Like many faith communities who had to move from worshipping face to face to worshipping online, I struggled with how to transfer what we do liturgically into on online format. I struggled to find authentic ways to keep people connected while we were physically apart. I especially struggled with how to provide spiritual care in the midst of so much going on in our lives: personally, city-wide, and nationally.
Below is a series I put together on the book of Psalms. Using wisdom from Walter Brueggemann, Psalms really speaks to the ups and downs of life – giving a depth to our praise, words to our grief, validity to our lament, appreciation for our gratitude, and a reminder that we join the chorus of those past and present in our lament and praise.
While there are many different online mediums (zoom, Facebook live) to choose from, I chose to pre-record our worship services. I felt that this gave me more creative license. I also shortened what is typically an hour to about 30 minutes of worship. I also lessened the use of words and put visuals and music in whenever I could as a place for people’s ears and eyes to rest. I am blessed that one of our church attendees is an artist and provided all the water color images.
Reading of Scripture
Psalm 100 is a short praise psalm. Weaving the reading of this psalm with the doxology gives fullness to this psalm (go to mark 8:30).
The choir also sang the same anthem throughout the psalm series, but broke up the parts. For this Sunday, the choir only sang the soprano part (melody) to “Surely God Is In This Place” (go to mark 17:28).
Probably the most important job of a soprano in a choir is to carry the melody, which means they have the responsibility to stay on pitch and have the vocal stamina to lead the other voices. The tone of the soprano decides how the choir will sound as a whole. The melody is what people naturally gravitate towards when trying to sing along. It is the part that catches you and gets stuck like an earworm in your head.
The role of praise in psalms is not different. They carry the melody for all the other psalms of lament, help, and thanksgiving. They give structure to our relationship with God and our practice of faith. We gravitate towards praise because it is what carries us through all the ups and downs of life.
Hymn and Children’s Book
“All Things Bright and Beautiful” goes perfectly with Psalm 100. I paired this hymn with Eric Carle’s book, “I See a Song.” It is a visual children’s books and the verses to the hymn match well (go to mark 22:50).
Hymn, Prayer, and Scripture
Psalm 13 is a lament psalm that cries out, “How long, O Lord?” “How Long, O God, Will My Prayers Be In Vain?” hauntingly expresses the tone of this psalm (go to mark 2:05). Another hymn that is good to use is “Come Quickly Lord to Rescue Me.” By weaving in the tune of the hymn, reading the scripture, and praying, the nature of this psalm comes forth (go to mark 6:29). The prayer was written from answers solicited by church members who responded to the question, “While sheltering in place, what have you missed the most?”
SCRIPTURE Psalm 13:1
How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
Truly Lord, how long? How long will this go on? How long must I remain sheltered in place? A month? A summer? Surely, not longer.
How long until I can see my family, my friends, . . . or just anybody without a mask, without fear, without the ability to greet with a touch, a handshake, a hug, an embrace?
How long, O Lord until I can go to my favorite restaurant or coffee shop, go to the movies or symphony with friends, freely walk down a street or hang out at a park, or go to church to hear the music, God’s word, and see God’s people?
How long before I can fully enjoy your creation? The one you called good. How long before it will be safe to breathe – just breathe?
HYMN verse 1
SCRIPTURE Psalm 13:2
How long will I be left to my own wits,
agony filling my heart? Daily?
How long will my enemy keep defeating me?
How long, Lord? How long will this sadness and loneliness be my only companion?
Forget how long? How many? How many people have to die before our leaders take the necessary steps to protect all people? Not just for the privileged, not just for the money, not just for the votes . . . but for the hungry, the immigrant, the homeless, the essential worker working for minimum wage, the uninsured, the senior, the child, the ones who cannot afford to stay home, the ones who fear losing everything, the ones who have already lost so much, for ones like Ahmaud Arbery whose life was taken unjustly.
HYMN verse 3
SCRIPTURE Psalm 13:3-4
Look at me!
Answer me, Lord my God!
Restore sight to my eyes!
Otherwise, I’ll sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I won!”
My foes will rejoice over my downfall.
