Advent Liturgies (Object Lessons)

Already posted: SIGNS, SAVIORS, SERPENTS, SONGS on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel readings; WAITING, PREPARING, SINGING, LABORING on the RCL’s Old Testament readings; WHERE JUSTICE GETS DONE on the Narrative Lectionary readings; and NATIVITY THROUGH ADVENT as a non-lectionary option.

Up now, the last of the original Advent liturgies that I’ll be posting for this season: OBJECT LESSONS, a non-lectionary set of liturgies (and related sermon series) aimed to make Advent tangible. I suggested OBJECT LESSONS as one of several Advent sermon series ideas during my Advent Preaching Hacks webinar, part of the Center for Progressive Renewal’s 2015 Advent webinar bundle. NOTE: When using object lessons in worship — not just for the “children’s moment” — it’s important to make the experience available to everyone. Don’t believe adults who tell you that they don’t need their own object to hold/use or that they’ll “just watch”; all of our spirits benefit from play!

Advent 1 (ORIGAMI) Isaiah 2:1-5
Also suggested: move the whole worship service to the chancel area. Crowd in the chairs for those who prefer seats and spread blankets/rugs for those who might enjoy sitting on the floor. Many church chancel spaces are elevated, thus bringing everyone up to the “mountain of the LORD’s house.”

Candle Lighting
In a world full of swords,
Make plowshares.
In a world full of spears,
Make pruning hooks.
In a world full of fear,
Make light and love.
[first candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We can imagine a different world, but God we are afraid that it is impossible to reach. We can imagine better ways of caring for neighbors and strangers, but God we are convinced that it cannot be done. Will we ever see a day without war? Will we ever see a season without fear? Will we ever reach your holy mountain? We are gathered at your feet, Most Holy God. Teach us, we pray.

Advent 2 (CLAY) Isaiah 64:1-9
Also suggested: structure this worship service so that it’s primarily an experience of silence. The Isaiah text invites a spirit of lament and confession; allow long periods of silence to make room for grief and meditation, and let the creative use of clay (or coloring for those who desire a not-so-messy tactile experience) serve as the good & redeeming news.

Candle Lighting
No ear has heard,
No eye has seen,
No hand has touched,
No heart has known, 
A god more awesome than this God,
A god more mighty, more merciful than our God.
[second candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We have sinned, and you are rightly angry. We have injured one another. We have wilted in faith. We have tried to hold onto you for our own gain, tried to see you in our own image. Despite our sins, we beg you: do not hide your face from us and do not abandon our hearts. Instead overwhelm us and awe us into humility. Grab hold of us and shape us like the clay we are. We are the work of your hand.

Advent 3 (POTLUCK) Isaiah 7:10-16
For the potluck, invite congregation leaders to bring simple snacks — enough to share — or invite the whole congregation to contribute to the feast. Consider worshipping at tables together rather than in pews. Also suggested: Bring chrismons to the worship service (tree ornaments if your church has them or printed copies of chrismon designs along with crayons/markers for coloring), making sure that there are enough chrismons for each participant. The Isaiah text lends itself to learning about signs of God and of Christian faith.

Candle Lighting
A sign:
As high as the stars, as deep as the seas.
A sign:
An adult, a child, a loved one, a stranger.
A sign:
Curds and honey, bread and cup.
A sign:
Light and goodness to bless all people.
[third candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
So often we believe that there is not enough: not enough signs to guide our faith, not enough love to turn the tides of war, not enough food to welcome all people to the table, not enough goodness to resist the powers of evil, not enough hope to comfort our weariness. You are enough, O Great God. You are more than enough.

Advent 4 (BUILDING BLOCKS) Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Also suggested: in addition to providing a wide variety of building toys (Legos, Lincoln Logs, etc.), bring seeds, pots & soil to worship so that congregants can “build” plants and sow seeds for new life.

Candle Lighting
What is God building?
Justice and joy.
What is God planting?
Comfort and community.
Give God your mourning,
And God will build gladness.
Give God your tired heart,
And God will plant praise.
[fourth candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
Have mercy on us, O God. We have become so accustomed to our ashes that we cannot receive your healing. We have become so accustomed to war-torn cities that we cannot imagine peaceful communities. We have become so accustomed to injustice that we cannot see salvation blooming around us. Have mercy on us, have mercy.

