you speak to us words of love and life. Help us to choose that blessing from you rather than the curses we place upon ourselves.

Shared Silence for Confession

Words of Assurance (Responsive)

Through every silence, may we hear this blessing:
In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

Hymn A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing

Reading from Matthew 5:1-12

Ringing of the Bells

Offered by Worship Leader

Ring bell once.

Jesus saw the crowds, the great multitude robed in white, wanting to sing their praises and offer blessings yet unspoken. From high up on the mountaintop, Jesus gave them words for their praise, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are those who mourn…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the meek…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the merciful…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the pure in heart…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Ring bell three times.

Where Jesus speaks, we are silent, ever uncertain how to name aloud the blessed saints that have graced our lives and changed this world. They are the peacemakers, the merciful and the meek in whose company we hope to be. We invite their memory and even their presence into this place by lighting candles not only to remember the blessing they have been but to remember the blessing we hope to be revealed in us.

Invite the great multitude to come forward and light candles for the saints in silence. After all have returned to their seats, ring the bell three times.

Hymn We Sing for All the UnSung Saints

Shared Silence for Holy Communion

begin with a bare table
put table-cloth on the communion table
bring up Bible
take, hold up and show congregation, place on table
bring up candles
place on table and light
bring up cross
take, hold up and show congregation, place on table
bring up loaf
take, hold up and show congregation
hold hand over loaf as sign of blessing
hold loaf up high and tear it in two
bring up wine and chalice
take, hold up and show congregation, place on table
pour wine from chalice into cup
hold hand over chalice as sign of blessing
hold up bread and wine
quietly say: “As our Savior taught us, together we pray:”

Prayer of our Savior

Sharing of the Bread and Cup

Shared Silence for Thanksgiving

Hymn For All the Saints

Closing Words from Revelation 7:13-17

Benediction (Unison)

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor and power
and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!

If you use this liturgy in your worship or even a single prayer as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear how you use this service — especially if you choose alternate hymns or make other tweaks for your congregation.

Prayers for Palm and Passion Sunday

Years ago, when I was still pastoring in Maine and also writing liturgy for the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways, I wanted to find some way to honor both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. The church was accustomed to only doing Palm Sunday because there would be other services both for children and adults later in the week. The year before we did both and it felt so strange, even to me. I wanted to find another way to do it — some way that honored the complexity of these days.

It’s not an easy story to tell and for so much that happens there is no adequate explanation. There is no way to make sense of it. It is why I have titled this complete liturgy No Answer and why I’ve decided to repost it here — not only because it answers the call that I hear my clergy colleagues making as they plan for Holy Week but because rereading this liturgy again spoke something new and fresh to me in these days.

Unlike other Ingredients for Worship, where I offer a few prayers for worship, this is an entire liturgy for Palm and Passion Sunday. It combines silence and story from Mark 11:1-11 and Mark 14:1-15:47. Using passages adapted from the NRSV, this liturgy provides the opportunity for lay leaders to share the story from the Gospel of Mark. Each reading concludes with a statement “Come…” to respond to the story in silence or song. Following the story of the Last Supper, there is a brief, optional, service of Holy Communion.

Call to Worship (inspired by Isaiah 50:4-9a)

Come. Come seeking words.
Come to let your tongue give praise.
Come. Come to find your voice.
Come to hear the response.
Come. Come to open your ears.
Come to listen.
Come. Come to be healed by the silence.
Come to stand together.
Come. Come to approach what words cannot describe.
Come to find God.

Prayer of Invocation

Come. Come O Holy One.
Come through the streets.
Come into the house.
Come to find a space beside us at the table.
Come to challenge our answers about
Why tragedy comes
Why poverty increases
Why we are afraid.
Come O Holy One.
Speak to us in the silence
With wisdom greater than ours
With love deeper than ours
With change wider than ours.

Shared Silence

Come O Holy One.
Fill in these stories
with your wisdom
with your love
with your change
so that we might rely on your answers.
Here and now. Amen.

Hymn My Song is Love Unknown

Prayer of Confession (inspired by Psalm 31:9-16)

O Holy One, we are too distressed to notice that you join us in the parade.
We are too deeply grieved to be aware that you sit beside us at the table.
We are too busy sighing. We are too busy talking.
We have insisted upon our own answers.
We proclaimed our own knowledge about why bad things happen,
about why the rich get richer, about why the world feels so broken.
We have assured ourselves that this is the way that things must be,
but this life is in your hands.
Our lives are in your hands.

O Holy One, speak to us.
Fill our silences.
Comfort us with your love
so that we may find your understanding.
Trust us to find your answers
when we finally tire from our own.
Save us, O Holy One, with your steadfast love. Amen.

Words of Assurance

God opens your ears.
God speaks when you are silent.
God approaches you
in the parade and at table
in your denial and your praise
to be your help.
Now and always. Amen.

Hymn All Glory, Laud and Honor

The Palm Parade (Mark 11:1-11)

They were looking for answers. So, they went to Jerusalem. They gathered in the streets to make a way for peace. On the other side of the city, there was another procession. Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, rode into Jerusalem with an army of horses, armored soldiers and waving banners.

On the other side of the city, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus had sent two of his disciples to go into the village and find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. He instructed them, “If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They replied with the answer Jesus had given. “The Lord needs it,” they said.

Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and Jesus sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who needed answers, those who had come looking for peace, began shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Come. Join in the parade, you who need answers, you who came looking for peace.

