Tag Archives: Season of Creation

Season of Creation 2019: Sunday September 29 in Year C (Universe Sunday)

There is one Wisdom, one Beauty, one Mind that flows through the universe. – Leah Schade reflects on the Fourth Sunday in the Season of Creation.

Season of Creation Commentary on Wisdom in Creation

Readings for Fourth Sunday (Universe), Year C (2013, 2016, 2019, 2022)

Proverbs 8:22-31
Psalm 148
Colossians 1:15-20
John 6:41-51

The passages for this Sunday can provide a platform where science and mysticism can come together. Erich Jantsch, in his book The Self-Organizing Universe (Pergamon; 1st edition, 1980), said that God is the mind of the universe—the self-organizing principal of cohesion and organization that evolves as the universe evolves. It is the mind in all things, in the fire, in the ecosystem, in the amoeba, in the galaxies, and in us.

The passages in the scripture readings echo this concept of the wisdom/mind of the universe. The creation story in Proverbs and Colossians is a cosmic story that goes back to the very beginning of the universe. Remember Big Bang theory taught in science class? That supernova had a life, death, and resurrection, in that it birthed the elements of the universe as it exploded. Its death brought new life—helium, hydrogen, the beginning of galaxies. This means that Nature itself contains this imprint of the crucified and resurrected Christ. It is in every place, in every creature. That’s the revelatory power of Nature.

The image of the Cosmic Christ stresses that Christ’s lordship is an eternal presence through time and space encompassing all of Creation in the ultimate fulfillment and consummation of God’s will for the cosmos. Joseph Sittler’s interpretation contains seeds of an early ecofeminism, in that he identifies nature as “God’s sister”:

We must not fail to see the nature and size of this issue that Paul confronts and encloses in this vast Christology. In propositional form it is simply this: a doctrine of redemption is meaningful only when it swings within the larger orbit of a doctrine of creation. For God’s creation of earth cannot be redeemed in any intelligible sense of the word apart from a doctrine of the cosmos which is God’s home, God’s definite place, the theatre of God’s selfhood, in cooperation with God’s neighbour, and in a caring relationship with nature, God’s sister (Joseph Sittler, “Called to Unity:  Redemption within Creation,” in World Council of Churches Meeting. New Delhi, India: 1961, reprinted 1985, p. 3).

While the ontological implications of such a relationship between God and nature (i.e., if they are siblings, who is their parent?) are worth exploration at another time, what the preacher may wish to highlight is the way in which Sittler expands a salvific Christology to be inclusive of nature.

The matter might be put another way: the address of Christian thought is most weak precisely where human ache is most strong. We have had, and have, a christology of the moral soul, a christology of history, affirmations so huge as to fill the space marked out by ontological questions. But we do not have, at least not in such effective force as to have engaged the thought of the common life, a daring, penetrating, life-affirming christology of nature. The theological magnificence of cosmic christology lies, for the most part, still tightly folded in the Church’s innermost heart and memory. Its power is nascent among us all in our several styles of teaching, preaching, worship; its waiting potency is available for release in kerygmatic theology, in moral theology, in liturgical theology, in sacramental theology (Sittler, p. 9).

With this in mind, a sermon for this Sunday should take its time with Proverbs and Psalm 148 to trace the contours of the story of the Cosmos’ and Earth’s ancient, primordial history in order to provide the memory of God’s steadfastness and love through the unfathomable reaches of time.

Wisdom again is found at the heart of this poem in Proverbs, explaining her origins as being with Yahweh at the very beginning of creation, intimately forming every aspect of earth, water, plants and animals. As Dianne Bergant observes: “From the pathways of human society, she transports her hearers to the primordial arena of creation.” (Dianne Bergant, Israel’s Wisdom Literature : A Liberation-Critical Reading. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997, p. 83). The preacher may even want to expand the lectionary reading to the end of the poem, where Wisdom beckons people to follow her. “It seems Wisdom goes out into the marketplace in order to invite the simple into her home” (Bergant, p. 84). Bergant sees an interesting connection here “between the insights garnered in the marketplace and the very structures of creation. This leads one to conclude that the various kinds of wisdom delineated above are not so much separate realities as they are different aspects of the same reality” (Bergant, p. 84). Thus the marketplace, which tends to see itself as independent and apart from, lording over, and in control of creation, is, in reality, completely reliant on Creation, and thus Wisdom, for its very existence.

