Blue Christmas Liturgy – Andrew Pratt & Marjorie Dobson

This material originally published in Nothing too religious

Material in this liturgy can be used locally freely with acknowledgement. Please include any hymns on your CCL or other licence return with these details – Words © 2018 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd

Leader: It is close to Christmas and for all of us this raises mixed emotions. It is a cliché to say that this time is difficult. But it is. It can be. Some of us have lost children or parents, sisters or brothers. Some of us have relationships that are crumbling or marriages or partnerships that have broken. And they say this is a time for families.

All around are signs of wealth and everyone seems to be spending, yet we have no money. Debt cripples us and we see no end to it, but others want us to ‘join in’. For some of us work is a memory, or we have been put out of work at just the wrong time, if ever there is a right time.

And how can we celebrate waiting for the results of medical tests, feeling unwell or knowing that we are terminally ill.

It is easy to feel very alone or depressed.

No one here will make light of this or deny the reality of another’s distress. We are here because we need to be here.

What I’m going to ask you to do is for no-one else to see unless you choose, for no-one else to know. Write on a piece of paper, draw if you prefer, something which expresses what you really feel. Swear if you like. Say what you dare not say outside. Let loose your feelings.

In the quiet give time for people to write or draw or simply to sit. When you judge that they are done continue.

Leader: As we think on what we have written or drawn let us quietly listen to some music.

Music This should be sensitively chosen, need not be religious and must not have words.

Leader: So what is this Christmas?

This time of tinsel

This time of tinsel hides a paradox.

Homeless and cold the unmarried mother, the uncertain father, wait. You’ve heard the story – unreal – shepherds and angels, wise men and imagined camels, an inn and a star. It all added up to a squalid birth in a dirty out-house. No-one to turn to, miles from home and soon to be refugees.

Two thousand years on we meet. And it’s all meant to be perfect. It never was, it never is, it never will be. That’s reality, not some imagined fairy-tale.

When they returned I suppose there were mundane moments, shopping, bartering, making ends meet. This carpenter (was he a master carpenter?) reliant on orders, rushed off his feet one minute, trying to make ends meet the next, make do and mend. Tongues wagging at their, sometimes strained, strange relationship. Those plaster saints make it all look so idyllic; not quite human; not human at all.

Jesus was nearly thirty when he took that ‘adolescent’ hike out into the wilderness after hearing his cousin’s preaching. If it wasn’t for his quiet demeanour you’d label him fanatical. He was out there forty days. I guess his parents worried, perhaps like they had when they’d lost him in the city, in Jerusalem, that time. It doesn’t matter how old they grow they’re still your children, they still matter.

And then he was going to set the world to rights. In the end they got him. Hung him out to dry. And she watched. That was real, blood and nails and that crass crown. Yes that was real to him, to his parents.

And again, here we are. Still this strange Christmas. We know more now about that story but they keep making it into some cartoon of unreality. Given a chance we can identify with the search for somewhere to stay, existing hand to mouth to try to get a living, the criticism of friends about the way we live our lives. Perhaps we know the grief of losing a child, of watching suffering and being unable to prevent it, of facing an uncertain future.

Yes, now it’s you and me. And our story is all too real too.

The tinsel, the baubles, the lights just heighten our sense of being outside of it all. Just pause for a moment and realise how unreal all that is. Then picture that first Christmas. We’re probably nearer the reality of it than any carolling crowd, any supermarket hype, any over-facing feast. For Mary and Joseph, for Jesus, the reality of Christmas and all that followed was grounded in human need, fear, uncertainty.

They believed, though, that God was there with them, not in the palaces with the fortunate, the undisturbed. That’s important. God is still here, with you and me. That’s the story, theirs and ours. Amen. So be it. Amen.

Silence

Leader: Now hear these words:

Reader: Remember, says God, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Your help comes from me, I will not let your foot be moved; I will not slumber. I will neither slumber nor sleep.

I will keep you from all evil, even that evil, that fear in which you rest at this moment. I will keep you safe.

Remember that this God will keep as you come or go.

God will keep you at Christmas and beyond.

From this time on, we can know in our hearts and our minds that nothing will ever be able to separate us from God’s love. (adapted from Psalm 121; Matthew 28, 20;  Romans 8, 39 NRSV)

Leader: If you feel that you can, then sing these words with me:

Awake again within the love

that lit the stars, that formed the earth,
that ransomed captive Israel
that met us in Messiah's birth:

we praise you God, our ground of hope,
our source of life and faith and grace.
We reach to you beyond this realm
yet greet you in each other's face.

