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Lent Prayer Stations

Walking with Jesus through the Psalms

The lectionary cycle for Lent in Year A includes incredibly rich psalms. As poetry, psalms are full of sights, smells, tastes, touches, and sounds. They are a great launching pad for engaging all our senses in worship. This cycle of prayer stations takes advantage of that opportunity.

Prayer stations are more frequently used for youth groups, retreats, or smaller church events than worship. But using them to augment Sunday morning worship can allow our congregations the ability to use senses that normally get short shrift at church.

The prospect of setting up six to eight prayer stations for a one-time event can be daunting. But using just one station a week in conjunction with worship is a great introduction to this practice for an entire congregation.

This cycle of stations for Lent are designed to be used, one a week, in coordination with the texts from the Year A Revised Common Lectionary cycle. The psalm selections in the lectionary have fairly general themes so they are easy to use alongside any particular congregation's plans for celebrating Lent. In fact, the themes are general enough that even a congregation that is not following the RCL would be able use to them with little adaptation.

For each week, there's also a recommended question for public comment, to be written at the top of a sheet of paper posted on a wall, or perhaps on a whiteboard. Giving space for people to post some of their reflections provides an opportunity to move these stations from individual to communal. Position this paper or board near the prayer station, but not in a place where people can read it while they are at the station itself. This way people are able to experience the station individually before joining in the communal part of the experience.

My hope is that these stations will also serve as a truly intergenerational expression of worship. They don’t "talk down" to younger kids, but they will engage older teens and adults intellectually. And with the help of an adult guiding them through the station, even very young children will be able to experience God's goodness through their senses: the feeling of sand or a blanket, the smell of bread, the coolness of a marble.

Set-Up Notes

There are a number of ways to approach the setup and use of these stations. Your choices will depend on the size of your congregation, the traffic patterns in your facility, and your own worship habits and customs. A narthex or entryway might be the easiest choice. But if your narthex is often a busy or bottle-necked space, this might not work. A brave choice might be to set up the station in a corner of the worship space itself. For some congregations, it might work to encourage use of the station before and after worship. For others, it might even be possible to use the station throughout worship, or at designated times. Whichever options you choose, make sure to find ways to let your congregation know about the opportunity to use the stations.

Keep people of all ages and abilities in mind when considering the setup of these stations. The lower children's tables often used in Sunday school rooms are a great option for keeping the display at a lower eye level. Some people might welcome a few floor pillows on which to sit and take some extra time. Those with mobility issues may need a chair that's easy to sit in. Print the meditation guides in a large, clear font so that they are easy to read.

Be thoughtful about how things look, smell, sound, and feel. Keep in mind that the objects that are important to the meditation should be given center stage: anything you add to the table should add to, rather than distract from, the main objects.

Recruiting a small team of people to help with these stations is essential. Ask one person to help assemble the necessary materials. Find a few volunteers who enjoy making things look beautiful. And try to recruit someone to quietly and unobtrusively monitor the station each week. I often ask for a volunteer who will both pray for those who are using the station and keep an eye on things in case the setup needs tweaking or straightening while it is being used.

For each week, there is a materials list, a setup guide, and a meditation. I recommend printing each of these as a separate document. Print the meditation directions and mount them on stiff paper or place them in a table-top frame. If you have different volunteers gathering materials and doing setup, you can hand the appropriate guide to each person.

Week 1: Psalm 32

Materials

  • Table
  • Cloth for draping the table
  • Slips of paper
  • Pencils
  • Several small blankets or quilts
  • Placard with the meditation directions
  • Butcher paper or whiteboard
  • Markers for responses

Set-Up

Drape the table with the cloth. Set the blankets and quilts out on the table. Set out the slips of paper, the pencils, and the meditation placard.

Place the butcher paper or whiteboard near the table but somewhere that it won’t distract people while they sit or stand in front of the table. At the top, write, “How has God comforted you?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

Meditation

“You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble.” Psalm 32:7 (NRSV)

The idea of confessing something you’ve done wrong can seem scary. What if the person you wronged is angry? What if they won’t forgive you? What if they don’t feel the same way about you? The fear and anxiety of confession can be worse than the confessing itself.

