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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.”

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Confession and Pardon Liturgy

Confession and Pardon: we rush to cheap grace, cry peace when there is no peace

Loving God, as one we confess our failings:

We aim to seek justice, 
but then when it proves too hard, too exhausting, we rush to cheap grace.

We aim to embrace kindness, 
but then snap at loved ones, shut out the stranger, remain ignorant of our neighbor’s needs.

We aim to walk humbly with our God, 
but willfully ignore how our path diverges from Yours.

We cry “peace!” when we mean “compliance!”
We cry “peace!” when we mean “complacency!” 
We cry “peace!” when there is no peace. 


ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Friends, there is a kindness in God’s justice
that hears out our confessions and liberates us to move forward, to build a new and better world.

God’s Word forgives and redeems us. God’s Breath revitalizes us for the journey. Emboldened by this good news, let us share God’s love with one another. 


I wrote this for a virtual service on June 21, 2020 (7A Proper) centered around themes of oppression, patriarchy, and white supremacy; it explored how our world shapes each of us based on our various identities and what kind of reconciliation is possible between oppressors and the ones who oppress.

We also sang “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” at this service, which I reference in the assurance of pardon (“there is a kindness in God’s justice”). Other references in this liturgy include to Micah 6 and Jeremiah 6:14.

My sermon text was Genesis 21:8-21. My sermon, “No Good Patriarchs – Solidarity with Hagar” can be read or watched here.

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Confession and Pardon Liturgy

Confession and Pardon – Wisdom’s presence where we fail to look

CALL TO CONFESSION

Beloved Community,
God delights in defying our expectations.
Right when we think we have it all figured out,
then we are at our most foolish.
When we think we are better or holier than others,
then we are at our lowest.

So as one let us confess our sins
to the God who casts down the mighty
and lifts up the humble.


CONFESSION

Wisdom whispers Her secrets to those the world rejects,
but we do not hear Her echo in their voices,
for we are too busy ignoring, exploiting, or shaming them.

Wisdom enters through the cracks in our hearts and minds,
but we fail to recognize Her in ourselves,
too lost in our worries, our pain, or self-loathing.

Holy Wisdom calling from the heights!
Have mercy on us when we deny your image
in others or in ourselves.

Gentle Wisdom crooning in our hearts!
Liberate us from the doubts and fears
that sever our ties to community
and paint those different from us as enemies.

Mighty Wisdom whirling through our midst!
Stir up our stagnant spirits till they sing
with a renewed resolve to carry out your will.


ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Dear friends,
Truly God’s grace covers every sin.
We need not fear rejection from God
who names imperfect people like us Beloved.

Assured of God’s mercy, we can move forward
with hearts a little more open to Wisdom’s call,
a little more ready to notice Her where we wouldn’t think to look.

Categories
Confession and Pardon Liturgy

Confession and pardon – sins of uniformity, oppression, passivity, self-loathing

God of justice, God of mercy, as one we confess our failings:

Under the guise of seeking unity, we force uniformity
and reject all those who are just too different from us to fit in. 
Convict us. Embolden us. Teach us the long repentance road.

Under the guise of protecting the peace, we enable injustice,
Appeasing the majority while the minoritized are thrown aside.
Convict us. Embolden us. Teach us the long repentance road. 

When our violence manifests in hateful words or striking hands,
In guns leveled against the oppressed and walls erected against the stranger, 
Convict us. Embolden us. Teach us the long repentance road.

When our violence manifests in words swallowed, in hands tied,
Standing by when we should jump in, holding our tongue when we should speak out, 
Convict us. Embolden us. Teach us the long repentance road.

When we do violence to our own spirits
By allowing shame, or self-hate, or resentment to smolder unaddressed,
Convict us. Embolden us. Teach us the long repentance road.


Friends, our remorse is a sign of God’s grace already at work within us.
Assured of God’s mercy, we are free to seek new ways of being together. 

God’s Word forgives and redeems us. God’s Breath revitalizes us for the journey. Empowered by this good news, let us share God’s love with one another.