You are the paradox of power
poured out till love is all that's left:
till ancient fears are met and quelled
and death itself is staunched, bereft.

So, as we face another day,
as hours unfold and hopes are honed,
enlarge our insight of your love,
until our faith is fully grown.
Andrew Pratt

Leader: And now let us mark this moment that we might remember this time.

Let those who wish to let go of the paper on which they wrote or drew. (a receptacle or a shredder can be available for the paper) Then light a candle as a sign that we hope for light even in our darkness, that we trust that in Jesus light has come into the world and that the darkness has never, will never put out that light.

While this takes place music can again be played. This should be sensitively chosen, need not be religious and must not have words.

And our prayers:

For those who grieve

Remembering

Part of your memory
will be rooted in this place –
the time of sorrow
that you thought would never end.
Part of your life
will always be linked
to this pilgrimage –
this remembrance.
Yet now you know
that she is carried with you
in the joy of living.
you live she dances alongside you
and in her freedom
you can breathe in that remembrance
any time,
anywhere.
Love lives!
© Marjorie Dobson

Leader: For those living with broken love, abused or let down by those they trusted:

Alone

You are alone
but you will not be alone.
You have been let down,
abused, hurt.

Yet God will ease your pain,
and wait with you in sorrow.

Tomorrow, whenever tomorrow comes,
God will build with you again.
You are more precious to God than you can imagine
for God loves you
even when you cannot love yourself.

There will be a new tomorrow.
And the pain of today will gradually fade.
The guilt of today will pass.

The light of hope will dawn again
bringing colour back to your life.

Love lives!

Leader: For those in debt

Penniless

The ends will never meet
and there are so many ‘needs’
and still more ‘wants’.

Everyone around seems to have all that they need, and more.
And you feel despair for you enter this season of plenty empty.
All seems hopeless.

Festivity is passing you by.
words don’t take away the debt.
The experience of others is not yours.

But you are more valuable to God
than you might anticipate.
Even in your depression and hopelessness
you are worth more
than if you were not here.

God will not leave you.
You will live through this time.
Hold fast to the love that will never let you go
and when your grasp is feeble
remember you are held.
Remember, Love lives!

Leader: For those who are sick or dying

Anxiety never helped

Anxiety never helped
but anxiety is your watchword.
It must be.
Well that’s how it seems.

All this talk of birth and children;
the noise of play disturbs
and thoughts are of young lives
that you will never see grown.

is cruel, very cruel.
It all seems hopeless
and pointless.
It’s not that tomorrow never comes,
it comes to soon
and is filled with dread.

This spiral of depression seems to go
all the way down.
Is there no way up? T
hose words come back again...
nothing in all creation,
nothing in life or death, St Paul says,
that can separate us from God’s love...

May you be assured of the truth of these words,
now,
at this very moment,
and in all that the future brings.
Remember, Love lives!

Leader: And if you can a hymn to end our time together:

When fear of what might lie ahead

When fear of what might lie ahead
is racing through your mind,
you're held within a greater love,
for God is calm and kind.

When clouds obscure both joy and faith
and hope is coarsely scorned,
a hidden grace of stronger power ,
that God has forged, is formed.

Around you there is human love,
and human hands to touch,
a person holds you as you weep,
God knows you need as much.

The love in which you're framed and held
will hold when hope has gone,
together in companionship
there's strength to carry on.

And when you come again beyond
the darkness to the light,
that love that held you will not wane
for God will make things right.
Andrew Pratt

Leader: As we depart greet each other if you can. Know that others are bound to you by the time we have shared, will pray with you and for you in the coming days.
This time will pass.
We will come through it together.
God’s steadfast loving kindness and faithfulness can be mirrored in our concern,
in genuine love for each other.
Then let us go in peace. Amen. Amen.

Advent 1 – hymn – This is the time of waiting

Advent – a time of waiting – more than a calendar with sweets, more than an extra candle lit each Sunday, perhaps a time to move from darkness into light, from penitence to praise?

A hymn inspired by Isaiah 2:2

2:2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

1	This is the time of waiting,
	the calm before the storm,
	the time of Advent judgement,
	the coming of the dawn;
	a time of recollection,
	of Christ's audacious hope,
	beyond imagination,
	outside our human scope.

