Weekly Worship Thought – Hurricane Liturgy

hurricane liturgy

As a resident of the Houston area, Hurricane Harvey has made an impression on me. We take storms of this caliber very seriously. So seriously that schools close for multiple days and churches cancel Sunday worship services. We are better safe than sorry. Flooding and dangerous roadways are the biggest concern.

With so many churches canceling worship services on Sunday, there have been several devotions made available for home use. Here is a list of litanies, prayers, and devotions I found for use in times of inclement weather. Feel free to share others that you may know.

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Weekly Worship Thought – Confession

456903_381360738576439_143418169037365_1103943_1194963067_oOne of the elements of worship at The Gathering will change this week. It is the Prayer of Confession that takes place before the presider speaks the words of institution and we share communion. We added this confessional liturgy into The Gathering worship earlier this year and use it every week. I have been writing and compiling these prayers and this week will be our fourth iteration of it. The structure is the same from season to season:
  • Introduction (which might include acknowledgment of God’s attributes, thanksgiving for the offering that was just collected, and a call to confession from the presider)
  • Silence for reflection
  • Communal confession of sin (spoken in unison by the assembly)
  • Words of Forgiveness (which might include a call to the meal, transitioning us to the table and the words of institution)
One of the tricky things about curating this confessional prayer is to not transition into the meal focused on my sin and my forgiveness. Although the words of the confession us “us/we” language, there is a tendency to make confession about personal wrong-doing and personal forgiveness. However, the table is not so narrow. The table is not only concerned about me as an individual. The table is broad enough for the universe, and is the place where I “become what I eat” and am in turn made to be bread for the world. My goal in this prayer of confession is to set our minds and hearts on the cosmic reach of God’s forgiveness at the table, not merely what God has done for me individually.

Eucharistic Prayer of Confession @ The Gathering
Easter Season 2016

P:        Let us pray. God of all creation, we joyfully give back to you what you have given to us in abundance. All you have made is good, and your love endures forever. You give us bread from the earth and fruit from the vine. We do not presume to come to your table trusting in our own righteousness, but in your overflowing mercy. Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and of one another.

Silence is kept for reflection.

P:        God of grace and glory,

All:     you have brought us from death to life in Jesus’ resurrection. Yet our lives are still shadowed by sin. Make us alive in Christ, new creations in you. Rescue us in our time of need, renew us in grace, and restore us to living in your holiness, through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.

P:        Brothers and sisters, we have victory in Christ who has defeated the powers of sin and death through his glorious resurrection. Join in the meal of God’s forgiveness. As we eat and drink the body and blood of our risen Lord, may we live in him and he in us, a foretaste of the feast to come.

In the night in which he was betrayed…

FREE Download – My Eucharistic Setting

Eucharistic Setting graphic

For a while I’ve wanted to create my own setting of Eucharistic liturgy music for use in worship. I wanted something that could be used in a contemporary/post-modern service with a guitar or band. I also wanted to use fresh language and imagine some of these well-known texts in a different way.

I ain’t gonna lie – this recording is a little rough. I recorded it at my home studio with a couple of mics. I played and sang all the parts. So there are some exposed edges – which is kind of how I like it anyway.

This music was meant for the church. We have been singing them at Faith Lutheran. Please use them if you think they’ll work in your context. Permission is granted for use in worship. The mp3s are free to download. If you’d like the lead sheets they are available at the PayPal link below for $5.

Eucharistic Setting (2014) – Click here for all mp3s

Let me hear from you if you find these songs useful.

Silence is Golden

silenceTalking during a movie is rude.

I didn’t pay $10 to hear your story, or your snarky commentary, or your question because you can’t follow the plot. (This rant has now concluded.) That’s why I love watching movies at Alamo Drafthouse. They are zealous in their persecution of movie talkers. They have rules about talking. Rules that they actually back up:

“We have a zero-tolerance policy towards talking and texting during the movie. If you talk or text, you will receive one warning. If it happens again, you will be kicked out without a refund.” (www.drafthouse.com/about)

Silence during a movie is right. What about silence elsewhere? Why is silence sometimes uncomfortable? Why do we feel awkward when a silent lapse occurs during a conversation? Why do we feel the need to fill our daily lives and routines with noise? At the grocery store – earbuds inserted. At the gym – earbuds inserted. At work – earbuds inserted. What is the importance of silence?