I wrote this for a virtual service on August 16, 2020 (15A Proper), a service that centered around themes of reconciliation and interdependence. I preached on Genesis 45:1-15, exploring Joseph’s gender nonconformity as a source for the brothers’ violence against Joseph; how Joseph was brought from suffering into thriving and was celebrated for the very gifts that the brothers had hated; and how Joseph as the wronged party got to choose how and when reconciliation would take place.

Meanwhile, I wove that theme of reconciliation into my liturgy alongside our need for community and to draw the circles of our community ever wider, drawing from the alternative reading Isaiah 56:1-8.

To read or watch my sermon, visit here.

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Confession and Pardon LGBT/queer Liturgy Weddings

Confession and Pardon for a queer wedding

CALL TO CONFESSION

God desires that all Creation might be one, 
that love be central to human life; 
and that all beings might dwell together in right relationship. 

Trusting in God’s mercy, let us come to God and acknowledge
all that separates us from love’s source, all that wounds creation.
Let us pray:


PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Creator, you fashioned us with care and called us Good. 
Yet we point fingers at one another,
calling each other broken, evil, wrong.

Liberator, you freed us from the captivity of our own limitations and fears, teaching us your Truth, 
yet we continue to subject one another to yokes of falsehood, cruelty, and shame.  

Mischievous Spirit, you flow wherever you will, breathing fresh life into long-dead things and blowing down the walls we build – 
yet we lean into death and division, tearing your Creation apart.
We construct national borders and gender and race
to hold all that is different from us at arm’s length.

Forgive us. Nourish and invigorate us. 
Empower us to love bigger, seek deeper –
teach us how to join you in healing the world where we can.


ASSURING OF PARDON

Hear God’s words of grace for us, for you: 
“And I, once I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

This is the new thing God has done and is doing: 
She has freed us from suffering and injustice
so that we might live into the goodness we were made to inhabit. 

Let this truth liberate you and bring you peace: you are forgiven. 
Let us share the peace of Jesus with one another – especially with those strangers who today become our family. 

(passing of the peace)

Friends new and old, we have been freed from sin and suffering –
and freed for joy and love. 

It is one iteration of that God-given love
that brings us together today:

The love uniting [name] and [name].


This is the liturgy I wrote for the wedding between me and Leah. Some of the sins I bring to this confession are ones inflicted particularly against LGBTQA+ persons. God calls us to a world of joy and justice, where such hatred is no more, so that we all might live and serve together.

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Call to worship Charge and Benediction Confession and Pardon Holy Days Liturgy My poetry Reflections for worship services

Ascension liturgy (Acts 1, Luke 24, Jesus’s wounds)

Call to Worship:

Here we are, gathered in many spaces but in One Body.
Here we are, ready to worship God, ready to be transformed.

Today we remember Jesus’s ascension,
a rising up of human flesh to mingle with the Divine.

We praise the one who died and rose,
who lifts us all – body and spirit – in his outstretched, wounded arms. 

As we join in prayer and song and praise,
may the Holy Spirit fill us to bursting
both with anticipation of Christ’s return
and an irresistible urge to seek God’s kin(g)dom here and now.

Opening Prayer:

Great Creator,
You who crafted the cosmos and cradle it to your heart,
you who will the flourishing of all your creatures
and weave a tapestry of redemption for humanity –
these embodied spirits whom you fashioned in your image –

Teach us to be your hands, working for the liberation and restoration 
of the outcast and those who fear what they do not know,
of the oppressor and the oppressed.

In the name of your Child Jesus,
who rose in body to you
and who sent us the Holy Spirit to be the very heartbeat of the world,
we pray.

Amen.


Confessional Prayer

Risen God,

too often we live as though you abandoned us
when you ascended into heaven –
as though you are not alive and active in the world,
as though we could make up our own morality,
as though we should wait, dormant, for your return, watching the sky instead of being active vessels for your love and restoration.

When we fail to balance our hope in your return
with living out your already-present Spirit: forgive us. 

When anxiety holds us back: encourage us.
When apathy or resignation leaves us feeling powerless: empower us.

Amen.


Reflection

We are the Body of Christ.

Just like Jesus our God,
we are embodied spirits and inspirited bodies –
bodies of many colors, many (dis)abilities and shapes,
many desires and dreams.

