April 15, 2020

Sonnets of Worship during COVID-19: a Corona

These Sonnets are written to follow the order of worship and can be used by individuals for personal reflection, or in worship with households, small groups, or full congregations interspersed throughout worship or as a poetic offering.

While these days we readily associate the word Corona with the COVID-19 virus, in English literature it has another meaning entirely. Bethany explains:

“A Sonnet Corona or a Crown of Sonnets is a linked sonnet sequence in which the last line of each sonnet is the first line of the next. The final line of the final sonnet is the same as the first line of the first sonnet. Thus, the sequence forms a crown as it circles back to the beginning. Another devotional example of this is by John Donne. It seemed appropriate to reclaim the word “corona” and use it to glorify God, the King of Kings, who remains crowned and sovereign despite the coronavirus.”

The Call to Worship

People of God in whom are you trusting?
We hear the call familiar; eyes resist
the upward glance and turn to screens, persist
in fear, seduced by its excitement, lusting
for gods who show us charts and give us lists.
In panic, purpose can be found, a way
to hold the knowledge of our sin at bay
and on our own importance to insist.

         People of God, let all such idols turn to dust
The Lord calls you, so harden not your hearts
against his offered rest; lift up your eyes.
We hear the call which must disrupt our lives
We pause; we blink; we sigh; our lips we part:
         Our help is in the Lord in whom we trust.

God Greets Us

Our help is in the Lord in whom we trust
to lift us from the ordinary dread
of news—too much, too late—about our heads
of state who dither, posture, preen: august
persons by whose conflicting speech we’re led
but never blessed. Greet us, our Lord of love.
To you be grace and peace from God above
and from His Son arisen from the dead

         and from the Holy Ghost. No patter here,
no boasts of plans or angling for votes
instead his quiet confidence removes
the burden from our backs—the need to prove
our duty. Us with grace and peace He coats;
         the loved unlovely now can turn from fear.

We Greet Each Other

The loved unlovely now can turn from fear
of friends and foes alike and being blessed
now bless. But distance intervenes and tests
the ties that bind, and severed is the dear
communion of the saints. Our love repressed
by isolation seeks new ways and means
to pass the peace of Christ. Like Ruth who gleans
in Boaz’ field alone, we too have left

         familiar faces, choosing exile out
of love, a love that shuns in order to
embrace. My friends, let us show love that gleams
with grace, united by the threat that seems
to wrench apart this body. Church, renew
         the garden of your faith amid this drought.

The Call to Confession

The garden of your faith amid this drought
is filled with stones, with briars overgrown.
People of God, confess your thirst; your bones
lie scattered in the wilderness; cry out
for restoration, for the body blown
apart to be enfleshed again; desire
the painful grace of resurrection’s fire;
smear ashes on your brows; lift up your groans.

         For you were hungry and you would not eat
and you were thirsty but refused to drink.
Repent your choice of lower over higher;
and turn to God whose mercies never tire.
He stands prepared to pull you from the brink,
         from Him forgiveness, healing now entreat.

We Confess Our Sins

From Him forgiveness, healing now entreat
we: we confess that we have sinned in thought
and word and deed—we’ve not done what we ought
and we have done what we ought not; deplete
our stores of self-sufficiency and clot
our arteries of pride. Have mercy, Lord
upon us, sick with Adam’s virus. Word
made flesh, pity flesh grotesque with rot.

         We crave your medicine of blood and bread,
your gifts of death which lead to life,
a precious sustenance we need not hoard
as it is found abundant at your board.
In this strange meal we find an end to strife:
         on broken flesh, flesh broken having fed.

The Assurance of Pardon

On broken flesh, flesh broken having fed
receive you now assurance of his grace:
The day is coming soon when in this place
to all my people healing I will spread—
and empty streets I’ll fill; in vacant space
I’ll pour the sounds of laughter; songs of praise
will echo in the city square. In those days,
declares the Lord, to them I’ll turn my face.

         The fortunes of your land I will restore
so flocks will graze again and vineyards burst
with grapes. The fields no longer lie in waste
but rich with harvest. People of God, taste
His bread of hope, His springs will quench your thirst.
         Now give Him thanks and praise forevermore.

We Respond in Gratitude

Now give Him thanks and praise forevermore
for all that He has done and yet will do:
For time alone to rest and to pursue
our home-bound hobbies, tasks ignored; and for
technology that reconnects us to
those out of reach and keeps untouched in touch;
For bits of beauty: sprigs in bloom and clutches
of birds in song; For nurses, doctors who

          at cost to self persist in treating ill,
protecting those at risk. For all these things
we give you thanks, O Lord. Your hand
which shaped us out of clay, which planned
and placed each star, sustains us now. Your wings
          cover your Church with love and with goodwill.

The Prayers for Intercession

Cover your Church with love and with goodwill
in this our time of need. Let us pray to
the Lord. Lord hear our prayer. For fears subdued
amidst a global crisis, peace to fill
the anxious hours (we click, we read, we brood)
by quiet waters lead us in your care.
Let us pray to the Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.
For friendship felt by those in solitude--

          be thou our Shepherd with us on this way,
a lonely, dark, and dismal valley looms
ahead; assure and guide us through. Help us
with hope await the coming day and trust
that in your father’s house are many rooms.
          Lord, give us ears and hearts for you we pray.

The Word Proclaimed

Lord give us ears and hearts for you we pray.
Hear now: the Word became a man—interred
the infinite, his glory, suffering turned
and into death the source of life. So may
we life instead of death exchange. God spurned
his son so He might never us. And yet
we see disease and death a daily threat.
We pray, we long, we yearn for His return.

          But contemplate this mystery: the Word
among us now—not then or soon, but now:
Not leave nor ever shall I you forsake;
you share my cross, in your cross I partake.
This suffering grace made evident in how
          our hearts restored, your message having heard.

The Benediction

Our hearts restored your message having heard,
now let your servants go in peace. Receive
the parting blessing of the Lord: Friends, leave
behind your dread and doubt; may you be stirred
up in the hope and faith that God will weave
even these days of pain and loss and fear
into a tapestry of Glory. Dearly
beloved, although the road is long, believe

          God goes before to guide us; protecting
us from behind; beneath us God supports;
beside God walks as friend. Church, do not be
afraid. Depart this place in peace, set free
to love, to serve each other and the Lord,
          people of God, in whom you are trusting.

Dr. Bethany Besteman is the worship coordinator and church administrator at Silver Spring Christian Reformed Church in Maryland where she lives with her husband and son. She also works as the intake editor for Reformed Worship.