Transfiguring Worship

The texts for Transfiguration Sunday this year expand on last week’s reading concerning God’s constant presence and activity (light) in our lives, focusing on the dramatic interplay between light and dark, veiling and unveiling, sight and blindness: 

  • Psalm 50:1-6 – in both the rising and the setting of the sun, God shines forth – or “blazes into view” as the Message puts it; 
  • 2 Kings 2:1-12 – Elisha’s request to inherit the prophet’s mantle from Elijah is honoured when he watches his mentor ascend amidst whirlwind and fire until he disappears from sight;
  • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 – Paul proclaims that the brightness of the Gospel fills our lives up with light but is veiled from those look only for the god(s) of this age;  
  •  Mark 9:2-9 – as God’s glory is displayed in the transfigured radiance of his Son, a word of affirmation is spoken from deep within a cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

 

Setting up the altar/focal point:

Familiar symbols on the altar such as a Bible or candle can be transformed this week with the simple addition of a gauze or veil draped over the items, hiding them partially from view.

Additional items include a piece of dazzling white cloth, folded or draped down the altar, or a simple arrangement of bright white flowers like lilies, tulips, or even daisies in a clear vase.

A lovely idea which does require planning, practice, and precision is to set up prisms or mirrors on blocks (at various heights) around a large candle or electric lantern. During the course of the service/sharing, these could be unveiled and lit – resulting in beautiful refractions of light or multiple mirror images of the flickering flame.

A wonderful idea for children or more informal/experiential worship:

images

Scratch art is the term given to creating an image by removing a covering layer with a pointed object like a toothpick or kebab stick.

To prepare for the exercise, colour in a sheet of cardboard with oil pastels or wax crayons. This can be an actual picture or simply blocks of colour.

Next, cover the entire drawing with a layer of acrylic black paint or a thick layer of black wax crayon (painting is far more time efficient!).

Depending on the level of involvement that you would like, you could prepare a single sheet and scratch out images related to one of the Scriptures for the day (I like the idea of God blazing into view with the rising of the sun and its setting and can see a lovely picture of the sun emerging between two mountains or over an ocean in my head) or share around how the true nature of things are sometimes hidden.

Alternatively, you may like to give each child their own scratch sheet (or teach them how to make one of their own) and see what emerges as they create and explore.

I will be using my scratch pad to illustrate the story of Elijah being taken up into heaven – etching the watching Elisha and ascending chariot into the dark paint.


Gathering In/Call to Worship – based on Psalm 50:1-6 (NIV)
:

The call to worship below centres around the decreasing repetition of the Psalm’s first verse amidst the others, drawing a deeper attentiveness to the mighty One, God, the Lord who has summoned us to worship.   

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun …
Our God comes

and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth …
He summons the heavens above,

and the earth, that he may judge his people.

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks  …
“Gather to me this consecrated people,

who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

The Mighty One, God, the Lord …
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,

for he is a God of justice.

A hymn/song of praise follows.


An encircling prayer:

An encircling prayer from The Carmina Gadelica III through which we enfold ourselves in God’s care. This can be used as a benediction or blessing or, even, in smaller groups as a prayer for healing or provision accompanied by wrapping the person being prayed for in a shawl or cloth.

My Christ! My Christ! My shield, my encircler,
Each day, each night, each light, each dark:
My Christ! My Christ! My shield, my encircler,
Each day, each night, each light, each dark.

Be near me, uphold me,
my treasure, my triumph,
in my lying, in my standing,
in my watching, in my sleeping.

Jesus, Son of Mary! My helper, my encircler,
Jesus, Son of David! My strength everlasting:
Jesus, Son of Mary! My helper, my encircler,
Jesus, Son of David! My strength everlasting.

 

Light Blessings

A Call to Worship/Candle-lighting prayer, including a responsive reading of Psalm 147:1-11, 20c (NRSV) 

Blessed be you, O Holy Light-fitter,
who set the sun in its proper place
and scattered the stars across the skies
to brighten up our way
(the first candle is lit).

Blessed be you, Bright Morning Star,
the hope of our salvation,
dawning in our lives,
drawing nearer in this very moment.
(the second candle is lit).

Blessed be you, O Sacred Flame,
who gives us life
and tends our growth
through Your constant, gentle presence
(the third candle is lit).

