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The We Need A Little Epiphany Right Now Edition
A Little Liturgical Revelation for the Last Day of 2021
This year is different.
It’s something I said in a meeting planning Christmas Eve with the good people at Old First United Church of Christ and one of those dear souls zeroed on that. She repeated it and said, “Yes, this year is different. It is different than it has ever been before.”
It caught me by surprise because this all feels so familiar right now. Emergency rooms are full here in Germany. Christmas markets shut down in the southern regions of this country long before Christmas came. It isn’t possible to go anywhere public without a test — even when you already have proof of vaccination. Rumor has it that boosters change that but I haven’t tested that out yet. I still have unvaccinated children and we are back to what feels like lockdown.
It doesn’t feel different than it was last year but dear God, I need there to be an epiphany this year. I need to imagine a way out of this. I need to believe that this is not all that there will be.
I confess that I’m finding some of the more familiar refrains of our faith to be stale while at the same time there are tenets of our faith that have bring tears to my eyes with the truth. I find myself curious about what it all means and wanting it all have new meaning. That’s what I want this epiphany to be. I want it to be a whole season where everything feels possible after so much has felt impossible.
I know that many pastors with budgets that allow it are using the wonderful worship packages that are popping up all over the place. Here are a few more ideas connected to the Revised Common Lectionary whether or not your congregation’s budget allows for such gifts.
It’s this spirit that I hoped to capture in New Year Epiphanies and might be what you are looking for in the first few weeks of January. I didn’t want to do anything overly complicated. There are no special props beyond the communion elements, pen, paper and tea light candles — and even these things could be substituted for whatever is available at home that day. It’s designed for Zoom but it could very well work in other worship formations and settings. It was featured in my last newsletter so I don’t want to go on and on about it — but simply want to remind you that this complete worship service can be purchased here.
Wise People Came Too
I’m trying to teach this part of the story to my children this week. There were no pageants for us here in Germany to hint of their arrival so this part of the story is still a mystery — as it might be for those that are trying to figure out where it goes on the calendar this year. Epiphany Stars might be a new practice to you — or even one your people have come to love and you’re looking to simplify all that prep work you did. Jo Owens of Vibrant Church Communications offers a wonderful package in her Epiphany Stars that has everything you need including a lovely liturgy. I’d be tempted to pair it with this poem and use this liturgy to gather around the table by my talented friend Teri. There is also this wonderful way to tell the story of Epiphany using puppets because puppets are fun.
It is no secret that I love the Sunday that follows Epiphany. I wrote these prayer stations last year that I still adore. There’s a playfulness in these stations that moves in and through the words that are so hard to find when it comes to epiphanies like those found in baptismal waters. I wonder about using an experiment like this one as part of a sermon or some part of the prayers to find new meaning to what and how we are changed in the waters. (I especially like that this one connects us to each other and doesn’t make it a singular event.) For those on Zoom now that omicron is ruining everything again, maybe you provide a message sent home to each household with a set of watercolors that is painted as part of the prayers using one of these resist techniques.
What Might Happen After the Epiphany
Epiphany is, of course, about what we come to know about God. That becomes abundantly clear when water turns to wine the following week. Maybe you continue the painting through prayers where the lines of prayers this week are outlined in red wine. (Fruit juices like prune or pomegranate would also work.) I probably wouldn’t encourage portraits of Jesus but wonder about the lines that we follow to find glory. This could be a lovely guided meditation. Or maybe stay with the idea of Christ’s image and challenge your good people to rethink the image of Christ.
This Prayer to Open our Hearts from the archives of Cooking with Elsa also might fit reflect your search for epiphanies this year. There’s a Call to Worship there too but I’m less excited about it three years later.