What implications does this have for the Church in its task of public theology? If the Church follows Wisdom’s lead, we will also locate ourselves at the busiest corners and crossroads where the public gathers for business and social meetings. The Church will issue invitations on behalf of Wisdom to become disciples of her teachings. And the Church will not mince words about the consequences of turning away from her instruction. The Church will invite disciples of Wisdom to enter her house, her oikos, the very Creation-home itself. This is where they will learn from her the most profound and life-giving teachings.

The Gospel text from John illustrates the sensuous particularity of Sophia-Christ’s teachings. “The Bread of Life” motif is one that is so tangible, so earthy, so incarnational. A children’s sermon could unveil a loaf of freshly baked bread and ask the young ones to smell it and share what memories are evoked for them. Grandma’s kitchen, a favorite corner bakery, an aunt’s house at the holidays, all remind us that love is often expressed by the labor of our hands meant for the hunger of our mouths and bodies.

Nowhere is this more real than at the Eucharist, where the cosmic and the particular come together. Think of the doxology we sing or speak at the time of Holy Communion. Doxa means glory, radiance, beauty—it is a cosmic word; it is the radiance that permeates all things. Hildegard of Bingham says that there is no creature that does not have a radiance—tiny single-celled sea creature, an elephant, a redwood, a baby. Even the atoms of the universe contains photons—radiance, light rays! The glory of God, the radiance of the Cosmic Christ is, literally, in all things!

Every person is a unique expression of that radiance—there is no one else in the history of the universe who was you, or is you, or ever will be you. You, too, are the Alpha and the Omega. You are the first and last you. And there is but one Wisdom, one Beauty, one Mind that flows through it all.

For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288

Season of Creation 2019: Sunday September 22 in Year C (Storm Sunday)

Finding the peace of God amidst storms, we are called to wake up and face up to the storms we have created.  Leah Schade reflects on the third Sunday in the Season of Creation.

Season of Creation Commentary on Wisdom in Creation

Readings for the Third Sunday (Storm), Year C (2013, 2016, 2019, 2022)

Job 28:20-27
Psalm 29
1 Corinthians 1:21-31
Luke 8:22-25

When I was a child I looked forward to thunderstorms. At the first rumble of thunder and crack of lightning, my father would call my three siblings and me out to the porch swing where we all cuddled under the blanket and sang the songs he taught us. As the rain came down in sheets, bathing the green yard, we were bathed in the warmth of a father’s love singing “Down in the Valley.” There was a feeling of peace in the midst of the storm.

The writer of Psalm 29 seems to have a similar positive experience with storms. While there is certainly awe of those mighty energies of nature that can break trees and cause the wilderness to shake, there is also a feeling of comfort hearing the voice of God over the waters. The psalmist recognizes that nature gives testimony to God’s ultimate power over the forces of nature. In the temple of Earth, all say, “Glory!”—both humankind and other-kind.

Insurance agencies and power company crews have a less positive view of these energies of nature. Interestingly, when major weather events happen they are called “acts of God.”  But the attitude is not necessarily one of reverence. When those broken trees fall on houses and cars, snapping lines strung between poles and cutting off electricity, very few are saying “Glory.” More likely they are cursing or lamenting the destruction left behind.

Something has happened to the quality and quantity of storms in the last few decades, however, that has fundamentally changed the nature of these weather events.  In an interview with Bill Moyers on climate change, scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, described the situation: “2011 was an all-time record year in the United States, for example. We had 14 individual climate and weather related disasters that each cost this country more than $1 billion. That was an all-time record, blew away previous records. And in 2012 we had events ranging from the summer-like days in January in Chicago with people out on the beach, clearly not a normal occurrence, an unusually warm spring, record setting searing temperatures across much of the lower 48, one of the worst droughts that America has ever experienced, a whole succession of extreme weather events.” (http://billmoyers.com/segment/anthony-leiserowitz-on-making-people-care-about-climate-change/)

Are these really “acts of God”?  Or should they be described as “acts of human-induced climate change”? How easy it is for some to wave away these new climate realities as just “part of the natural cycle of the earth.” But the refusal to recognize that climate change is caused by humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels that leads to greenhouse emissions that warm the planet and cause untold counts of destruction and suffering is actually a form of evil. Ecotheologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda calls it “systemic evil” that enlists the “over-consuming class” of society in its never-ending greed for more, at the cost of untold suffering of billions across the planet (Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil:  Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, Fortress Press, MN, 2013).

