The blessing of bread

As I’ve been reflecting on the lectionary readings for this week – Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26 in particular – I am aware that so much of life seems to be about the ups and downs, or the “curses” and the “blessings” as both writers call them. I am struck by Jesus standing on a level place from which to offer words that calm the people’s troubles and a touch that heals them.

The table is that level place. Here the ordinary elements of bread and wine, in the way that they are spoken of and shared, become the extraordinary: a tangible reminder of the presence of God with and within us.

This week I want to keep that focus and so a little bit of Godly play language and a little of my Celtic roots have gone into celebrating this blessing in a simple way.

As I have children in the congregation, I will begin by sitting with them in a half circle in front of the covered communion table with a small basket of some heads of wheat, bread, grapes, and an indestructible picnic glass of grape juice.

***

Once there was someone who did such wonderful things and said such amazing things that people wondered who he was. Finally, they just couldn’t help it. They had to ask him who he was.

One time, when they asked him, Jesus said:

“I am the bread that came down from heaven to give life to the world. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.”

Many people didn’t understand. Some of them even got angry. But some of them decided to follow him wherever he went.

Another time, Jesus told those who were following him:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit.”

Point to the bread: Grain from the field, 

Point to the grapes/juice/wine: fruit from the vine .… 

As he sat at the supper table with them, he took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God for it, broke it, and gave it to them saying something like this:

“When you share the bread like this, I will be there.”

A piece of bread is given to one or more of the children.

And after supper, when they’d eaten everything they wanted to eat, he took the cup of wine, gave thanks to God for it, and shared it with them saying something like:

“When you share the cup like this, I will be there.”

A sip of juice is given to one or more of the children.

Stand and walk slowly to the altar. Remove the cover. Stretch your arms wide to show all that is set.

Grain from the field, 
fruit from the vine, 
ready at the table for us to share. 

The children (and any interested adults) are invited to come up to look and the wondering questions are offered – to encompass the whole congregation.

I wonder which part of this feast you love the best? 
I wonder if the wine and the bread make people happy?
I wonder if God comes close to us when we share like this?
I wonder who else God would like to come close to?

***

Addressing the congregation:

The table is ready. Christ himself is both the host and the meal. Eat the bread and be full of the life of Christ. Drink the cup and be filled with the love of Christ. Remember as you eat and as you drink that Christ is here and be blessed.

Communion is shared – first with those already gathered around the table. People should be encouraged to come up and stand together in groups around the table. Although this is a little less orderly than some congregations may be used to, there is a joy and togetherness at the table which can be a great blessing – especially to those who may feel isolated, unloved, or even unlovable.  

The elements are covered and the closing prayer is offered with arms outstretched to the whole congregation:

Christ is here.
Through the grain of the field
And the fruit of the vine
Shared among friends 
We remember:
God remains in us.

May we remain with God
To bear fruit in the world
In every season of our lives.

Amen.     

A winter blessing

Written  by Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr
in a contemplative and challenging journey through the seasons of life.

***

Blessed are you, winter,
dark season of waiting,
you affirm the dark seasons of our lives,
forecasting the weather of waiting in hope.

Blessed are you, winter,
you faithfully guard a life unseen,
calling those who listen deeply
to discover winter rest.

Blessed are you, winter,
frozen and cold on the outside,
within your silent, nurturing womb
you warmly welcome all that longs for renewal.

Blessed are you, winter,
your bleak, barren trees
preach wordless sermons
about emptiness and solitude.

Blessed are you, winter,
you teach us valuable lessons
about waiting in darkness
with hope and trust.

Blessed are you, winter,
season of blood red sunsets
and star-filled, long, dark nights,
faithfully you pour out your beauty.

Blessed are you, winter,
when your tiny snowflakes
flurry through the air,
you awaken our sleeping souls.

Blessed are you, winter,
with your wild and varied moods,
so intent on being yourself,
you refuse to be a people-pleaser.

Blessed are you, winter,
when ice storms crush our hearts and homes,
you call forth the good in us
as we rush to help one another.

Blessed are you, winter,
your inconsistent moods
often herald spring’s arrival,
yet how gracefully you step aside
when her time has come.

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>

Blessed to be a blessing

In Genesis 12:1-3, God promises to bless Abram with protection, with fatherhood, with greatness: he will be known throughout the earth for birthing a great nation.

Yet these blessings are not given for Abram and Sara’s enjoyment or fulfilment. They are not a reward for good behaviour or unwavering obedience. Each blessing that they receive is a gift to be passed on to others:

… and you will be a blessing … and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

This morning I am mindful of the blessings that I have received over almost 40 years of life; particularly in terms of the family that I was born into, the family that I was baptised into, and the family that I chose in marriage and motherhood.

These precious gifts from God are a constant, tangible reminder to me of God’s great love for me: they are the people who truly know me, who encourage me to live authentically, who support my choices and hold my hand when I get myself into trouble, who appreciate my nonsense and encourage my story-telling, who tell me truth that is hard to hear with gentleness and integrity, who laugh and play and love and cry and dare and die with me.

Gift-giving God, forgive me when I take such blessings for granted;
when I am so consumed with the longing for bigger, better, more
that I fail to see the immensity of love that surrounds me.

Self-giving God, help me to give as generously –
of words of affirmation and acknowledgment,
and postures of prayer and support,
that I, who am so greatly blessed, may in turn become a blessing.

What is that blessing that I believe I am called to be in the world around me? 

I believe my vocation is to use the creativity so lovingly nurtured by teachers and family and friends to create spaces in which others can connect with God, with themselves, and with others.