Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Liturgy of the Passion for these days (April 5, 2020)

Texts:  Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56

Call to Worship
We begin the holiest of weeks this day,
seeking to discover God in the passion and grief.
Have grace on us, O God, as we listen
for words which will sustain our weariness
of the days through which we are living.
We will be invited to sit at the Table,
where Jesus welcomes friends and followers.
Have grace on us, Brother of our tears,
as we struggle not to turn our backs on you
in these days through which we are living,
but find ourselves welcome at your Table of grace.
As the days unfold, may we worry not so much
about ourselves, but for the One who stands by us.
Have grace on us, Spirit of comfort,
and hold us in every moment of this journey
through the days in which we are living.

Prayer of the Day
By your grace,
God of every moment,
you sustain the weary
with words of hope,
you heal the brokenness
caused by silly choices.

By your grace,
Brother who stands
by us in every moment,
you choose passion
when you could have
remained in glory;
you go toe-to-toe
with death for us.

By your grace,
Spirit of peace,
you refuse to forget us
like so many around do,
you offer us strength
as we journey through these days.

By your grace,
God in Community, Holy in One,
we discover we can trust you in every moment,
and so we pray, saying
(The Lord’s Prayer)

Call to Reconciliation
How weary we are from these days of isolation and worry; how broken our dreams and hopes have become in these days.  But, as we offer our prayers, God will remember us – our dreams, our hopes, as well as our failings, and will restore us to new life.  Let us join our voices together, as we pray, saying,

Unison Prayer for Forgiveness
   Have mercy on us, God of betrayers and deniers.  We have run out of tears, weeping for ourselves, so have none for those most vulnerable in these days. We are tempted to forget those who are around us, who have no one to care for them.  We argue about who is the wisest in these days, who is offering the best advice,  and never notice those who serve with humility and grace.
   Yet we pray that you would remember us, God of the Passion, and pour out mercy on us.  May we commit our hearts into yours, so we may learn how to love as deeply as you.  May we commit our hands into yours, so we may be taught how to serve others with joy.  May we commit our spirits into yours, so we may be as trusting as Jesus, the One who was willing to believe the promises you made so long ago. 

Silence is kept

Assurance of Pardon
Our tears are mingled with those of God; our sighs are held in the heart of grace; our emptiness is filled with hope and peace.
Hesitantly, hopefully, we will walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, and beyond.  For everything is done for us, and we bend our knees in praise and joy.  Thanks be to God, we are forgiven!  Amen.

Prayer of Dedication/Offering
As we offer our hearts and gifts, may we have the same mind as Christ, remembering those who have so little, thinking of all the ways we can serve, trusting completely in your love and grace, Holy God. We pray this in the name of our Brother, Jesus.  Amen.

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
May the God who gives us everything we need be with you.
May God be with you, so you lack nothing.
Let us empty ourselves of the shadows within.
May God fill our empty hearts with the light of love.
Trust in God in these moments, for God is with us.
We come to the One who saves us with love.

Like wheat, you sifted chaos,
God who helps in every moment,
and creation was formed from the emptiness:
   mornings which break bright and clear,
   gentle breezes that herald spring,
   soft rain which nourishes new life.
We were shaped in your image,
and you longed to serve us with your love,
   but we cried for you to release death
   so we might welcome it with open arms.
Time and again, you sent prophets,
women and men who sought
to heal our grief with words of hope,
to wipe the tears from our cheeks,
   yet we refused to listen to them,
   mocking their words and insulting them.
Then you chose to send your Child,
the One who would not let his faith fail him,
but would follow you all the way to death.

With those who desire to feast with you,
with those whose hearts are filled with nails,
we offer our thanksgiving to you:

Holy, holy, holy are you, God whose heart aches with grief.
All creation mingles its tears with yours this week.
Have grace on all who journey in the coming days.

Blessed is the One who stands by your through everything.
Have grace on all who seek to find peace in the coming days.

Daring to imagine new life for your children,
God of holiness and hope,
Jesus became one of us, made in your image.
He could turn the corner
every time he sees us,
   but chooses to greet us with open arms;
he could forget about us,
leaving us alone in our fearful days,
   but he remembers us in death, and in life;
he could have hardened his face
in judgment and punishment toward us,
   but he chose to endure the Passion,
   being mocked and beaten,
   being insulted and spat upon,
   being betrayed into death’s hands.
The powerful, the bullies of the world
forgot him after his death, but you
   raised him to new life
   and new hope for all.