So what is the voice of the Lord saying today, in the midst of these catastrophic weather events and the climate crisis?  Where is Wisdom-Sophia when we need her most?  At a time when our little boat of Planet Earth is more threatened than it has ever been – by a storm of our own making—it appears that someone is blithely asleep on the deck below.

The reading from Job reminds us that God’s wisdom is sometimes hidden. There is a mystery, a profound unknownness to the inner workings of God’s mind, so to speak. And, according to verse 28, the way to access that wisdom is through fear of the Lord and departing from evil. The Hebrew word for fear in this passage is yi’rah, meaning fear, reverence and respect. The problem with the corporations who profit so mightily from our addiction to fossil fuels is that they have no fear of the Lord. In fact, they think of themselves as gods, and, indeed, appear to have the power to affect wind and water just as much as God.

The preacher of today’s readings may want to give the congregation an example of someone or some entity departing from evil because they finally “get it,” grasping the import of their decisions and actions. Moe-Lobeda’s book gives excellent examples of individuals and groups of citizens who are, in a sense, waking up to the reality of the state of our planet. They are realizing the way in which our purchases and choices of energy sources are connected with the storms and droughts that ravage our communities and lives. They are rousing from sleep, as it were, and finally taking up the work of rebuking those economic systems that cause the raging wind and waves. Perhaps that is one way to understand the story of Jesus being roused from sleep to calm the storm. It may be that his actions were a kind of parable: “The kingdom of God is like waking from sleep to confront the storm.”

Verse 24 of the First Corinthians passage reminds us that we are called. In what way do we understand our calling as Christians to stand up together to confront the storm of systemic evil and call for another way to live? It can feel intimidating to stand up to the mighty Goliaths of industry who laugh at our tiny, insignificant voices. To paraphrase verse 26, many in the environmental movement are neither powerful nor of noble birth. Aside from the handful of celebrities who lend their name-recognition to the cause, the majority of those who work in the environmental movement are ordinary citizens, many of whom had never been politically active, but now are compelled to do something to respond to threats to their children’s and community’s air, water, land and public health. And those individuals are often despised and publicly derided by bloggers and pundits directly or indirectly paid through polluting corporations. Yet we have faith that the actions of those who are “low” will “reduce to nothing things that are.” And as Christians, we proclaim this action as initiated by God and ultimately giving glory to God.

The good news for me as a Christian environmental activist who is storm-weary from skirmishes ranging from confronting fracking to standing up to a proposed tire burner in my community, is that ultimately the powers that think themselves greater than God will fall just as easily as the waves and wind before the hand of Jesus. Internally, the storms that rage in me are just as answerable to the command of Jesus. With one cry to the Master, the wild waves and wind always calm themselves in his presence, and, once again, I experience peace in the midst of the storms.

For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288

Season of Creation 2019: Sunday September 15 in Year C (Animal Sunday)

Wisdom leads us to change our relationships with our animal brothers and sisters in God’s creation.  Leah Schade reflects on the second Sunday in the Season of Creation.

Season of Creation Commentary on Wisdom in Creation

Readings for the Second Sunday (Animal), Season of Creation, Year C (2013, 2016, 2019, 2022) 

Job 39:1-8, 26-30
Psalm 104:14-23
1 Corinthians 1:10-23
Luke 12:22-31

Once again, wisdom is the byword for these passages in Scripture that open a conversation about what humans consider worth knowing and valuing in the world, especially regarding animals. These texts would be ideal for a Blessing the Animals Sunday where the congregation can be invited to bring their pets, farm animals, or pictures of their favorite creatures to the service. Consider having a soundtrack of animal noises in the background during the prelude or at key parts of the service, invoking the presence of our other-kind sisters and brothers in God’s Creation.

Both the passages in Job and Psalm 104 engage in a positive theology of nature wherein animals are not just passive receptors of God’s grace, but actively doing God’s work with their very existence. The processes of their life in the ecosystems God established testify to an enduring truth: God’s work never fails. What does fail, however, is human willingness to recognize the intrinsic value of the animals and plants who share our home on Earth. Too often animals are seen as nothing but our servants, entertainment, subjects of scientific experimentation, or food sources.

