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When Hearts Are Troubled: A service embracing those who grieve during holidays

Sometimes God uses things like this to strengthen the whole church,” Ruth said to me, shortly after my father died.

This past Christmas I understood for the first time how people who are grieving might feel. Firsthand, I saw how hard it is for those who have lost spouses, as my own mother struggled with grief and loneliness. I walked this grief journey with another friend from our congregation who lost her mother about the same time. Along with that, a family close to us had recently lost a son to suicide after years of struggling with mental illness. Reading through the psalms of lament and other Scripture passages, singing songs of hope, and praying some of the prayers helped me greatly through that time. As worship director, I welcomed the opportunity to pass on that comfort. The words of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 took on special meaning in light of my own situation: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”

Although we advertised this service in the paper, the people outside our congregation who attended came because someone invited them. If we did it again, we would advertise through grief support groups or possibly by connecting with some of the local funeral homes or Christian counseling centers. Unless we made it a ministry to a broader community, it would have limited appeal to our small congregation year after year. But this service could easily be broadened to include any kind of pain or loss or need for healing. One idea to make this more of a community ministry came from an attendee. She came specifically to pray for some people in her life who were going through a difficult time. She lit candles for them and after the service asked if she could take the candles to her friends as a tangible reminder that she was praying for them.

Response from the congregation varied. Some people felt that since Christmas is a time of joy and hope, it was the wrong time to hold a grieving service. Some of those we invited stayed away because it would “just be too hard.” For many people, we found, grief is a very private matter. We purposely placed the sermon near the beginning because we thought it might be necessary to give people permission to grieve. Those who came found it very comforting and helpful. Some of those who felt they just could not attend viewed a video of the service at home and found it to be a source of healing and comfort.

Click to listen to Psalm 40 [ melody ]

We Gather

Call to Worship: Isaiah 40:1-5

Song: “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” (st. 1, 4, 6) PsH 328, PH 9, RL 184, TH 194, TWC 133

Prayer

Will you come into our world, God? Will you come with hope?

For we have too many good intentions, not enough
hopes realized;
too many questions, too little assurance;
too many longings, too few prayers.




O come, O come, Emmanuel. Bring hope.

Will you come into our world, God? Will you come
with peace?
For we have too much brokenness, not enough wholeness;
too much frantic activity, not enough
calm;
too many worries, not enough dreams.






O come, O come, Emmanuel. Bring peace.

Will you come into our world, God? Will you come
with joy?
For we have too much seriousness, not enough
laughter;
too many expectations, not enough celebration;
too many words, too little singing.






O come, O come, Emmanuel. Bring joy.

Will you come into our world, God? Will you come
with love?
For we have too much loneliness, not enough friend-
ship;
too many rules, not enough gospel;
too much getting, not enough caring;






O come, O come, Emmanuel. Bring love.

Come, bringer of hope.

Come, Prince of Peace.

Come, Giver of Joy.

Come, lover of all people.

Come, O come, Emmanuel.

Come to our world, come to our hearts, come with your presence here today. Amen.

God’s Greeting (people respond with Amen!)

Song: “Once in Royal David’s City” (st. 1-3) PsH 346, PH 49, RL 201, TH 225, TWC 161

We Hear God’s Word

Scripture: Psalm 6

Sermon

We Respond

Song: “When Peace Like a River” PsH 489, TH 691, TWC 519

Offering

Prayers and Songs of Lament and Hope

“I Love the Lord” (Psalm 116) SNC 227 (listen to this song online at www.reformedworship.org, “Classic Content,” RW 72, Songs for the Season)
“Darkness” (Prayers and Litanies for the Christian Season, see sidebar)

“Wait for the Lord” SNC 96 (Psalm 40 and other readings)
“Precious Lord, Take My Hand” PsH 493, PH 404, TWC 638
Psalm 80 (selected verses)
“Shine on Us” (Michael W. Smith and Deborah D. Smith; © 1996, Milene Music, Inc.)