That same week, we are invited to consider our many gifts. We hear the rest of that chapter from the church in Corinth the next week which might be an opportunity to reflect on the ways that we are called to be the church together. Perhaps that means a blessing of your leadership. Or maybe it is something that comes together in the form as a video blessing. Here is a prayer that might be used:
It could come suddenly, O God. It could surprise us and delight us and cause us to realize all that has changed. It could happen that way but it doesn’t always happen just like that. Sometimes we come slowly to find a new awareness of ourselves and our world. The light changes. The stars in the sky look different. Our own reflection seems to have altered and we are left to wonder why. Fill us with this possibility so that the scrolls of our lives seem to unroll with new understanding and favor. May the Spirit release us and renew us in this epiphany. O God, open us to transformation and change again. Amen.
Let the anger in that drives Jesus out of town the following week be a place to ponder using this Angry Prayer by Carolyn Brown. (Scroll down. It’s for Matthew’s Gospel but it still works.) I would be tempted to use this poem. And if painting our prayers carries through in this season, I’d opt for something like this. It seems to me that we have plenty to be frustrated by in this on-going pandemic season — and this too needs space in our worship even if you might be tempted to explore the themes of love in the epistle. If so, this confession might find a place between love and anger.
It is not anger that lingers in the following week but there is an intensity to the crowds pressing in and the deep water where Jesus encourages Simon to cast his nets. It’s not until later in the story that we find that Simon wasn’t all by himself. James and John were there too but this version of the story seems to push Simon into the deep waters by himself. That alone seems worth exploring. What lies beneath the surface? Fishing nets could be laid upon a piece of paper where worshippers are encouraged to paint in the gaps. Or maybe a prayer net is constructed though this seems more difficult in remote worship so that we can feel like this is something that we share rather than something we have to wade into find all by ourselves.
Blessings, Woes and Love
We only get two weeks of this powerful wisdom from Jesus before Lent begins. We find Jesus in these familiar words offering blessings and woes which might be surprising to those that are more familiar with hearing I really like this call to worship to gather the people together. I also like this litany though I might not use them together. I love these prayer stations even if none of them include paint but I’m wondering especially how to uplift the woes. We’ve had so many woes in Coronatide, haven’t we? And there just might be an epiphany or two in those burdens and hardships — and I think making something might help access that which we struggle to name.
With my own kids, we are working on expanding our vocabulary and understanding around emotions. We’ve been experimenting with lots of things but this particular idea is inspired from this building station. My kids love legos and they are such an easy way to enter into wonder. (Blocks could work too.) Here’s a prompt to offer with a set of legos that might be individually offered on trays or sent home for Zoom worship:
Woe to the rich. Woe to those who have so much. Woe to you and to me. There has been so much that has caused us woe in this pandemic season. These things have broken us down and forced us to rebuild all that we thought we knew.
With these building blocks, brick by brick, construct a tower for these hardships. When it feels complete, destroy it and reimagine that hardship from what you’ve learned.
This invitation would need to be written somewhere where it can be referenced and maybe you break it into parts so that it’s not too overwhelming. No one needs to share what they’ve made unless they feel moved to do so but the prayer time might end with quiet reflection and the sharing of a word or a phrase of something that God offered in these woes.
Jesus’ sermon continues with the wisdom to love our enemies and turn the other cheek and a further admonishment against judgment. (Um, I’m failing on that one at this point in the pandemic. I don’t know about you.) Valentine’s Day will have fallen the week before and maybe it will be spring break where mission trips will take place in some fashion — and though it’s not usually how we talk about love, these are the words that rattle around in my brain. Then, there is this blessing that I have attributed both to the Rev. Brian Baker and the Black Rock Prayer Book. I’m not sure which is correct but it says it all to me.
Before Lent beings and we start to burn ashes and wonder what resurrection could be, we will climb to a mountaintop and find epiphany on Transfiguration Prayers. I still like the prayers I wrote last year though they might needs some slight tweaks to reflect the RCL this year.
Last but not least, I’m experimenting a little bit with this format and wondering about starting a premium service that offers weekly prayers and big ideas like you’ve seen here. There will always be a free version but I’m wondering about how to deepen this ministry. If you like what you’ve found here, please let me know what you’d like to see in future potlucks — and especially what might make it worth your hard earned money to pay for an annual liturgy subscription. I just think we might be able to cook up something amazing.