Planning - Pentecost/Memorial Day Weekend (U.S.)
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
The Holy Spirit falls upon the 120 gathered in a room in Jerusalem, and they proclaim the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the languages of all the people gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost.
Psalm Response: Psalm 104:24-34, 35 b (UMH 826).
God's sustenance for all creation. Which refrain can your congregation best "sing out" with this Psalm? "Praise to the Lord," (included in the psalm setting), or "Many and Great, O God Are Thy Things" (UMH 148), or "Cantemos al Seor" (UMH 149, especially the refrain), or "Praise Our God Above" (TFWS 2061)?
All creation has been waiting for us who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, the same Spirit who helps us pray when all we have may be sighs and groans.
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15.
Jesus teaches what the Spirit will do: teach, reveal truth and falsehood, sin and righteousness, and continue to lead the followers of Jesus into all truth.
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The Day of Pentecost in Judaism and Christianity is about a fullness of harvest. In Judaism, Pentecost marked the fiftieth day after Passover and a celebration of harvest and the giving of Torah. For Christians, it is the fiftieth day after Easter and a time for baptism, confirmation, and celebrating the fullness of the Spirit's work in and through us. This is the culmination of the Great 50 Days of Easter, and so should be celebrated "full out," including Holy Communion.
As mentioned below in Atmospherics, the fullness of celebration today may require a longer time for worship. Remember, it's always best to signal before changing lanes. You can plan for a longer service occasionally, and few will object, as long as they know why and understand the extra time will be well spent!
This is also the preeminent day in the church year for celebrating confirmation and new steps into ministry whether in the community, the local church, missionary service, or licensed/ordained leadership. The baptismal covenant in some form should be part of today's service. Be sure the font is in a prominent and easily accessible position for worship today, and be sure that it is filled with fresh water. If there are no confirmations or commissionings or installations of officers or baptisms, at least offer a powerful, embodied renewal using the Revised Baptismal Covenant IV or the new version used at General Conference 2008 (English; Spanish). Also see "Using Water in Baptism and Reaffirmation: How Much and by Whom?" for guidelines.
For additional recognitions, see "A Celebration of New Beginnings in Faith" (The United Methodist Book of Worship, 588-590), "An Order for Commitment to Christian Service" (UMBOW, 591-592), "An Order for the Recognition of a Candidate" (UMBOW, 593-594), or our newest resource for Pentecost, "Pentecost Commissioning of Laypersons for Ministry in Christ's Name."
Today is also the Sunday before Memorial Day. While you may also recognize this in worship today, Pentecost is a major celebration of the Christian year and should take precedence.
Whether or how you will address Memorial Day in worship may depend on the composition of your congregation, your congregation's perspective on whether it is proper to celebrate civic occasions in Sunday worship, and whether or how members of your congregation will also participate in the civic ceremonies that may take place on Memorial Day itself (May 29). Here are some considerations to help you decide whether or not to address Memorial Day in worship:
- The composition of the congregation. Congregations whose core membership could be described as "boomers" (born between 1945 and 1963) may have relatively few people who have served or lost loved ones in the military. Congregations with larger percentages of older adults and younger adults may have considerably more because of their participation in the World Wars or the more recent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- The perspective of the congregation toward celebrating civic occasions in worship. In all cases, Christian worship is the worship of our Triune God, and in Eastertide a focus on the Risen Lord. Some congregations rule out civic celebrations as part of worship because such may give the impression that we serve another master than Jesus Christ. Others find it appropriate to include civic celebrations as Christians in thanks to God for the gifts of being part of this civic society and as a pledge to be faithful to Christ in and through participation in it. Both perspectives are respected in our denomination. While you and your worship planning team may have your own ideas and preferences, your role is to know and reflect where your congregation is on this issue. It is an unwise pastor and planning team who would make the congregation's understanding a matter of their own executive decision.
