Service of Holy Communion in a Time of National or International Tragedy
This is a service appropriate for when the United States or some other nation has experienced a tragedy, whether a terrorist attack, a devastating earthquake or tidal wave, a nuclear accident, or some other incident that grips the national mind and heart. (For a graphic for this service consider Edvard Munch's "The Scream.")
In such a time Christians long to hear the words, "This is my body, broken for you" and to pray together, "Make them [the bread and cup] be for us the body of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood." In Holy Communion, the risen Lord reminds us firmly and clearly that we are his body and that although we may be citizens of the United States or some other nation, by birth or choice, we are his first; and finally, we are his disciples who walk in the way of God's justice and love. We have a distinctive story to tell in the face of tragedy because we know a different story of the world. In the Lord's Super, Christ calls us anew to offer our wounds and hurts, our anger and hatred, our fear, and our memories of tragedy and terror to his healing and his Resurrection power. In sharing the Lord's Supper, Christ gives himself to us and deals with us in deep, sacramental ways.
What follows is a suggested service, using the ritual of The United Methodist Church. Other churches may supplement it with resources from their liturgical resources. In all cases, leaders will need to adjust the proposed service to the occasion for which it will be used.
Lament is a necessary part of Christian worship in a time of tragedy. The structure and flow of this service aims at enabling the gathered community to profess faith in the triune God and to lament what angers us, casts down our spirits, and confounds the faith we profess. Here are some readily available laments:
Psalms 10, 13, 137
"The Undercurrent Breaks Our Grip" by Andrew Pratt (Sibelius formator pdf format)
"When in Creation: A Hymn After the Tsunami and Earthquake Disaster"
The Faith We Sing, 2110, "Why Has God Forsaken Me?"
The Faith We Sing, 2180, "Why Stand So Far Away, My God?"
The Faith We Sing, 2209, "How Long, O Lord" (stanza 3 may or may not be appropriate)
The Faith We Sing, 2048, "God Weeps"
Planners for such a service will need to find appropriate and expressive music and texts to embody the lament and grief of the community. Sometimes the lamentation may not need to be specific to the situation. The distance between the imagery of the lament and the present context will evoke connections and deeper engagement.
UMH = The United Methodist Hymnal
BOW = The United Methodist Book of Worship
TFWS = The Faith We Sing
[ ] = recommended but optional item
Here the presiding minister and others leading the service enter. The presider declares one or more of the following:
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though they die.
And everyone who has life
and has committed himself/herself to me in faith,
shall not die forever.
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.
For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord's possession.
In the midst of life, we are in death;
from whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord,
who by our sins are justly angered.
When all are in place, the presiding minister may address the congregation, acknowledging briefly the occasion that has brought them together.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And also with you.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
HYMN OF PRAISE
One or more of the following prayers may be used, in unison, if desired:
God, our refuge and our fortress, we tremble in the present moment:
Our strength has gone;
we look for light but find darkness;
we are undone.
Gather us under your wings
and fulfill your promise to be with us in trouble.
Show us your salvation as we put our trust in you,
through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Canticle of Light and Darkness, UMH 205 ("We look for light but find darkness . . .")
(For other versions, see UMH 515, 516, and page 848.)
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is God who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time on and forevermore.
(NRSV, alt., with addition of Psalm 131:3)
- Sing "Nothing Can Trouble," TFWS 2054
Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases"
Isaiah 40: 1, 27-31, "Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength"
PSALM RESPONSE / ACT OF PRAISE
Psalm 46 (UMH 780), "God is a very present help in time of trouble"
Psalm 23 (UMH 754 or 137), "The Lord is my shepherd"
Psalm 31:1-5, 9-16 (UMH 764), "In you, O Lord, I seek refuge"
Psalm 90 (UMH 809), "You have been our dwelling place in all generations"
Psalm 121 (UMH 844), "I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come?"
Canticle of Hope (UMH 734), "God shall wipe away all our tears"
Romans 8: 14-19, 34-35, 37-39 ("Who willl separate us from the love of Christ?")
John 14: 1-4, 18-19, 25-27 ("Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . I will not leave you orphaned")
Mark 13:1-8 ("When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed")
Luke 21:5-11 ("When you hear . . . do not be terrified")
John 16:16-24 ("So you have pain now; but I will see you again")
RESPONSE TO THE WORD
One of the following may be used as response to the Word:
- Affirmation of Faith (UMH 883), "We are not alone, we live in God's world"
- Affirmation from Romans 8 (UMH 887), "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"
CONCERNS AND PRAYERS
- Invitation as found at UMH 12
Christ our Lord invites to his table all who yearn to belong to him, even in the face of tragedy and suffering,
who earnestly repent of their sin,
and who seek the peace and welfare of all people.
Therefore, let us confess our anger, fear and prejudice before God and each other.
CONFESSION AND PARDON
One of the following may be used:
Confession and Pardon sequence (UMH 12)
our fear and anger have overwhelmed us.
We have lost our grip on Christ's way,
and in panic we have forgotten to trust you.
We have failed to extend care to others.
We have sought to blame others for the present tragedy.
Forgive us our anger and sin.
Reorient us in your steadfast love.
Free us for compassionate service to others,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Following a brief time of silence, the presiding minister speaks words of pardon or leads the assembly in mutual pardon as inn UMH 12. During the silence a song for mercy may be sung such as:
"Holy Spirit, Come to Us"/"Veni Sancte Spiritus," TFWS 2118
"Forgive Us Lord," TFWS 2134
(Here the offering may be tangible response to alleviate suffering of those most effected by the tragedy.)
TAKING THE BREAD AND CUP THE GREAT THANKSGIVING
One of the following options may be used:
- Adapt the "Death and Resurrection," Great Thanksgiving, BOW, 152-153.
- Adapt The Great Thanksgiving for Word and Table II, UMH 13-14, making appropriate insertions where the asterisks occur.
In either of the above, intercessions, if not offered earlier at the Concerns and Prayers, may be inserted before the section that begins, "By your Spirit make us one with Christ . . ." These might be simple petitions such as:
Remember Lord, your church in every place, especially . . .
Bring peace and aid to all people, especially . . .
Comfort and heal all who suffer violence, grief, sickness and hurt, especially . . .
Remember those who have died, especially . . .
BREAKING THE BREAD
GIVING THE BREAD AND CUP
HYMN OR SONG
DISMISSAL WITH BLESSING