Blessed Epiphany, dear Zion Lutheran Church members and friends! Grace and peace to you all. I wish you well as 2020 comes to a close and we turn our hearts and our attention to the new year.
Epiphany hymns tend to be long and narrative. They have to be big stories, because they tell the story of Christ’s birth as a revelation to the whole world. One of my favorites is “Bright and Glorious Is the Sky” (ELW 301). That hymn begins:
Bright and glorious is the sky, radiant are the heavens high
Where the golden stars are shining, all their rays to earth inclining
Beckon us to heav’n above, beckon us to heav’n above.
The language of beckoning seems well timed for our journey. We are certainly feeling restless as a people. We are eager to get out of our homes and into the larger world. We are poised to “follow the star” in new ways this year.
I am delighted to begin this new year as your interim pastor. Although the pandemic has slowed down call processes everywhere, I trust that2021 will bring a new pastor to Zion. You will have stories to tell him or her about the experience of your family, your community, and your church in these very strange months. You will have stories to tell about how you have been beckoned — how you have been called — to live out your faith in these days.
I want to thank the Zion leaders who have kept our virtual community thriving in 2020, especially the council, the re-entry team, and our amazing worship team. Jeff and Daphne Dexter have created beautiful music, learned new skills to record each week, and sought out ways to engage the choirs and other congregational musicians. Cassy Brown volunteered from the very beginning to run the slide deck each week and Caitlin Armstrong-Lewis has helped to create those slides. Martha Bollinger, with the help of Patches, has kept us up-to-date about life at Zion.
Add to this list so many others who have enriched our worship life this year. The readers, candle lighters, counters, fellowship team, and additional musicians. The youth and children and their families who provided our Christmas program. Those who were willing to offer a word of welcome or a prayer on behalf of the faithful. Those whose financial circumstances in these challenging economic times have allowed them to maintain or increase their giving to the church and its ministries. Those who hop on the call each week or seek out the YouTube worship videos or print out the liturgy to pray in their homes. Those who completed the congregational survey and who have reached out to friends and neighbors throughout the year. Those who find themselves far from Wooster, Ohio on any given Sunday and yet stay connected to their Zion family through the wonder of Zoom.
We have been able to stay connected this year due to your faithful and loving commitment to being the church in hard times. You have followed where God has beckoned, even when the way has been more shadow than light.
I know that many Zion members and families have been hard hit by the economic impact of the pandemic. I know that many have experienced depression and loneliness. I know that many have worried about loved ones who are sick or workers in health care, food service, or education who risk exposure in their daily work. I know that we have neighbors without suitable housing and with increasing food insecurity. The Epiphany season can be a time for us to pray for one another and to recognize that all of our circumstances are different, but we are all connected. We are beckoned, we are called, to this prayerful partnership with one another.
As we look toward 2021, none of us knows quite what to expect from the coming months. The arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccines is wonderful and hopeful news. We celebrate this scientific breakthrough, even as we acknowledge that the road out of this historic moment will be incremental. While the winter will likely challenge us all to stay the course, we are humming with anticipation to see what the spring and the summer will bring.
Zion’s Re-Entry Team has been meeting monthly throughout the pandemic to provide recommendations to the church council. Early in 2021, they will turn their attention to next steps and plans for emerging as safely as possible from this experience. As a congregation, we have chosen to be both cautious and creative as a means of showing our love for neighbor. There will likely be another congregational survey coming your way in January or February. Please watch for that opportunity to help shape the next phases of our life together.
Please also be watching for additional opportunities for reflection and engagement in early 2021. I hope that we can use the season of Lent for the sacred work of discernment and getting energized for the welcome of a new pastor at Zion. Maybe we can even begin to consider together these questions: What would it take for Zion to be stronger, more resilient, and more connected after the pandemic than we were before? What can we each do in this moment to be ready for the future God has in store for us? How is the star guiding us this day?
