I missed it — World Water Day

God, I missed it — World Water Day,
because I was washing my hands.
Afraid for myself of illness,
I didn’t even consider
that 790 million people have no access
to an improved water supply,
and more — nearly two billion
lack adequate sanitation.

This pandemic is traveling the world
and the easiest way to stay safe,
is so far from so many.

And I, like Pilate,
when danger draws close to me,
rinse off my usual commitment
to immigrant justice,
to those unhoused, who will increase
in the months to come,
not to speak of
political activism in an election year.

At least, may I reach for soap and the truth
that those without water
are not only thirsty
but also in in danger of the virus
that has me so many times a day —
sending compassion down the drain.

(World Water Day — March 22, 2020)

Pilate washes his hands Altdorfer, Albrecht, ca. 1480-1538

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Prayer for a Full House

God, we pray for those for whom
lockdown and quarantine and shelter in place
do not mean loneliness.

We pray for those who, desperate to be alone,
always have someone there —
working from home, needing assistance,
or just … talking.

We pray for those who can’t work from home,
who look at the walls and wonder —
how long until the walls won’t be there
and food will be in short supply.

We pray for those with gloomy teenagers,
prostrate with the absence of friends
(like having their hearts cut out),
who are missing everything, everything, everything,
important in their lives
(parents are not on that list)
and have half the dishes in the house
crusted with food in their rooms.

We play for — whoops, pray for
parents and caregivers of small children
who have gone through the library books,
sidewalk chalk, toys, games, puzzles,
paper airplanes in the backyard,
and too much Paw Patrol,
who have negotiated fights,
said things they want to take back,
counted the hours till bedtime,
and do not want to be told —
one more time — they are lucky.

We name and pray for those
for whom home is never a safe place,
and for whom home
with a person under pressure … is deadly.

God, we pray for those who are not lonely,
and, therefore, everyone assumes are fine.
Do not give them your companionship,
O Holy One, but your blessing
of an inner experience
of personal space and free time.

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Communion for Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020

This is a service for those who want to share Communion in an online community during a time of quarantine // lockdown // shelter in place. I am sure that a number of denominations are creating resources for this occasion and I would like to add to the choices. This liturgy includes the theological premise that lay sharing in the preparation and words of consecration over a table blesses the elements received fully and completely. In other words, there is no need for a clergy person to handle them. This may be uncomfortable for some.

This is a simple service which begins with an announcement on Sunday, March 29 (or during the week prior to April 5) and continues with words of liturgy, to which you can add language, music, gestures and practices. (For example, some churches pour the drink for the shared cup and some do not, some bring elements forward as part of an offertory and some do not, some include a confession and assurance of grace, musical responses or a hymn and others do not. Shape this to be familiar to the congregation but not an exact replica, which leads people to be more aware that they are missing the gathered community. Make it a celebration of the possibility of online connection, not an apology for something that is not-as-good as in-person worship.

Announcement … “Save the Date” March 29 (or during the following week)

On Sunday, April 5, Palm (and, for some, Passion) Sunday we share together Holy Communion in our online interactive worship.

Before the time of the service you will want to prepare some bread, a slice or a small loaf of any kind of bread. In some parts of the world tortilla, rice cake, cassava are used as this element which is defined not as a wheat product but as the most common food of the people. Let it be something you alone or you with others in your house may break and share. Prepare a cup or cups of juice — perhaps grape or cranberry — or wine, with or without alcohol.

Set these elements in the living room or kitchen where you experience worship electronically with our faith community. Perhaps you want to put them on a lovely cloth or fabric that reminds you of a special time or a person deeply connected with you in the communion of saints. Perhaps you will light a candle or place a flower or plant or the photograph of someone you wish to bring into the circle of faith beside the bread and the cup.

Thank you for your preparation.

Celebration of Holy Communion (Pause to invite those who have not already prepared elements to do so. Assure them that even an English muffin can become a sacrament, even a cup of water or tea become a remembrance of God’s redeeming love)

Invitation
For Holy Communion this morning,
I invite you to lend Christ your table.

