Monday, December 22, 2008

The God Forsaken God

We held our Blue Christmas service last evening. Fewer people than I'd hoped, more people than I'd feared. Of course, it was just as cold as it had been in the morning (see below) - possibly colder.

There was one person who wasn't previously connected to the parish (that we know of). She and I spoke briefly at the end, though she chose not to stay for tea. She did ask about Christmas Eve services, and was provided a copy of the parish newsletter.

The service seemed to go well. And I'm told the sermon was good. (I thought I'd started going round in circles round about the middle.) Despite the anxieties of the organist and the one warden, the music seemed to work - even Of the Father's Love Begotten.

My sermon did attempt to bring together the elements of the service - emphasizing the Incarnation as an expression of God's love for us and of God's solidarity with us. And I dwelt a bit on what, for me, is the most profound proclamation of the Incarnation: the vignette of Christ's cry of agony from the Cross, the jarring image of the God forsaken God.

For those who might be interested, the liturgy is reproduced below. Apart from the opening discourse, everything is drawn from the Book of Alternative Services.

Blue Christmas
A service for those experiencing loss,
loneliness or despair at Christmas

The gathering of the community

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with you all.
And also with you.

Dear friends,
Christians, following the example of Jesus,
have always had a particular ministry
to walk with those who suffer.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah
as the suffering servant.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus
did not grasp his equality with God,
but chose to empty himself,
and to die on the cross for our salvation.
In Matthew’s gospel, we are enjoined
to feed the hungry,
to give drink to the thirsty,
to clothe the naked,
to visit the sick and those in prison,
for in ministering to those in need,
we are serving Christ himself.
Each of us has come here this evening,
bearing our own hurts.
We may be immersed in our own suffering,
We may be devastated by our own loss.
We may feel that we are alone,
abandoned by our friends,
deserted by our families.
We may even feel that we are forsaken by God.
It can be difficult for us to remember
that Christ is always with us.

But we are here tonight
because the God who came to us as a little child,
who dwelt among us,
who died for us,
who, in dying, experienced for himself
the devastating feeling of God forsakenness,
who rose triumphant from the grave,
who sent the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,
would not forsake us in our deepest need.
We have come searching for solace
in the presence of God.

Let us pray.
O God of peace,
who taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved,
in quietness and confidence shall be our strength;
by the might of your Spirit, lift us, we pray, to your presence,
that we may be still and know that you are God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn 628 (O Love, how deep, how broad, how high)

The liturgy of the word

Lesson – Isaiah 53: 1-5 (Surely he has borne our griefs)

Psalm 43 (Together)

Give judgement for me, O God,
and defend my cause against an ungodly people;
deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked.

For you are the God of my strength;
why have you put me from you?
and why do I go so heavily
while the enemy oppresses me?

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,
and bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling;

That I may go to the altar of God,
to the God of my joy and gladness;
and on the harp I will give thanks to you,
O God my God.

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
and why are you so disquieted within me?

Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

God of mercy, deliver those who are weighed down by fear, by loss, by loneliness or by depression. Relieve their suffering, that they may feel the joy and peace of your presence. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.

Lesson – 1 John 2: 7-14 (The darkness is passing away)

Hymn 122 (In the bleak midwinter)

Remain standing for the reading of the Gospel.

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,
according to John (1: 1-14 – The Word was made flesh)
Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

At the conclusion of the Gospel, the reader says:

The Gospel of Christ.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


Here follows a period of silent reflection. Each person has been provided with a blank card, a pen or pencil, and an envelope. During this time, those who wish may write a brief description of the care or worry which oppresses them. The envelopes will be collected and presented at the altar.

The prayers of the people

In peace, we pray to you, Lord God.


For all people in their daily life and work;
For our families, friends and neighbours, and for all those who are alone.

For this community, our country, and the world;
For all who work for justice, freedom and peace.

For the just and proper use of your creation;
For the victims of hunger, fear, injustice and oppression.

For all who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble;
For those who minister to the sick, the friendless, and the needy.

For the peace and unity of the Church of God;
For all who proclaim the gospel, and all who seek the truth.

For our own needs and the needs of others.

Silence. People may add their own petitions, silently or aloud.

Hear us, Lord;
For your mercy is great.

We thank you, Lord, for all the blessings of this life.

Silence. People may add their own petitions, silently or aloud.

We will exalt you, O God our king;
And praise your name, for ever and ever.

We pray for all those who have died in the peace of Christ, and for those whose faith is known to you alone, that they may have a place in your eternal kingdom.

Silence. People may add their own petitions, silently or aloud.

Lord, let your loving kindness be upon them;
Who put their trust in you.

We pray to you also for the forgiveness of our sins.


Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;
in your compassion, forgive us our sins,
known and unknown,
things done and left undone;
and so uphold us by your Spirit
that we may live and serve you in newness of life
to the honour and glory of your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God have mercy upon you,
pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness,
and keep you in eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.

The people may greet one another in the name of the Lord.

The laying on of hands and anointing

Holy scripture teaches us
that in acts of healing and restoration
our Lord Jesus and his disciples
laid hands upon the sick and anointed them.
By so doing, they made known
the healing power and presence of God.

Pray that as we follow our Lord`s example,
you may know his unfailing love.

Those who wish to be anointed may come forward.

If you choose to come forward, please indicate your name to the priest.

N, through this holy anointing
may the Lord in his love and mercy uphold you
by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When all who wish have been anointed:

As you are outwardly anointed with this oil,
so may our heavenly Father grant you
the inward anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Of his great mercy,
may he release you from your suffering,
and restore you to wholeness and strength;
may he deliver you from all evil,
preserve you in all goodness,
and bring you to everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And now, as our Saviour Christ has commanded and taught us, we are bold to say,

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 trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The blessing

May the God of infinite goodness
scatter the darkness of sin and despair
and brighten your hearts with holiness;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be upon you, and remain with you for ever. Amen.

Hymn 132 (Of eternal Love begotten)

The dismissal

Go forth into the world,
always conscious of the power and presence of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.


Anonymous said...

We had a blue Christmas service this year at St Tim's as well.

I always think of the line said to Mary: a sword shall pierce your own soul...


Country Parson said...

Maybe I should have come to that service