Blessed be You,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
light with and within us:
~ in a world torn apart by hatred, fear and greed;
~ in a time governed by self-made truth and wealth-mad leaders;
~ in the rubble and ruin of cities and countries in which conflicts rage
and in the panic and pain of those who have no place to call home or safe haven;
~ in the broken hearts of those who no longer feel loved or who find themselves alone,
and in the bleeding wounds and bruised faces of those harmed by loved ones;
~ in the barrenness of the earth, burned and blasted, to make space for our ever-growing population and in the widening gap between those with too much to eat and those with nothing;
~ in the darkness of our delusions of grandeur and in the relentless drudgery of our pursuit of power, popularity, and plenty.

In the midst of all our troubles,
we gather together this day to proclaim
to gift of God-with-us:

“How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.

The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
The LORD lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre. 

He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry. 

His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Praise the LORD!”

A Prayer for Human Rights Day

*using the words of the prophet Isaiah (chapter 40) for a congregational response*

O Lord who calls us into the Way of Right Living
we remember this day the rights we’ve been given –
rights hard fought for by those who have gone before
through terrible suffering, oppression and war;
rights taught in our classrooms and upheld by our law;
rights that so many are still longing for.

For those without freedom,
working for little or no wage,
treated as outcasts,
imprisoned, enslaved:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

For those who are tortured,
exiled, and killed,
for someone’s sick pleasure
or cheap power thrill:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

For those seeking asylum
and fleeing in fear
to whom no place is offered –
especially not here:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

For those without work
or shelter or food,
Who we label as “lazy”
or “up to no good,”
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

Where women are objects
And children are things
And the “love” of a man
just bruises and stings:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

For those different from us
in conscience, colour and creed
who we brand as the “Other”
and ignore in their need:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

Created in Your image,
we’re all made to be free;
the God-light wrapped up
in our frail dignity:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds. 

An Advent Candle Poem/Prayer

For use in congregations/communities who light a candle each Sunday in Advent leading up to Christmas following the traditional pattern of prophets (hope), Mary and Joseph (faith), shepherds (joy), angels (peace) and Jesus (love) … a simple poem/prayer in five parts with an additional “verse” to be said as a conclusion to the prayer time until the final verse is offered on Christmas Day.

A candle for the Christ-King
For whom the prophets said to wait;
He may seem slow in coming
but we know God’s never late …

This one is for his parents
On their trip to Bethlehem
For they believed the promise
That God would be with them …

The third is for the shepherds
Whose hearts were full of joy
As angels came to tell them
About a special baby boy …

Oh! How those angels worshipped
and their song rang through the air:
“Glory be to God on high:
His peace be everywhere.”

And now, with great excitement,
We light the final flame –
For Love has come into the world;
Christ Jesus is his name.

***

This verse is to be said on weeks 1, 2, 3 and 4 to explain the presence of the unlit candles. On Christmas Day it is replaced with the final verse.

These candles still are waiting
For their chance to shine –
they remind us to be ready
for a very special time ….

 

It’s nothing but smoke

* contemplating in community Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 and James 1:2-11*

You will need:

  • a central altar or table,
  • a black table cloth,
  • a large candle (with three wicks is helpful to invoke visually the image of a Triune God),
  • smaller tea lights (sufficient for the group),
  • a lighter or matches,
  • copies of the service, one per participant.

Ritual actions indicated in red and congregational/group responses in purple. 

Part 1: Nearing the light
1.1 Welcome and an invitation to silence

1.2 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here

1.3. Praying the Psalms (based on Ps. 119:145-152) 

<the black tablecloth is placed on altar and unfolded >

Like those watching and waiting for the sunrise,
we cry out to You, O God, – our Help and our Salvation –
for our eyes have seen the darkness of night
and the gloom that grows 
as the world wanders
farther and farther from Your truth.

<the large candle is placed in the centre of the altar and lit>
Our deepest desire is to come closer to You,
to live in Your Light,
to learn from the Word that will last forever.

In Your love, hear our voice;

in Your justice, keep us alive;

in Your mercy, draw us near.

1.4 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. So you would come

during which <people are invited to bring their candles forward, light them from the central candle and place them upon the altar>

Part 2: Seeing the smoke
2.1 Old Testament reading – Ecclesiastes 1:3-11 (The Message)
Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.]
There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.

