Pandemic Prayers for Trinity Sunday

I missed a week. I didn’t mean to do so even as I tried to plan ahead for another Pentecost in Coronatide. I still missed a week. Two weeks if you saw what I offered for Pentecost and thought it had nothing even remotely related to what might happen on Sunday morning on Zoom. I feel like I’m missing a lot of things right now.

It will happen on Trinity Sunday that we shall depart for our overseas move. We shall board a series of planes until we finally arrive in our new home in Germany. I will feel like we don’t have enough masks. I will be on edge about how often my almost two year old rips off her mask. And yes, I know that the guidance is that she’s too young to wear one but I need some comfort in knowing that she can wear one as we fly overseas.

I fear I will miss again in this faithful practice because I do not know what awaits us on the other side. I do not know if I should write prayers into the weeks ahead or if those words will fail to speak to the moment because everything is changing so fast. I imagine, dear pastor, that you are feeling this weight too. You are trying to navigate how to plan and lead when everything is changing. There is your own sanity and then there is the concern for the children sitting on the chancel steps. You are praying as much as you ever have in this pandemic nightmare as you try to be patient and kind with every vaccinated boomer who assumes their status is the norm. I pray you’ve found the work of the Wisconsin Council of Churches with their guidance for this moment. If not, please check out Love Builds Up and share it with your leadership.

I cannot imagine the dance you are doing, dear pastor, but I know that you are doing it with faith and love. You are preaching the gospel sometimes even with words. You are living it. You are loving just as you have done for more than a year. I hope you know that my prayers continue even when I fail to post. We are all doing what we can and sometimes I have to admit that I cannot do it all. (I am not good at this. Like at all.)

I wonder if this week you were to write a letter to Nicodemus as my friend Claudio Carvalhaes does on Working Preacher. Because I’m guessing that you too need a break. You, dear pastor, have found yourself without words. You are looking for something meaningful and powerful but you have so little left. Or maybe exactly because of this fact you need for the words of this letter not to come from you so that worship this week builds toward your people writing letters to Nicodemus.

Rachel Hackenberg has this wonderful book on Writing to God. It’s snippets from her work that I offer here as a suggestion to you in how you might structure this sacred time to ponder the wonder of the Trinity. She offers a free Small Group Study Guide for Lent that I’ve selected bits and pieces from to make this service come together. My copy of the book is regrettably packed in some box being shipped over the Atlantic Ocean so I cannot offer anything from its pages but I hope you’ll order a copy for your small groups this summer. I can almost guarantee that there would be something to use related to the particular passages for the day in this small tome. Or to use for the next time that you don’t have words of your own.

Call to Worship 
Inspired by John 3:1-17

We come without
words to explain 
this moment
or what we dare 
to hope will come.

We come needing 
words to explain 
how these things 
can be. We need 
some expression 
of what it means 
for us to know
the presence 
of God.

The wind has blown
and it will blow again.
We hear its sound
and feel its force
but we do not know
where it will lead.
We can only notice
another grey hair
and another wrinkle 
from the stress
of this long year.

Bring us together, O God,
to find that you are giving 
us words. Very truly, you 
will give us ways to 
understand how 
these things can be.
This song is covered by the CCLI license.
Opening Meditation
Adapted from Rachel Hackberg's Small Group Study Guide for Lent

In the middle of the night, a leader of the Jews called Nicodemus came to Jesus looking for answers. There were things that he wanted to know, things that he couldn't understand and hoped that this teacher from God could help him. He called him Teacher and waited for his response. 

After night turned to morning light, we come to find answers. Our emotions are high as they may have been for Nicodemus that night. We come to find words for all that we are feeling right now. Together, we will take two minutes to each write a few sentences to describe one of our emotional responses to Jesus. Pick the emotion that feels most powerful. You might begin, “I admire Jesus, because...” or you might choose, "I am frustrated with Jesus, because..." 

When we have each had time to find words for emotions, you will be invited to share a word or phrase in the chat box from your meditation.

This is not a complete service with all of the details that you might include but I do wonder about using Nicodemus by Malcolm Guite as an introduction to the Gospel Lesson. Perhaps another bit of writing would add inspiration to this meditation though words.

Reflecting Meditation
Adapted from Rachel Hackberg's Small Group Study Guide for Lent

Having heard how the good news is shared in the Gospel of John, we pick up our pen and paper again to allow words to flow however they might come in lists or poetry, prose or epistle in response to this prompt: “Now is not the time.” Dare to direct your words to the Holy Three in One. Tell God what is most on your heart. 

When we have each had time to find words for how this can be, you will again be invited to share a word or phrase in the chat box from your meditation.
This classic hymn is not covered by CCLI.

My friend Erica Schemper offers this inspiring Prayers of the People for Trinity Sunday inspired by St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Or you might opt for a Responsive Pastoral Prayer that picks up on the beloved refrain in this favorite hymn. I want there to be a way to connect all of these words offered in personal meditation especially for those who do not find words to come easily. I wonder if using a popcorn prayer might work to gather all of this together.

Prayers of the People
Inspired by John 3:1-17

Holy is what 
we long to name
in our own words.

Holy, Holy, Holy, 
Our God Almighty,
we have stumbled 
what is possible
and even how
to name your
wonder and 
possibility. 

It has felt like 
this isn't the time for...

And we are aware
that there are things 
that we have not 
found words to express
how these things 
can be. Our words
are not enough
to name your
glory and grace.

We come close in 
naming that Christ Jesus is...

But there is more 
to your power. There
is more to your being
than what sustains us
in Christ Jesus. 