You are welcome to use and adapt these liturgies and sermon series ideas for your faith community. Please credit this source just as you would credit a printed source: with a citation printed in your worship bulletin or displayed on your projection screen identifying the author and website — Rachel Hackenberg and rachelhackenberg.com — as well as the date of this blogpost.

Monday Muse: Doubt after Easter

The Sunday after Easter — officially the Second Sunday of the Easter season — is known as many things in different contexts: Holy Humor Sunday, Bright Sunday, guest-preacher-in-the-pulpit-while-pastor-is-on-vacation Sunday. In the Revised Common Lectionary each year, the Sunday after Easter also brings us the notorious doubting of Thomas (John 20:19-31).

And thank goodness for Thomas’ story, I must say, because it gives us the opportunity to contend honestly with our fleeting alleluias, our flash of enthusiasm for the resurrected Christ, and our rubber-meets-the-road doubt about the relevance of the risen Jesus for a still crucified and crucifying world.

The following original liturgies and scripture adaptations are offered for the Second Sunday of the Easter season to give voice to our own doubts alongside Thomas:

Isaiah 25:6-9 (from Easter Evening’s readings)

A reminder of our ultimate hope and joy: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and well-aged wines. And God will destroy on this mountain the death shroud that is cast over all the peoples; the LORD will swallow up death forever. And the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of God’s people will be taken away from the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “This is our God, for whom we have waited so that we might be saved. Let us be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation.”

One: This is God’s promise. Do you believe it?
Many: We want to believe. Forgive our unbelief!

I confess: I don’t know
how to believe such a
vision. So many tears
say otherwise — 147
dead, too many more
weeping. This is not
resurrection, not a
fancy eternal feast,
this is hell on earth
and you, O Christ,
seem to have left
something undone
in your three days’
descent to hell;
you missed a spot
in your harrowing.
Yes you are God,
O Christ, and we
have waited long
for you…and I say
we are still waiting
for your salvation.

One: We know God’s promise, but how can we believe it?
Many: We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

John 20:19-23 (Part 1, Locked Rooms)

This is the fear of the disciples following the resurrection, according to the Gospel of John: “Do not open the doors. Do not draw back the bolt or unhook the chain. His fate will be ours, if we are not careful. They will threaten and beat our bodies if we do not behave on their terms. They will not wait to see if our hands are held up before they take our breath from us. Stand guard! Keep watch! Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to do? And now all the more: Stay out of sight. Don’t catch the attention of the authorities. Don’t protest or ask questions if they arrest you. Most of all, stay alive! We have to stay alive if we have any hope of changing the system. … Is that Jesus?! It can’t be Jesus. They don’t let anyone out alive who’s caused them trouble. How can it be Jesus? Still with his wounds, but still with his breath. Is it really him?”

One: Peace be with you.
Many: We want to believe in life, Jesus, but we’ve seen too much death.
One: Peace be with you.
Many: We want to believe in love, Jesus, but we’ve seen too much hatred.
One: As God sent me, now I send you.
Many: How can we speak to peace when division and debate are so popular? How can we speak to grace in a world so full of unjust justice?
One: I send you.

What can we do?
Maybe Easter saves our souls
but Easter doesn’t save the world.
We hide ourselves in locked rooms
terrified of what we don’t understand —
war and violence and hatred — but
locked with us in those rooms
we still must contend
with ourselves, with the war and
violence and hatred that
we each carry.
If we dare to unlock the doors, to go out,
to be sent out,
what good can we do,
full of sin and doubt and fear as we are?
If we open the doors and dare
to see the pain of the world,
then what can we possibly say?
Do we offer the dying world a resurrected Jesus?
Do we say, “Look and see his wounds”
when the world itself is wounded on the floor
and bleeding out — from Kenya to Rikers Island,
from the forests of Nigeria to a hospital in Idaho
to a traffic stop in North Charleston?
How can we say, “Peace be with you”?
How can you say it, Jesus?