On the first day of Holy week long ago,
people throughout Judea arrived
at the dusty gates of Jerusalem,
primed with “Hosanna” in their hearts
and Jesus asked to borrow a donkey.

On the Thursday that followed,
Jesus rented or was given
John Mark’s mother’s Upper Room
to celebrate the Passover with the disciples.

On the afternoon of the resurrection,
Jesus was invited into a house in Emmaus
and used the bread of that hospitality
to break and bless.

Lend Christ your table, your bread, your cup and your heart,
for, as the disciples told the person who loaned the donkey,
“The Lord has need of it.”

Prayer of Consecration
Leader: We are one bread, one body, one cup of blessing. Though we are many throughout the earth and this church community is scattered, we are one in Christ. In your many kitchens, and living rooms, rest your hands lightly upon these elements which we set aside today to be a sacrament. Let us ask God’s blessing upon them.

Unison: Gentle Redeemer, there is no lockdown on your blessing and no quarantine on grace. Send your Spirit of life and love, power and blessing upon every table where your child shelters in place, that this Bread may be broken and gathered in love and this Cup poured out to give hope to all. Risen Christ, live in us, that we may live in you. Breathe in us, that we may breathe in you.

Words of Remembering
Leader: We remember that Paul the apostle wrote letters to congregations throughout places we now call Greece, Turkey and Macedonia, and they were the first “remote” worship resources. Our online service has a long heritage. The Communion words sent to the church at Corinth were these:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Sharing of the Elements
Leader: Let us in our many places receive the gift of God, the Bread of Heaven.
Unison: We are one in Christ in the bread we share.

Leader: Let us in our many places receive the gift of God, the Cup of Blessing.
Unison: We are one in Christ in the cup we share.

Prayer of Thanksgiving
Leader: Let us pray in thanksgiving for this meal of grace, rejoicing that, by the very method of our worship, we have embodied the truth that Christ’s love is not limited by buildings made with human hands, nor contained in human ceremonies, but blows as free as the Spirit in all places.

Unison:
Spirit of Christ, you have blessed our tables and our lives. May the eating of this Bread give us courage to speak faith and act love, not only in church sanctuaries, but in your precious world, and may the drinking of this Cup renew our hope even in the midst of pandemic. Wrap your hopeful presence around all whose bodies, spirits and hearts need healing, and let us become your compassion and safe refuge. Amen

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Guest post — Poems for such a time as this, Rev. Hope Harle-Mould

My guest post this Thursday is two poems by Hope-Douglas Harle-Mould, a seminary classmate of mine (more about him below) My great thanks for this gift.

Hope in the Cracks

In the cracks,
there’s always hope:

Where a new world is not only possible
but already on the way,
seeping in
unseen,
flooding forth
imperceptibly,
with resurrecting light
opening a new way,
with healing touch
midwifing a new day.

Believe it,
for this is true:

In the cracks,
there’s always hope.

I originally wrote the line, “there’s hope in the cracks,” in a poem-story, “Ellipses…” for the UCC God Is Still Speaking story contest a dozen years back, which I lost. I always wanted to write a poem with that title, and finally this was the time.

Across Six Feet of Separation — A poem for such a time as this

Across six feet of separation
the virus can’t spread, but fear can run rampant—
you afraid of me, me afraid of you.
Across six feet of separation,
our world careens in tumult, our minds in shellshocked muddle—
too aghast to see the way ahead.
Across six feet of separation
my grandkids can no longer race into my arms—
banned from even nearing my house.
Across six feet of separation
one daughter is laid off from her restaurant,
one risks her health daily, nursing the disabled at her group home.
Across six feet of separation
our church can’t enact its five-amazing-minutes of Passing the Peace—
can’t even gather to pray or hear holy words of promise.