Hear me, Lord. My questions are not rhetorical. They beg a response. Any response – a sign, a light, a glimpse of the end.
Or at the very least, help me not be consumed with what I see in the news so that I may be able to get a good night’s sleep or keep the crazy dreams at bay.
May I take in and search and discover things that bring in light so that the darkness only arrives when it’s time to sleep.
SCRIPTURE Psalm 13:5-6
But I have trusted in your faithful love.
My heart will rejoice in your salvation.
Yes, I will sing to the Lord
because he has been good to me.
From the depths of my lament, may I know your peace. “The kind of peace that walks on water, that stills the storm, that fills our jars to the brim with the finest wines. The kind of peace that brings sight to the blind, restores hearing to the deaf, and tells the lame to rise up and go home. The kind of peace that comes to a tomb and renders it empty.”
How long, O Lord? I do not know, but may I know this . . . “That kind of peace – where hearts never need be troubled, where there is nothing to fear. Nothing. Where none of those things which usher in the valley of the shadow of death can usher in even an ounce of fear.”
“The Heart and the Bottle” by Oliver Jeffers is a deeply moving story about a girl who fears what she sees in the world and protects her heart by putting it in a bottle (go to mark 15:05). But by doing so, she also protects her heart from experiencing all the joyous things of the world. When she tries to take her heart out of the bottle, she can’t figure out how to do it until another little kid helps her.
Singing the same choir anthem, the choir only sang the bass part to “Surely God Is In This Place” (go to mark 20:26).
If the tone of the soprano decides how the choir will sound as a whole, the bass section often is the foundation of the harmonic structure of a choral piece. The bass adds depth to the melody. It lays the pavement with no flashy high notes, nothing fancy. It gets the job done. The sound of the bass is honest – you get what you get.
Psalms of lament is the same way. It gives depth to our psalms of praise. In fact, it is the foundation of our praise. Because God has been with us through the shadows of the valley of death, our praise is not based on empty words, but real life experience. Lament has no patience or tolerance for flashy high notes. It gets straight to the point – How long, Lord?”
Psalm 23 evokes imagery of pastures and still waters. I live in the urban city of San Francisco. Our pastures are concrete and our waters are the active waves of the ocean. I paired the reading of this scripture with footage of San Francisco while sheltering in place. The eery quietness and stillness of the urban city parallels well with the imagery of Psalm 23 (go to mark 5:13).
Hymn, Prayer, and Scripture
Weaving the hymn “As the Deer” with scripture and prayer encompasses the prayerful nature of this hymn.
SUNG As the Deer
SCRIPTURE & PRAYER
ONE: The Lord …
ALL: You are THE Lord. There is no one like You. And You are MY Lord. Thank You for being my Lord.
ONE: Is …
ALL: You ARE my Lord today. Not yesterday, not tomorrow … today! Thank You for being present today as my Lord.
ONE: My Shepherd …
ALL: Lord, You guide me like a Shepherd. You follow me as I roam and make sure that I am OK. I trust You to guide me. You are the Great Shepherd, and You do not lose even one of Your sheep. I know Your voice, and I will follow You all the days of my life.
ONE: I shall not want.
ALL: Creator God, as a shepherd provides for their flock, You do so as well for us. Therefore, I lack nothing. I have all spiritual blessings, and I have all that I need physically.
ONE: He makes me lie down in green pastures; …
ALL: Nurturing God, in You, I rest in comfort. I trust in You. Wherever You lead me, I know You are there.
ONE: He leads me beside quiet waters.
ALL: Great Shepherd, You know that I sometimes get scared easily, so You give me still waters to drink from. I thirst, and You give me Living Water so that I will not thirst.
ONE: He restores my soul; …
ALL: Jesus, when I’m stressed and not thinking right, You have given me Your Word. Transform my mind and restore my soul. I wait for You, and You renew my strength.
ONE: He guides me in the paths of righteousness …
ALL: Holy Spirit, You guide me in the ways of God. Thank You for Your patience as You love me, teach me, and lead me.
ONE: For His name’s sake.
ALL: Loving God, Your name is holy; hallowed be Your name. It is for Your name’s sake that I pray. It is your name I remember.
