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Confession and Pardon Holy Days lent Liturgy My poetry Reflections for worship services

Combatting Antisemitism on Good Friday: An Alternative to the “Solemn Reproaches of the Cross”

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

From the moment I shaped humanity from the mud
and gifted you with my own Breath
I delighted in you, and called you good,

invited you to serve my diverse Creation,
promising that as long as you cared for it,
it would care for you  –

yet you trample my good works under your feet!
You consume and consume and consume beyond your need
even while many of your siblings starve.

In sentencing your siblings and the land
to a torturous death,
you sentence me.

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us!

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

I chose the children of Israel as my own
not despite but because Jacob dared to wrestle me;
I chose the enslaved Hebrews as my own
not despite but because of their littleness,
the way their neighbors sought to dominate or destroy them.

My covenant with them is eternal;
My Torah instructs them well on how to love me
by loving the stranger, the Other, the defenseless –

Yet you claim your relationship with me negates theirs!

You call their testament “old,”
and claim the God you find there
is bloodthirsty, barbaric, not the same God;

Across the centuries you have listened to the story
of how I was charged by Roman powers with sedition,
died on a Roman cross –
and then went out and blamed “the Jews” for my death!

You have coerced conversion,
enacted or enabled hate crimes against them;
you have shunned and slandered them
when you ought to have
embraced them as your kin!

When you reject and persecute my Jewish people,
truly, truly you reject and persecute me.

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us!

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

I so loved you, I wrapped my divinity in frail flesh
so I could share with you
both joy and pain, feast and famine, friendship and loss;

I so loved you, I accepted Rome’s cross
to show my solidarity with all
whom worldly powers crush —

But still you idolize the very forces
that brutalized my body unto death!

When you regard a flag above a life
and let your siblings perish
on the other side of a border you invented;

when you wage war against Black and Indigenous peoples
or look away as they are killed
you also kill me.

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us!

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

Why do you not help me when I cry out
in thirst and hunger, or nakedness?
Why do you not welcome me when I come to you as a stranger?
Where are you when I am sick, but can’t afford care?
Where are you when I am abused or contracting COVID in prison?

Oh, my church! when will you truly become
my hands and feet on earth?
Answer, answer me!

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us
and we will be your hands and feet.

We will care for your Creation
and show gratitude for its care of us.

We will respect your Jewish people,
repenting of and uprooting our antisemitism;
we will learn to recognize your face
among persons of all faiths.

We will care for the most oppressed among us,
joining in solidarity with Black, Indigenous people of color,
with the LGBTQA+ community,
with the disability community, and all the disenfranchised,

uplifting their voices
and making good trouble
until the needs of all are met.

Truly, then, you will be my church
and I will give you strength, 
and you shall journey in the name of
God Who Draws All Peoples To Themself. 


You can hear me read this piece and explain it in other words in episode 39 of my podcast – find links here.

I wrote this piece to be used as an alternative in churches that on Good Friday traditionally read the Improperia, the “Solemn Reproaches of the Cross, the original version of which you can read here. My intention is to encourage Christians to examine our antisemitism during this week, rather than fueling it with language that blames the Jewish people past and present for Jesus’s death.

Holy Week has long been a dangerous time of the year for Jewish persons (See this article for the history of antisemitic hate crimes on Good Friday in medieval Europe; and this article arguing that “Centuries of Christian Antisemitism Led to the Holocaust“). The scriptures and liturgy that we choose to read in our churches during this time fuels that antisemitism not only this week, but the whole year round. 

As Jewish woman and New Testament professor Amy-Jill Levine writes in this article,

“Jesus of Nazareth, charged by the Roman authorities with sedition, dies on a Roman cross. But Jews ― the collective, all Jews ― become known as “Christ-killers.” Still haunting, the legacy of that charge becomes acute during Holy Week, when pastors and priests who speak about the death of Jesus have to talk about “the Jews.” Every year, the same difficulty surfaces: how can a gospel of love be proclaimed, if that same gospel is heard to promote hatred of Jesus’s own people?”