We discussed this very subject in a recent Learning Group using the book Worship Matters (Augsburg Fortress 2012): “Consider this page. Without the white space on this page, the black letters and the words they form would not be comprehensible. Similarly, consider music. The rests allow the musical notes to be heard. We believe this to be a foundational reality with God as well. God speaks a word out of silence, and the world is created. Silence is a powerful and important response in moments of awe. Here we are invited to imagine silence as a response to God that is even more profound than our words or songs of prayer and praise.” (p. 62)

I’m reminded of the worship practices of our brothers and sisters in the Quaker/Friends Church. Their worship begins in silence, making room for the Holy Spirit to enter and move. They approach worship with neither a determination to speak nor a determination to remain silent. Patience, rest, and preparation are central in their worship gatherings. I’m also reminded of the way in which Elijah encountered God in 1 Kings 19:

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Why is it that when we encounter silence during worship, we automatically assume that someone has missed their cue? We get panicky and our palms begin to sweat. If no one is speaking, or singing, or praying during worship, something has obviously gone wrong! Perhaps there is Someone speaking during the silences of worship. If only we had ears to hear it.

“Christ our Mother” Benediction

If you are in the Lutheran world and use Sundays and Seasons resources, you probably have noted the blessing/benediction prescribed for the season of Lent:

God our Father bless you and shield you. 
Christ our Mother shelter you and carry you.
God the Holy Spirit guide your journey 
+ both now and forever.
Amen.

If a few eyebrows raised, not to worry. If people revolted in violent protest, worry. Ideally, people will engage, enquire, reflect, and theologically wrestle with the concepts and images in our liturgy. You’re lucky if you have people that do this.

hen and chicksIn responding to one parishioner, Pastor Kerry offered some insights:

I assume that the language in the benediction during Lent has something to do with the image of God as a mother hen longing to gather her chicks as was referred to in a gospel reading.  

We use words that carry both gender and relational connectedness when we refer to other people.  So “father” and “mother” refer both to a biological connection and to gender.  When it comes to references to the Trinity, God has no gender.  Referring to God as “Father” or “Mother” is about using relational terms to describe our relationship with God. The earthly Jesus was clearly male.  The resurrected Jesus?  Mystery to me.

I offered some explanation as well:

We have to start from the perspective that God has no gender. God is spirit. The roles that God plays, however, include both mother and father. “From the Bible: In Isaiah, God says (about God’s self), “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). In a prayer of desperation, Moses uses similar womb imagery, speaking of God as one who gives birth, asking God, “Was it I who conceived all this people? or was it I who gave them birth…?” (Numbers 11:12). Hosea describes God as a mother bear, attacking those who steal her cubs (13:8) Jesus compares himself to a mother hen who longs to gather her chicks together under her wings (Matt. 23:37, one of the gospel texts during this season of Lent).

The saints of the past also have more to say: St. Augustine observes that just as a mother’s body transforms ordinary table food–too complex for a baby’s delicate digestive system–into milk that is tailored to the baby’s needs, so does the Lord convert Wisdom into “milk” appropriate for our limited understanding. Another early church father, Clement of Alexandria, devotes an entire chapter to this mysterious process of mother’s blood becoming milk, musing over the various ways this connects to the spiriutal world. In one example, he views Christ as the nourishment that flows from the “Father’s breast,” feeding us with the milk of love. St. John Chrysostom writes of Christ as a mother who does not farm her babies out to a wet nurse but rather feeds them personally and tenderly.

“As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother,” wrote 14th-century mystic Julian of Norwich. “To the property of motherhood belong nature, love, wisdom, and knowledge, and this is God. . . The mother can give her child a suck of milk but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with himself and does. . .” (I think she was speaking of the Eucharist here?)