<the candles that each participant has lit are blown out and a moment of silent kept as they smoke>

What’s there to show for a lifetime of work,
a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old planet earth.

The sun comes up and the sun goes down,
then does it again, and again—the same old round.
The wind blows south, the wind blows north.
Around and around and around it blows, blowing this way, then that
—the whirling, erratic wind.
All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea never fills up.
The rivers keep flowing to the same old place, and then start all over and do it again.

Everything’s boring, utterly boring—no one can find any meaning in it.
Boring to the eye, boring to the ear.
What was will be again, what happened will happen again.
There’s nothing new on this earth. Year after year it’s the same old thing.
Does someone call out, “Hey, this is new”?
Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story.

Nobody remembers what happened yesterday.
And the things that will happen tomorrow?
Nobody’ll remember them either. Don’t count on being remembered.

2.2. Prayer of confession
Lord of Love, of Light, of Life 
how grateful we are for the gentle whisper to draw near;
to leave at the door, the busyness and the burdens of the week gone by;
to bring to the cross, the brokenness and the bitterness both inflicted upon us and by us,
in thought and word and deed;
to see through the darkness, the bold blaze of Your Spirit at work – with and within us.

<silence>

Yet even as we unwind in Your presence,
even as our lives are renewed by Your love,
we know too well how quickly this hour passes
and how easily our delightful dance with Your Spirit
 is replaced
by the relentless pursuit of smoke
that is such an accepted part of daily life.

Forgive us this day/night for the shortness of our attention 

and the shallowness of our commitment to walk in Your light;

show us how insubstantial the power, the popularity,
the possessions we pursue really are

against Your eternal promises;

guard us against the disease of dissatisfaction that demands we give in
to our greed, our laziness, our pride, our lust;
And help us to persevere in the way of humility, justice and love.
Amen.

2.3 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. Create in me a clean heart ...

Part 3: Reigniting the flame

3.1 New Testament reading: James 1:2-11 (The Message)

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing.

3.2 A brief meditation is offered or participants are invited to share the grace that they have received through the passages.

<silence>

3.3. Prayers for one another and/or the world
The apostle James challenges us to consider the tests and challenges that life brings our way as a gift for they force our faith-life into the open. But he also reminds us that we do not face them alone but with the help of the Father who loves us and listens to what we ask. So we pray this day – boldly, believingly – for those who are wilting and withering under life’s pressure and problems.

<as prayers are offered by the members, the candles are solemnly lifted up one by one and relit from the central flame as an invitation for Christ’s love to shine in the places of darkness and pain;>

The leader concludes:

Great God who set the sun in place and flung the night’s stars into space,
shine Your light upon our world with such power and compassion 
that the shadows of sin and shame, of worry and uncertainty may fade away;
touch the deep places of pain, of disappointment, of broken relationship 
with such healing warmth that hope and wholeness and health may bloom;
and colour our lives like sunset skies with perfect peace and joy everlasting.

Part 4: Bearing the light

4.1 Sharing the peace

<the peace of the Lord is shared with each person collecting a candle and offering it to another>

4.2. Benediction

<when all the candles have been given, the group blesses one another with the words:>  

The light of God surrounds us.
The love of God enfolds us.
The power of God protects us.
The presence of God watches over us.
Wherever we are, God is.
May we bear God’s light well.

4.3 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. We’ll walk this land …

 

Job 1:6-22 – a prayer journey with children

The book of Job seldom features in our conversations with children – or adults for that matter – because its subject matter is so difficult to make sense of. Job 1:22 is a verse which makes us question our understanding of God’s goodness and our (carefully-nursed) illusion that the Christian life is a comfortable one.

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.
God gives, God takes.
    God’s name be ever blessed.

The “prayer journey” below does not try to articulate a clever theology around the concepts of blessing or suffering, but rather to respond to the invitation inherent in the story: to express gratitude for our many blessings and to pray for those who, when stripped of life’s blessings, feel unloved and abandoned by God.

***

Preparations:

  1. Cut-outs of some of the “blessings” listed in the story – children, farmland, oxen, donkeys, sheep, servants, a house, laden-camels etc. to be “hidden” in easy-to-find locations or kept in a box.
  2. A large world map that can be unfolded and laid out on the floor.
  3. Symbols of disasters like floods, volcanoes, bombs (for war) etc. that will be placed in relevant locations during the period of intercessory prayer – it is helpful to practice finding or possibly lightly marking the points at which these will be placed on the map.
  4. Tea lights or cut outs of hearts (depending on the age of the children).
  5. A copy of “May God’s love be with you” card for each child – along with colouring pencils, stickers, glitter etc. – download Worksheet.