A Prayer of Remembrance

Lighting of Candles in Memory of Loved Ones

Silent Prayer (ending with “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” PsH 625, SFL 54, TWC 629)

“In Christ Alone” (see RW 71, p. 33)
We Go Out to Love and Serve
God’s Parting Blessing (people respond with Amen!)
Song: “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above” PsH 465, PH 483, RL 146, TWC 50




Excerpt
Notes on the Service
  • For the lighting of memory candles, we set out about forty candles, not knowing what to expect. About seventy-five people attended; almost all the candles were lit. Many older members came up and lit candles for parents and children they still missed every year at Christmas. I lit the first candle and stood up front with a brass candle lighter in one hand and a microphone in the other; then people came forward on their own.
  • We set out small packs of tissues at the ends of the pews.
  • I used the New Living Translation for most of the Scripture references.
  • We used mostly familiar songs since we anticipated people coming from outside our congregation. We have a GIA copyright license and so were able to print “Wait for the Lord” in the bulletin. We also have a CCLI license to copy some of the other songs.
  • One of my resources was the book Prayers and Litanies for the Christian Season by Sharlande Sledge (see review in RW 61). In her preface, Sledge says, “Dip into the book at any time, any place. . . . borrow a line here or there. Turn what was composed as a prayer for the people into a litany, or a litany into a benediction. Read them silently or out loud with your congregation.” I do dip into it often! I highly recommend this creative book.

—JB

We Gather

Call to Worship: Isaiah 40:1-5

Song: “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” (st. 1, 4, 6) PsH 328, PH 9, RL 184, TH 194, TWC 133

Prayer

Will you come into our world, God? Will you come with hope?

For we have too many good intentions, not enough
hopes realized;
too many questions, too little assurance;
too many longings, too few prayers.




O come, O come, Emmanuel. Bring hope.

Will you come into our world, God? Will you come
with peace?
For we have too much brokenness, not enough wholeness;
too much frantic activity, not enough
calm;
too many worries, not enough dreams.






O come, O come, Emmanuel. Bring peace.

Will you come into our world, God? Will you come
with joy?
For we have too much seriousness, not enough
laughter;
too many expectations, not enough celebration;
too many words, too little singing.






O come, O come, Emmanuel. Bring joy.

Will you come into our world, God? Will you come
with love?
For we have too much loneliness, not enough friend-
ship;
too many rules, not enough gospel;
too much getting, not enough caring;






O come, O come, Emmanuel. Bring love.

Come, bringer of hope.

Come, Prince of Peace.

Come, Giver of Joy.

Come, lover of all people.

Come, O come, Emmanuel.

Come to our world, come to our hearts, come with your presence here today. Amen.

God’s Greeting (people respond with Amen!)

Song: “Once in Royal David’s City” (st. 1-3) PsH 346, PH 49, RL 201, TH 225, TWC 161

We Hear God’s Word

Scripture: Psalm 6

Sermon

We Respond

Song: “When Peace Like a River” PsH 489, TH 691, TWC 519

Offering

Prayers and Songs of Lament and Hope

“I Love the Lord” (Psalm 116) SNC 227 (listen to this song online at www.reformedworship.org, “Classic Content,” RW 72, Songs for the Season)
“Darkness” (Prayers and Litanies for the Christian Season, see sidebar)

“Wait for the Lord” SNC 96 (Psalm 40 and other readings)
“Precious Lord, Take My Hand” PsH 493, PH 404, TWC 638
Psalm 80 (selected verses)
“Shine on Us” (Michael W. Smith and Deborah D. Smith; © 1996, Milene Music, Inc.)




A Prayer of Remembrance

Lighting of Candles in Memory of Loved Ones

Silent Prayer (ending with “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” PsH 625, SFL 54, TWC 629)

“In Christ Alone” (see RW 71, p. 33)
We Go Out to Love and Serve
God’s Parting Blessing (people respond with Amen!)
Song: “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above” PsH 465, PH 483, RL 146, TWC 50




Excerpt
Notes on the Service
  • For the lighting of memory candles, we set out about forty candles, not knowing what to expect. About seventy-five people attended; almost all the candles were lit. Many older members came up and lit candles for parents and children they still missed every year at Christmas. I lit the first candle and stood up front with a brass candle lighter in one hand and a microphone in the other; then people came forward on their own.
  • We set out small packs of tissues at the ends of the pews.
  • I used the New Living Translation for most of the Scripture references.
  • We used mostly familiar songs since we anticipated people coming from outside our congregation. We have a GIA copyright license and so were able to print “Wait for the Lord” in the bulletin. We also have a CCLI license to copy some of the other songs.
  • One of my resources was the book Prayers and Litanies for the Christian Season by Sharlande Sledge (see review in RW 61). In her preface, Sledge says, “Dip into the book at any time, any place. . . . borrow a line here or there. Turn what was composed as a prayer for the people into a litany, or a litany into a benediction. Read them silently or out loud with your congregation.” I do dip into it often! I highly recommend this creative book.

—JB