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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
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.

Categories
Holy Days lent My poetry

poem for Holy Saturday: this moment matters

they wanted – no, they needed
to touch you one last time.

so they trudged the tombward path
with their perfumes and their spices
their strips of cloth to cocoon your body in
for its final transformation back to dust

their shoulders almost broken with grief,
heavy as the cross
that crushed the life from your flesh.

let me fall in step behind them.
let me take my place in that line
of broken hearts bearing a cross of grief together.
let me shoulder my share of the burden

and let me not rush
to the first fingers of dawn, frail and trembling,
reaching past a rolled-back stone
to empty space where your corpse should be –

no. let me linger in the moment when
your corpse still lies there
and anguish fractures the air
into splinters that cut the lungs.

this moment matters:
your brown body
with the breath pressed out
by the inexorable boot of Empire
matters.

and the moment that comes after
cannot ease this one.

it never has, and it never will, for

there are still bodies broken,
breathless, beaten down
by Empire’s brutality or else its apathy.

and you, with us to the last,
still lie among them – you hold them close
and share their final exhalation
be it in a hospital bed, the street, a cell.

so let me not sprint to sunrise
when your body can still be found
nestled with cold bodies in their graves.

blessed be the hands
that carry the spices and perfumes, water and cloth!
blessed, blessed be the throats
worn rough with sobs
yet refusing to be silenced,
broadcasting the crime lest some claim ignorance.

i’ll not dishonor them by racing past
to the future reunion of
form to dust, breath to body, lover to loved
before they’re ready.

keep watch! soak in! be present with them!
this moment is holy.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem:

This was my prayer for Holy Saturday, 2020 – 
in the shadow of pandemic
and from under the enduring boot of state violence and negligence: 
Spirit, help us learn to linger in the shadow of the tomb,
so as not to abandon those who are not ready to look beyond it yet. 

In this poem I lean on the promise of the Brief Statement of Faith:
“in life and in death, we belong to God.” And I draw from Black theologians like James Cone who argue that God is Black, that Jesus Christ is executed again wherever human beings are lynched or tortured. This poem is written in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith LGBT/queer Liturgy

Affirmation of faith in a Queer God

[One:]

To try to define the Divine
in human words is a fool’s errand –
but luckily for us, God delights in making the foolish wise.

Emboldened thus, let us unite our many voices
to confess what little we know of this queer God:

[All:]

We believe in the Triune God, incomprehensible
and yet invested in revealing Themself to us,
in helping us understand and truly know Them
in every place and time, among all peoples –
but especially those the world dismisses
as broken, worthless, foolish. 

We believe that the God who conceived of the cosmos,
brooded over its rolling waters like a mother hen
and then exclaimed over Her newly-birthed worlds,
“Good! very Good!”

is the same God who came to a small and subjugated people
and made them Her own.
We marvel that this God to whom belongs all power and glory
has a soft spot for the world’s outsiders and outcasts –
for She Herself is the ultimate stranger.

We believe that in the Person of Jesus Christ,
that same God – despite being beyond human constructs
like class and ethnicity and gender –
entered an impoverished household, entered a Jewish Palestinian body,
became one with that same oppressed and colonized people
with whom Xe had for so long persevered in relationship,
and was assigned male at birth.

But Jesus of Nazareth defied the gender roles assigned to him:
instead of settling down with a wife,
Jesus consorted with strange women, exalted eunuchs,
reached out to Samaritans and Syrophoenicians,
and traipsed across the region with a motley crew
of the very kinds of folk no respectable man would even greet.

A parable in himself, he shared queer stories
of a world turned on its head, where the last are first
and the powerful must relinquish their power –

And, in the ultimate display of solidarity
with all those whom the powerful persecute across the ages, 
Jesus was executed by Empire on a cross, dying between
two other “common criminals.”

But this was not the end of his story, nor ours:
this ultimate breaker of human binaries –
between Creator and creature, man and woman, have and have-not –
demolished the divide between death and life for good.
Jesus rose, lifting all of us with him, from death and into heaven –

but even so, Divinity dwells among us still,
for we believe in the Holy Spirit, the very Breath in our lungs,
the Breeze that comforts us, the Wind that stirs us to action
and sweeps us up into the revolution that is
God’s impossible incoming Kin(g)dom.


I wrote this affirmation for a More Light Sunday service, which is celebrated by the PC(USA) every October on the Sunday nearest to National Coming Out Day.

For more on God as the ultimate stranger, check out Joy Ladin’s book The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective.

The image of God as a bird brooding over the waters of Creation comes straight from Genesis 1:2. See footnote 11 of Genesis 1 on this website for details about the Hebrew verb used to describe “the Spirit of God ‘moving’ over the waters” in this verse.

For more on Jesus as the divine assigned male at birth and living a gender nonconforming life, check out the section “Assigned Male at Incarnation: An Intersex and Transgender Jesus” on my webpage here.

Categories
Holy Days LGBT/queer Liturgy My poetry Reflections for worship services

A queer prayer for foot washing – Maundy Thursday / Holy Thursday

Jesus,

I do not know if I could let you, my God,
my Savior, to whom I owe all things
kneel below me
and take into your warm brown hands
my feet, dirty and cold.

I also do not know if I could take
the feet of my betrayers, my deniers –

those who declare my identity a falsehood or a phase,
those who sentence me to suffering by their hate,
those who wield you against me,
those who do not yet know all that I am, but when they do
might cease to associate themselves with me –

I don’t know if I could take their feet
in my hands, 
kneel before them in a pose of the same lowliness
they often make me feel

and wash their feet
just as you did for your friends, who would very soon abandon you.

Must I let you serve me?

And must I serve them?


…And if I do these things, will I really grow closer
to you?

to them?

Oh! You who stripped off Divinity
and took on the frail finitude of flesh…for me!
teach me this humility.

Give me the courage to ask them
if they will even let me wash their feet
and whether, maybe, they might wash mine too.

Intimacy like this is a fearful thing.

But if it truly leads to fuller life
and if you are with me,

I will take the bowl of water,
the washing rag,
and I will sit with bare feet
and I will kneel with warm hands.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith Liturgy

Affirmation of Faith: Creator God-with-us, whose existence is relationship

We believe in the Triune God whose very existence is relationship,
a dance of mutual love that overflows into Their creation.

As beings made in the image of this relational God, 
we are most human when we live outside of hierarchy and individualism
and live into community with God, with each other, and with all creation.

We believe in Jesus Christ, the surest example of God-with-us,
of God-for-us, of a God whose power is not dominance and control
but rather a love that empowers, liberates, and invites us into partnership. 

We believe in the Holy Spirit
who brooded over the deep until She birthed the universe,

who is the breath that animates us,
the air that whispers to seeds till they sprout and bloom,

the wind that stirs up stagnance,
the flame that burns up deadness to make a way for new life.

We believe that this Triune God invites us to join Them 
in sowing a Kin(g)dom of equity and justice here on earth

where God’s blessings are shared fairly and there is plenty for all.


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.