Worship is not something we watch or consume. It is something we do. What follows is a worship guide for use on your own or with a household. Here are a few pro tips as you begin:
- Load the music links before you start to get the commercials out of the way.
- Turn off your phone and close the news tabs you have open on your laptop.
- Light a candle as a symbol of God’s presence.
- Observe a few moments of silence before you begin.
The season of Lent is an important period in the global church calendar. It is a time for self-reflection and a time to renew spiritual practices. This year the theme for Lenten worship in the congregation I serve is “Listening.” It is especially important now for us to be wise about what and who gets our listening attention. This weekend people from various parts of our city and beyond will worship using this guide. We will contemplate the same words and listen to the same biblical texts. Together we will be in prayer for each other and for our neighbours.
Come, let us worship.
God of mercy join us in our time of worship.
Let us be open to feeling your presence among us.
Quiet our racing minds and attune them to the timbre of your voice.
Awaken our senses to listen to your guiding Spirit.
Open our ears that we might hear you.
Consider this piece of music: “We are not alone,” from Sandy Ridge Mennonite
Because You are with us, we confess our shortcomings, saying:
Remember your mercy, O Lord, and the love you have shown from of old.
Do not remember our sins; in your love remember us.
You relieve the troubles of our hearts and bring us out of our distress.
You consider our afflictions and our troubles, and you forgive our sins.
Our first reading is Psalm 23
Here is a sung version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoojA0cLPWY)
Our second reading is John 9:1-12
Both of these readings have something to say about God’s loving care. The healing power Jesus demonstrates shows that he is from God and that God cares about the state of our bodies.
During this Lenten season we have been giving our attention to the Psalms. Poems, psalms included, require us to listen more attentively than we otherwise might. In a poem every image and every word matters. Look again at Psalm 23.
What catches your attention? What do you hear now, in our current situation, that you didn’t think much about before?
I used to think of this psalm primarily as a metaphor: God is like a shepherd; we are like sheep.
But I’ve come to think that the connection is stronger than that. It isn’t just that we are like sheep in some small way, but generally are very different from them.
No, one of the great assumptions of the biblical writers is that we (human beings) are part of the community of creation. We often think of ourselves as distinct from the plants and animals that make up the natural world. But one thing this virus is showing us is that we are a part of this complicated, ever-changing network of life and death. We are not in control as much as we might wish.
We are part of the community of creation. This is a beautiful thing and also a troubling thing. Sheep can’t defend themselves very well. Now we are struggling to do the same. Both of us, sheep and people, are harried and unsettled by external threats. This virus doesn’t chase us with bared teeth. Even so, just as a sheep might need help finding the path or finding what it needs to go on, so do we. We are with the sheep on hard-to-follow paths and in dark valleys. Our souls need restoration and we need comfort.
But just as sheep are our siblings in the vulnerability that all creatures share, so they are our siblings in our shared hope. God provides for sheep through the care of a shepherd, through the shepherd’s ability to find water and pasture. God provides for us too.
At a time when we are deeply (and rightly) worried about an invisible threat, let us not forget that as members of the community of creation we are given much. We can be thankful for water and food now more than ever. We can be thankful for places to live and people to check on us. We can be thankful for communities of support. All of these are God’s provision.
We are in a surreal time—a dark valley. But surely goodness and mercy are here too. Surely God is here too.
I invite you to begin by taking time to voice concerns and prayer requests together, maybe writing them down to remember in the coming days.
Now, let us pray together.
Loving and Wise Shepherd, it is good to know that you care for us and that you lead us.
We are thankful for your provision, even in the very presence of our enemy. Help us to be open to your leading.
Don’t let us be so stubborn or consumed by anxiety as to miss the ways you are providing for our needs.
We pray now for the world. We pray especially for countries that have been hit hard by this disease and for populations that have little capacity to meet this challenge.
We pray for leaders, for public health officials, for medical professionals. Given them strength and endurance. Help them to find rest as they need it.
We pray for our friends and neighbours, for those who may be ill, those who are deeply worried, those who may be separated from love-ones.
We pray for those who have lost jobs and for those who worry their income may dry up.
We pray for children who are home without school, missing teachers and missing friends.
And God, we pray for ourselves. Give us the capacity to fulfill the tasks set out before us. Calm our fears. May we act out of confidence in your provision. May we know that you are near.
As we go from this time of worship, we go in the Spirit of Christ. This is a Spirit of power and confidence. This is a Spirit of care and kindness.
Steve Bell’s song “Kindness” captures this well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqR7nzjJM7I
*Special thanks to —- and —- for musical suggestions. And thanks to you all for joining in prayer. If you’d like a longer set of reflections on Psalm 23 check out this blog post from a couple of years ago: https://thehymnproject.net/2018/10/27/my-shepherd-will-supply-my-need/#comments.