One: Break through our locks and fears, O Christ.
Many: We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

John 20:24-31 (Part 2, Doubt)

This is the honesty of Thomas, according to the Gospel of John: “Don’t come to tell me that Jesus has risen unless you can also tell me that Jesus still bears his wounds. Don’t tell me that Jesus has appeared from the tomb unless you also tell me that he ate at the table with you. Don’t tell me that Jesus has saved you for heaven unless you also tell me that he taught you to live with grace on earth. Don’t tell me that Jesus died for sin if he didn’t also live for the world. Don’t tell me that Jesus brings light if you haven’t learned to seek him in darkness. Don’t tell me lies about Jesus to make me feel better; let me touch Jesus and know that he is real.”

One: Believe because you see.
Many: If we believe, it is because we have touched the hands of fellowship and felt the wounds of love.
One: Believe because you do not see.
Many: If we believe, it is because our doubts are accompanied by hope, because our fears are disputed by holy imagination. We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

Thomas told the truth
that we could not say
especially not in our Easter best
with the bells ringing, with the horns trumpeting,
especially not when we so greatly needed
that one moment of triumphant joy.
But the truth is —
we worry that Easter
doesn’t change daily life;
the truth is — we live as though it does not.
It’s hard to say how resurrection
impacts the crucifixions
still happening all around us
still happening among us.
Jesus, we don’t need you for theological niceties
we need you for miraculous practicalities;
We need Easter to be touchable.
O Lord our God — help us!

One: We want to believe.
Many: O Christ, bless our unbelief.

Psalm 16 (from the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A)

One: Let us find our assurance in a psalm of confession. You are LORD; we have no good apart from you.
Many: You delight in us, by the mystery of your grace.
One: Though life is broken in bits and pieces, you are our piece and our portion.
Many: Though life pours itself out in rage and tragedy, you are our water and our cup.
One: Let us bless the LORD, who walks with us as we wander.
Many: Let us praise the LORD, who whispers a lullaby when the nights grow long.
One: Follow God faithfully, no matter the chaos;
Many: For God does not lose track of us. God alone has power over hell.
One: God alone shows us the path of life; God is our resurrection and our renewal.
Many: In God’s presence there is fullness of joy, the multiplication of peace, and satisfaction forevermore.

Monday Muse: Ash Wednesday Liturgies on the RCL

CALL TO WORSHIP (Joel 2:1-2, 12-17)
One: Drop everything at the call of the trumpet!
Two: Flee from your security at the cry of the protester!
One: Leave your “to do” list, put down your calendar.
Two: Come right now and seek a new path.
One: It’s time for a pilgrimage back to the heart of God.
Two: It’s time to walk the path of repentance.
One: Bring your whole heart; hold nothing back.
Two: Gather all people; let the reconciliation begin together.
All: Perhaps along this Lenten way, God will leave a blessing. O God we pray: leave a blessing.

RESPONSIVE REFLECTION (Isaiah 58:1-12 with Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21)
One: We worship you, Most Holy God. You are the Eternal and Merciful One; we are the contrite and weary dust.
All: You are the Spinner of Stars and the Mysterious Truth; we are the particles of galaxies and the worshipers of certainty.
One: Have mercy, O God, in your steadfast love.
All: Have mercy, O God, in your steadfast love.
     [a time of silence is observed]
One: Into the silence, we want to shout, “Hear us, LORD! Save us! Love us!”
All: Under the silent stare of God’s eye, we want to plead, “Look at our goodness. Look at our worship and our youth group and our food pantry.”
One: See, we can be humble, God. We can be faithful.
All: We can be humble. We can be faithful.
     [a time of silence is observed]
One: Ah, God. We long to hear you and to be heard by you.
All: We long to see you and to be seen by you.
One: Perhaps you have not only heard our prayers but also our conversations, our thoughts, our slander, our gossip, our votes, and our silence.
All: Perhaps you have not only seen our worship but also our hoarding of bread, our storage of treasures, our collection of admiration, our neglect of the imprisoned, and our averted eyes.
     [a time of silence is observed]
One: Our ashes are such fragile ashes; our dust is such grimy dust.
All: But let also our light be fully light; let our ruins become welcoming homes.
One: Let this dust be bold in response to your mercy.
All: Let your glory be our treasure through all the dust and stars. Amen.

ANOINTING (2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10)
Be reconciled to God:
ashes to ashes, life to life,
like sorrow reconciling to joy,
like sleepless nights resolving to peaceful days,
like nothing remembering at last what is everything.