St. Catherine of Siena compared Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to a mother who takes a bitter medicine so her nursing baby can get well again.” (quoted from Julie McCarty)  So, throughout the history of the church there is a rich heritage of understanding God as having mothering characteristics.

I would argue that the title “Mother” is not a gender specific title and that Jesus’ actions and very words recorded in the gospel warrant the title “Mother.” Consider the context of single parents or same-sex couples. Regardless of gender, a single parent fulfills both the title of “mother” and “father” (possibly not with the greatest ease, possibly better than two opposite gendered people). Actions and titles are too closely related to disassociate them. I mother my children when they need to be mothered. Does that make me a mother? Maybe temporarily. That’s why we like the term “co-parent.”
 
Also, historically the church is referred to in the feminine as “her” or “she.” If the church is the body of Christ, wouldn’t that be inclusive of Christ (as head of the body) to be called “her” or “she”? There is some mystery there. I’m comfortable living in the tension.

(HT: Spiritual Drawing Board)

Why do we have three extra services during Holy Week?

easter-10-0Every year during Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter (falling on March 24-31 this year), we hold three unique worship services. These services are known as the Three Days, or the Triduum. “The Three Days encompass the time from Maundy Thursday evening through the evening of Easter Day. In particular, the services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter unfold in a single movement, as the church each year makes the passage with Christ through death into life.” (Excerpt from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, 2006, p. 247)
“If we are to rethink what we do in the present and plan for the future, it is useful to begin by knowing the past. What were the liturgies of Lent and the Three Days like in the beginning, and how did they come to have the forms familiar to many of us today? 
Christian historians tell us that, in the decades after the life of Jesus, Christians met each week for a meal that celebrated the presence of the risen Christ. Then we hear the apostle Paul, writing in the 50s, scolding the Corinthians because their celebrative gatherings seem to have forgotten both the death of Christ and the situation of the poor. By the second century, in addition to this weekly celebration of Christ’s resurrection, many Christians had designed also an annual festival, at which they adapted the Jewish Passover to commemorate both the death and resurrection of Christ. At this event, the stories of creation and the exodus were read along with the New Testament accounts of Jesus as ways to proclaim new life in Christ. In the fourth century, it was agreed to keep this annual Christian Passover always on a Sunday. 
By the fifth and sixth centuries, a pattern had become common throughout the Christian communities: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ was observed over a three-day service. Part 1, Maundy Thursday, was kept to recall Christ’s meal with his disciples; part 2, Good Friday, was a simple day to pray 
and to honor the crucified Christ; and part 3, the Vigil of Easter, was the climax of the event, with springtime bonfire, many biblical readings, multiple baptisms, and the first eucharist, of Easter. The Vigil of Easter was the central liturgy of the year and the primary occasion for all baptisms, since being 
Christian was about embodying the death and resurrection of Christ.” (Excerpt from Worship Guidebook for Lent and Three Days, Augsburg Fortress, 2009, p. 11-12)
Let me encourage you to prioritize the Three Days this year. Make an effort to attend all of the services during Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. It may seem like more church than you can handle! I can certainly appreciate that feeling. The Three Days, however, are the principle celebration of the Christian church. These services are the best way to connect your personal spiritual journey to the corporate experience of passing with Christ through death into life.

Ashes to Ashes

palms for ash wednesday

“Images from the Ash Wednesday liturgy are spoken over bodies not only in church buildings at the beginning of Lent but also outdoors in all seasons of the year: “We commit this body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” (ELW, p. 284). In the funeral liturgy, such words are spoken after the body is laid in the grave and as earth is cast onto the coffin, or as ashes are placed in the earth or into a columbarium. Each year, the Ash Wednesday liturgy offers every member of the church words and a gesture that seem to have arrived, ahead of time, from our own funeral liturgy. Earth is placed on our bodies, scriptural words about the inevitable decomposition of our bodies are spoken over us: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Among the many things that Ash Wednesday accomplishes is a small-scale, ritualized, near-death experience.” (Excerpt from Worship Guidebook for Lent and Three Days, Augsburg Fortress, 2009, p. 18)

In seminary I had a systematic theology professor who often welcomed us to class with these words: “Greetings, frail creatures of dust!” Now, that may seem like an odd way to welcome people, but it has a theological underscoring that is significant. In the end, after all is said and done, we go back to being what we were all along – dust.