Among the most poisonous of liturgy read by many churches across the centuries is the “Reproaches.” As Elizabeth Palmer explains in her 2020 article “Thinking about Good Friday during a Pandemic,”

In the Solemn Reproaches, Jesus addresses people who have harmed him — and the text has a long history of stirring up violence against Jewish people. Many times over the centuries, in many places, Christians bowed before the cross on Good Friday and heard or sang some version of these words: “I led thee through the wilderness 40 years, fed thee with manna, and brought thee into a land exceeding good, and thou hast prepared a cross for thy Savior.” Then they’d leave the church, form a mob, and attack Jewish communities.

The “Reproaches” are coated in the blood of our Jewish neighbors. They should not be read or sung in our worship — but neither should they be hidden away outside of worship. We can’t pretend this text does not exist. We must grapple with it, guide congregations in understanding why it is so evil, and in doing so move towards acknowledging and dealing with our antisemitism, past and present.

My hope is that this alternative text, which includes a well-earned reproach for our antisemitism with examples of what that antisemitism looks like in our churches today, can be a jumping off point for conversations on this topic.

For more on antisemitism during Holy Week and what to do about it, I highly recommend Levine’s article ““Holy Week and the hatred of the Jews: How to avoid anti-Judaism this Easter.” In this article, Levine describes how the anti-Jewish language got into the Gospels to begin with; how interfaith conversations today help stem the tide of antisemitism; and explores and ranks the 6 strategies Levine has seen people use when trying to resolve these problems with the New Testament.

From least useful to most useful, she names these strategies as excision (just removing the problematic stuff and pretending it was never there); retranslation (changing up the way we translate problematic texts, such as changing “the Jews” to “Judeans”); romanticizing (this includes Christians holding their own Passover seders – read this part of the article to see why we should Not Do That); allegorizing; historicizing; and, best of all, just admitting the problem:

We come finally to our sixth option: admit to the problem and deal with it. There are many ways congregations can address the difficult texts. Put a note in service bulletins to explain the harm the texts have caused. Read the problematic texts silently, or in a whisper. Have Jews today give testimony about how they have been hurt by the texts.

Those who proclaim the problematic verses from the pulpit might imagine a Jewish child sitting in the front pew and take heed: don’t say anything that would hurt this child, and don’t say anything that would cause a member of the congregation to hurt this child.

Better still: educate the next generation, so that when they hear the problematic words proclaimed, they have multiple contexts – theological, historical, ethical – by which to understand them.

Christians, hearing the Gospels during Holy Week, should no more hear a message of hatred of Jews than Jews, reading the Book of Esther on Purim, should hate Persians, or celebrating the seder and reliving the time when “we were slaves in Egypt,” should hate Egyptians.

We choose how to read. After two thousand years of enmity, Jews and Christians today can recover and even celebrate our common past, locate Jesus and his earliest followers within rather than over and against Judaism, and live into the time when, as both synagogue and church proclaim, we can love G-d and our neighbour.’

For more resources for dealing with antisemitism within our Christian communities, see below.


RESOURCES:

First, let’s get educated on the basic facts about antisemitism in Holy Week’s typical scriptures, and alternatives to concluding that “the Jews killed Jesus”:

Next, let’s reimagine the stories we read during Holy Week in ways that don’t do harm to our Jewish neighbors!

  • I most highly recommend Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levine’s book Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week.
  • Get a summary of and link to a pdf of her chapter on Palm Sunday and the “cleansing of the temple” (Jesus flipping tables) here
  • And if reading a whole book isn’t your thing, Levine also has a video series where she talks about the Passion story – here’s the first video, just 9 minutes long
  • And here’s an article interviewing Levine that sums up the purpose of her work with the Christian Gospels – “A number of Christian commentators feel the need to make Judaism look bad in order to make Jesus look good. Instead of portraying Jesus as a Jew talking to other Jews, he becomes in their views the first Christian, the one who invented divine grace, mercy, and love, and all that other good stuff. Such views neglect the presence of these same virtues within Jesus’ own Jewish context. There should be no reason this Jewish Jesus is used to promote anti-Judaism.”