Psalm 32 reminds us that confessing our sins to God is not a fearful thing. We waste away when we don’t confess. But when we finally open up about who we are, God is a comfort to us. God covers us and hides us.

Children often find comfort in a special blanket, and adults often wrap up in a warm quilt. Those are good things to remind us how God comforts and cares for us.

Using a pencil, sign your name on a slip of paper. As you write it, ask the Spirit to help you open yourself, who you really are, sins and all, to God. Tuck this paper under a blanket, and imagine the comfort of hiding in God’s grace.

Week 2: Psalm 121

Materials

  • Table
  • Cloth for draping the table
  • Map (if you can find a topographic map, even better)
  • Compass
  • Hiking boots
  • Walking stick
  • Basket of colored pencils
  • Placard with the meditation directions
  • Butcher paper or whiteboard
  • Markers for responses

Set-Up

Set the map on the table. Set the compass, boots, walking stick, and basket of colored pencils on the table along with the meditation placard.

Place the butcher paper or whiteboard near the table but somewhere that it won’t distract people while they sit or stand in front of the table. At the top, write “When has God walked with you?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

Meditation

“The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” Psalm 121:8 (NRSV)

Imagine that your life is one long hike across this map. There might be hills, steep places, swamps, deserts, water to cross, flat plains, narrow paths, and wide-open places. Sometimes it is clear where you are going. Sometimes it is not. You might get lost. You might look up and realize you’ve been walking toward the wrong hill or landmark. And there might be days when walking is simply easy and refreshing, too.

But wherever you walk, you are always safe. Not because you have a map or the right equipment. You are safe because God guides you and holds you.

Take a moment to think about times when God has walked with you. Use a pencil to trace a route on this map, and say a prayer of thanks to God for keeping you in all your going out and coming in.

Week 3: Psalm 95

Materials

  • Table
  • Cloth for draping the table
  • Cloth that will drape off table onto floor and underneath storage box
  • Large shallow plastic storage container (under-bed type works well)
  • Stones of various sizes
  • Sand to fill storage container
  • Bowl and water (optional)
  • Placard with the meditation directions
  • Butcher paper or whiteboard
  • Markers for responses

Set-Up

Drape the table, and use additional cloth to drape from the table to the floor or to a lower table, creating a space to place the storage container. You could also use a lower table (a preschool Sunday school table might work well) either as the main table or as a lower table for the storage box. (Make sure the table used for the storage box is strong enough to support the weight you’ll be putting on it with the storage container and sand.)

Place the storage container on the cloth on the floor or on the lower table. Fill it two-thirds full with sand. Place stones in the sand. (Optional: you could also sink a bowl into the sand and fill it with water to create a sea, but you’ll have to consider whether or not this is worth the potential mess.)

Place the meditation placard on the table.

Place the butcher paper or whiteboard near the table but somewhere that it won’t distract people while they sit or stand in front of the table. At the top, write, “Come, let us sing to the Lord! What about God makes your heart sing?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

Meditation

“In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.” Psalm 95:4-5 (NRSV)

Sometimes we praise God for what God has done. Other times it has nothing to do with us: it’s a reminder of how great God is. We cannot see God. Our minds can barely figure out how wonderful and powerful God is. Creation is our evidence of God’s greatness.

Take a moment to play with the sand and rocks. Make a mountain. Dig a valley. Move boulders. Play, create, enjoy. Think of God’s hands, playing in this way at creation, with real mountains and rivers and boulders and canyons. Let your heart sing about God’s greatness.

Week 4: Week 4: Psalm 23

Materials

  • Table
  • Cloth for draping the table
  • Chalice
  • Plate
  • Large loaf of bread
  • Small to medium glass bowl
  • Olive oil
  • Placard with the meditation directions
  • Butcher paper or whiteboard
  • Markers for responses

Set-Up

Set the chalice, plate with a loaf of bread, and glass bowl on the table. Fill the bowl with olive oil. Place the meditation placard on the table.

Place the butcher paper or whiteboard near the table but somewhere that it won’t distract people while they sit or stand in front of the table. At the top, write, “What is God preparing you to do?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

Meditation

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5 (NRSV)

The last place an animal like a sheep would want to pause to eat would be in the presence of its enemies, unless that sheep completely trusts its shepherd.

