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Taste and See

A Lenten Worship Series

The comforting smell of baking bread may evoke childhood memories of your mother’s kitchen or remind you of leisurely Saturday mornings sitting at the local bakery with the newspaper and a cup of coffee. But few people associate that lovely aroma with church services, even though bread figures prominently in worship.

What would it be like if all our senses were regularly engaged during our weekly worship—not just our hearing and seeing? Too often our worship seems to be based on the assumption that everyone learns best by sitting and listening. We give people something to listen to (sermons, songs, readings) and perhaps something to look at (banners, the person standing up front), but we rarely engage the rest of our senses. Predictably, we lose many people’s attention in the course of an hour.

Worship leaders should provide ways to incorporate a wide variety of sensory experiences during worship—engaging people with different learning styles and providing multiple ways for the congregation to connect with each other and to deepen their relationship with God. The following outline for a Lenten series provides suggestions for doing just that.

Week 1

Encountering God through Taste and Smell: Bread

Before worship, we arranged for several people to set up bread machines throughout our sanctuary. These were timed so that they would be in the “bake” cycle during worship. As the aroma of fresh bread filled our sanctuary, we reflected on the God who may not be seen, yet whose nurturing, comforting presence permeates our lives. What a wonderful reminder of the qualities that describe our loving God!

That same Sunday we celebrated the sense of taste by using a variety of fresh breads for communion. Enjoying dark rye, whole wheat, ground corn, and unleavened bread gave us another way to understand the meaning of God’s Word. As we boldly echo Jesus’ words “This is my body given for you” (Luke 22:19), we remember that the body of Christ comes in many shapes, sizes, and colors.

During coffee hour we further tasted God’s goodness by enjoying the bread that had been baking in the sanctuary with butter and jam.

Week 2

Encountering God through Touch: The Potter

To celebrate the sense of touch, we invited a potter to work at her wheel at the front of the sanctuary. As worshipers entered the sanctuary, they received a small piece of clay to work in their hands. (We supplied plastic bags in the pews for people to put their clay in when they were finished.)

As the congregation listened to the story of Jeremiah visiting the potter’s shed (Jer. 18:1-11), the potter formed a bowl on the wheel, and then deliberately ruined it. As we watched, she calmly took the twisted mass of clay and reshaped it into a different but equally lovely pot. The sermon reflected on how God can take our fragile lives, no matter how misshapen, and form them into something beautiful.

Following worship, people were invited to try their hand at the potter’s wheel. We also had clay for all people, young and old, to shape. This experience broke down barriers between adults and children and became a festive intergenerational event. (For more on using a potter during worship, see “Come to the Water” in RW 78.)

Week 3

Experiencing God’s Touch: Prayer Shawls

The following Sunday we continued with our theme of “experiencing God’s touch” by blessing our prayer shawl ministry. Throughout the year, some of the women in our congregation knit shawls of soft yarn in a range of lovely colors. These are given to anyone in special need of being wrapped in God’s love—a new mother, perhaps, or anyone who is sick or grieving.

On this dreary, snowy Sunday in Lent, the window sills and platform in our sanctuary were draped with finished and partially completed prayer shawls—a tangible reminder of how we are wrapped in God’s presence. The shawls provided a welcome display of warmth and color. During worship, the congregation passed the shawls around to experience their softness and beauty. As we prayed for the people who would receive the shawls, we dedicated this ministry with a blessing.

Week 4

Encountering God through Sight: Prayer Ornaments

The church has historically engaged our sense of sight through stained glass windows, crosses, flowers, and banners or other visual elements. We wanted to introduce a new visual dimension that would be both compelling and thought-provoking.

Our Sunday school wrote prayer requests on sheets of paper. These were then stapled together to form ornaments that we hung from our balconies in the sanctuary. The different shapes, sizes, and colors of the ornaments were very eye-catching. Their gentle swaying during worship was a visual reminder of the Holy Spirit, who is always moving and weaving in and throughout our lives.

We invited the congregation to write their own prayers on sheets of paper, which were then formed into additional ornaments and hung up.

Week 5

Encountering God through Hearing

Every week we hear people speak, read Scripture, play instruments, and sing. Yet this is not an exhaustive list of the ways we can hear God’s voice.

