A Service of Lament, for the One-Year Anniversary of COVID

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This week is the one year anniversary of our collective lives changing due to COVID-19. Even if your congregation is meeting in-person, likely it does not look the same as it did in February of 2020… not to mention the other ways our lives have changed. What follows is a Service of Lament I’ll be using in my congregation this Sunday, in the vein of Tenebrae. Feel free to use or adapt it to fit your context (it could also be adapted to be used by people in their homes); if you use my words, please credit “Rev. Sara Nave Fisher” somewhere in your written material and/or your service.)

SERVICE OF LAMENT
on the
ANNIVERSARY OF COVID

Words of Welcome

Invocation/ Lighting of the Candles

Congregational Song: Your Love Defends Me

Liturgy of Lament

In the Christian tradition, we hold space for lament. Lament is naming our grief out loud – acknowledging it. Lament does not to tie grief up with a pretty bow, but recognizes that living as a human on earth means that we suffer, that we experience loss, that we experience death. This is so important to our tradition that we have the model of an entire book of the Bible – called, Lamentations. The book of Lamentations is a collection of poems, commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem. The pain and grief are palpable. The book ends this way: 

Joy has left our heart; our dancing has changed into lamentation…
Why do you forget us continually;
why do you abandon us for such a long time?
Return us, Lord, to yourself. Please let us return!
Give us new days, like those long ago;
unless you have completely rejected us,  
or have become too angry with us.

Does that feel familiar? Have there been times in this past year you wondered where God was, or why things were happening? Were there times that the uncertainty and sadness seemed to veil any glimpse of hope and resurrection that we might have otherwise noticed? When it felt like there might be no happy ending, no redemption, no hope? Maybe we knew that hope was out there, far off, but not close enough to embrace.

Today we remember that, even in the midst of suffering and pain, God walks with us; Christ knows what it is to suffer. We have never been alone. We are not alone today. We will not be alone tomorrow. And yet, this past year has brought suffering and pain to our congregation, to our community, to our country, and to our world. 

In the way of the ancients, so we too gather today to lament the things we have lost. And… we have lost a lot. While we recognize the privilege that, in our congregation, none have died, we know that during a time of global pandemic, everyone has suffered and everyone has lost… and that just because our suffering might not be what others have experienced, that does not invalidate what we have experienced.  

So today, we will hold space to name our grief and to mourn. We will start with lamenting the loss of life, in a similar way we do on All Saints Sunday, when we name those we loved who have died. Then we will lament loss of plans, loss of touch, loss of congregation, and then all other losses that haven’t yet been named. For each area, someone will read an introduction, then there will be time to name these things out loud. 

After a time of silence, after everyone who wants to has had a chance to speak, I will say “O Lord, in your mercy,” then everyone will respond together “Hear our prayer.” I will then extinguish a candle, for each area of lament. If you have them with you, you can do it at that time too. 

And now… let us name our grief, and let us be sad, together. 

LOSS OF LIFE

The loss of life this past year has been enormous. We mourn the over 500,000 people who have died in the US, and more than two and a half million who have died worldwide, due to COVID. We mourn those who have died from other causes but for whom we have not been able to grieve and hold funerals… and our suffering lingers. We name those who have died this last year, both from COVID and from other causes, now:

(Pause for a time of naming)

O Lord, in your mercy…

Hear our prayer. 

LOSS OF PLANS

In this past year, many of our hopes and plans did not come to fruition. Trips, birthdays, holiday celebrations, conferences, even small casual get-togethers with loved ones did not happen. So many events this last year were canceled, postponed, or done so differently we barely recognized them. We lament those things that we missed out on, now:

(Pause for a time of lament)

O Lord, in your mercy…
Hear our prayer.

LOSS OF CLOSENESS

For so many of us, especially those living alone, we have missed the humanity of physical touch. We’ve missed hugs and handshakes, and being in the proximity of other people. We are tired of Zoom, we are tired of screens, tired of six feet of separation, tired of not seeing smiles; we are tired of all things virtual that keep us from being physically near one another. We lament those losses now:

(Pause for a time of lament)

O Lord, in your mercy…

Hear our prayer.

LOSS OF CONGREGATION (NOTE: this is particular to our congregation; assuming other churches are NOT closing their doors after Easter, I would insert something else here)


We are so very sad that Rolling Oaks Christian Church will be closing. This congregation has been a family; it has been a witness of the hospitality and love of Christ in San Antonio for decades. We’ve gone through births, graduations, moves, weddings, and deaths; we have laughed together and cried together and prayed together. While we know we will always be in relationship and you will always be a part of us, as we think about the closing, we’re sad and angry and disappointed. Each of us carries our own grief about the closing of ROCC, and we name those losses now: 

(Pause for a time of lament)


O Lord, in your mercy…

Hear our prayer.

ALL OTHER LOSS

There are other types of loss that we have experienced that have not neatly fit into any of those categories, but weigh heavily on our hearts and minds. We have had to relearn how to live in this world, several times! – often unsure of what is safe and what isn’t, and that has taken a toll. We’ve limited and we’ve been limited. For all other sadness and suffering we have felt, we lament now: 

(Pause for a time of lament)

O Lord, in your mercy…

Hear our prayer.

(All candles are extinguished; if you only have one candle, extinguish it now.)

Congregational Song: It Is Well

Invitation to the Table / Candles of Hope 

(I’ll relight the same candles that were extinguished, as an act of hope)

One year ago on this Sunday in March, we were gathering virtually for the very first time. We didn’t yet know how long it would be, and my family came here to this space and live-streamed a clunky, brief service. We thought we would be back together for Easter! Then… we thought that whenever we were back together, it WOULD be and Easter-like celebration! We could not have imagined that it would be Easter… 2021. In this past year, we have grown and changed, we have experienced the grace of God in ways we could not even imagine one year ago.

Think back to where you were, a year ago today, during that first virtual service. What would you tell that person of a year ago? (pause) How have you experienced the grace of God in ways you couldn’t have imagined then? 

So today, even as we hold space for lament, we remember that the God who was with the authors of Lamentations, and the God who was with us when this church was founded forty years ago, and the God who was with us one year ago as we didn’t know what the future would hold… is with us, today, wherever we are. During this past year, on every difficult day and every uncertain night, God was there. During every loss and every ounce of pain, God was there. The God who knows the pain of what it means to be human is with each of us, even now.

We are people of the resurrection. Even during the season of Lent, we celebrate each Sunday as a “mini Easter” – as a way to look forward to the resurrection even when we can only see a glimpse of it. So today, as we gather once again around this Table and your tables at home, as we gather with wine and juice and coffee and water and tea, with bread and cookies and crackers and cinnamon rolls… we gather as people of hope (light candle). Hope in vaccinations (light candle), hope in meeting together again (light candle), hope in the ways we will continue to partner with God even after we leave this space and find God in new places with new people (light candle)… and in faith that the God who is with us will never forsake us (light candle). This is the table of Christ, and all are welcome. 

Words of Institution / Communion 

Prayer/ Lord’s Prayer

Scripture:

Ephesians 3:16-21 (The Inclusive Bible) – I pray that God, out of the riches of divine glory, will strengthen you inwardly with the power through the working of the Spirit. May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, so that you, being rooted and grounded in love, will be able to grasp fully the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love and, with all God’s holy ones, experience this love that surpasses all understanding, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. To God – whose power now at work in us can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine – to God be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, world without end! Amen! 

Doxology

Benediction

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