A service for the longest night
A gentle service, acknowledging the presence of sorrow and seeking hope
Yesterday’s Pain In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life, there is a deafening alleluia rising from the souls of those who weep, and of those who weep with those who weep. If you watch, you will see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one. Yesterday’s Pain. Some of us walk in Advent tethered to our unresolved yesterdays the pain still stabbing the hurt still throbbing. It’s not that we don’t know better; it’s just that we can’t stand up anymore by ourselves. On the way of Bethlehem, will you give us a hand? Ann Weems Lamentations 3;1-8 3 I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath; 2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; 3 against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long. 4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; 5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; 6 he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago. 7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me; 8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; 9 he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked. Psalm 13; 1-4 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, 4 and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. Silence All around us are the sights and sounds of Christmas, Gentle God: the laughter of parties, the songs of carolers, the shouts of children sledding down hills, the music in every store. But deep within us we carry our pain, our grief walks with us every step we take, loneliness is a shawl we drape over our shoulders on empty nights. So, in this time when every night stretches into eternity, we come to you, bringing our gifts: not gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the grief that is the empty space in the closet filled with memories, the loss that is a sore which never heals, the bitterness that tastes like two-day old coffee. We have come from different backgrounds, from different families, from other faith traditions. But we have all lived in the far country of despair, wandered the land of shame, built our lives in those neighbourhoods peopled by empty dreams. We have stood on the side of every room we have gone into, hoping against hope that someone would ask us to dance, but find the wall is our only friend. In a season when so many people don't have enough hours in a day to get their lists checked off, their cards mailed, their presents wrapped, we have all the time in the world: to remember the loss that has stolen the joy of the season; to grieve over a job, a dream, a loved one we have lost; to sit in the shadows of our homes, too weary to turn on the lights; to wander the streets lit by decorations on all the houses, but not by the Light of the world. Our fear of the future, our remembrance of the past; our pain which is difficult to bear and harder to release; our emptiness which cannot be filled with platitudes; our hands which cannot hold the ones we wish to embrace: all make this a season of long nights. So, be with us in our loneliness, in our longing, in our loss, in our lives. Silence [During this week in Advent, the Church has traditionally used a series of prayers called the “O Antiphons” in which the Coming Christ is invoked through a series of images. We will use these as a basis for our prayers and our acknowledgement of pain. At each verse a large candle will be lit. In each following short prayer, you are invited, if you wish, to light a small candle in the water tray – the light is the sign of hope, the water a representation of our tears for ourselves and for our world.] In this darkness we call for Light. This Light brought forth from the beginning of creation to shine in the shadows of our souls. We yearn for this gracious Light to warm us, to nourish us, and to give us strength. We call on this brilliant Light to show us our pain, so that in seeing it more clearly we might have the courage to bring it to you. And we ask you, O Holy One, to be with us here in our healing walk on this darkened earth. O come, O come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. We light a candle to acknowledge our sense of dislocation, in a world that doesn’t make sense, and to recognise that we so often feel lost. We remember refugees and those who are far from home because of work O come, O Wisdom from on high, who ordered all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show and teach us in its ways to go. We light a candle to acknowledge our lack of understanding and wisdom, the mistakes we make and the damage we have caused. We recognise the impact on our lives of those who didn’t know what they were doing. We remember all those who find the world incomprehensible, whose mental health limits their capacity. O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height, in ancient times didst give the law in cloud and majesty and awe. We light a candle to acknowledge our rage and anger at those who hurt us and who make our world unsafe. We remember all victims of crime; those injured, bereaved, harmed through the actions of others; those who have chosen or been seduced into a life of crime, families disrupted because of the imprisonment of a family member O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan's tyranny; from depths of hell Thy people save, and give them victory o'er the grave. We light a candle to acknowledge our own sense of powerlessness in the face of our fear, our sin, our lack of power, our addictions. We remember all whose lives are not in their own control. O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadows put to flight. We light a candle to acknowledge our grief, our sadness, our pain; the people we miss and mourn. We remember all who are dying and all who mourn O come, Thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery. We light a candle to acknowledge our distress, despair and misery, from whatever cause. We remember all those who are unhappy – because of their own actions, or the actions of others. O come, O Bright and Morning Star, and bring us comfort from afar! Dispel the shadows of the night and turn our darkness into light. We light a candle to acknowledge our own darkness and sin. We remember all those who find the world a dark place O come, O King of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace. We light a candle to acknowledge our fear and our desire for peace, to recognise our own conflicts and the harm we have received and have caused. We remember all those who are caught in conflicts; all those with power to change things, and those who are afraid of what might come. O come, O come Emmanuel. Silence Isaiah 9 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. The Wild Geese You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - over and over announcing your place in the family of things. Mary Oliver John 1 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. The Uses of Sorrow (In my sleep I dreamed this poem) Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift. Mary Oliver John 8;12 12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ Not celebrate? Your burden is too great to bear? Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season? Your tears have no end? Not celebrate? You should lead the celebration! You should run through the streets to ring the bells and sing the loudest! You should fling the tinsel on the tree, and open your house to your neighbours, and call them in to dance! For it is you above all others who know the joy of Advent. It is unto you that a Saviour is born this day, One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders, One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes. You are not alone, for He is born this day to you. Ann Weems Silence “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining And I believe in love, even when there’s no one there. And I believe in God, even when he is silent. I believe through any trial, there is always a way But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair My heart cries for shelter, to know someone’s there But a voice rises within me, saying hold on my child, I’ll give you strength, I’ll give you hope. Just stay a little while. I believe in the sun even when it is not shining And I believe in love even when there’s no one there But I believe in God even when he is silent I believe through any trial there is always a way. May there someday be sunshine May there someday be happiness May there someday be love May there someday be peace….” A poem from WW2, scratched on the wall of a cellar, by a Jew in the Cologne concentration camp. In the Spirit of this season let us now confidently ask God for all the things we need: For ourselves as we participate in whatever way we can this Christmastime: God hear our prayer and in your mercy answer. For the persons we have loved that have died, for all the losses that we know, that they may be redeemed by your Easter promise: God hear our prayer and in your mercy answer. For our family and friends, that they may know love and peace and happiness in you: God hear our prayer and in your mercy answer. For those we do not know, who know pain and loneliness is a constant companion, and for those who live without hope, that they may hear and receive the glad tidings of your love for them: God hear our prayer and in your mercy answer. For the peace proclaimed by the Christmas angels, to come throughout the whole world: God hear our prayer and in your mercy answer. "It Is Not Over" It is not over, this birthing. There are always newer skies into which God can throw stars. When we begin to think that we can predict the Advent of God, that we can box the Christ in a stable in Bethlehem, that's just the time that God will be born in a place we can't imagine and won't believe. Those who wait for God watch with their hearts and not their eyes, listening always listening for angel words. Ann Weems Closing blessing Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in the darkness for the light that is you. L R Knost.