“Cloud of Witnesses” • Hebrews 12: 1-3 • All Saints and All Souls Observed with Holy Communion • Worship Service for In-Home or Remote Group Use

artist unknown, posted on blog, Our Savior Lutheran Church in Johnson City, Tennessee

liturgy prepared by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber

Worship Note

As we continue the selfless practice of restricted physical contact, as we adapt and welcome new ways of being communities of faith, our souls need special care. This service is one of a series designed to align us with the Living God during these pandemic-impacted times as social justice reforms arise.

Preparations

  • You may wish to arrange to worship distantly with others at the same time.
  • Read through this service beforehand to assemble items needed, including items for Holy Communion – a cup with a beverage and some bread or other finger food.
  • A “Christ Candle” can be any sort of candle or object which represents Christ’s presence.
  • For All Souls, All Saints, you may wish to provide a “Memorial Candle” to honor your deceased loved ones.
  • Choose songs to sing (our suggestions or your favorites) and prepare music.
  • Ensure an uninterrupted place to worship.
  • Decorate your space to welcome God’s presence.

Time for Children of All Ages

Out of the Bag “Ofrendas”making a home memorial

Worship Service

Please adapt to make this worship service your own. Your intention is what is important.

We Gather

Call to Worship

In the rising of the sun and in its going down – We remember them.

In the blowing of the winds and the sparking of wildfires – We remember them.

In the dance of autumnal leaves and the promise of winter rains – We remember them.

In the blueness of the sky and the gray fog rolling in – We remember them.

In this era of pandemic when all life is ever so precious – We remember them.

When we recall the former ease of gathering together – We remember them.

When we find ourselves moved by a smile or twinkling eye – We remember them.

When we hunger for community as much as for food – We remember them.

When we are bone weary and need a heroine’s strength – We remember them.

When we are broken hearted and searching for faith – We remember them.

When we have new victories to celebrate – We remember them.

When we struggle with unanswered questions – We remember them.

When we tread the solid ground they prepared – We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us,

for we truly do remember them. (sk/jr)

Light the Christ Candle and Memorial Candle

Song for Welcoming the Presence of God

“For All the Saints” https://youtu.be/9ML6WFskgYI Lyrics: William W How; Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams SINE NOMINE (Chalice #637); Performed by Fernando Ortega, 2012, Desiring God National Conference (used without permission)

We Listen

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-3 (NRSV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

May God add a blessing to the reading and reflecting upon God’s Holy Word. Amen.

Reflection “Surrounded”

We are surrounded by the “Cloud of Witnesses.” What a beautiful reality to consider during this time when so many of us are separated from those with whom we usually worship, as well as work and socialize. How our lives have changed.

Years ago, as a student chaplain in a big urban hospital, I was struggling with how to provide pastoral care to lonely patients. They were so delighted to have someone come visit. We were supposed to keep general visits short – saving time to be with those in crisis, but I found it very hard to leave the room of someone aching for companionship.

I asked one of the seasoned chaplains how she dealt with this. She smiled and said, “Well, I tell them they aren’t alone.” She went on to share her faith in souls – that they gather to support human beings in need. I believed this, too, but hadn’t been prone to speak so freely in those days. This made my teaching chaplain smile. She said, “Yes, it’s old-fashioned to believe in things unseen. But we believe in love – don’t we? Beautiful souls are one of the many forms divine love takes.”

If this is a time when you’re feeling lonely, if you know someone who is isolated or grieving, encourage the practice of paying attention to the presence of loving souls. Like any skill, it gets easier with practice. Do use discretion though, you don’t have to welcome every soul that comes to mind. If the deceased is someone who has hurt you, or if you’re painfully grieving a difficult death, you may want to put such challenging reunions on pause. However, be open to unexpected soul-visitors. There are kind souls whom we never met in the flesh who desire to comfort us. They freely come with goodwill.  

The souls in heaven are very respectful. They wait to be invited. They enjoy a kind word or a pretty flower or song. They like to know we’d really like them to visit. The more often we invite the “Benign Ones” to come and gather, the more often they will accompany us and we will grow in our ability to experience the “Cloud of Witnesses.” As we experience the eternal witnesses our souls deepen in awareness of the eternal Christ.

God, through Jesus Christ, understands how just hard it is to be human especially when we are separated from those who strengthen us. Thankfully, we are never alone spiritually. May we grow in awareness of the loving souls who are present in compassion, goodwill, and support. May the Cloud of Witnesses become real to us. Amen. Soli Deo Gloria. (Glory to God Alone)

We Share

Invitation to Holy Communion

(In honor of those who went before us, many of these communion prayers are inspired by The Pilgrim Hymnal, 1935 edition.)

All are welcome here. We may be alone in our private homes though as residents of earth and heaven we can share this meal with each other through the Holy Spirit. Let us speak the names of those who are not physically present, but with whom we wish to be spiritually gathered. (Say names outloud.)

Consecration of Elements

Place your hands on the cup and the bread. Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, You have consecrated us for a new and living way. Grant that in the taking of this bread and cup our hearts and lives may be truly yielded to the sway of Your spirit. May Your Holy Spirit sanctify these elements for sacred use – symbols of Jesus’ broken body and shed blood. May they beget in us penitent hearts and quickened faith. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen. (tph, pp 20)

Prayer of Preparation

O God, our help in ages past, our hope today and forever: Have mercy upon our humanity in its blindness, its bitterness, and its confusion. You have granted to our age to discover the wonders of Your mind and such mysteries of Your handiwork as to give humanity such vast power for good or ill, let us not use Your beautiful power for cruel and unworthy ends. Stay our hands, and teach us to use Your power to serve Your will on earth.