Categories
easter Holy Days Liturgy Prayers of the People

Easter Intercessions: Gratitude for what already is; Dissatisfaction for what is not yet

Dear siblings in the risen Christ,
though we reside in the not-yet world
where God’s Kin(g)dom is still being ushered in,
gratitude still fills my spirit —

for already Jesus has drawn us to himself and holds us close;
already we have the promise that in death as in life, we belong to God;
already the Holy Spirit is at work in solidarity with us.

So I invite you to take this moment with me
to let gratitude grow and glow within you
and lift it up with me to the God Who Lives.

Let us pray:

For this good, good earth
that takes such good care of us
when we take care of it,
we give thanks.

For the helpers,
those who pick up the protest chant, or pick up our to-do lists,
so that we have time to rest and recover;
for these holy helpers, we give thanks.

For the pastors, musicians, church staff, and congregants
who put so much time and energy
into crafting multiple services this week
for the nourishment of our people and for the glory of God,
we give our heartfelt thanks.

For the chances we’ve had to draw together
to serve our neighbors or to study our scriptures;
we give thanks.

For Black Indigenous persons of color, LGBTQA+ persons, and others
who take the hells into which their oppressors throw them
and transform them into Edens —
into refuges for their people
where they can unite, rest from hatred, and create incredible things,
we give thanks.

And finally, for those who find gratitude
hard to muster up right now,
we pray for their courage to reach out to community
for the support they deserve;
and we lift up whatever prayers burn hottest in their hearts.

Oh God Who Lives,
Oh God Who Brings to Life,
Oh God Who Sustains Us evermore with love,

May our gratitude for what already is
beget the energy to act:
Our thanks for Creation moving us to environmental justice;
Our thanks for the helpers moving us to join their ranks;
Our thanks for our church leaders moving us
to participate however we are able.

And may our dissatisfaction with how much is yet broken
fuel our drive to make your Kin(g)dom Come, your will be done —
to demand justice for Black lives,
to demand safety and thriving for trans youth and adults,
to demand resources and respect for
the disability community, for the incarcerated,
for border crossers and Indigenous peoples,
and for all who are most disenfranchised by our society.

Together we lift these prayers
to the God who draws all peoples to Themself.

Amen.


Categories
Holy Days lent Liturgy Other search markers Prayers of the People

Holy Week Intercessions: praying for Jesus – and for all unjustly blamed

Dear siblings in Jesus Christ,
As ever, we have so much to pray for…

But this week, I invite you to do something a little odd with me:
Will you pray with me for Jesus, too?

In this week in which we remember
his most agonizing moments,
his trauma, his desolation, his execution as a common criminal,
let’s pray for him, as he prays and works unceasingly for us.

Friends, let us pray.

For those unjustly blamed
across time and space:


for Jesus, accused and sentenced to death
by the powers who feared his revolutionary Kin(g)dom;

for our Jewish neighbors,
wrongly punished across the centuries for Christ’s death
and for many other crimes of which they are innocent;

for members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community
who have become a hyper-visible target to pin this pandemic on;

for migrants and immigrants who are accused of
stealing jobs and depleting resources
simply for daring to seek a life for themselves and their loved ones;

we pray.

For those unjustly shamed
across time and space:

For Jesus, tortured and taunted by Roman soldiers,
stripped of his friends, his clothing, his life;

For sex workers
whose livelihoods are criminalized
and bodies dehumanized;

For all who have been victim-blamed,
told that harassment, abuse, and even death
are their fault because of who they are, how they act,
or the jobs or beliefs they hold;

we pray.

And for those who go unnamed
across time and space:

for the two men crucified alongside Jesus,
and the countless others who have been
tortured, executed, disappeared
from before the dawn of the Roman Empire
through the current regime the United States;

for all victims of mass shootings,
too many to name, too many to bear;

for the numberless masses of human beings crushed
under the grindstone of “progress,”
the deaths of their cultures and of their bodies justified
in the name of excess wealth for the few;

we pray.

O God who hears the cries
of those unjustly blamed,
those dehumanized and shamed,
those whose names are eradicated from recorded history

and who replies
by becoming one of them,
by entering into ultimate solidarity on a Roman cross,
and by exposing the violence of worldly powers for the evil it is,

Thank you.