I once toured a “factory farm” that included warehouses of hundreds of turkey poults wandering motherless and shivering across sterile, hay-strewn concrete floors.  Outside were acres of large pens packed so tightly with young turkeys they could barely turn around, the scene reminiscent of dismal German concentration camps. When I asked the farmer whether it bothered him to see the turkeys in such a state, I received a blank look. These turkeys were nothing more than a cash crop for him, no different than the rows of genetically-modified corn stalks in his fields. He was not an evil man by any means, and in fact was a faithful member of a local church. But I had to wonder about the emotional disconnect the enabled him to ignore, deny, or otherwise not register the suffering of these animals in his care.

And then I had to wonder at my own emotional disconnect when I next went to the grocery store and picked up the sterile, plastic-wrapped package of turkey meat hanging from the thin metal prong in the refrigerated aisle. Which of the young turkeys huddled in the warehouse would I now feed to my children? All of a sudden, meat-buying became uncomfortable because of what I had come to know about the turkeys.

“Consider,” urges Jesus in Luke 12:22-31. It is Katanoeo, in Greek.  It means “perceive, remark, observe, understand, fix one’s eyes and attention on.” In Job 39, God asks the man if he “knows” about the animals in the world around him. It is Yada in Hebrew.  It means to “know, learn to know, use one’s mind, to be acquainted with.” The function of Wisdom in this week’s readings, then, is to help us to perceive God’s Creation in a way that is not self-serving, but self-decentering.  Preachers of these texts might consider sharing their own story of a time when they came to a point of uncomfortable awareness of the suffering their own purchasing decisions made when it comes to animals. Examples abound: seeing a YouTube video of chickens with their beaks cut off in tight cages; pictures of deformed dogs from “puppy mills” gone awry in the business of supplying pets; the conversation with the vegan who confronts us with their ethical reasons for refusing to eat meat.

The role of the Church in the twenty-first century, according to Thomas Berry, is to help shape a future that is based on human-Earth relations. “The future of the other two relations [human-divine and inter-human] depends upon this third relation, our human capacity to recognize our place in the structure of the universe and to fulfill our role within this setting” [Thomas Berry, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim, The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2009), 46-7]. Berry states that our “ultimate concern” must be “the integrity of the universe upon which the human depends in such an absolute manner” (p. 48). Berry coined the term “Ecozoic Era” to describe the period he would like to see emerge when humans “would be present to the planet in a mutually enhancing manner. We need to establish ourselves in a single integral community including all component members of planet Earth” (48-49).

This can only happen, says Berry, when humans come to see their place and role in the universe as completely dependent on the habitats, flora, and fauna of Earth, all of which have intrinsic value not dependent on human needs or wants. Accepting this limited role is the first, and most difficult, step that humans must take. The next step for healing the damaged planet is based on an operating principle of creating continuity between the human and the non-human in every aspect of human life, from institutions and professions to programs and activities. If these two steps are taken, Berry sees hope for humanity’s and the planet’s survival.

Of course, the world will see this kind of animal-ethics-activism by people of faith as “foolishness,” as Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians reminds us. The meat-processing corporations that profit obscenely from our addiction to meat would much rather have our Blessing the Animals service end with petting the pets and returning home for Sunday dinner complete with hormone-injected roast beef. Likewise, those in our congregations whose livings depend on our subjugation and consumption of animals for their livelihood will not take kindly to a heavy-handed “law” sermon that leaves the congregation with feelings of guilt for their sins against animals with no recourse to the Gospel.

So what would God’s grace look like for human and animal in this sermon? For me, it came from a vegetarian friend who once gave me an option between giving up meat and completely throwing up my hands in frustrated despair at my own meat-aholism. “Just try one day a week without eating meat,” she suggested. A meat Sabbath! A day of rest for my body from having to process protein.  A day to eat lower on the food chain. A day when one animal will not have to die in order for me to live.

Wisdom spoke through my friend that day, I recalled, as I stood before the plastic-wrapped turkey on the metal prong.  I pulled my cart away, and turned back to the produce aisle.

 

For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288

Season of Creation 2019: Sunday September 8 in Year C (Ocean Sunday)

Wisdom teaches that what God has gathered up in Christ, we humans should make healthy, free from toxins, cleaned of trash, and restored to abundance. Leah Schade reflects on the first Sunday in the Season of Creation.