God nourishes us even when we feel vulnerable, even when there is danger nearby. And we are fed so that we have the energy to follow our callings.

Anointing was a symbol of both health and calling. God sets us aside for a purpose and guides us along that path.

Use a bit of the oil to make the sign of the cross on your forehead or on the back of your hand, or ask someone at the station to do this for you. Remember that you belong to God, that God shepherds you and calls you his own.

Week 5: Psalm 130

Materials

  • Table
  • Cloth for draping the table
  • Lengths of cloth in shades of blue
  • Marbles or glass pebbles in shades of blue
  • Basket
  • Placard with the meditation directions
  • Butcher paper or whiteboard
  • Markers for responses

Set-Up

Drape the table with the cloth. Swirl and bunch the blue fabrics on the table top to create the effect of water. Scatter marbles or glass stones among the blue fabric. Set the basket and the meditation placard alongside the blue cloth.

Place the butcher paper or whiteboard near the table but somewhere that it won’t distract people while they sit or stand in front of the table. At the top, write, “Where is the deepest place you have been?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

Meditation

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! Lord, hear my voice!” Psalm 130:1-2 (NRSV)

The bottom of the ocean was one of the most frightening, faraway places the psalmist could imagine. It still is, for us: we can fly to the moon, but we can barely explore the depths of the ocean.

It doesn’t matter how deep, how far away we go; God can still hear us. And it doesn’t matter what we have to say, because God wants to hear us.

What do you need God to hear? Take one of the marbles from the table, and place it in the basket. Even if it comes from the deepest places, God will hear and hold what you have to say.

Palm Sunday: Psalm 61

Materials

  • Table
  • Cloth for draping table
  • Blocks
  • Placard with the meditation directions
  • Butcher paper or whiteboard
  • Markers for responses

Set-Up

Drape the table with the cloth. Set out the blocks and the meditation placard.

Place the butcher paper or whiteboard near the table but somewhere that it won’t distract people while they sit or stand in front of the table. At the top, write, “When has God’s stability helped you up?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

Meditation

“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” Psalm 61:2-4 (NRSV)

A refuge, like a tower, is a place where you don’t just hide—it’s a place that lets you see what’s coming. But being up high can also be dangerous. What if you slip on the rock? What if the tower is not strong?

Build a tower with the blocks. Build it strong.

Then, carefully, take it apart. No matter how strong you built it, it would have been easy for your tower to tumble.

We cannot build our own refuges and safe places. They will always tumble. God is our only source of stability.

Easter Morning: Psalm 118

Materials

  • Two small tables
  • Black cloth for draping a table
  • Bright or light-colored cloth for draping a table
  • Door frame, doorway, or arch
  • Black and gray fabric, ribbon, or crepe paper streamers
  • Easter lilies or other flowers
  • Placard with the meditation directions
  • Butcher paper or whiteboard
  • Markers for responses

Set-Up

A note about Easter Morning set-up: For some congregations, this set-up will be the most difficult because of increased attendance and the general hustle and bustle of Easter morning. Think carefully in advance about where you will place this station. For instance, if you choose to use an existing door, you need to make sure there is a different point of exit from that room so that people are not walking through the door in both directions.

From the top of a free-standing doorframe, arch, or existing doorway, hang black and gray pieces of cloth, ribbon, or crepe paper that reach to the floor. You may want to leave them hanging or tie them back to the sides, depending on how sturdy they are (people will be walking through them). Set up one small table with a black cloth and the meditation placard on the side from which people will initially approach the station. Set up the other table, with the bright or light cloth, on the other side, and place the flowers on this table.

Somewhere on the side with the table with the flowers, hang a large sheet of paper. At the top, write, “God’s steadfast love endures forever! What has God brought back to life in you?” Leave a basket of markers nearby.

Meditation

“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.” Psalm 118:19-20 (NRSV)

Easter is a celebration of doorways and gates: we begin at one side, and pass through to the other. Jesus rose from the inside of the tomb, and passed through, returning to the world, overflowing with life.

As you walk through this doorway, remember that in Christ’s resurrection we all have been carried from death to new life. And already, as we await the full blooming of Christ’s resurrection in us, we see new life beginning.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!