Thanks to the Lutheran World Federation Worship Planning Team for creating this beautiful liturgy of remembrance and to Tom Witt for including me in its implementation. This Great Idea is gleaned from the LWF Global Assembly in Krakow, Poland, September, 2023.
In preparation for our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, we draped the cross and worship space in a long knotted grey linen cloth – symbolically tying together the crown of thorns and barbed wire – Christ’s embrace of the suffering of the world.
This same knotted grey fabric became a trail, leading the way to three prayer stations, at the conclusion of our time at Birkenau. The first prayer station involved crumbling rose petals into a box of sand, honoring the beauty and fragility of the lives lost, the second station included a long white cloth on which participants stamped in black the words, “How long, O Lord?”. By the end of the vigil the cloth was covered with the lament in German, English, Spanish, and French. The third station concluded the vigil with a quiet call-and-response chant of “Kyrie Eleison” from Taize.
The next morning the knotted grey fabric began worship again draped over the cross and wound through the space, as it had been the day before. During the gathering song, a dancer gathered this fabric and placed it at the foot of the cross.
Two other dancers then draped the cross with the white fabric, exposing our shared lament, ‘How long, O Lord?’, visibly repeating across the expanse of the white cloth.
That evening’s worship was a Remembrance of our Baptism – a felt reminder with the sprinkling of water – that God desires to heal our broken hearts and our deepest wounds.
The following evening included a Remembrance of the Saints, which liturgy included a simple chant of, “Blest Are You”, interspersed with the names of notable biblical characters, saints from the early church, saints from the Reformation, and saints from each of the four regions of the world represented in our gathering. [These last names could include martyrs and others whose lives are lost amidst oppression, brutality, discrimination, and other dehumanizing and othering acts.]
As each of these groups of names were read and sung, dancers wrote their names on the back side of the white cloth using metallic markers. At the conclusion of the service, the entire assembly was invited to add the names of the saints they were remembering/honoring. Again, the cloth was filled – this time with shimmering names of loved ones and beloved leaders.
The white cloth began our next worship service draped over the cross, this time with the names facing us: the suffering of the world met with the promise and hope of love, embodied by the saints who have gone before and now alive and moving in the bodies of those who remember.
This sequence of Lament / Remembrance / Healing is best shared through a series of services (rather than attempting in one or two) and could be a powerful way to intentionally decolonize worship over a stretch of time.
Adapting this to name, recognize, and lament the horrors and atrocities committed on North American/Turtle Island soil, by the US government and Christian institutions, in the name of US citizens and/or Christian mission seems appropriate. Include names of those lost in Indian Boarding Schools and/or Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women throughout Indigenous Heritage Month (November); Black Lives lost to police brutality throughout African American Heritage Month (February); or children and families separated or killed at the border for Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15). You might include non-human siblings, naming species (plant and animal), biomes, and cultures that have been lost or irreparably damaged due to climate change during Earth Day Month (April). Sadly, there are many appropriate ways to share in this lament.
Remembering the Saints can happen any time throughout the year, but concluding Indigenous Heritage Month (November) with a Remembrance of the Saints fits well into the beginning of Advent and its numerous stories of both apocalypse and Jesus’ lineage.
For access to the music, specific liturgical elements, and additional ways to build this into worship over several weeks, please contact Rev. Emily Meyer.