Included in this letter is an Epiphany House Blessing. Blessing the home in this season has long been a tradition in the church. We have spent more time in our homes in these last nine to ten months. As a way of beginning this new year and this new season, why not spend some time walking through your home and asking God to bless your space, to make it holy, to give you strength and patience and clarity to follow the light of Christ? The attached format has been adapted for this particular year.
In closing, I’ll include the fifth stanza of that same Epiphany hymn with which I began this letter:
Guided by the star, they found, him whose praise the ages sound.
We too have a star to guide us, which forever will provide us
With the light to find our Lord, with the light to find our Lord.
May you all live in the light of the Epiphany star this year. May you find Christ in unexpected places. Even more, may Christ come near to you as a comforting and energizing presence in the days ahead.
Blessed Epiphany to you al!
~ Pastor Shari
☩ Blessing for the Home at Epiphany ☩
Following an eastern European tradition, a visual blessing may be inscribed with white chalk above the main door; for example, 20 + CMB + 21. The three letters stand for either the ancient Latin blessing Christe mansionembenedicat, which means “Christ, bless this house,” or the legendary names of the magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar).
Standing at the front door
Peace to this house, to all who enter here, to all who are loved at a distance.
A reading from Psalm 121: The Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth forevermore. (Ps 121:8)
This inscription may be made with chalk above the entrance. If you would prefer not to mark the door in chalk, dip your finger in water to trace the blessing: 20 ☩ C M B ☩ 21. The number, letter, or symbol in parenthesis is written after each line.
The magi of old, known as
Melchior (M), and
followed the star of God’s Son who came to dwell among us
two thousand (20)
and twenty-one years ago. (21)
Christ, bless this house, (☩)
and remain with us throughout the new year. (☩)
As you are able, walk from room to room, asking God to bless your sacred space. Many people choose to carry a lighted candle through the home or to sprinkle rooms with water, perhaps using a branch from the Christmas tree. Below are some Psalm texts and prayers you can use for each location.
Lighting Candle or Sprinkling
A reading from Psalm 27: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (27:1)
God of strength, as this candle gives light to this home, so enable she/he/those who dwell(s) here to be your light in the world. Amen.
In a Living Room, Family Room, or Similar
A reading from Psalm 139: Lord, you have searched me out; O Lord, you have known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. (Ps 139:1-2)
God of wonder, as once you called to Moses through a burning bush, remind us that you hallow all ground by your promised presence. Bless the renewal, learning, and leisure that take place in this space. Amen.
In the Kitchen or Dining Room
A reading from Psalm 145: The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Ps 145:15-16)
God of grace, you fill the hungry with good things. Send your blessing into these spaces of sustenance and make us ever grateful for our daily bread. Amen.
At a Place Where Music is Made or Listened To
A reading from Psalm 146: Hallelujah! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. (Ps 146:1-2)
God of hope, you call us to lift our voices in praise of you when we are together and when we are by ourselves. Place a word of peace and hope on every weary tongue. Amen.
In a Bedroom
A reading from Psalm 4: In peace, I will lie down and sleep; for you, alone, O Lord, make merest secure. (Ps 4:8)
Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace. Amen.
Beside a Phone, Tablet, or Computer
A reading from Psalm 133: How good and how pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! (Ps 133:1)
God of love, you call us into your sacred community. Bless those methods by which we stay connected to our brothers and sisters, and bless those whom we love who are far away. Amen.
At a Door, Deck, Porch, or Window
A reading from Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork. (Ps 19:1)
God of creation, you spoke and there was light. You continue to speak into being all living things. Bless the world beyond this home and make us all caretakers of your creation. Amen.
A Place of Prayer
A reading from Psalm 141: O Lord, I call to you; come to me quickly; hear my voice when I cry to you. (Ps 141:1)
God of peace, we commend into your care all for whom we pray, trusting ever in your mercy. Amen.
O God, you revealed your Son to all people by the shining light of a star. May your love be our inspiration, your wisdom our guide, your truth our light, and your peace our benediction;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
This service is adapted from several sources, including Evangelical Lutheran Worship and sundaysandseasons.com. Copyright © 2020Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.