Ash Wednesday (February 13) is the first day of Lent in our liturgical calendar. It occurs 46 days before Easter. The precise date of Ash Wednesday is always moveable, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. Why 46 days? According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting. Why are there an extra six days? Because there are six Sundays during the season of Lent, and every Sunday is the day of resurrection (a little Easter). On Sundays the fast of Lent is broken in celebration of the resurrection.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the forehead as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The ashes used are typically created from the burnt palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday services.

Historically, Ash Wednesday and the following season of Lent was the time of final preparations for baptism. Catechumens, people desiring to join the church and receiving instruction about the Christian faith, experienced an intense time of prayer, fasting, exorcisms, and teaching. Finally, at dawn on Easter Sunday, after an all night Vigil, the catechumens were baptized and welcomed into the body of Christ by participating in the Eucharist for the first time. Ash Wednesday was the beginning of a season of life, death, and renewal.

But why do we have to be so morbid about it? Because no matter how much wealth, no matter how many material possessions, no matter how much plastic surgery, no matter how much exercise and fitness, no matter how much success, no matter how much fame and notoriety, in the end, we go back to being what we were all along – dust.

Evaluating Worship

(HT: Lester Ruth and Dean McIntyre from whom I borrowed)

(Download: EVALUATING WORSHIP Questionnaire)

Worship is always being evaluated. Although it may be informal, everyone that is sent forth from an assembled worshiping body has evaluated that service in one way or another. Evaluations might be based on any number of things: the number of people in attendance, the length of the sermon, the pronunciation of the lector, or the number of flubbed notes by the musician.

These questions are designed to move beyond surface-level evaluations into the deeper substance of worship. These questions help us consider things that are essential for all Christian worship, things that are faithful to a Lutheran heritage, and things that are biblically rooted. As a means of evaluation these questions can be applied to all types of worship regardless of time, contextual location, leadership, demographics, or style.

After each statement, select the response that best applies to your church/service. 

1 – Strongest agreement

2 – More agreement than disagreement

3 – Neutral, no response, don’t know

4 – More disagreement than agreement

5 – Strongest disagreement


  1. Our worship is richly Trinitarian (names the Trinity and all three Persons). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  2. God’s story of salvation is central to our worship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  3. The ministry of word and sacrament is at the core of our worship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  4. The primary symbols of communion table, baptismal font, and ambo/pulpit are present in our environment for worship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  5. There is enough Scripture and scriptural content in our worship to tell a full, broad, deep, rich story of God’s salvation. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  6. Our worship is reflective of the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ, risen and active today. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  7. The content of our prayers is true to Christ’s character and the breadth of his Lordship. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  8. Our worship seeks the full, conscious, and active participation of all people assembled. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  9. Our people are filled with the Holy Spirit in worship (they talk about what the Spirit tends to talk about and are filled with love). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  10. Our worship is sensitive to the needs of visitors and guests and takes their participation in worship seriously. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  11. The leaders of our assembly are reflective of the Body of Christ that transcends class, age, ethnicity, and gender. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  12. The language of our worship includes a balance of addressing God and addressing people. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  13. Our worship helps the congregation experience its relationship with God. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  14. Our worship is contextually relevant to the culture and setting of our people and community. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  15. Our worship is a feast for the senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  16. Our worship is filled with life, vitality, and joy. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  17. Our worship offers opportunities for reflection, confession, and lament. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  18. Our worship welcomes and calls people into the baptismal life (united with the death and resurrection of Jesus). 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  19. The word of God, read, preached, and sung by the assembly, is essential to our order of service. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  20. Our worship regularly experiences Christ’s presence at the table with bread and wine. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5
  21. Our worship sends us out as disciples of Jesus, following his mission of serving, blessing, and loving the world. 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5

All Are Saints

 

All Saints’ Day is a widely celebrated event in the Christian world. In the Roman Catholic Church it is officially called the Solemnity of All Saints. It is also known as All Hallows or Hallowmas (from which we get the word “Halloween,” from “All Hallows Eve”). All Saints is celebrated on November 1 by parts of Western Christianity, and observed the first Sunday thereafter in our church. It is a day to honor all the saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us in the faith.