Season of Creation Commentary on Wisdom in Creation  

Readings for the First Sunday (Ocean), Year C (2013, 2016, 2019, 2022)

Job 38:1-18
Psalm 104:1-9, 24-26
Ephesians 1:3-10
Luke 5:1-11

As we begin a sermon series on Wisdom as the force of creativity behind Creation and the energy that enables the human and other-than-human members of the Earth community to fulfill their roles, it will be helpful to provide the congregation with a framework within which to understand the concept of Wisdom.  Elizabeth Johnson’s work in She Who Is and Women, Earth and Creator Spirit is one possibility for such a framework.  She suggests that Sophia, the female personification of Holy Wisdom, can and should be the lens through which the Trinity is viewed, as well as the language through which we speak and hear about God.  Thus she coins the terms “Spirit-Sophia,” “Jesus-Sophia,” and “Mother-Sophia” as an alternative Trinitarian formulation, which places Wisdom/Sophia not in a subordinate position, but as the controlling metaphor.

Johnson believes that the power of the Woman Wisdom image may enable contemporary women and other oppressed and marginalized members of the human community to move beyond the restrictions of patriarchal circumscriptions and realize their power to effect change for themselves, Earth, and their children.  According to Johnson, the Church is the most obvious candidate for modeling what it means to answer Wisdom’s call to undergo transformative attention to those most vulnerable, including the species, habitats, and human beings most threatened by oppression, and to take responsibility for the health and respectful treatment of all Creation.

Applying this Sophia/Wisdom framework to the readings for this Sunday yields interesting points of entry for preaching.  For example, Psalm 104:24 states that “in wisdom” (hokmah in Hebrew) God created the earth.  Johnson reminds us that not only is the grammatical gender of the word for wisdom feminine in Hebrew, but “the biblical portrait of Wisdom is consistently female, casting her as sister, mother, female beloved, chef and hostess, teacher, preacher, maker of justice, and a host of other women’s roles.  In every instance, Wisdom symbolizes transcendent power pervading and ordering the world, both nature and human beings, interacting with them all to lure them onto the path of life,” (Women, Earth and Creator Spirit, p. 51).

Wisdom, then, has many roles to play in God’s ongoing Creation, working alongside Jesus and the Holy Spirit to enliven, restore, teach and bring justice to our world.  In the reading from Luke, for example, we see an example of the way in which elements of Earth become Jesus’ teaching partner.  When Jesus tells Peter to let down his net into the lake of Gennesaret, Peter protests, saying in effect that their entire fishing trip had yielded nothing to that point—so what difference would it make now?  Yet when Peter acquiesces and follows Jesus’ command, the amount of fish in the net is so large they need the nearby boats to come haul it in. The waters and the fish play an important didactic role in teaching Peter and the others that God’s power and abundance never cease to surprise us, gracing us beyond all expectations.

But the reality that also needs to be stated in a sermon is that if Peter should let down his nets in open waters today, most likely his haul would be significantly compromised.  Overfishing would result in smaller and fewer fish.  And the nets would be heavy, not from aquatic life but from a disgusting array of trash, poisons, and toxic waste.  Simply enter the words “trash in the ocean” on http://images.google.com/ to see (and perhaps show the congregation during the sermon?) pictures of floating islands of trash both on the surface and below the water.  Human waste chokes and poisons marine life in ways that cause immense suffering that most of us never see, nor want to face.

Jesus’ teaching on the Gennesaret Sea is not just a metaphor for how the Kingdom of God will manifest itself.  That teachable moment has important significance for this particular time of ecological destruction, because it shows us that the very illustration that Jesus uses—the basic, natural and life-giving phenomenon of fish thriving in a healthy aquatic ecosystem—that very process is under threat of annihilation.  This is a troubling, but accurate reframing of the Gennesaret fishing expedition for today’s world.  Admittedly, it will be difficult for a congregation to hear.

But just as Jesus’ teaching ministry in first century Palestine was meant to shake people up and get them thinking about things in a new way so that they could hear the Gospel clearly, so must our teaching and preaching today include the Good News.  We hear so many examples of what human beings are doing to desecrate the Earth, it is important for us—especially as Christians who proclaim a theology of the cross that reminds us that God shows up in the last place you would think to look—to proclaim the Good News about what God is doing to restore the oceans, seas, rivers and streams, especially as they connect to the human and other-than-human lives around and within them.