***

Once upon a time, long long ago, lived a man named Job who loved God with all his heart and tried his best to only do what was good and right.

Now, Job had many things. Some people would call him lucky; some, rich. As Christians, we would probably use the word blessed.

Can you help me find/name some of the blessings that God had given this good man?

<children find the “hidden” blessings or name them as they are drawn out of the box>

<space for wondering is offered at the end of each statement below>
I wonder how Job felt about all of these blessings from God.
I wonder if you feel like God has blessed you.
I wonder if Job ever stopped to say thank you to God for his family and his servants, for his comfortable home, for the good land and all the animals he looked after.
I wonder if we should stop for a moment and say thank you to God for all of our blessings.

<the prayer of gratitude is introduced by singing, playing or saying the song below – can be used as a chorus during pauses as children think of more blessings for which they are grateful >

Count your blessings,
name them one by one.
Count your blessings,
see what God has done.
Count your blessings,
name them one by one
and it will surprise you
what the Lord has done.

God, we thank you for your goodness
and for the many ways in which you have blessed us.
We thank you for ….. <allow children/congregation to name the blessings for which they are grateful>

***

So Job was this good man who loved God with all his heart, but one day Satan came to God looking to make a little trouble. He teased God saying, “Job doesn’t really love you. He just loves all of this stuff that you have given him. I bet you that if you take away everything you’ve given him, he will hate you.”

God replied, “I’ll take that bet, but I won’t take away anything I’ve given him. You can do anything you want with all of his blessings though and then you’ll see that Job still loves me.”

Then the bad news started arriving:  <tear or crumple up each blessing as the news is shared>
Some jealous people stole all of Job’s oxen and donkeys and killed his servants.
Lightning struck the sheep and their shepherds and burnt them to a crisp.
Robbers took all of the camels and murdered the camel drivers.
And then, worst of all, a tornado struck the house where all of Job’s sons and daughters were having a party and all of them died, but the Bible tells us that not once did Job blame God.

I wonder how you would feel if you got news like that!
I wonder if you would still love God and try to do good.
I wonder if you would still think that God loves you.
<remember to leave time for wondering after each statement as it is crucial that children have the opportunity to express their natural reactions and then move directly into the prayer of intercession without evaluating their responses>

***

<place a world map in the centre of the circle>

All over the world, people have been getting bad news. Earthquakes in China and Mexico; floods in Florida and India; a volcano in Indonesia; war in Syria; terrorist attacks in London; famine in Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan have taken away people’s homes, their families, their land, their animals. <symbols representing these disasters are placed in appropriate places on the map – situations should be updated if used after date of publication>

Let’s pray that God’s love will be with them today as their hearts are full of anger or sadness or pain. <children put hearts or candles over each of the affected areas>

I wonder if there are any other people or places that we would like to pray for today. <while an appropriate song is sung, hearts are extended to the broader congregation to place on the map as they feel led>

***

<“may God’s love be with you” sheets are coloured in and decorated and can be taken home to share with anyone who needs a little good news>

A Gathering Prayer

Following on from the gathering in – with string idea that I recently shared is a prayer based loosely on Psalm 119:49-56 which connects us with the countless generations of men, women, and children who have experienced the faithfulness of God in the triumphs and the struggles of their lives.

The naming of these saints in Scripture deliberately includes people of different ages, genders, callings, and covenants – and even those whose stories have been made known to us without naming for all have place in the kin(g)dom of God.

The simple response of two lines (in bold) roots us in this wide family and reminds us that God knows us by name. For large congregations, each person can offer their name simultaneously but in smaller congregations, I would encourage taking the time for each to offer their name in turn. It is an intimate moment of being seen and offering oneself to be known.

***

God we gather this day,
though life is difficult and full of its own troubles.

We gather though it often seems that the wicked prosper and flourish
even as we go through tough times.

We gather though people mock us, look down on us,
and ridicule our way of life, our beliefs.

We gather because Your Word comforts and counsels us.
We gather because Your age-old revelation keeps us on the right track.