When the world tells us our bodies are wrong,
that we are not the right color or size, that we are useless or broken,
that we love the wrong way,

may the vision of our embodied God –
Jesus of the wounded hands and feet,
Jesus of the brown and callused skin,
Jesus of the poor person’s belly
and kind person’s love of food and fellowship –
appear to us.

When we feel swayed to judge
the body of another and what they do with it
may the vision of Jesus’s table, set for
women and eunuchs, tax collectors and poor persons,
practitioners of many faiths, the Roman centurion and his lover,
deaf and blind persons, lepers and those with mental illness,
and ever other stranger and outcast
inspire us to expand our own table. 

When we feel anxious as the first disciples did
that Jesus arose in body, seeming to leave us on earth behind,
may his Spirit enfold us, a reminder that we were not abandoned
but empowered and transformed.

In the body and divinity of Jesus,
heaven meets earth –
thanks be to God!


Benediction 

The Risen One is here among us, here and now.
Jesus calls to us, not to look toward the sky,
but into the faces of those who surround us –

to listen to them; to commune with them;
to live peaceably with them whenever possible
and to disrupt injustice wherever necessary.

May we hear that voice and invitation as we go out into the world,
here and now, together,
to celebrate and cultivate the gifts of the Holy Spirit
whom we find wherever there is life.

Amen.

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Confession and Pardon Liturgy

Confession and pardon: trauma, isolation, scarcity and individualism

God With Us, as one we confess our failings:

In times of trauma and hardship,
you call us to lean on one another and on you.
But we retreat into ourselves instead,
to wallow in our own troubles alone.  
We imagine ourselves to be burdens,
or accuse others of being dead weight. 

In a world whose resources we have poisoned,
a society divided into the haves and the have-nots,
your promise of abundance is just about impossible to believe.

And so we fall prey to myths of scarcity and individualism
that transform friends into enemies,
comrades into competitors.

When we deny our place in the network of your Creation,
when we reject the protests of those who thirst for justice,
when we fail to question authority,

Challenge us. Teach us. Restore us to your Way. 


ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Friends, our remorse is a sign of God’s grace already at work within us.
Assured of God’s mercy, we are liberated to seek new ways of being together. 


I wrote this for a virtual service centered around trauma and community’s role in the journey to recovery; an affirmation of protest is also woven throughout the liturgy. My sermon was based around Exodus 17:1-7, looking at the wilderness wandering through a lens of generational trauma and applying it to the collective and individual traumas we are facing today, from those caused by pandemic and police violence to personal struggles.

Watch or read my sermon here.

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Confession and Pardon Liturgy

Confession and Pardon: harming Creation, exploiting our siblings

God of justice, God of mercy, as one we confess our failings:

Though you conceived all the cosmos and called it Good,
We disregard the holiness of Creation, exploiting it for our own gain.

Though you gave birth to one human race
bestowing your image and your blessing on every human being,
We deny that image in those we mark as Other,
as if there were only enough blessing for some of us.

We rob our siblings of their autonomy and dignity;
we force them to live in fear and poverty,
and use their very bodies to fuel our own prosperity. 

And when we are the ones oppressed, our exhaustion and fear poison us,
warping our ability to trust, causing us to lash out at those we love.

In this dog-eat-dog world, this zero-sum game of divide-and-conquer, 
We become too wrapped up in our own survival
to lift up our siblings drowning alongside us.


ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Friends, our remorse is a sign of God’s grace already at work within us. Assured of God’s mercy, we are free to seek new ways of being together. 

God’s Word forgives and redeems us. God’s Breath revitalizes us for the journey. Emboldened by this good news, let us share God’s love with one another. 


I wrote this for a service with a central theme of imagination, and how God’s gift of imagination can help us envision and enact a better world, a world liberated from oppressive binary and hierarchical structures like cishetero-patriarchy and white supremacy. My sermon’s text was Genesis 25:19-34 and explored the relationship between Jacob – with his marginalizing identities who assimilates into patriarchy – and Esau with his privilege who eventually seeks out reconciliation with his brother. You can read or watch the sermon here.

While the Genesis text was my sermon focus, I wanted to fit the lectionary’s Gospel reading into my liturgy. That reading was Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, the Parable of the Sower.