Among the people of God, those who possess extraordinary faith have always been looked upon highly. From faith-confessing martyrs in the first century to compassion-filled servants in the twentieth century, it would seem that some believers have been given an extra portion of Christ-like strength and humility. But how does the Bible define the saints? The term often used by Paul in the New Testament to identify the church is hagioi. This term indicates separation for and dedication to God.  It is not, however, the amazing accomplishments of one’s devotion that allows entrance into sainthood. It is the singular redemption obtained through faith in Jesus Christ that creates saints out of all believers. All believers, great and small, are saints.

When Paul used the word “saint” in his writings (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1) it was rarely used to describe individuals. It is primarily used as a picture of the elect people of God who are sanctified and redeemed in Christ.  There is also confusion as to the final destination of the saints after this earthly life. Do some experience the fullness of God’s presence while lesser ones are left out? Roman Catholic dogma and a blend of other religions have left some believing in a hierarchy of saintliness in heaven. The biblical account leads us to believe otherwise. All God’s people, or saints, are assured of a restful paradise until the renewal of all creation. Joining God in paradise is not the final destiny for the saints – the bodily resurrection is our essential hope in eternity.

There are also several passages that clarify that it is not personal accomplishment that achieves sainthood. The dying criminal hanging on the cross near Jesus confessed faith in him (Luke 23:39-43). Jesus promised him entrance into paradise that very day. Similarly, the church in Corinth is addressed as the sanctified in Christ who are called to be saints (1 Corinthians 1:2). From the content of Paul’s letters we see Corinth was laden with immorality and factions. However, these spiritual troubles do not preclude the church from being a collection of the saints of God. The understated truth is that sainthood is less about achieving personal piety and more about simple faith in the redeeming work and power of Jesus. It is enough to be found in Christ and covered by his grace.

A saint is not a higher-order Christian. Through baptism, we have joined with Christ in his death and resurrection, making us saints now and saints to be in paradise. Our goal on earth is to join with Christ in the recreation of the world now, which anticipates the ultimate recreation of heaven and earth and the bodily resurrection of Christ’s faithful followers.

Philosophy of Worship, part 4


Philosophy of Worship4. Worship should employ a wide range of styles.

There are as many styles of worship as there are tastes of music. Since we are the church [in a catholic sense – the universal church] we should use as many styles of music/art that we can. Of course this is all relative to the demographic of each congregation. If a congregation is contextually made up of X people [X = African, Korean, Native American, gangstas, cowboys, etc.] and serves a community that is primarily made up of X people, then X style of music/art should be used. Context is key.

But we are still a universal body of Believers. And something/sometime in worship should speak to and prepare the worshiper for that day when all tongues will be united in one song. What will the style of the song be? What language will it be in? We don’t really know [and perhaps it doesn’t matter], but we should be preparing ourselves for just about anything as we approach that day.

The church is not only made up of our brothers and sisters across the globe, but also across time. We need to be historically connected with our brothers and sisters who served God to insure that the message of Christ made it to us. We can do this by singing the songs they wrote and preserving the art they produced in service to God.

In my opinion this is one of the reasons why the church is in such sad shape today [from a modern/American perspective]. Good chunks of the church have failed to recognize and celebrate their past. Sacred liturgies, prayers, songs, rituals, calendars/seasons, creeds, etc. have been abandoned. We have dissected ourselves from the root from which we grew. We can learn something from those who walked before us. They worshiped the same God we do, they confessed the same faith, and they struggled the same struggles we do. And their songs/art are expressions of what they felt walking on the same path we find ourselves walking on.