We invited our Sunday school children to create simple instruments using combs with wax paper (kazoos), yogurt containers filled with beans (maracas), and empty water and milk jugs (drums). Then they marched enthusiastically around the sanctuary to the tune of “When the Saints Come Marching In”!

We also invited adults to share sounds that made them particularly aware of God’s presence. One woman brought in wind chimes and a fan. Another person brought in a small countertop fountain. As we listened to the water gurgling and flowing, she read from Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

A Swedish woman reflected on hearing prayers in her native language and offered the Lord’s Prayer in Swedish for our congregation. We sang songs in different languages, had the children sing with simple instruments, and we listened to the organ with all the stops out and contrasted that with the simplicity of a folk guitar.

We also incorporated silence into our worship on this Sunday. Sometimes the best sound is no sound at all, a space where we can listen to what God may be saying to our hearts.

Excerpts

Litany in Preparation for Communion

God created us as people with many senses.
If we listen, we can hear God. If we open our eyes, we can see God.
God is as close as the bread and cup we touch during communion.
As we receive the gifts of the table, we taste the sweetness of God’s love and are nourished by the strength of God’s glory.
As the aroma of fresh bread fills the air, let our words of praise and worship be lifted up to the Lord.
Let us worship God with our heart, our strength, our spirit, and all our senses. Amen.

Prayer

Holy and creating God, your presence fills our lives and enlivens our senses. We give you thanks for sunshine sparkling on snow, for stars glistening in the midnight sky. Forgive us when we do not see the beauty you provide for us daily, and remind us of the many ways you enter our lives.

Help us to hear your voice in the children, the seniors, and the strangers among us. Enable us to share your gift of welcome in a handshake or a hug. And as we receive the gifts of your table, allow us to relish the smell and taste of new life, forgiveness, and grace. Let us be fully alive so that we may see, hear, touch, taste, and smell your presence and share your good news near and far. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

A Litany Celebrating Touch

God says, “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my word.”
“You, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isa. 64:8)
The clay is so fragile; we are all so vulnerable and breakable. Our creator has infinite patience for working with such earthen vessels!
“You, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isa. 64:8)
We are safe in the potter’s hands. The potter’s gentle touch can transform the mud into beauty and restore brokenness to wholeness.
“You, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isa. 64:8)

Unison Prayer

Gracious and holy God, we thank you for the many ways that you literally touch our lives. When we grasp the hand of a friend, we remember how you offer your comfort and guidance. When we give the gift of a prayer shawl, we remind one another that we can be wrapped in your love and enveloped in your healing presence.

Forgive us when we are distant from you or from each other. We offer ourselves to you. Use our hands, loving God, so that we may share the love, caring, and comfort that you offer every day. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

A Litany Celebrating the Gift of Seeing God

Sometimes God has revealed himself in dramatic ways: in a burning bush, a parting sea, or a blinding light.
Sometimes we can see God in more subtle ways, if only we notice the colors of a sunrise, the sparkling waves, the glorious diversity of God’s children.
Let us open our eyes and our hearts to be aware of God’s presence.
Let us worship and celebrate God, who is revealed in the beauty of creation.

Prayer of Confession

Gentle and healing God, we thank you that you fill our senses with signs, sounds, and expressions to remind us that you are always with us. Too often we are blind to your presence in our lives. Forgive us when we do not see the miracles that regularly take place in our midst. Have mercy on us when we look at our neighbors and do not recognize your beloved children. Touch us with your healing grace so that we can proclaim with Mary, “I have seen the Lord!” In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

How to Make the Prayer Ornaments

  • Here’s how we made the prayer ornaments:
  • Cut four equal-sized circles out of colored card-stock or other substantial paper. (Large circles make large ornaments, smaller circles make smaller ornaments.)
  • Within each circle, lightly draw an equilateral triangle.
  • Fold the outer edges of the circle inward, using the sides of the triangle as your fold lines. This creates three flaps.
  • Tape or staple a flap of one circle to a flap of another.
  • Repeat until you have a pyramid-type shape that’s open on the bottom.
  • Then close the ornament by taping or stapling the flaps of the fourth circle to the remaining flaps of the other three.
  • Punch a small hole in the ornament, and hang it by string, yarn, or fishing line.