Though we fear to follow, we will;
though we wonder how Jesus was obedient,
still we proclaim this mystery called faith:

In every moment, Jesus knew you were with him;
in the moment of death, Jesus committed himself to you;
in the moment of resurrection, you committed yourself to him;
in the moments to come, you will commit yourself to us.

It is here at this Table that we gather,
where our tears will be wiped,
our brokenness be made whole,
our weariness transformed into service,
as you pour the gift of your Spirit on us,
and the gifts of this feast.
The bread which is broken
becomes the strength which fills
our emptiness so we can be with those
   whose sighs are not heard through angry words,
   whose closest friends are grief,
   whose lives are mocked by the powerful.
The cup which overflows with grace
becomes the nourishment we need
   to join our voices with the voiceless,
   to gather little children who are lonely,
   to listen to the hearts of all the forgotten.

And when you bring us home
at the end of all time and history,
we will join our sisters and brothers
who have been remembered by you
in every place, every moment,
in serving you through all eternity,
God in Community, Holy in One.  Amen.

Let us leave with silence as our companion,
so we may hear the whispers of all
who have been forgotten, except by God.
Let us leave with service as our teacher,
so we learn the art of compassion from Jesus,
to bring healing and hope to everyone we meet.
Let us leave with surprise as our guide,
so we may be open to the promises
the Spirit speaks in the moment of our utter grief and loss.

© 2020 Thom M. Shuman   

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A liturgy for worship in a time of pandemic (Lent 5 - A)

Litany for Lent
In these days we ask, ‘can our hopes live?”
And you whisper to us,
‘look to the buds on the trees eager to burst;
notice the flowers poking their heads out of the dirt;
watch the children chalking spring on the sidewalks.’
And we see how you love us, God of steadfast love.
In these moments we wonder, ‘can our compassion live?”
And you tell us,
‘wipe the tears of a worried father over his son's illness;
ease the weariness of a mother facing a long shift at work;
shop for the neighbor who has not family.’
And we see how you love us, our Resurrection and our Life.
In the shadows of each night, we cry out, ‘can our love live?”
And you sing to us,
‘witness the touch of a wife on her husband's papery skin;
pay attention to the birds which rush into the sky before spiraling down;
share the words you are given to offer to the empty-hearted.
And we see how you love us, Breath of our souls.

Silence is kept

Creator of life:
bring us hope, we pray.
Mourner of the dead:
take away our fears, we pray.
Refresher of dry lives:
bind us to God forever, we pray, as we say together,
(The Lord's Prayer)

Song     what song/hymn would speak to you on this day?

Call to Reconciliation
We are fearful in these moments, and so lose faith;
we wonder what tomorrow will bring, and so lose our trust in God;
we see and hear (and share in) hurtful deeds and angry words, and so lose our humanity.
So, let us wait for God's mercy and grace, as we come with our prayers for forgiveness, saying,

Unison Prayer for Forgiveness
     We are scared, God of our lives.  There, we have admitted it.  Our days are spent in isolation, even when we are with family.  We wonder if you are with us or, like Jesus, are you taking your sweet time to come into our emptiness.  We stand behind the stones of fear and worry that have been rolled over the opening of our hearts, leaving us in the shadows from which we can see no live.
     Yet, the good news is that you are indeed with us, God of our days.
     Yet, the good news is that you have come, Jesus our Brother, to weep with us and over us, to roll away those stones, to call us into life.
     Yet, the good news is that you cradle us in your peace, Spirit of Gentleness: rocking us to sleep on troubled nights; opening our eyes to the grace of each morning; filling us with the love and hope we can share with everyone around us.
     Yet, the good news is still good news, and so may we trust, believe, hope, and live as your people.  Amen.

Silence is kept

Assurance of Pardon
Can our hope live?  Put your hope in God, dear friends, for God offers us that love which never fades, that life which never ends.
We wait for God, and God does not fail us.  God's hope, God's love, and God's grace are forever.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

A Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures                                                         Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm of the Day                                                                                                Psalm 130

Song      Sing a song of faith, of trust, of hope in our God

A Letter to the Church                                                                                     Romans 8:6-11

The Gospel for us                                                                                  John 11:1-41

Reflection     The Watchdog

Is there a word for us this day, as we live through these days?

Is there a word when it seems that hope is at a low ebb, when grace has been taken off all the shelves and hoarded, when love is something folks seem to offer only to family, when the future seems bleak and uncertain?

Is there a word for us – this day?  The prophet says there is, and that word is life.