Make your Spirit known to us.
Unite and empower us for the work ahead.

Thank you.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for their 2021 Palm Sunday service occurring not long after the Atlanta Spa Shootings and yet another shooting in Boulder, Colorado.

Categories
Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessory prayer for victims of xenophobia

My sisters, brothers, and siblings in Jesus Christ
who knew what it was to be deeply troubled,

We live in a world roiling with pain and grief,
in desperate need of deliverance.
But we do not go it alone.

Please, join me in weaving our many prayers into one
lifted up to the God who sees us, knows us,
and draws us, all of us, to Themself.

For those who yearn to see God,
but no longer know where to look,
no longer know whom to trust or what to believe,
we pray.

For those who come to Christianity
hoping for a glimpse of the Divine
only to be forced to bow before
an idol to whiteness, to maleness, to worldly wealth and power,
we pray.

For those who go through the motions of worship
but do not feel heard by God
or seen by their faith community,
we pray.

For those who yearn to be known
by their fellow human beings
as kin in the image of God,
worthy of the same dignity and rights,
let us pray:

For every victim of a hate crime,
of white supremacy and white nationalism,
of fetishization, criminalization, and xenophobia,
we pray.

For Breonna Taylor and her family, who still wait to see justice
over one year after her death,
and for those who continue to strive in her name,
we pray.

For unaccompanied minors making the perilous crossing
into the United States, sent by family
who love them desperately enough to lose them,
hoping against hope for them to know safety and prosperity,
we pray.

For Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who have seen
hate crimes against them rise drastically in the past year —
and particularly for the eight human beings,
among them six women of Asian descent,
murdered in the Atlanta area this past week,
we pray.

O God of the oppressed,
who in the person of Jesus knows firsthand what it is
to yearn to be seen, to be known, to be welcomed,
and who knows firsthand what it is
to be stripped of humanity by unjust powers,
arrested, tortured, and executed by an unjust state,

look upon the atrocities, hear the desperate cries;
empower us to be your hands, feet, and heart
in this broken world.

Please, give those who are lonely, lost, languishing
in our congregation and in the broader world
a glimpse of your face, shining back at them
in the face of a loved one or a stranger,
or in forest, mountain, ocean.

Make tangibly known to each of us
your deep and abiding love,
your assurance that there will be justice,
there will be peace —
and that, in the meantime,
you see. You know. And you are here in our midst.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 12:20-33.

In the John passage, Jesus is courageous enough to be vulnerable enough to admit his psyche is “deeply troubled” — from the Greek word ταράσσω, which also means disturbed, agitated, the setting in motion of what should be still. He is terrified of his impending arrest, torture, and crucifixion — but, in solidarity with all those who have no choice in such trauma, he says yes to it.

How do we say yes to solidarity with those experiencing police brutality and hate crimes, particularly with the rise of hate crimes against the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders)?

Categories
Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessory prayer – for those who struggle to love neighbor and self

Beloved,
please join me in lifting up our prayers
to the Creator who loves us so joyfully
that when She finished birthing Her world,
she looked around and cried “Good, very good!” —
to the God who loves us so desperately
that They stripped off omnipotence
and folded Themself into a human body
just to live and love among us.
Together, let us pray:

For those who struggle both to love their neighbor and themselves
after being burned one too many times
by family members or lovers, friends or strangers, bullies or oppressors;

for those who have experienced so much trauma or abuse
that they’re not sure what love looks like
outside of manipulation and humiliation;

for those who fear the vulnerability that love requires
because they still bear wounds from last time they opened themselves,
or because they have been taught
in our world of toxic masculinity and rugged individualism
that to be vulnerable is a weakness to avoid,
we pray.

For those who have been made to feel unloveable
because of their race, their disability, their gender, their sexuality —
those who have been taught that God will only love them
if they play by the rules humans wrote and attributed to God,
if they contort themselves to fit into the status quo,
if they carve out parts of themselves and hide them away,
we pray.

