Monday, March 22, 2021

Maundy Thursday service for a season of pandemic (April 1, 2021)

Gather in silence

Call to Worship
Why is this night different?
Though we are scattered
in homes, apartments, households,
still we can gather in God’s heart.

Why is this worship different?
We cannot gather as God’s household,
yet we can still find ourselves
together in God’s heart and love.

Why is this meal different?
Alone, with family, with just our pets,
we begin to understand the weariness,
the uncertainty, the questions which
sat around that table long ago with Jesus and his friends.

Why is this night, this worship, this meal the same?
We are still God’s beloved,
who is with us in these moments, these days, these nights.
We are still the followers of Jesus,
who would wash our hearts of our doubts and fears.
We are still comforted by the Spirit,
who blesses the meal we will share this night.

Prayer of the Evening
Isolated, enslaved by fears
and anxieties, wondering what
the next day, would bring, they gathered,
in their homes, some alone, some together,
on that night so, so long ago,
for a meal which they did not understand,
and in a moment which would change
them forever, God who rescues.

Fearful, worried, isolated from
their families, friends, and neighbors
by events beyond their imagination,
they gathered so long, so long ago,
for a meal which they thought they understood,
but which you transformed that night,
Jesus, who knelt to serve them,
to prepare them for that moment
which would change them forever.

On this night, isolated, alone,
held captive by fears we don’t understand,
separated from neighbors, friends, and families,
yet we gather, scattered where we are,
drawing near to one another in your heart,
Spirit who shares these stories with us.
With your whispers of grace, you remind
us you are transforming this meal
we think we understand so well,
for through the broken bread,
we are still made one with each other,
through the blessed cup,
we continue to be grace poured out for our world.

Wherever we are,
here, is the basin with the living water
which washes away our fears and foolishness;
here is the towel we can use
to wipe the tears of all who weep
from grief, oppression, and loneliness;
here, we find that bread,
which, though broken and dropping crumbs,
feeds us with hope, fills us with strength
to serve our sisters and brothers;
here, we are offered the cup
which causes us to thirst for justice.

Those nights, this night, every night,
with our ancestors who dared to believe,
who lived through their fears and doubts,
with these symbols and gifts,
we dare to follow, foolishly and faithfully,
God in Community, Holy in One,
as we pray as our Servant, Jesus Christ,
teaches us, saying, (The Lord’s Prayer)

Call to Recollection
Now, just as on those nights long ago, we face choices:
will we continue to live in fear, or step out in faith;
will we trust in the One who is with us, and listen to the hollow words around us?
Let us confess our lives, our emptiness, our worries to the One who calls us, feeds us, redeems us, as we pray together, saying,

Unison Prayer for Forgiveness
   It has all disappeared, our God, our certainty of how life was to be, our daily activities and jobs and routines. It has all been snatched away from us, our lunches with friends, our family gatherings on porches and in backyards. It has all become so fearful, those simple things like going to a store, giving another a hug, attending a concert, a sporting event, or even a worship service.
   Yet this feeling, this uncertainty, these fears are exactly what you experienced on that night so long ago, Brother of our hearts. All your certainty dissipated as easily as that crowd that cheered you just a few days before. Your hopes, your dreams, your desires for your friends had been snatched away by those powers and circumstances beyond your control. Even a simple, last meal with your closest friends was full of doubts, questions, recriminations, as you huddled isolated from the world.
   So now, fill us with your presence, Spirit of that night and this night and all nights. Fill us with that grace which enables us to look beyond our fears, to live as people of faith. Fill us with that love, which strengthens us to care for the most vulnerable around us, rather than the most powerful. Fill us with that hope, which is never quarantined, never isolated, never separated from us, in these and all the moments to come.

Silence is kept

Assurance of Pardon
On this loneliest of nights, on this holiest of nights, here is the good news we need: God is with us, just as with those Hebrew ancestors so long ago. God is with us, just as with Jesus and his friends that night we remember tonight. God is with us . . . God is with us . . . God is with us.
In remembrance, we are together, though scattered;
in remembrance, we share bread wherever we are;
in remembrance, we drink of the cup of grace, whoever we are;
in remembrance, we will trust, we will hope, we will live, we will follow. Amen.

Exodus 12:1-14;
Psalm 116:1-2, 19-29;
1 Corinthians 11:23-26;
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
Friends, wherever you are, may our God be with you.
May our God be with you as well.
Beloved of God, lift your fearful hearts to God.
We offer them to the One who fills them with hope.
Alone, with family, with tin ears and no voice, let us sing our praises to God.
Scattered, we will join our voices in singing to God this night.

The hour came, God of imagination,
when chaos was no more, as you lifted
the cup of creation, and poured it out:
stars danced in night skies,
cattle lowed in the meadows,
rivers flowed down to oceans.
You offered us a drink from
the fountains of living water,
but we reached for the cup
of bitterness and anger which
sin and death offered to us.
You sent women and men to sing
to us of all the promises you made
but we continued to distance ourselves
from you out of an abundance of caution
taught to us be temptation and death.
That is why you decided to send your Child
to us, because we broke your heart over and over
and you are the only one who could heal it.

Therefore, with those whose are quarantined by fear,
with those we love so much, yet remain isolated from,
we join our voices in singing your praise:

Holy, holy, holy are you, God of the forgotten and afraid.
All creation teaches us how to praise your name.
Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is the One who kneels to wash us with grace.
Hosanna in the highest.

You are holiness beyond our understanding, God of love,
and you have blessed us with the gift of Jesus.
He could have remained isolated from us,
but chose to set aside glory
to become one of us.
He could be self-quarantined himself
from our foolishness and quarrels,
but he left glory’s company,
to walk with us.
He could have worn a mask
so that he would not breathe in
our fears and confusion,
but he came into our midst
to sing songs of your.
He could have forsaken the cross,
but took it up, giving his life
so we would know that we are never alone,
even in the most isolated moments,
but are surrounded by your resurrection love
this night and in every moment to come.

As we gather in these moments of isolation,
we pray our brokenness be made whole;
as we would drink the cup of grace,
we pray that we would be filled with hope;
as we gather around coffee tables or in kitchens,
we would remember that faith is a mystery:

In remembrance, we sit at the Table with our Friend;
in remembrance, we weep over his passion and death;
in remembrance, we long to celebrate the Resurrection;
in remembrance, we look to the day when we will be gathered together.

On that night so, so long ago, you poured your Spirit
upon your children about to share a meal before
scattering from the slave masters and power brokers.
On that night so long ago, you poured out your Spirit
upon your children about to share a meal before
they scattered to leave Jesus alone to face death.
On this night, now pour out your Spirit
on the gifts of the bread and the cup
and on your children scattered in so many places.
May the bread which is broken
remind us that we are made whole by your love
even as we seek to be faithful
in caring for all those who seem
so far apart from us in these days.
And may the cup from which we drink
remind us that we are filled with your grace,
so we might be people of hope in times of despair,
so we might be people of love in times of anger,
so we might be people of peace in the face of fear.

And when these long days and nights of isolation are over
and we are once again gathered as your people,
we will join hands and dance around your Meal,
singing glory and honor and praise and love to you,
God of our hearts in every moment,
Jesus of our hopes in every night,
Spirit of our love in every person. Amen and amen.

© 2020 Thom M. Shuman