Who hasn't wondered if we will ever be able to get back to normal, whatever that is? Who isn’t wondering whether the economy, our jobs, our families, our schools are going to be able to go back to the way they were? Who hasn’t wondered whether those bones of loss, of worry, of hopelessness, will ever come back to life?

Our fears rattle around in the attics of our minds, and we wonder can they be knitted together?  Can the sinews of hope wrap around us and give us strength? Can the Spirit - that Spirit of grace and  hope and newness, come and breathe life, new life, into us? Or have we been completely cut off? Have we become a people who have lost all hope, who have fallen away in this exile of isolation. 
The prophet who saw those bleached bones of his ancestors who died on that forced march into exile, says our God is going to bring us new life; our God is going to bring us new hope; our God is going to bring us new grace; our God is going to help us create community when it seems that we are separated from one another endlessly.

Is there a word for us – this day?  The psalmist says there is, and that word is patience.

We find ourselves in the pit the pit of despair, the pit of loneliness, the pit of fear and doubt – and the psalmist says: cry out! Cry out your loneliness, your heartbreak, your fears, and your lives.  The promise is that God listens to us and, more importantly, God hears us. God hears us in these days, when we are asked to wait, in our homes, away from our routine, away from life.  We are called to wait.  Which is hard for most of us!

But if we wait, if we wait patiently, we might just see hope. We might see hope in the kids whol sit out on their porches and play their musical instruments for their neighbors.  We might see hope in the email we get from someone offering to pick up groceries for us. We might see hope in the people who offer us the calm assurance that we can get through this, that we will get through this together.

And as we discover hope, the hope that hope it comes to us in so many surprising ways, we can learn to watch.  We learn to watch the trees bud in the Spring; we learn to notice the flowers pushing up out of the ground; we learn to listen to the birds in the trees and bushes; we learn to pay attention to the dogs bouncing in the yards and the kittens tiptoeing through the grass.  We can learn to watch for all those signs of wonder and joy and love which continue to flow all around us. 

And in the watching, in the simple watching, we discover God is with us, yes!  God is still working.  God is still caring.  God is still loving. God is still bringing us hope and grace in these moments.

Is there a word for us – this day?  Paul says there is, and that word is breath.

Does death have the final say about us? A Jew, a Pharisee, and a religious scholar, Paul would have been quite familiar with the prophecy from Ezekiel he heard this morning.  He would have known the connection between the Breath which comes upon those desiccated bones, filling them with new life, and the Spirit which moved upon the waters at creation.  More importantly, he would have known of that Breath which cradled the words Jesus utters in calling Lazarus from that dark, dank tomb. 

Does death have the last word?  Paul says to those in Rome facing terrible days of persecution, of fear, of uncertainty, NO!  Paul says to those in our world, facing these days of self-quarantine, of daily updates that seem to get worse and worse, of wondering what will happen next, NO!  For that same power, that same energy, that same Spirit that breathed new life into Jesus in that dark, dank tomb breathes on us in each of every moment.

Is there a word for us – this day?  John says there is, and that word is watchdog.

Bet you didn’t expect that word, did you?

You expected those words that sound like we could speak them today (and maybe we do, in our heart of hearts), “Jesus, if you were here, this would be happening to us.” 

Maybe you expected that word that seemed to confuse the disciples, “don’t worry; this illness will not lead to death.”

Perhaps you wanted (need?) to hear the words spoken at gravesides and bedside, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

But watchdog?

Yet, it is there in the passage.  I didn’t realize it until some years ago when a colleague mentioned that the Greek word we usually translate as ‘he groaned,’ or ‘he was greatly disturbed,’ is used only of dogs, in particular – watchdogs.  When Martin Luther translated it into the German, he used a word meaning ‘he growled.’ 

Like any good and faithful watchdog, Jesus knows that death is the enemy, death is not wanted, death is not welcome in our lives, death will not be given the ultimate power over us – the power to take away that which is most dear to us, life itself.  For if death has that power, well then, we have no
hope, no future, no life.

But when he comes to the tomb of Lazarus, as dear a friend to him as each and every one of us is to him, Jesus growls, he snarls, he warns death away in no uncertain terms.  ‘Clear off! You are not welcome here!  I am the resurrection and the life!  Run, with your threat trailing behind you!”