- How your local community will offer celebrations on Memorial Day. If your local community or ministerial association will offer events on Memorial Day itself, there may be less need for significant time for such commemorations in Sunday worship. Sunday worship, especially on Pentecost, does not need to reinvent or try to compete with what the community will already do on Monday. Just be sure to include intercessions for all in military service, past or present, and let folks know where and how they can be part of the community events.
Next Sunday, June 3, is Trinity Sunday, a day when we focus on the mystery of our Triune God. Many United Methodist congregations will celebrate Holy Communion next Sunday (first Sunday of the month). What better, deeper, richer way is there to experience to fullness of the Trinitarian fellowship than at the Table of the Lord, where we seek the Father to pour out the Spirit to transform us and the gifts of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ that we may then be Christ's body in the world?
Next Sunday is also Peace with Justice Sunday, one of the United Methodist Special Sundays that includes a special offering. Half of the funds stay in your annual conference to support peace and justice projects where you are. The other half supports the advocacy, peace and justice work of the General Board of Church and Society.
June 17 is Father's Day.
In Western Pennsylvania, folks say "Let's red up the haas" ("ready up" or prepare the house) when company is coming. Pentecost Sunday is an occasion to "red up" your worship space literally! to celebrate and invite the coming of the Holy Spirit. Don't settle for just focusing attention on stained glass or other art that may always be in your worship space! Add red, with maybe flaming oranges and yellows, lots of it. This is the final Sunday of the Great 50 Days of Easter, a high festal day. So whatever else you do with your worship space today, be sure to "red up the haas!"
Atmospherics: The Texts
Acts offers the backstory and the first part of Peter's proclamation on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus. The text is full of imagery and soundscapes: mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire, people speaking in many languages, large astounded multinational crowds, and the clarion voice of Peter.
Some congregations have several readers read this text in different languages all at once. To take a cue from the text itself, you might consider having a single narrator read verses 1-7a, then several readers in several languages reading the remainder of this text all at once, while you project or provide the words in the primary language of your congregation on a screen or in the bulletin.
Be authentic. If your congregation does not have people who speak other languages, don't fake it! Consider calling on people outside your congregation to be readers today. Or, more radically, consider gathering several congregations that speak different languages to join in worship today!
Consider building worship planning today around God's declaration through the prophet -- "I will pour out my Spirit" -- and what happens next. When the Spirit came that day, children prophesied, young males saw visions, old males dreamed, and servants prophesied, male and female alike.
These things were entirely unexpected in that culture and may be in ours as well. Adults, not children, prophesy. Old women and -- perhaps -- men see visions (not young males!). Young women and men dream dreams (not old men!). And servants have no voice (so how can they prophesy?).
Discuss ways the Spirit is being poured out and reversing expectations where you are -- or might be, if you are listening to the Spirit!
What happens to children's voices in your community? Are young males able to declare a vision that catches on?
What about people in lower social and economic classes, what voice do they have?
Today, in your worship, do not just celebrate the amazing things the Spirit did then. Celebrate what the Spirit is doing now by making sure that young men, people of all classes, old men, and old women have a prominent role in whatever you plan.
Romans speaks of groaning for this you may want to find good audio or video of people groaning in prayer or practices of communal lament. Lament is in many places in our worship life in the U.S. a lost practice, but one that is deep in the Christian and Hebrew biblical texts and traditions. The fullness of the work of the Spirit can be more deeply experienced within a worshiping community when we open ourselves to letting the Spirit move in us with sighs and groans too deep for words.
This reminder from Paul challenges us to embrace the possibility that worship at Pentecost -- or at any other time -- is not "all upbeat." The Spirit does not move just up, toward elation, but down and deep into pain, breaking it and us open into a more profound and awe-filled joy. Whether you do audiovisuals with the reading as a way of alluding to lament, or actually help your congregation experience it in your time of intercession (see below for more guidance), lead your team to consider how to incorporate an opportunity to help your congregation at least come in touch with this practice in worship today.