For those who have been taught that love is something they earn
by wearing the right clothes and covering up all blemishes,
by losing that weight or gaining that muscle,
by getting good grades, or getting into the right school,
by having a successful career and making lots of money,
or by having kids and raising them perfectly,
by being nice, by being smart, by being flawless,
we pray.

O God whose blessing is not a trophy, but a gift,
whose love is not control but compassion,
whose power lies not in overpowering but in empowering others,
we offer you our gratitude for hearing every prayer
lifted up in community
or whispered by the cracked and battered heart.

Hold the unloved and love-wounded close;
suffuse them in your love so deep and true
that they can believe how loved they are
and live out that overflowing love among your Creation.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around John 3:14-21 and particularly what it means for God to “so love the world.”

I had this quote from Kendra DeColo’s “After Seeing The Misfits” in mind as I wrote this prayer:

To believe in a god so obscene
she cannot stop loving us
is to believe in our own goodness, no matter
how rough and unearthed, that one day I will love
back with the indigence of my body. Will hear the roar begin
in my palms and catch fire.

FURTHER READING

Categories
lent Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessory prayer to the God who flips tables

Dear friends, please join me in raising all our prayers —
all our joys and griefs, gratitudes and longings —

to the God who helps us discern
when to hold fast and when to let go,
which tables to fix
and which ones to flip.

As one, we pray:

For those who engage in the long and thankless labor
of stripping tables of their unjust trappings:
who drag folding chairs into the rooms where decisions get made
and refuse to shut up until every voice is heard —
for the ministers, teachers, advocates
calling for reparation and constant reform,
we pray.

And also for those courageous ones who recognize
that some tables are beyond refurbishing —
who refuse to cover up rotten foundations with surface fixes —
for the protestors and activists who cry
for abolition, for revolution
we pray.

For those who struggle with anger, anxiety, or trauma,
who lash out at the wrong targets,
who sabotage themselves and their relationships —
or else who keep their anger bottled up,
too tangled up in niceness and respectability
to make their hurts known and set boundaries,
we pray.

For those whose trauma stems from Christianity,
from churches claiming to act in God’s name —

for persons of color, disabled persons, women, LGBT+ persons, and others whose dignity has been denied and gifts rejected;
for those who have suffered abuse at the hands of faith leaders;
for ministers wounded by backlash and burnout;
and for those impacted by antisemitism, islamophobia,
and attempted genocide against Indigenous religions and cultures;
we pray;

and also for those who fight the good fight
to put an end to such injustices in our midst
through education, reparations, and collaboration,
we pray.

O God, Incarnate in the person of Jesus,
you teach us how to be fully human
with all the emotions involved therein —
teach us how to comfort the afflicted
and afflict the comfortable.

Teach us to be kind to ourselves;
give us the courage to face our grief and trauma with tenderness,
giving them the time and space they deserve
so that we can move forward.

Teach us to be kind to others
both by responding to their pain with grace and understanding,
and by loving them enough to tell them when they are doing harm,
offering to work with them as they make things right.

O God with us, You who dwell in the midst of our struggling,
for these things and for all the wordless yearnings of our hearts,
we pray.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around Exodus 20:1-17 and John 2:13-22.

All of us involved in the service and sermon planning were grateful to find Jewish professor of New Testament Studies Amy-Jill Levine’s commentary on the “cleansing of the temple” story. She combats traditional readings of the text with their antisemitic layers by evincing how Jesus’s anger reflects the anger of his predecessors Jeremiah and Zechariah — an anger focused not on the simple fact that sacrificial animals were sold in the Temples’ outer courts, but on the way the Temple (like many of our own worship spaces) had become a safe place for corrupt oppressors, who behaved as if their daily atrocities would be overlooked by God if they paid for a sacrifice every now and again.

Levine also discusses Jesus’s (and Jeremiah’s and Zechariah’s) anger as holy anger thus:

“…There are times, we may find, that business as usual is not only inappropriate, it is obscene. Something has to be done. If we do not become angry when we see images of suffering children, if we do not feel some sort of rage when preventable tragedies occur, if we do not feel compelled to act, then something has gone terribly wrong, with us.