We pray, Holy One,
that you will fill 
in the silences 
between our words
and surprise us
like a wild goose
taking flight
into the great blue skies.
Surprise us again 
in your infinite grace.
Disrupt what we 
assume must be
with what could be
with the blowing 
winds of hope and change.

Holy, Holy, Holy, 
Our God Almighty,
we pray in your many names.
Amen.
This version is definitely not covered by a license but I love it.

Last, but not least, I loved this Benediction in the Time of the Pandemic for this Sunday last year. These are the words that I need to hear right now. These are the words that I hope will carry us all. Though if you use an Amen refrain like the one above, that might be where you end. That is all the benediction that is needed before virtual coffee hour.

That’s all I’ve got for you, dear pastor. As you prepare worship this week, please know that I am praying for you. I am praying for you so much.

How Shall We Pray?

For the past several weeks, I’ve offered prayers as a gift to my colleagues in ministry who are serving faithfully during this pandemic. I’ve written liturgies following the Revised Common Lectionary that I have hoped were copied and pasted into Facebook Lives and Zooms and every other platform that congregations find themselves gathered in this moment.

I opened my email on Monday to find that two of my favorite cooking blogs are not offering new content. Yes, that’s how white I am. I faithfully read cooking blogs still these two particular cooking blogs are hitting the pause button. They are intentionally stepping back to wrestle with their own racism and the various ways that they unintentionally play into white supremacy. It’s something I know many of us are doing.

Before reading their words, I already knew I wasn’t going to offer prayers this week. I wasn’t going to attempt to assert my privilege into the grief and pain after the unforgivable deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed and Tony McDade because of the racism burning in our blood.

We have heard enough from white women.

White women should be asking, like all white people, how shall we pray?

We shall not pray for peace because we do not know the grief and pain of this moment. We do not wish that there was a better way because too much has been broken. We have dared to assume we could build on a broken system and only now can we see that wrong, but then, how shall we pray?

How do you pray when your country is on fire? How do you pray when there is greater concern for property than people? How do you pray when the grief and despair is too big to name?

EZYHcAoVAAA3BAKI am listening for what I do not understand. I’m opening my heart and mind to the grace of God as I wrestle again with the demon of my own racism.

I cannot pray with my own words.

I won’t. I can’t.

I want to confess the sins of my own racism starting with my White Privilege as captured in a poem by Judith Lockhart Radtke found in The Anti-Racism Prayer Book created by Trinity Church in Boston. There are several other powerful prayers collected in this digital booklet.

Those that are still feeling the winds and fire of Pentecost might opt to use this Prayer by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat written way back when in 2014 in honor of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. It might need only a slight adaptation to feel that wind that moved over the waters of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a.

As social media blacks out to focus on the wisdom of black and brown bodies, in churches in my own United Church of Christ and other white dominated congregations, this litany of confession for Lent might be adapted to evoke the power of Creator, Christ and Spirit. This prayer remembering the last words of Eric Garner from Praying with James Baldwin might also be fitting or one of these two prayers addressing white supremacy found on enfleshed. Martha Spong offered a beautiful Trinity Prayer meditating on Psalm 8:4 in her weekly email that she admits is a prayer for majority white communities of faith. 

The United Church of Canada somehow always has words for the prayers closest to my heart as they do in this prayer To Root Out Quiet Racism.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has a Black Lives Matter Worship Collection which includes a reflection about singing Lift Every Voice and Sing by the Rev. Aisha Ansano that I found powerful especially because I remain unconvinced that it should be sung in white congregations.

When I can’t find the words for my own prayers, I turn to poetry. This poem by Ross Gay popped up in my timeline again this week. As the fires blaze in riots across our country, I find myself returning to Christopher Gilbert’s Fires Gotten Brighter. Donte Collins’ what the dead know by heart sends chills down my spine and leaves me staring at my own palm. I’m not sure how you’d use these in worship just as I’m not sure how a white congregation might meaningfully use Get Home Safely which the SALT Project is offering for free download.

For better or worse, I know that my prayers as a white woman aren’t the same as my black and brown sisters and brothers. I know that as much as my throat catches watching that video, it’s not the terror I feel every day for myself or my children. I can cry listening to the Rev. Otis Moss III preach powerfully but I also learned something that I’m sure black and brown folks have known for a long time. I am new to this fight no matter how many anti-racism workshops I’ve attended.

My prayers are different because I’m not in the streets right now. I’ve got time and space to contemplate how I might pray when others are struggling to stay alive or even assert that their lives have worth.

I believe we should pray just as I believe in the power of God to do things that I cannot fathom in this moment. I’m going to hold onto that hope as I confess the sins of my own racism. That’s what it feels like these prayers are.

These are prayers to confess that we bought into the idea that this system actually worked even as we balked at 45’s great campaign slogan. We thought we knew. We thought we had done the work until this moment when a pandemic should keep us inside our homes but the grief is just too damn big.

I confess that I want to hear something like Maya Angelou’s Alone on Sunday because it might not be just about some idealized kum-ba-yah moment like in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 but it could actually say something about our collaboration with the Trinity. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what I might want or how big I might like God to be. It’s not a question of my comfort.

I’ve been too comfortable. That’s the problem and the challenge of the gospel is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.

Worship has already changed. It already feels so different ten or eleven weeks into this new normal so perhaps how we pray and when we pray and how long we allow God to speak needs to change too.

We shall pray that black. brown and indigenous lives matter because God already knows they do. We shall pray so that we might be changed.