In the deserted place: Proper 13

A communion liturgy for the 8th Sunday after Trinity Sunday, based on the lectionary readings:

Eugene Peterson, in his book, Under the Unpredictable Plant, writes of the necessary practice of askesis: a deliberate “exercise” or “discipline” of breaking with the ordinary routines of life in order to experience powerful growth in our personhood and perspective.

Often this experience is involuntary; the sudden intrusion of disaster or tragedy into our lives. And yet, when we look back at the experience, we are amazed at the deepening of our faith, our resilience, our love in such times. He writes,

We are familiar with the frequently beneficial consequences of involuntary askesis. How many times have we heard as we have visited a parishioner in the days following a heart attack, “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me—I’ll never be the same again. It woke me up to the reality of my life, to God, to what is important.” Suddenly instead of mindlessly and compulsively pursuing an abstraction—success, or money, or happiness— the person is reduced to what is actually there, to the immediately personal—family, geography, body—and begins to live freshly in love and appreciation.

Through Sunday’s stories of Jacob wrestling with God in the dead of night and of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand out in the country comes the rare opportunity to create an intentional journey of askesis in our communal worship; a necessary break in the vibrant, upbeat mood that we are so often driven towards in our consumer-culture; an hour of quieter contemplation which culminates in meeting God face to face in the deserted place.

Music and prayer should flow gently, rhythmically interspersed with periods of silence or instrumental songs (suggested spaces for a hymn/chorus/silence are indicated in the order below by asterisks). Congregants should feel free to sit, stand, or kneel as they are comfortable throughout the service. Crafted congregational responses are limited, with pauses throughout the prayers providing opportunity for individual reflection and conversation with God.

Entering the deserted place

From time to time, our Lord Jesus Christ would retreat –
withdraw into the wilderness,
the deserted place –
to meet face to face
with his Father
in prayer and solitude.

Lord, listen to our prayers
as we seek you in the quiet place.

Search our hearts and surprise us
with answers full of truth and grace.

***

Wrestling in the deserted place – Genesis 32:22-32

The Old Testament reading is read one or more times as congregants are encouraged to find themselves in the story, face to face with God. 

A time of reflective prayer follows with brief pauses indicated by ellipses and longer pauses for personal prayer between paragraphs:

Lord, take hold of us.
Get a good grip.
Wrestler-strong, don’t let go;
~ though we may struggle,
~ though we may protest,
~ though we may cry out for mercy.

Hold us in the desolate place …
in the damp darkness
of our desires …
of our doubts …
of our disbelief ….

Constrain us though it may open old wounds
as we confront head on the pain of our past
and the agonies of our present …
our shortcomings …
our failures …
our broken relationships …
our family feuds …

our jealousies and resentments …
our insecurities and disappointments …
our unsatisfied yearnings …
our unanswered prayers …

our illnesses …
our losses …
our lonely longing to be loved just as we are ….

<As a candle is lit>

And as a new day dawns,
may we cling to you stubbornly still,
until we are altered …
until we are re-named …
until we have claimed the blessing that you long to bestow ….

***

Receiving in the deserted place: Matthew 14:13-21

This portion of the service can incorporate the Gospel reading and sermon/meditation, culminating in the communion liturgy as a symbolic expression of our sharing in the feeding of the five thousand and, more largely, in the covenant of grace. The sombre tone of the service begins to shift as we become aware of what the Psalmist (17:16) refers to as the satisfaction of beholding the likeness of God.

The Lord is here.
His Spirit is with us.
He has heard our honest prayers.
He knows our hearts,
our fears,
our needs.

Like the crowd upon the seashore,
we have followed him on foot,
to meet with him in the deserted place,
for teaching,
for healing,
for feeding.

The same Lord who prepared a feast for the five thousand with five loaves and two fish, welcomes us and invites us to his table.

<the table is set, in silence, or with singing >

We give thanks to our Creator for these gifts of earth: this bread, this wine which binds us into a new covenant, a new beginning, a new family.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God!

We give thanks to our Saviour, who washes our hearts clean by his love, for breaking bread even with those disciples who he knew would betray and deny.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God!

We give thanks to the Spirit for leading us out of places of darkness and desolation into the wide-open spaces of God’s loving-kindness and grace.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God!

And so, with gratitude, we recall how Jesus, at supper with his friends, took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying:
“This is my body, broken for you. Eat in remembrance of me.”
Broken for me, broken for you;
Christ’s body was broken for us.

In the same way, at the end of the meal, he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he shared it among them saying:
“This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Drink in remembrance of me.”
Poured out for me, poured out for you;
Christ’s blood was poured out for us.

As we eat of this bread and remember,
as we drink of this cup and recall, O Lord,
your compassionate healing,
your patient teaching,
your generous feeding,
we pray that through the power of your Spirit,
we might be united, nourished, strengthened, encouraged
and made whole.
Amen.

<the elements are shared among the body>

Transforming the deserted place

In the final portion of the service, opportunity is given for the community to take responsibility for transforming the desolate, deserted places in our world. A period of extemporary prayer is encouraged; the offertory (responsive giving) takes place, and the closing hymn/song and benediction speaks of our continued sharing of Christ’s shalom.

Offertory prayer
When you fed the five thousand Lord, you started with a few loaves and fish
and not only did everyone eat their fill, but there were even leftovers.
We offer these gifts today as an expression of our gratitude
for the love and the care with which you fill our lives.
But we also offer them in faith that through them you can do miracles
and transform the deserted place into one of blessing and abundance.
Amen.

***

Benediction (based on the reading from Romans)

Gracious God, we have everything going for us –
family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises,
to say nothing of Christ with and within us.
As we have received,
teach us to give;

As we have been blessed,
inspire us to bless;
As we have been loved,
move us to love.

Amen.

***

 

 

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