Some of my students insist that anger is a sin. I think whether it is a sin depends on the type of anger we manifest. It is true that the Wrath is among the classical “Seven deadly sins” (the others are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, and sloth). But “wrath” here refers to a temper out of control, to rage, and so to hate and the desire for revenge. That is not the same thing as righteous anger. Righteous anger seeks restitution, not revenge; it seeks correction, not retribution.

We can see the different types of anger manifested in the Gospels: Jesus forbids anger against a person. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22), he states, “I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” The anger he forbids is anger against another person. But he does not forbid anger against systemic evils: hypocrisy, exploitation, harassment, molestation, drug pushing, and so on. Such forms of injustice should make us angry, and that anger should lead to constructive action.

Categories
Holy Days lent Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessions: for those desperate to be named, known, loved

My siblings in Jesus who earnestly asked his friends,
“Who do you say that I am?”,

I invite you to pray with me for all those made in this God’s image who are desperate to be known, to be named, to be respected and remembered. Let us pray:

For the Black lives stomped out by police brutality and white supremacy, for whom we shout “Say their name!” — from Breonna Taylor to Ahmaud Arbery, from Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland, from Michael Brown to George Floyd, we pray.

For the Black lives that have shaped our world, who have labored and lamented, invented and constructed, yet whose names are not printed in our history books — or whose names are shared only during Black History Month, the shortest month of the year — we pray.

For the trans person whose chosen name, whose true name, is rejected by the ones they love the most;
or who must keep their true self hidden to preserve their job, their home, their safety;
or whose very grave is marked by a name that is not theirs — the final insult in a world bent on destroying their dignity — we pray.

For the children crying out their parents’ names in ICE’s cells;
and for the over 26,000 human beings deported under the Biden-Harris administration thus far, we pray.

For those most isolated by this pandemic, who hunger to hear their name uttered by someone, anyone, we pray.

For those who are weary with applying for job after job, waiting for their name to be chosen from the pile, we pray.

For those who stand on street corners asking for money, asking for recognition that they too are human beings with a name, with dreams and griefs, with the Image of God glowing within them, we pray.

For the 500,000 and counting human beings killed in the US alone by this mishandled pandemic, whose names are printed in one inky blur, whose lives are unknown by any but those who loved them not as a faceless mass, but as parents, children, teachers, friends, we pray.

For all those desperately calling to Divinity under one of Their many names — Jesus, Allah, HaShem, Mother Earth, Great Spirit — we pray.

And finally, for the groanings and gratitudes, named and unnamed, of this congregation, we pray.

O God of many names, God the giver and restorer of names,

Ignite in us a burning urgency to
SAY THEIR NAMES,
to cherish their names,
to dig up the names
that white supremacy and all unjust powers would see buried.

O El Shaddai, the rain-bringer, the seed-tender, the nursing Mother,
come gently to each of your hurting children; whisper our own names back to us, reminding us of our worth.

Holy Spirit, we thank you for taking the achings and longings beyond words and groaning them out on our behalf. Comfort us, compel us, encourage and empower us, to be your hands and feet in this aching world today.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around Genesis 17:1-16 and Mark 8:27-38, with themes of God who names Themself and others; who seeks to be known by us just as She knows us.

Categories
Charge and Benediction Christmas Invitation to the table Liturgy Opening prayer Prayers of the People

Liturgy for Christmastide – God of the manger, God of the stranger

OPENING PRAYER

Immanuel, God with us! 

You are indeed with all of us, wherever we are
across the many miles, under our assorted roofs.

In the birth that we celebrate this Christmas season,

You stripped off omnipotence,
burst through the border between Creator and Creation
to curl Your infinity into a finite form,
a frail, physical, form — an infant 

utterly dependent on others to survive.

You who choose
interdependence over self-reliance,
society’s outcasts over mighty kings,
abundance for every creature over excess for the few,
You are indeed worthy of our praise!

As we worship you today, 
may the same Spirit

who brought new life to Hannah and Elizabeth,
who came in dreams to change the mind of Joseph,
who took shelter in Mary and spoke through Simeon and Anna

come upon us all —

a rushing wind to stir up fainting spirits,
a gentle breeze to refresh the weary body.