We gather because Your instructions ignite a song within our spirit
as we walk the pilgrim way.

But above all,
we gather because we know You;
because we have experienced Your touch upon our lives
and can boldly proclaim that You are a good and gracious God –
merciful and kind,
just and true,
faithful to Your promises.

You are the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
You are the God of Benjamin, of Samuel, and of David.
You are the God of Ruth, Deborah, and Esther.
You are the God of Daniel, of Jonah, and of Jeremiah.
You are the God of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
You are the God of Peter, of Paul, and of John.
You are the God of Mary, Lydia, and Dorcas.
You are the God of the many unnamed people who You fed, who You taught, who You healed.

Today, we gather to remember that You are the God of <insert your name>
and we place our hope in Your presence and Your promises.

Choosing well

A children’s lesson based on 1 Kings 3:16-28 – Solomon displays godly wisdom.

Preparation 

  • 2 identically-sized, solid bowls filled to the same level – one with sweets; the other with cereal or rice grains covered in a layer of sweets so that they appear the same.
  • 2 boxes – one containing biscuits and the other lasagne sheets or similar. Prior to the lesson the boxes should be opened carefully, the contents switched, and the boxes resealed.
  • 2 “presents” – one containing a boy’s toy in a pink gift bag and the other a girl’s toy wrapped in a blue gift bag.
  • Sufficient copies of the “with what do we measure?” worksheets*

Interaction

Present each of the pairs to the group – one at a time. For each, allow the children to point at which one they would choose and to share their reasons behind each choice. After their decision has been discussed, reveal what is actually in each container. Wonder with the children:

  • What part of our body helped us the most in making our choices?
  • Were they the best choices?
  • If you knew what was inside before you chose, would you choose differently?

Thoughts to share

  • Sometimes our eyes trick us. They tell us that what looks the biggest or has the nicest wrapping is the best and then we’re disappointed when we find out what is really inside. Sometimes they trick us into making friends with the wrong kind of people – people who look good and friendly and beautiful on the outside but who are actually mean and unkind on the inside.
  • In our story today, Solomon faced a tricky situation. He didn’t know which mom to believe – which woman had killed her baby by accident and which woman was the mother of the living baby? Instead of choosing based on what his eyes saw or his ears heard, he relied on his mind – on wisdom from God. He made the right choice and gave the living baby to the woman who showed that she loved the baby with all her heart – and all of the people respected him for it.
  • In order to make good choices we need to rely less on what we see and more on God’s wisdom.

Prayer

God, help us to choose:
right instead of wrong,
peace instead of fighting,
being kind instead of being mean,
telling the truth instead of making up lies,
measuring with love instead of our eyes.
Amen.

Worksheet pages

Click With what do we measure for children

 

* Sermon notes on “With what do we measure?” will be posted on Sunday (27/8/2017)

Gathering in

Unknown

A simple call to worship for a multicultural, multigenerational gathering which involves participants wrapping a ball of string around their wrist or waist before passing on to the next person until the entire community is literally joined together.

The “gathering” words below can be prayed repetitively until the binding is complete or once followed by a chorus such as “Bind us together, Lord,” or similar.

Father, we come from different places,
with different names
and different faces.
As we pass this piece of string:
gather us in.
Gather us in.

Jesus, we come with different creeds,
with differing opinions
and different needs.
As we pass this piece of string:
make us all kin.
Make us all kin.

Spirit, we come with different stories,
with different joys
and different worries.
As we pass this piece of string:
let peace begin.
Let peace begin.

***

A few necessary notes on “detangling” ….

Depending on the intent of the entire service (and length), you could keep people connected for it’s duration with untangling happening with twirling or turn-taking or careful scissor work – often with much accompanying laughter outside the gathering afterwards. This works best with participants attached at the waist during the service and can illustrate quite practically how inconvenient community can be and how intentional we have to be about maintaining our connections with one another.

If there are lots of little ones who might need toilet breaks or concern about people’s comfort or the connection interfering with other parts of worship, then the string should be wrapped in a single loop around people’s wrists. They can easily slip their wrist out at the desired point in the service. These can be replaced by prayer cards with thanksgivings or requests that they write but that requires a lot of extra preparation – punching holes in the cards for the string to be slipped through, providing pens etc. but it can be a tangible reminder of the experience if hung in the foyer or sanctuary afterwards.

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.

***