Hymn Mantos y Ramos 

The Anointing (Mark 14:1-9)

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

They were looking for their own answers. They thought they knew how the world worked. While they worried, Jesus sat at the table in the house of Simon the leper. A woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.

But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. She did not reply. She continued with her task. She did what she could; she anointed his body beforehand for its burial. Jesus spoke, where she did not. “Truly I tell you,” he said. “Wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Come. Kneel beside her. Do not speak but remember what your hands have done to proclaim the good news.

Silence

The Last Supper (Mark 14:10-25)

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

They didn’t understand his way. They didn’t understand all that he taught but when it came time to share in the Passover feast, they turned to Jesus. On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples asked, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” The disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, those looking for answers, those who came looking for peace, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Come. Find your place at this table, you who need answers, you who came looking for peace.

Hymn of Preparation It Was a Sad and Solemn Night (optional)

Service of Holy Communion (optional)

Invitation to Christ’s Table

Come. Come and find your place at this table.
Come without answers.
Come without knowing peace.
Come without preparation.
Come. Come to find a place here.
This is the table Christ prepares for us.
This is the feast God imagines –
where peace can be found in a simple meal.

Communion Prayer

God be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks for the peace of God.
It is right to give God thanks and praise.

In the streets,
In our homes,
Here beside this table,
We give you thanks,
O Holy One.

We give you thanks for giving us a story.
Even when we do not understand its meaning,
Even when we doubt it happened this way,
Even when we want to rush ahead to the end,
We know that you have given us this story
in which to live and move and have our being.

We remember that your story did not begin with this parade,
but began when you came to move over the waters of creation.
We remember the tragedies that came to your people.
And we know that you were not silent.
You gave your people a story.
You gave your people a rainbow.
You gave your people a song.
You gave your people peace.

Gather here with us now, O Holy One,
Speak to us through this bread and this cup.
Remind us of all the stories we’ve ever heard about you.
Imbue these symbols with your peace
So that we might find your peace within ourselves.

Words of Institution

Sharing of the Bread and Cup

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Prayer of our Savior

O Holy One, there are no words to describe the mystery of this bread and cup. There are no sighs to deep to reveal what we feel in sharing in this feast. Thank you for gathering us together to remember that you are always present among us. We lift our hearts in prayer, toward your spirit and pray the Prayer that Jesus taught us…

The Story Continues

The Garden (Mark 14:32-40)

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, Jesus threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. They had no answers.

Come. Rest in the garden, you who are weary, you who don’t have any answers.

Hymn I Must Tell Jesus 

The Betrayal (Mark 14:43-50)

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. He was confident in his own answer. He thought he knew how this must end. So, he had told the chief priests, the scribes and the elders, “Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” When he came, he went up to Jesus at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him.

But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. They had come looking for answers. They had come looking for peace. This wasn’t the way. They didn’t understand. And so, they deserted him and fled.

Come. Run into your fears, you who need answers, you who came looking for peace.

Silence

The Arrest (Mark 14:53-65)

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. There did not have one answer. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

The chief priests, the elders and the scribes knew their answer. They thought they knew the ways of God. They thought they knew all that God could do. There was nothing that could convince them otherwise. They spit on him and blindfolded him. They beat him for the words he said.

Come. Listen to what God might be saying. Listen to what God might be doing that doesn’t fit with everything that you have been taught about this world. Listen for God to speak.

Silence

The Denial (Mark 14:66-72)

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by.When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” He answered, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.”

Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it.

Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Come. Join those who wander through courtyards, court rooms, streets and gardens.
Join the crowds who have come looking for answers, looking for peace.

Hymn I Want Jesus to Go with Me 

Invitation to the Offering

When you have no words,
When you cannot find your voice,
God approaches.
Let us reach out to our God.
Let us give our gifts.

Dedication of the Offering

O Holy One,
Bless these gifts
So that the world may know your love
Even when we are silent. Amen.

Hymn Journey to Gethsemane 

Benediction

Go into the world to find your voice
Listening to what God will do.
Go into the world to find each other
Reaching out when we need support.
Go into the world be amazed
Knowing that God is always with us.

If you use this liturgy in your worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook and mention that it was originally written for the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways. I would love to hear how you use this service — especially if you choose alternate hymns or make other tweaks for your congregation.

What To Do Without a Church Musician

It happens every once in a while.

A vacation is scheduled. Plans are made. Maybe someone forgot to call around and secure someone to fill in or maybe there really is no one available. This seems more and more probable to me for churches that expect the organ to be played. I mean, really, how many people know how to play an organ? So, it happens. The organist is going on vacation and there is no substitute.

The organist in question offered to reschedule her vacation. I thought this absurd. Take the time off. Rest. Renew. We can definitely solve this problem, I said. And we did. We decided that we would meet the request for more silence with a worship experience than allowed for lots and LOTS of silence.

communion_stained_glassThis week, I’m not sharing the individual ingredients that will make up our worship but the entire liturgy. Here is the whole liturgy for Songs and Silence before God’s Holy Table. Hymns will be sung a capella, but we will still sing. There’s still reason to sing. We’ll just sing songs that are more familiar and a choir member or two will be ready to help me lead. (I really can’t lead music. It’s tragic.) You’ll also see that we’re doing communion in silence. No spoken words but lots of ritual movements. I’ve seen this done once or twice and it brought me to tears both times. I borrowed a few hints for such silent communion but adapted it to fit our context. I’m really excited about it. It should be awesome.

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below! And dare I ask: what have you done without a musician? I bet you’ve come up with other creative solutions.