2	The nations will be gathered,
	the age will be fulfilled,
	the judgement be enacted,
	as Christ had hoped and willed.
	But for this consummation
	such birth-pangs will be felt, 
	like rupturing of wine-skins, 
	the earth will heave and melt. 

3	For love to be exalted, 
	for hatred to be banned, 
	our human goals must shatter,
	division must be spanned. 
	A change of mind is needed 
	as we are turned around, 
	to move from desecration, 
	to find love's solid ground. 

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
Words © 2018 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd
Metre: 7 6 7 6 D
Tune: AURELIA

Remembrance – Once crimson poppies bloomed out in a foreign field

Once crimson poppies bloomed
out in a foreign field,
each memory reminds
where brutal death was sealed.
The crimson petals flutter down,
still hatred forms a thorny crown.

For in this present time
we wait in vain for peace;
each generation cries,
each longing for release,
while war still plagues the human race
and families seek a hiding place.
           
How long will human life
suffer for human greed?
How long must race or pride,
wealth, nationhood or creed
be reasons justifying death
to suffocate a nation’s breath?
           
For everyone who dies
we share a quiet grief;
the pain of loss remains,
time rarely brings relief:
and so we will remember them
and heaven sound a loud amen.

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) Words © 2012 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Metre: 6 6 6 6 8 8 Tune: LITTLE CORNARD

Our responsibility to be stewards of the earth – Hymn – The care of our planet

In between All Souls, All Saints and Remembrance Sunday we are witness to COP 27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, beginning on the Sunday 6th November. This is an international meeting which the UK has chaired. We are handing the Chair to Egypt and for various reasons our Prime Minister has indicated he will not attend it. King Charles has been advised not to attend. This hymn, written in 2019 and used last year in Durham Cathedral emphasises our responsibility to be stewards of the creation (Psalm 8: 6-8).

1 The care of our planet, the threat of extinction, 
alerts us to need to be stewards of the earth: 
this place of great beauty, our God given tenure, 
the place of our nurture, the globe of our birth. 

2 This place we must guard for each new generation, 
to leave as we found it or, better, restored; 
to share each resource without greed or pretension, 
not barring the needy, not plunder, nor hoard. 

3 The banquet of God is for all of God's people, 
communion companions are both rich and poor, 
our ultimate end will remove all distinctions, 
no birth right or creed can obstruct heaven's door. 

4 God's commonwealth love can encompass all nations, 
but here in this place we must all make a start: 
a life of acceptance of sister and brother, 
the practice of loving, a God given art. 

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) Words © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

Tune: STREETS OF LAREDO; ST CATHERINE'S COURT

Used at Durham Cathedral on Climate Sunday, 17th October 2021.

All Saints – All Souls – Remembrance



The 1st of November is All Saints Day; the 3rd All Souls Day. As we enter this period, culminating for many on the 11th November with Remembrance Day, and the 13th Remembrance Sunday, this hymn might be helpful for we who mourn, who remember those who have died.

Some churches will recognise All Souls this coming Sunday. This hymn was originally requested for remembrance of people who had died of kidney disease and later included in a book: Hymns of Hope and Healing.



The lives we mourn have known their share of heartache,
of human fear, uncertainty and shock,
and yet we also shared in love and laughter,
our memories hold solid as a rock;
for on through time remembrance will be treasured,
we'll keep it close when joy is tinged with pain,
we'll never lose the smiles that sign togetherness,
and day to day we know that love will still remain.


We never know what waits in life's uncertainty,
we never know what love, what joy, what fear,
can build us up, or leave us lost and comfortless,
afraid to face, again, the coming year,
yet here are people who can hold their hands with us,
can walk with us into the great unknown,
and so together we can walk the path of life,
and know that when we stumble love will still be shown.


So take my hand, my friend, my neighbour, walk with me,
together we can face the passing storm,
and know with God, in spite of tears and emptiness,
there is a sense that new love can be born.
In this we trust, for through our grief God held to us,
and human arms have caught us when we fell,
beyond this day each dawn will bring new hope for us
that through God's love and grace and care all will be well.


Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
Words © 2015 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk .
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd
Metre: 12 10 12 1012 10 12 12
Tune LONDONNERY AIR