Inside six feet of separation
a presence pulsing with consoling calm and soothing balm,
whispering near our ear, “Be still…and know that I am God.”
Inside six feet of separation
is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen—
“Fear not, I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Inside six feet of separation
are the outstretched arms of our Teacher, spanning the gap—
the Stillpoint of our turning world.
Inside six feet of separation
there is a voice in the storm, commanding, “Be still!”—
and in the ensuing silence…a peace so serene we weep.
Inside six feet of separation
a song fragment wells up within us, unbidden, transcendent—
till suddenly we realize why…and sing unabashed and free.

Spanning six feet of separation
I warmly greet each passing stranger formerly ignored: “Be safe!”—
and they reply, “We’ll get through this together!”
Spanning six feet of separation
I use American Sign Language to tell people, “Peace be with you,”
and as they mirror me, our hands caress across spider-web touch.
Spanning six feet of separation
I escape outside for a walk, blustery wind blushing my face,
then inexplicably burst into run—joy irrepressible.
Spanning six feet of separation
I sense tree roots beneath my feet, linked by fungal networks to other trees,
and I pause in awe at the anthem encompassing me.
Spanning six feet of separation
I see another world is possible—each soul a daughter or grandchild of mine,
each moment a trust-fall of reconciling hope.

Across six feet of separation
generations of the faithful join us to leap the rift, as fearlessly we sing a new song:
“We are held in holy hands, by a Love That Will Not Let Us Go.”

“Across Six Feet of Separation” partly germinated from an image in one of my sermons years ago about the woman with the flow of blood—her faith and hope for healing across the last two inches before her touch reached Christ’s robe.

How long is six feet? Thanks to the Duluth News Tribune

Mr. Hope Douglas J. Harle-Mould is a United Church of Christ (UCC) minister serving as a supply preacher (“the preacher with props”) in churches throughout Western New York and is dedicated to a Ministry of the Pen—freelance writing. He is an active member of Pilgrim St. Luke’s UCC in Buffalo, NY, an open and affirming church, and is on their Welcoming Refugees team.
Ordained in 1978, he has served as community organizer (farmworkers’ movement), assistant prison chaplain, campus minister, youth & Christian Education pastor, visitation pastor, senior pastor, and founding director of an interfaith peacebuilding organization. He has done volunteer service in Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Honduras.
He is co-author of Talking with Your Child about God’s Story (United Church Press) and has written senior high materials for three ecumenical curricula. His writings regularly appear in the devotional magazines The Upper Room, These Days, and in the Mennonite magazine purpose.
His children’s stories have been published in many periodicals: “The Shut-In Freedom Fighter,” “The Parade of Misfits,” “Ahmad’s Hat,” “The Girl Who Never Missed a Sunday,” “The Boy Who Came in Last,” “You Can’t Promise Anything,” “Just Pass It On,” “The Land of Sharing,” and “Awakened by a Dream.”
Hope received his B.A. in Religion & English from Carroll University in Waukesha, WI (and Schiller College in Germany) in 1975, and received his M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary, New York City, in 1978.
He lives in Kenmore, NY (Buffalo suburb), with his wife of 40 years, Linda, also a UCC minister, near their three adopted children and four grandchildren. He loves stargazing, walking in creation, Frisbee, community theater, performing poetry, writing songs for guitar, and listening to the cooing of his white dove, Gracie.
Hope’s unusual first name started out as a nickname at church camp, where he was a counselor for two full summers. Afterwards, as friends and family continued to call him Hope, he realized this was his spiritual name, his day-to-day calling. At age 22, the day after graduating from college, he legally changed his name to Hope—a gift first given by God’s children.
Hope is currently active with Justice for Migrant Families, the Interfaith Climate Justice Coalition, the Network of Religious Communities, and the Western New York Peace Center.

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Prayer for those who are alone

God, we pray for those who have touched
computer keys or phone touchscreen
(or both) thousands of times,
since they last touched human skin —
for both extroverts, who are fatigued,
unable to generate any energy,
and introverts, charged up
with nowhere to share renewed compassion.