John's gospel provides us two extracts of Jesus' extended teaching about the Spirit. The first, from John 15, focuses on the coming Spirit as one who testifies of Jesus and whose presence in us calls us to do the same. This text invites living examples of "testifying" or "giving witness" to what Jesus is doing in your lives and in your midst. When is the last time your congregation heard someone's "testimony"?
If it has been a while, calling for people to testify today in worship is not likely to yield results. If you are going to include testimony in worship today, plan for it. Discuss in your worship planning team who already has a testimony to share, perhaps something they've been sharing in other places but not yet in worship. Invite those people, well ahead of time, to "give a witness" about what they've seen Jesus do -- in their lives or in the community or in the world. Plan for two or three of these, and indicate to those who share that they may have perhaps three minutes each. Leave room in your planning for one or two to respond spontaneously if the Spirit then leads. And of course, leave room in your planning for testimony to take longer that this. That means you may need to announce in advance that worship may be a bit longer today. But it is Pentecost, a day to give time for the Spirit to lead if there ever was one!
The second part of the gospel reading, from chapter 16, involves two distinct but related movements: transitioning from leadership by Jesus in the flesh to leadership through the Spirit, and key issues they can expect the Spirit to address and continue to teach.
The transition from Jesus to Spirit as leader happened long ago, but many congregations still have trouble distinguishing between the leadership of a pastor and listening for and following the voice of the Spirit. To what degree is your leadership, lay and clergy, pointing and preparing the people of your congregation to expect, listen for, and follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit? To what degree do you support what may be their (and possibly your own) temptation to suggest that you, as leaders in worship and ministry in a variety of ways, are the primary if not almost sole hearers or interpreters of the voice and work of the Spirit in your midst? How can worship design today help make clear that your role as leaders is not to be the voice of the Spirit for the body, but rather to help move the body to experience and express the voice of the Spirit as the body of Christ together first in worship, and then in life and ministry in the world?
Some of the indicators of this direction may lie in the arrangement of worship space. Who or what is front and center in your worship space? Does that "center" shift at all during worship, or is it invariable? If what is front and center is pastor, band, organ, choir or worship team, how do you clearly help shift the initiative and energy of the flow of worship from "folks up front toward the people" to "people toward folks up front" and "people facing people"? African-American and some Asian ways of Christian worship and prayer have long and continuing practices of "the whole body at worship" and energy flowing in multiple directions, and the lives of the people in these traditions often reflect a more "Spirit-led" dynamic than either a "pastor-" or "program-centered" life.
When the congregation as a whole is Spirit-led, lay and clergy, people and leaders, the second part of the reading from chapter 16 reminds us that we can expect to be declaring Truth and showing the world system its profound error about sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Anticipate questions and challenges like these: Declaring truth? Showing the world its error? That description of the Spirit's mission is far from appealing to many of us, especially those of us in mainline denominations or postmodern cultures. How can we claim to have the capacity to declare anyone wrong beyond a sort of basic cultural consensus? Isn't this judgmentalism gone wild? Isn't this part of the reason for being mainline, to get away from what may seem to be a narrow-minded and condemning lifestyle?
Note again what the Spirit is doing. The Spirit is making a public display of the error of the world system about sin, righteousness, and error. This is not condemning individuals. This is not consigning people to hellfire. This is naming the utter distortion and brokenness that wreaks havoc on all of our lives and pointing toward the way that brings healing and fullness of life. The Spirit empowers us to do bothto name the brokenness and offer the healing truth.
The world system is wrong about sin "because they have not entrusted themselves to me." What does the world do with sin? For the most powerful, the world system ignores or excuses them. For the poor and the weak, the world system condemns. Simple illustration: What is the economic status of most people in jails and prisons in the world? The God we know in Jesus Christ neither excuses sin nor condemns sinners (cf., the woman caught in adultery). Instead, we see Jesus in the gospels and the Holy Spirit in the world today continually forgiving sin and inviting and empowing sinners both to forgive others and to sin no more.
Where do you and your worship planning team see examples of people you know overcoming sin through the power of forgiveness? How are people learning the practice of forgiveness that becomes so deeply engrained as to become a reflex as they continue to follow Jesus?
