Liturgy for the longest night

Tonight we gathered around a fire pit in the church carpark (current COVID restrictions put the kybosh on a bonfire in a local paddock); clutched mugs of hot spiced apple cider; and marked the winter solstice using the following liturgy. Words in lower case are spoken by one person; words in capitals are spoken by everyone. Enjoy!

GATHERING

We gather in the name of the Creator:
THE AUTHOR OF LIFE;
in the name of Christ:
THE WELLSPRING OF LIFE;
in the name of the Spirit:
THE BREATH OF LIFE. AMEN.

Through howling wind and driving rain:
YOU CALL US.

When light fades and grey skies reflect our darkest moods and fears:
YOU CALL US.

When minds are fogged, senses clouded, and hearts frozen:
YOU CALL US.

From depths of grief, chasms of pain,
and memories we cannot bear to name:
YOU CALL US.

From comfortable homes and familiar patterns,
from complacency and ease:
YOU CALL US.

When night is long and dark is deep:
YOU CALL US BACK TO LIFE.

♫  SONG: Many and Great OR Christ be our light OR something else which evokes stars, light, darkness

CONFESSION & ASSURANCE

Creator God, you make the world and all that it is in it,
and you call it very good:
YET DARKNESS CAN OVERWHELM US.

When despair for the world grows in us
and we wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of our lives and our children’s lives:
♫  REFRAIN: Holy God, Holy and Mighty OR Kyrie OR some other appropriate chant

When the sense of emptiness grows in us
and we frantically consume to block our pain
and fill our days with busyness:
♫  REFRAIN: Holy God (or similar)

When fear of life grows in us
and we turn away from invitations to heal
and ignore the  Spirit’s calling:
♫  REFRAIN: Holy God (or similar)

All-seeing God, enfold our fear,
unclothe us of our pride,
unweave our thoughts,
uncomplicate our hearts,
and give us surrender:
THAT WE MAY TELL OUR WOUNDS
AND GREET THE DARK.

Time for silent reflection

♫  REFRAIN: Holy God (or similar)

If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me
and the light around me will be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to God,
and the night is as bright as the day.” (Ps. 139:11-12)
♫  REFRAIN: In our darkness there is no darkness … (Taize)

Hear the good news:
The One who searches and knows you
forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities.
God redeems your life from the grave
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness.
As the heavens are high above the earth,
so is God’s mercy great with those who fear.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has God removed our sins from us. (Ps. 103, selections)
So bless the Lord, and never forget God’s benefits.
In the name of Christ: AMEN.
♫  REFRAIN: In our darkness …

LIGHTING THE FIRE

With the lighting of this fire,
we give thanks for the first spark of life
which flared forth at the birth of the universe:
♫  REFRAIN: Within our darkest night (or similar)

With the lighting of this fire,
we give thanks for the one
who burns away the chaff of our lives,
who lights up the darkness,
who enlightens us all:
♫  REFRAIN: Within our darkest night (or similar)

With the lighting of this fire,
we give thanks for the Spirit
who blazes down from heaven like flames
and sets us alight with gifts:
♫  REFRAIN: Within our darkest night (or similar)

May our lives be healed and hearts set on fire
with the power and passion of love. AMEN.

THE GOSPEL

Testifying to the light … (John 1:1-16) or some other appropriate text

  • For campfire discussion: When have you seen Christ’s light shine in the darkness?

♫  REFRAIN: Within our darkest night (or similar)

PRAYER FOR THE WORLD

Tender God, we are here in the cold and dark:
THANK YOU FOR YOUR WARMTH AND LIGHT.

We pray for those sitting in the shadow of darkness
who need your light, love and healing:  

     Pray aloud or in silence.

Hear our prayers, tender God, and accept them
in the spirit of the prayer your Son taught us:
OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN, ALL RESPECT TO YOUR NAME.
YOUR CULTURE COME, YOUR WILL BE DONE: 
SET THE WORLD RIGHT.
GIVE US THIS DAY WHAT WE NEED TO LIVE
FORGIVE US WHEN WE DISRUPT SHALOM,
JUST AS WE HAVE FORGIVEN THOSE WHO DISRUPT OUR SHALOM.
DON’T LEAD US INTO TEMPTATION, BUT AWAY FROM EVIL. AMEN.
♫ REFRAIN: Mayenziwe (or similar)

LEAVING

Jesus says: “You are the light of the world.
Let your light shine before others,
that they may see your good works
and give glory to your father in heaven.”

All you appointed to shine like stars, do not be afraid. Do you fear that the darkness will swallow your little light? If the whole world were like the noonday sun, then would your light be dim. But in the dark night of the world, your flame burns brightly. In the chill of outer darkness, you become God’s shrine, and warmth for everyone who draws near.
WITH GOD’S HELP,
WE WILL BE LIGHT; WE WILL BE FIRE.

Tender God, centre us in stillness this night
to be renewed in peace for the work of your kingdom.
MAKE OF US A RESTING PLACE FOR YOUR HOLY SPIRIT
THAT WITHIN US, AMONG US AND THROUGH US
ALL DARKNESS MAY BE PIERCED BY YOUR LIGHT,
ALL TROUBLES CALMED BY YOUR PEACE,
ALL EVIL REDEEMED BY YOUR LOVE,
ALL PAIN TRANSFORMED IN YOUR SUFFERING,
AND ALL DYING GLORIFIED IN YOUR RISEN LIFE.

As we leave this place, bless to us, O God,
the great light that sets beyond us,
the gentle light that rises above us,
the earth that is beneath us,
the friends that are around us,
your light deep within us,
the rest that is before us on this, the longest night: AMEN.

♫ SONG: This little light of mine (or similar). Ω

A liturgy for a winter solstice gathering, used at Sanctuary 20 June 2021 © Sanctuary 2021.

Acknowledgements: Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash + Through driving rain: Wildly adapted from The Day of the Storm by Katy Owen, found at https://pilgrimwr.unitingchurch.org.au/?p=1138 + Many and great: 1916 Dakota Indian Hymnal © 1916 Walton Music / arranged by John L. Bell, WGRG, 1990. + When despair for the world: Adapted from a poem by Wendell Berry + Holy Lord (“Trisagion”): Words traditional. Music by James Kriewald © 1992 Abingdon Press + Enfold our fear: Adapted from a prayer by Janet Morley found in All Desires Known. Third ed. Harrisburg, PA/New York, NY: 2006, p 91 + Ps. 103 translation by Isaac Everett. The Emergent Psalter. New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2009 + First spark of light: Steals a phrase from Rex Hunt found at https://www.rexaehuntprogressive.com/liturgy_collection/year_a_liturgy_collection/year_a_-_advent/summersolstice2019.html + Mayenziwe: Words: traditional. Music: Xhosa traditional, as taught by George Mxadana; © 1990 Iona Community/Wild Goose Publications. + Lord’s Prayer paraphrase by Alison Sampson + All you appointed … draws near: Adapted from a prayer by Garry Deverell found at http://www.deverell.net/blessings.html + Make of us … Amen: Adapted from a prayer by Jim Cotter found in The SPCK Book of Christian Prayer, London: SPCK, 1995 p. 331 + Bless to us: Adapted from The Wee Worship Book. Glasgow: WGRG, 1989, p 29. Plus perhaps a few snippets from Nathan Nettleton!

Coffee

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