We pray for those who decided to skip deodorant,
and now have not washed their hair
for days and days and days,
and for people who never, ever thought
they would not be satisfied with dog’s devotion
or the sufferance of the cat.

We pray for those who have signed up
for free Gratefulness.org courses,
My Fitness routines,
binged some fabulous new shows,
play online scrabble with friends,
and who know that a single phone call
can be an offertory-worthy gift,

and those who feel like they don’t care.

We pray for those with newly cleaned closets,
and those with dirty underwear
underfoot … everywhere
because no one is going to see it.

We know you are with everyone who is alone,
and pray they feel it at least once a day,
and we pray for the ones
whom lonely is damaging —
that they may have
human attention, maybe ours. amen

My friends, tomorrow is my birthday. This is the present I want from you (not necessarily a Facebook greeting — I do know you feel that). I hope that for my sake you will text or even call someone you know who is alone. Maybe it someone who hesitates to reach out and “bother” you … or maybe the friend or relative you know is hard to get off the line … or maybe someone who never initiates connection but is hurt when it doesn’t happen … or a church acquaintance you don’t know well but whom you suspect is lonely … or a non-church acquaintance because those may be even more isolated, since churches usually try to reach out. Yes, Friday I will definitely offer a prayer for those who have a house too full of say … four year olds! But for Thursday March 26 I hope you will just offer some kindness to a person “extra-alone,” which is one definition of ‘lonely,’” in the midst of this pandemic.

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A prayer when contact is restricted and funerals are small

Savior, who sits down and weeps with us
for all our losses,
as you did with Mary and Martha,
even when you know and we believe
in the alleluia rising up
from every sadness, every death,

we pray in this time of pandemic
for those whose dear ones
are near the end of their journeys
but who cannot visit in hospital or hospice
until the time of active dying,

May a few words be as powerful as many,
and deep grace as holy as long hours.

We pray, also for those who love someone
who died of cancer or heart disease,
of traffic accident, gun shot, overdose,
alzheimer’s, diabetes, drowning,
lung disease, a fall, suicide, or coronavirus

and whose precious life cannot be celebrated
in visiting hours and large funerals,
in receptions and mercy meals,
with hugs and handshakes
with clusters of friends in a cemetery
telling old stories.

Some occasions will be delayed,
others shared through gifts of technology,
but all will be different than expected
even a month ago.

We pray for those who work
in funeral services,
for clergy, musicians, officiants, friends
longing to bring comfort,
trying so hard to explain in gentle ways.

May they find ways to roll away
the stones of despair,
and unbind the aching
for the touch of the one who has died
and the touch of friends still living.

And may we all find the eastering truth,
God given, in the hearts
of those of all faiths and no faith —
that they are not alone,
that memory will rise up
with a thousand kindnesses,

and a holy weeping tenderness,
we may know as Jesus,
comes to call their dear ones home.

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Prayer for anxiety in a Lent of coronavirus

God, I coughed again —
it’s dry and I sneezed once yesterday,
and I think my throat is sore,
but mostly I am worried
that I am going to give COVID19,
to somebody I love,
or someone I get too close to
when I am walking the dog.

Even more, I am worried about
what is happening inside my mind,
so, of course, I start reading all about
Illness Anxiety Disorder,
hypochondriasis —
but isn’t that bringing the focus on me,
when I am not sick,
I am not completely alone,
and not close to losing my house?

So then I start to worry
about how self-absorbed I am and …

God, this was not the beginning
and it will not be the end
as the kaleidoscope pandemic
shifts its many broken pieces inside me
and creates different patterns.

This, too, is your gift,
because now I understand
how everyone around me feels,
and feels differently every single day.

We are broken and beautiful,
and our patterns will change.
What won’t change
is our care for one another,
or this small healing ritual —

of going to the pool of Siloam
that is my bathroom sink
and with a bar smelling of lavender
loving my small hands
and the mind that moves them
and also wants
to be washed with gentleness.

 

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