The world system is wrong about righteousness "because I am returning to the Father and you will no longer be watching just me." The world system in its righteousness considered that executing Jesus, removing him from view, was the right thing to do (John 11:50). The world system says "I must get rid of you for 'us' to be okay." Today we declare with great joy that the world's strategy backfired -- entirely! Executing Jesus led to his resurrection, ascension, and the coming of the Spirit upon all flesh. Executing his followers has regularly led to the multiplication of Christians. There is no longer just one place to look. With the coming of the Spirit, God's mission and the call to follow Jesus are everywhere to be seen. Righteousness is not primarily about subtraction of threat, but multiplication of life.
How does the justice system work where you are? Where are the examples you can name of the multiplication of life -- rather than the subtraction of threat -- yielding a harvest of righteousness?
The world system is wrong about judgment, "because the ruler of this world system is condemned." This is not a reference simply to Satan as a personification of evil. Instead, it is saying the whole world system is broken and therefore cannot exercise proper judgment. But the one who came from the Father and is returning to the Father can. And the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, still does. Those who want to exercise proper judgment are those who will be reborn and re-formed into the way of Jesus.
The ongoing aftershocks of the global economic crisis are one example of how the "rulers of this world," at every level, have been incapable of exercising right judgment. The lack of confidence in social, political, and economic systems to find a way forward continues to fuel what appears to be a long-term crisis with no clear end in immediate sight.
But listening for, joining, and embodying the voice of the Spirit here must be more than simply to wag our fingers and tell the world system it is wrong. It must mean confession of our own complicity, our own failure to acknowledge just how broken the world system is, and our own failure to be formed enough in the way of Jesus to incarnate the needed signs of right judgment. It is thus also an invitation for us to become more formed ourselves in Christ's way, to learn better and better how to watch and listen for the Spirit, and to become agents and signs of God's reign wherever we are.
So where are the "outposts of good judgment" where you are? Outposts are not fortresses, but branch offices on the frontier! In this world system, the frontier is everywhere! Who is staffing the outposts? What are they doing? How are they living? How can the vision and voice of such outposts be seen and heard in worship today?
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The Day of Pentecost in Judaism and Christianity is about fullness of harvestand so should be celebrated "full out." That doesn't mean, however, that this is only an "upbeat" day. As the readings from Romans and John remind, the Spirit does not just make us feel happy or euphoric. The Spirit also leads us to lament and to be confronted by (and confront the world with) uncomfortable truth. This is a day to rejoice with those who rejoice especially those who are presented for baptism, confirmation, or new steps in ministry AND to weep with those who weep, AND to become those capable of bearing Truth in the world.
So this is a day to rejoice around the font -- literally. The font is perhaps one of the signs of the Spirit in our worship par excellence. Be sure it is front and center in worship at some point, at least.
And this is a day to groan or even weep in prayer in acts of deep, even wrenching corporate intercession and we encounter transforming Truth in Word and at Table.
Generally speaking, United Methodists know how to rejoice at the font and be transformed at Table.
But we may know less about the practice of lament in prayer.
Lament begins with an honest spoken confession of the sorrow and real losses we or others have experienced.
But it is more than just words.
The biblical psalms of lament were written in a specific meter sometimes called "the limping dance," intended to accompany ritual movement that expressed the depth of sorrow and pain the words related.
So for Christians, lament includes allowing those groanings of the Spirit within us to be expressed openly and physically in the worship setting.
At this writing, the murder of Trayvon Martin is much in the news. Christians of many denominations are entering into mourning for this act -- groaning with the Spirit's call for justice. They are embodying this as well with acts of "fashion solidarity" -- with worship leaders and others invited to wear hoodies to worship.
May the groaning of the Spirit in Trayvon Martin's murder and the sin and brokenness of the world system it reveals be heard in the halls of power before this Pentecost comes!
His case is just one we may be calling to lament and groan with this day.