SUNG As the Deer
ONE: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, …
ALL: Lord, I’m walking through a hard time right now. I have troubles that may overtake me, but I know that You are there to walk me through this time.
ONE: I fear no evil, for You are with me …
ALL: I trust You and know that You will keep me safe from harm. You have promised to always be with me through whatever I go through.
ONE: Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
ALL: Holy Spirit, there are times I lose my way and your staff always redirects me back towards hope and grace. I take comfort in You that even if I hit rock bottom, Your staff will lift me out. Enable me to reach out when I need help.
SUNG As the Deer
ONE: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
ALL: In the midst of so much going on, when the world seems to be caving in around me, You have provided for me and nourished me so that I may have strength to provide for others and nourish others.
ONE: You have anointed my head with oil;
ALL: Lord, You have touched me and consecrated me. Your healing touch has renewed my strength. Your touch has been a healing balm to my soul.
ONE: My cup overflows.
ALL: Your riches are abundant and You freely give them to me. I am most blessed.
ONE: Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
ALL: You have always said that we are to show you love by loving our neighbor. We know of your goodness and lovingkindness when we do so.
ONE: And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
ALL: Although at times I may stumble, I will follow the ways you have taught me to love – with abundance, grace, and compassion. I rejoice in Your lovingkindness and mercy. You are above all, through all, and in all. In You, I live and move and have my being. Amen.
“Sarah’s Heavy Heart” by Peter Carnavas is a story about a girl whose heart is heavy (go to mark 23:54). She encounters a boy who has the opposite problem. His heart is too light. Sarah’s ties her heart to his heart and together she keeps him grounded and he lightens her load.
The choir adds the tenor part to the Soprano and Bass lines when they sing “Surely God Is In This Place.” (go to mark 28:11)
The tenor is the low middle section of the harmonic family. Simply put, it is the filling of the harmonic sandwich. It’s the peanut butter and jelly that sticks the two slices of bread together or the meat and condiments. As the choir adds the tenor part, listen for the ways the tenor notes connects the soprano and bass tones.
Trust psalms like Psalm 23 connects our lament and praise together. It gives our praise depth and our lament hope.
I had fun with this Sunday. Leading up to this Sunday, we asked people if they would like to receive sourdough starter to make their own sourdough bread for communion. St. John’s just celebrated 150 years and we got a hold of a sourdough starter that is 150 years old. (We don’t actually know if that is true, but we went with it.) Just like this starter has endured many years, St. John’s too has endured many of the ups and downs of life. We, too, shall get through this. While our bread may turn out differently, our bread is connected to the same starter. We too are created differently, but we are connected to the same God.
At the beginning of the series, we ran this commercial to invite people to participate in this activity.
When the sourdough starter was delivered, we included a simplified recipe and a 150 years worth of history of San Francisco and St. John’s.
To continue community participation, we asked for people to share their favorite hymns and incorporated them through the worship video as a hymn sing.
Quite a few submitted “It Is Well” as their favorite hymn, so we paired this hymn with words of gratitude that people also submitted. Since Psalm 30 is a psalm of thanksgiving, it was fitting for people to share what they are grateful for (go to mark 23:49).
This Sunday concluded the series on psalms. It was also Pentecost Sunday, so both themes were woven together.
Psalm 150 is a list of “praise God.” Paired with the hymn “How Great Is Our God,” the scripture is read (go to mark 7:20).
Since it had been awhile since people saw each other, we went to people’s homes to take pictures of them standing at their doorstep. We paired these pictures with the story of San Francisco and St. John’s, reminding us that WE are the church and the spirit continues to blow (go to mark 16:30).
“The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst is about a mom talking to her children about how they are always connected by an invisible string, similar to how the spirit connects us together.
The choir sings the anthem, “Surely God Is In This Place” one last time (go to mark 29:33). This time they sing it in full harmony with all the parts. We hear the song in its fullness – for that is what Psalm 150 is. Because God is worthy to be praised, because God hears our cries of lament, because we can trust God to always be with us, because there is so much to be thankful for, we praise God in full harmony of all of life’s ups and downs. Hallelujah! Surely God is in this place.