Deliver our world and us, O Lord, from lust of power, from vanity of spirit, from envy, apathy, and ill will; fill our minds with wisdom from above, which is pure, peaceful, and full of mercy. Touch our minds with light, that, having a right understanding, we may have compassion and courage and patience – working with Your help for the better order of the ages. Create in us a clearer insight, a juster and wiser spirit, and by Your spirit temper our minds to forbearance.

Bring the people of humanity, bring each of us, to a sound mind and a kind heart; restore good will and mutual trust. Visit not upon our children the horror of an age whose spirit was not steadfast with You. Lead us in the ways of justice and honor, in the paths of truth and brotherly kindness, till we are delivered from the bondage of hate and fear into the light of love; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (jfn)

Silent Prayer

Sit with God in the silence of eternal contact. You may wish to simply “be” in holy presence or offer specific prayers. Your soul will guide you. When you are ready to move on, say “Amen” with gratitude in your heart.

God’s Grace 

The same God who called the worlds into being, is the same God who called the Hebrews out of slavery, and the same God who spoke through Jesus’s words and actions, and the same God who moves through us as the Holy Spirit. Our God is a perpetual God of Grace. There is no time, no place, no condition, no person where God is not present opening the door to a better tomorrow. This is the eternal heartbeat of divine Grace. Amen.

Communion Song

“In Remembrance of Me” https://youtu.be/nV_kFlsKrQU Lyrics: Ragan Courtney; Music: Buryl Red RED (Chalice #403); Performed by Robert Kochis (used with permission)

Sharing the Elements

Jesus lifted up the loaf, gave thanks to God, broke it, and said: “Take, eat. This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

May the Cloud of Witnesses and all of us receive Christ’s broken body. (eat bread)

After super, Jesus lifted up the cup, gave thanks to God, and offered it to them saying: “Drink this, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

May the Cloud of Witnesses and all of us receive Christ’s New Covenant. (drink from cup)

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Almighty and most merciful God, You call us to sit together in heavenly places at the feast of Your love; we give thanks for Your great goodness entrusted to us through this sacred communion. Grant that we might partake in the very life of Christ that Christ may live again in us. May we grow in Christ’s likeness so that Christ may present us before Your eternal glory with exceeding joy. Amen. (tph, pp 20)

Special Music

“In Christ Alone” https://youtu.be/3ch6eXkQWU8 Written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend; performed by Lauren Daigle. (used without permission)

We Pray

Prayers of Petition

Though distant, when we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, we are connected one to another in the Holy Spirit. We never pray alone. What prayers does your soul carry – joys and concerns? Speak them. If your prayers don’t fit words today, use your body to give your prayers to God through movement or sound, dance, tears, or silence. Now is also the time to include prayer request from your community.

The Lord’s Prayer

Imagine a place where you feel close to God, maybe a sanctuary where you’ve worshipped. Welcome the memory of your Beloved Community filling your soul with companionship as we pray together the prayer Jesus taught us to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

We Give Thanks

Offering

For those who gone before us – especially those people who nourished our faith in deed and word, may we be truly grateful. And, may we pay forward their service by serving others. (see donation footnote)

We Continue in Hope

Song of Hope

“The Church’s One Foundation” https://youtu.be/v-AzLnm1Tws Lyrics: Samuel J Stone, Music: Samuel S Wesley –  AURELIA. (Chalice #272); Performed by Grace Community Church – Sun Valley, California. (used with permission)

Benediction

Dear Ones, we truly are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Let us put down our burdens and mistakes to continue the race, keeping our eyes on Jesus Christ, opening our hearts to eternal peace. Amen.

(the service is concluded)

Worship Resources:

Online Chalice Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/CH1995

Online New Century Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/NCH1995

HOL: Hymns of Life, bilingual hymnal. ©1986, China Alliance Press.

YouTube Music Videos: search by title AND one of the authors for best results

Worship Resources: All content prepared and written by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber unless attributed to another source.

(jfn) Joseph Fort Newton, Altar Stairs, reprinted in The Pilgrim Hymnal, revised edition, 1935. © 1931, Sidney A Weston.

(sk/jr) rewritten by Rev Kathryn Schreiber; original a poem by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer;

(tph) The Pilgrim Hymnal, revised edition, 1935. © 1931, Sidney A Weston.

(NRSV) New Revised Standard Version ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

(Chalice) The Chalice Hymnal and (New Century) The New Century Hymnal, among other worship publications, have suspended copyright restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Online Publishing Date: October 28, 2020.

Permission: Permission is not granted to share or distribute this resource beyond your community without additional permission from the author.

Donation for Use of Content: Due to the current coronavirus pandemic this content is offered free. However,  you may express your gratitude financially by supporting disaster relief giving to One Great Hour of Sharing through your church, our church, or directly: http://www.ucc.org/oghs. If you’d like to support the congregation I serve as pastor – Berkeley Chinese Community Church – we’d be most grateful for your support. Please send checks to: BCCC UCC, 2117 Acton Street, Berkeley, CA 94702, Attn: Diane Huie, Treasurer. Thank you!

Living Liturgies: www.inthebiglove.com; Facebook: “Living Liturgies”; YouTube: “Kathryn Schreiber”

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