This Memorial Day weekend, congregations in the U.S. may wish to spend particular time groaning and lamenting for the losses of life and health experienced by soldiers and people involved in this nation's most recent wars as well.
To open space for such lament in worship means expecting and welcoming tears, sighs, moans, even cries of pain with and for those suffering around us. Trust the Spirit's movement, and do not quench it. Prompt the congregation to come into awareness and connection with those groanings in their hearts, and then guide them to let them out.
And remember: Biblical lament never stops with loss and pain. It always moves toward a reminder of the trustworthiness of God, and it often ends in a confession of trust, or even praise. See Psalm 22 or Psalm 130 as classic biblical examples of psalms of lament.
For an article from Reality magazine (New Zealand) on lament and implications for ministry, see "Crime, Crucifixion and the Forgotten Art of Lament." For an example of a lament form for use by people or congregations facing disasters, such as last year's hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, and this year's tornadoes, see "Responding to World Events." For a book exploring the theology and practice of lament in Christian worship, see Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew and Public Square.
If your congregation has not practiced lament, the simplest path toward it is to pray deeply with a comprehensive form of bidding prayer. Simple bidding prayers are available in The United Methodist Hymnal (877, 879) with musical accompaniment for this form available in The Faith We Sing (2201). A fuller form is available in The United Methodist Book of Worship (495). For these forms of bidding prayer to work well as a prompter for deep congregational lament/intercession, you may want to enter the time of prayer with some prompting on how to groan, and even practice some congregational groaning. You will also want to ensure that there are people prepared to offer specific examples that express the real pain of the world in relationship to each petition (be sure to include the nations in the ecumenical cycle of prayer Botswana with Swaziland (for whom we pray next week) has the world's highest incidence of AIDS and AIDS deaths). Be sure to give enough time and prompting for the congregation truly to groan with that pain as they lift it to God in prayer.
At the end of any of these forms of prayer, you may also want to add a closing collect or call and response that gathers up the pain and expresses trust in God to help the congregation and those who suffer to find God's saving presence and power in, through, and beyond it. For a good sample of "public domain" concluding collects, see The Book of Common Prayer, pages 394-395. (See pages 46-47 of the hyperlinked pdf file.) For a call and response example, see "Prayers for Those Facing Disasters."
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Call to Worship: BOW 200, "May the Warm Winds of Heaven" (Acts)
Greeting: BOW 390 (Pentecost, Acts)
Greeting: BOW 406 (Acts)
Greeting: BOW 382 (Romans)
Opening Prayer: BOW 464 (Romans)
Canticle: UMH 406, "Canticle of Prayer" (Romans)
Call to Prayer: BOW 214, "Spirit of God" (Acts, John)
Prayer of Confession: BOW 482 or 489 (Acts)
Prayer: UMH 329, Prayer to the Holy Spirit (Acts)
Prayer: UMH 542, Day of Pentecost (Acts)
Prayer: UMH 574, For Renewal of the Church (Pentecost)
Prayer: BOW 404 (Acts, John)
Prayer: BOW 407 or 408 (Acts, John, Romans)
Prayer: BOW 544, For Leaders (Acts)
Confirmation Hymn: BOW 223, "O Holy Spirit" (Acts)
The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Botwana, Zimbabwe
Great Thanksgiving for Pentecost: BOW 68-69
Sung dismissal with blessing (Benediction): BOW 218, "Benediction for Pentecost" (Acts, John)
Here are some specific suggestions for laments from The Faith We Sing.
- 2110, "Why Has God Forsaken Me?" -- Meditation on Christ's desolation in his death.
- 2180, "Why Stand So Far Away, My God?" -- A strong challenge to God in the tradition of the psalms of lament
- 2209, "How Long, O Lord?" -- Based on Psalm 13
- 2216, "When We Are Called to Sing Your Praise" -- Verse 2 is especially appropos -- "Remind us, God, that you accept our sad laments in prayer; you, too, have walked the shadowed way and know our deep despair."
- 2217, "By the Babylonian Rivers" -- Based on Psalm 137
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