Spirit of God! Here today!
Breathe new life into us
that we may join the ones who prepare Your way!


PASTORAL PRAYER / INTERCESSORY PRAYER

Like Simeon and Anna, we eagerly anticipate God’s restoration,
which is unfolding even now — yet is not fully here.

We look forward to the future in which all needs will be met,
all cruelty will be transformed into compassion,
all sickness and suffering will give way to flourishing 

for all of humanity, and all of Creation.

In the meantime, we pray for those whose needs we can name –
and for those whose needs we do not know,
those who do not know how to ask for what they need.

Join me now in offering our joined prayers up 
to the God who loves us, who is with us, who is bringing about abundance for all.

God of the Hope born anew at Christmas,

We pray for persistence as we continue to keep each other safe 
in this time of pandemic, even when it means keeping physically apart.

Make your warming Presence felt to all those struggling with loneliness or depression, O God,
and pour your blessing upon those who reach out to their fellow human beings 
in large ways and small.

Encourage and protect all who act in solidarity
with the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned, the oppressed.

We give thanks for protestors who continue to demand justice and equity,
For those who speak out against the violence we wage against this good world you created,
For those who dream of a better reality for all peoples, all creatures,
And who invite all of us into the hard, holy work of making those dreams reality. 

We pray also that those in positions of power will be moved
to take the steps that only they can to reduce sickness and suffering.
We pray for a major transformation of the heart 
in those who shrug off wearing masks,
And in those who perpetrate hate crimes — or who by their silence enable them.  

And God, we offer our deepest gratitude
for the vaccines that are rolling out:
Bless and hover over those who create them,
those who administer them,
those who have received them, those are still waiting to receive them.

As we live into this new stage in our long waiting, revitalize us.
Empower us to be your Presence in the world,
helping others where we can
And attending to our own spirits when there is little else we can do.

God of the manger, God of the stranger,
Carry the most vulnerable of us safely into the future that is coming,
that we can almost reach out and touch, and that we continue to wait and work for.

Amen. 


INVITATION TO THE TABLE

My siblings in the Living God,

The infant born to impoverished Jewish parents
is the one who invites us to his table today. 

He who knew poverty and homelessness
Welcomes you, even if you don’t think you have anything to bring to the table.

Having spent some of his youngest years
as a refugee far from home,
Jesus welcomes refugees and immigrants,
As well as spiritual wanderers, those who do not feel at home at church,
And those who deeply miss gathering physically in their church building.
Jesus welcomes you.

Jesus welcomes oppressors who strive to make amends,
The oppressed who seek sanctuary and justice.
Jesus welcomes you.

Whoever you are, whatever you believe,
Whatever hopes and fears, griefs and doubts you carry to the table with you,
You are welcome here.
Come. Eat. This table is for you. 


BENEDICTION

Siblings in Christ,

having been nourished by the Word made flesh,
by songs that welcome in God’s Kin(g)dom,
by bread offered to us from the one born of Bethlehem,

It is time for us to depart:
to carry our renewed hope out to the despairing,
and to seek the Spirit of God
in the most shunned corners of the world.

Let us go now in peace,
rejoicing that the God who creates, sustains, and redeems us all
goes with us.



I wrote these pieces for a virtual service on December 27, 2020 (First Sunday of Christmastide) centered around the story of the Presentation at the Temple as told in Luke 2:22-40. There are also some references to Isaiah 61.

Categories
Christmas communion meditation Holy Days Liturgy Reflections for worship services

Communion Meditation for Christmastide – Jesus of the House of Bread

Two thousand years ago, 

Divinity entered the world in the form of an infant 
born in Bethlehem — a town whose name means “House of Bread”!
He was swaddled by parents poor in the eyes of the world,
but rich in love,
and laid in a manger —

a food trough for cattle!

Thus it is that from the very moment of his birth,
Jesus made known his intention to feed the hungry world
with his very being —
to be bread for empty stomachs
and nourishment for flagging spirits.