Is there a word for us this day?  As we live through these days?

it is no longer
an exegetical puzzle
to be solved in our study;
it is no longer a pericope
with which to wrestle;
it is no longer a (really)
long reading to get through;
it is no longer a story
we blow the dust off every 3 years.
it is our story;
it is about us;
it is us inside that
dank, dark tomb:
stinking of fear,
wrapped in the bands
of loneliness;
blinded by the handkerchief
of weary worry.
we hope,
we pray,
we yearn,
we listen
for just a footstep,
just a tear dropping on the ground,
just a whisper of Jesus
pacing before the stone,
growling in his spirit
in anger and frustration,
before he cries out,
in hope and joy and life,
"come out!"
we are not casual bystanders;
we are Lazarus
waiting . . .

God in Community, Holy in One.  Amen.

Affirmation of Faith (based on Psalm 130)

We believe in God:
who hears our cries when we find ourselves
sheltering from the fears around us,
who hears our voices from the hollows
of our worries and longing,
who pays close attention to our words,
who does not dismiss them as being of no consequence.

We believe in Jesus:
who does not carry around a notebook
to write down every foolish mistake we make
or all those hurtful words we offer to others,
but who gathers them up like so much dust
and scatters them to the wind,
inviting us to join hand in hand
in the dance of forgiveness and grace.

We believe in the Spirit:
who teaches us the patience
we need to wait;
so that in the waiting,
we would learn to hope
that we are not alone in days
of worry, of uncertainty, of loss;
so that in the hoping
we might discover the gift of watching
for the signs of grace in the songs from balconies,
for the wonder of life in neighbors reaching out to us,
for the serenity that comes in the quiet of night.
And, in the watching,
may we see you coming to us:

God, overflowing with steadfast love;
Jesus, with armfuls of grace like bouquets of flowers;
Spirit, whose peace is the power which sustains us in these days.


Prayer of Dedication/Offering
For all left by the side of society, for all whose strength has vanished, for all whose bones are brittle with despair, may our gifts bring hope and healing, peace and plenty, in your name and in your love.  This we pray in Jesus' name.  Amen.

Communion song;  perhaps Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
May the God of tears be with you.
And also with you.
Offer your hearts to the One who calls us out of death into life.
Unbound, we bring our hearts to our God of new mornings.
People of God, sing songs to the One in whom we hope.
We rejoice in God, who dwells in our souls.

In that first moment, God of wonder,
you cried out, 'Unbind creation and let her go!'
      and flowers grew in the cracks of chaos,
     blustery winds played talk through the forests,
     lambs leapfrogged one another in the meadows.
Your hand came upon the dry dust of earth,
and your Spirit breathed life into us.
You longed for us to be with you,
     but we allowed sin and death
     to lead us around by the nose.
You called to women and men,
'Prophesy!' urging them to call us back.
     but we did not believe their words.
So you sent a certain man named Jesus,
to cause new life to come upon us.

With those who have stood beside graves,
and those who wait for signs of hope,
we sing our praises to you:

Holy, holy, holy are you, God of our shadowed valleys.
All creation hopes in you and waits.
Hosanna in the highest!

Blessed is the One who calls us to new life.
Hosanna in the highest!

You are holy, Caresser of our souls,
and Jesus is our Child, our Friend.
Seeing that those he loved were sick,
     he brought us healing.
Finding us wandering in despair,
     he showed us that our hope
     need never turn to dust.
Believing that you loved him,
     he went to the cross, for us.
And when he was in death's cold arms,
you stood at the door of the tomb,
crying out, 'unbind him, and let him go!'
and our Resurrection and our Life
came forth for us.

Believing that he is the One who calls us to new life,
trusting that, by his tears, he takes away our pain,
we proclaim that mystery we call faith:

Christ died, taking away the sins of the world;
Christ was raised, taking away the power of sin and death;
Christ will return, taking us by the hand to lead us home.

In the bread and the cup,
you give life to us,
as the Spirit comes to dwell
in every room of our souls.
You bless the bread, breaking it,
so it might heal and strengthen us
so we can say
     to the barren, 'here is your life;'
     to the despairing, 'here is your hope!'
As the grace-filled cup nourishes us
we would go into the world
     to visit those who are sick,
     to wait with the expectant,
     to share tears with the broken.

And when you call of us to your side,
we will join Lazarus, Mary, Martha,
and all our sisters and brothers
in forever singing your praises,
God in Community, Holy in One.  Amen.

Concluding song    Again, always, Amazing Grace
               Or perhaps, ‘Them bones, them bones, them dry bones’!

And now,
may the peace of the rolling waves,
the peace of the singing stars,
the peace of the silent mountains,
be with you now
and in all the days to come.

© 2020 Thom M. Shuman