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An online service of lament

The pandemic is a time to look to the psalms for sustenance during worship

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

National staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), including mission co-workers from around the country and the world, joined for an online service of lament Monday.

LOUISVILLE — With mission co-workers and other Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) national staff tuned in from all over the country — and some from abroad — Compassion, Peace & Justice on Wednesday offered up “By the Waters of Babylon,” an online worship service of lament attended by more than 80 people.

“We’ve been talking a lot about lament,” said Sara Lisherness, director of Compassion, Peace & Justice and interim director of World Mission. “This service is a reflection of the hard times we’re in — and also the hope that we rest our faith in.”

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of CPJ’s Office of Public Witness, who’s known for being a dynamic preacher, has been leading online worship the past few Wednesdays, Lisherness said. “We decided to give him a break today,” Lisherness said. “I don’t know if it’ll have the same inspiration.”

That turned out not to be the case, even without a homily as part of the 30-minute service. The service was dotted with psalms of lament:

  • Psalm 126: Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like the watercourses in the Negeb.
    May those who sow in tears
    reap with shouts of joy.
     Those who go out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
    shall come home with shouts of joy,
    carrying their sheaves.
  • Psalm 137: By the rivers of Babylon —
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.
    On the willows there
    we hung up our harps.
    For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
    and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

The prayers of the people lifted up some of the raw emotions that worshipers everywhere are experiencing during the pandemic: “All our jumbled thoughts and feelings cry to you, screaming out in different tones and colors, longing for you. You are the rock that steadies us. You are the refuge that keeps us safe … When we cannot see each other face to face, you still bind us together with cords that cannot be broken.”

“May we embrace the unity that binds us while being apart,” said the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance coordinator. “May we embrace the work of lament and still find time for joy. May we be grateful for the work we share in the global community that makes us one … so that God’s presence is shown.”

Wednesday’s virtual worship concluded with this stunning version of “How Can I Keep From Singing?” More than 140 New York City-area singers and orchestra players contributed.

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