His life was a continuation of a Movement that God had begun
long centuries before Jesus:

a Movement that glimmered in the starry sky laid out for Abraham,
that invited Jacob to wrestle faithfully and fervently
until he came away wounded and blessed;

a Movement that carried the enslaved Hebrews out of bondage
and taught them how to live into true freedom;

a Movement kept alive in times of corruption, and empire, and exile
by fearless prophets who would not be silenced
and who looked forward to the liberation of all prisoners, the uplifting of the poor.

It was those prophets’ message that was boldly sung by Mary,
and that she and Joseph, faithful Jewish parents,
taught to the boy Jesus
with the help of their community’s synagogue. 

It is this message, the proclaiming of God’s World-Upturning Movement,
that infuses the bread and cup we share today.

Eat, drink, and let the sharing of this meal unite us across the miles
into one Body of the liberating Christ
who walks and breathes among us even today. 


I wrote these pieces for a virtual service on December 27, 2020 (First Sunday of Christmastide) centered around the story of the Presentation at the Temple as told in Luke 2:22-40.

Categories
advent Holy Days Liturgy Reflections for worship services

God’s vastness, fearsome and comforting

When I sit with God in quiet moments, I feel
so small. Sometimes, this is a beautiful thing:
I become a little child in the lap of their mother,
I become a baby chick under the soft, warm wings of their mother hen;
I feel safe, and comforted, and loved.

But other times God’s vastness in the face of my own littleness
becomes overwhelming: then I am an ant
under God’s magnifying glass, I am one atom in the face
of the ever-expanding universe that is God

and I become discouraged. Surely no gift I could bring to the table
is big enough for this God to even notice, is big enough to make any impact
on God’s vision for the health and wholeness of this world!…

so why bother? Why even try? Who am I
to talk to God or about God,
to lead church events, to participate in worship services,
to go to a rally for immigrant rights? What change can I or any of us make?

…Then I remember
that God became little Themself,
as little
as any of us ever was.

The impossible hugeness of God
folded itself down into a microscopic embryo,
was nourished by an umbilical cord, was born as a fragile infant,
dependent
on the love and protection of impoverished human parents.

In this season of Advent looking forward to Christmas, let us pray together
to the almighty God who became small, vulnerable, one of us:

Jesus of the manger,

When we grow discouraged at our own littleness
in the face of the work that needs to be done,
in the face of God’s greatness,
Remind us that you know our smallness, and delight in it! —
that each and every one of us does have gifts to offer to you
and to our fellow living beings, gifts that matter,
gifts that make a difference.

Remind us of your parents,
a poor young couple shut out from the inn,
who made use of what they had to care for you,
for God in their midst.

Remind us of how you adored
the little ones among us:
the children who were meant to be seen and not heard
but to whom you said, “Come to me!”

And in the remembering of your love for the littlest ones,
the poorest ones, the scorned ones,
may we be inspired to use our gifts
for the betterment of your world, to do
small things with great love, to keep hope burning bright
for the coming of your Kin(g)dom, where the small are lifted up.

Amen.


If you want to make this a call to the passing of the peace,
you can add:

Friends, now that we have recognized that our littleness
is not something to be lamented
but embraced, we can share the peace of the One who became small to live and love among us.
The peace of the infant Jesus be with you.

And also with you.


About this piece:
I wrote this for a Advent worship service some years ago; it was our pageant day, when the children enact the nativity and we sing songs of how the divine Word became human flesh, how the great became small so that the small might become great, how each of us has a gift to offer God.

I was also channeling something I’d learned from classmates in a seminary class where we’d been discussing Psalm 139, that Psalm where the speaker wonders at how there is no place they can go that God is not there, knowing their every move:

To me, this has always been a very comforting and indeed awe-some thing to marvel at! But for one classmate, it was a thing of terror – she said it made her feel trapped in past times when she’d been desperate to escape the image of God that had been forced on her, a God who is judgmental and cruel, ready to pounce on her and damn her for any little slip-up.

She reminded me that God’s bigness can be a terrifying thing, even while it is a comfort when we meet God as a child meets a loving parent. I wanted to hold up her fears as legitimate in this piece, while hopefully softening and soothing them.