In Job 38:1-18, we notice that the words “knowledge,” “know,” “comprehend” and “understanding” are prominent in God’s questions to Job.  Realizing how little we truly know and understand about Creation helps to humble the arrogance and hubris of the human. Part of our calling as Creation-Care-Christians is to devote ourselves to learning about the ecosystems that sustain us. Congregations can host speakers and fairs that highlight local watersheds, lead trash clean-up events through local waterways, and write letters asking legislators and corporations to propose and support better waste management practices and policies.

The Christological statement of faith made by Paul in Ephesians 1:3-10 tells us that it is specifically through Jesus Christ that wisdom (Sophia in Greek) and insight (phroneisis in Greek) help us to understand the mysteries that once were closed to us.  And what is it that we are being enabled to comprehend?  It is that God is “gathering up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth,” (v. 10).  Our preaching can echo this proclamation that Christ continues to gather up all things into himself.  And we humans can continue the good work of seeing that what is gathered up is healthy, free from toxins, cleaned of trash, and restored to abundance.

For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288

 

Creation reorientation: Liturgy to Reconcile People and Planet

(Click here to download this document.)

Created by Bridget Jones in 2018 as part of her Masters of Divinity program at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (Environmental Emphasis)

Introduction

As the climate warms, sea levels rise, forests are decimated, and numerous species become extinct, there is no denying that humans are more estranged from the rest of the created universe than ever before. As Christian communities, we are called to join God’s work of reconciliation and healing throughout the cosmos. Our earth is not just a collection of natural resources for us to steward wisely, but a fellow created-being, a creature in need of healing.

Within the past few years, many works have been released about “greening” a congregation, with subjects like incorporating creation care practices into fellowship hour, planting community gardens, and engaging in eco-justice. However, much of this new information stops at the doors of the sanctuary. While many congregations have begun to celebrate Seasons of Creation, there is usually not a year-round emphasis on everything else God has created. But as we continue to do damage to the Earth and everything that lives on it through our lifestyles and participation in systemic sin, there is a need for creation-centered liturgy.

Worship can be a reorientation, a way to focus us toward our values and toward God’s mission of justice throughout the earth. We can begin to pay attention to the needs of fellow created beings as we gather each week. As Gordon Lathrop states, “Sunday after Sunday, our own worldviews are reconstituted, and we are made witnesses to the triune God’s engaged care for the beloved, wounded earth.”1

As witnesses, we remember that we are not just care-takers or stewards. That is part of our vocation as fellow created beings, but we are not creation’s saviors. Ultimately, it is God’s power that heals and renews the cosmos and continues the creation that God started. Rather than continually asking God to help us to remember the earth, or to give us courage to carry out the effort alone, we can begin to remember God’s action and let that give us courage to join in the ongoing work.

Sometimes Lathrop seems to argue that the ordo itself already points to all creation, and the solution to our eco-alienation is more teaching about our traditional elements.2 However, I would argue for an altering of the ordo that is more obvious so that even those unfamiliar with the ancient traditions of the liturgy will be drawn into right relationship with everything God has made. Our task as worshiping communities “…is to anticipate and contribute to the promise of ultimate liberation and reconciliation in human communities and with the rest of nature.”3

To state it even more boldly: “God’s love of creation, God’s desire to redeem creation, and God’s action in reorienting our human relationship with the rest of creation ought to be so present in all we do in worship that they claim our hearts and minds with enthusiasm.”4

To that end, this guide will focus on five guiding principles to reorient every liturgy toward our wounded siblings:

Worship reorients us toward all other created beings.
Worship draws our attention to the cries of creation.
Worship demonstrates the sacramental nature of creation.
Worship joins us to the liturgical life of all creation.
Worship with creation can happen every week.
Worship reorients us toward all other created beings

Often the central idea of worship is only giving praise to God, but in reality worship is doing much more. In fact, rather than a one-way relationship where we shape worship services, we find that in a way worship shapes us. Paul Santmire states it even more unequivocally when he claims, “…ritual creates and sustains the ideas and values and myths, the power relationships and fears, not the other way around.”5

Worship has a powerful influence on congregations that often goes unacknowledged. It has the potential to enact great change in the hearts and minds of worshippers as they gather each week, especially if the service is constructed in such a way that allows for such a transformation. In fact, “…when we worship we put ourselves in in a position to allow God to give us our bearings, to reorient us, to restore us to our rightful relationships.”6

Most liturgies already restore right relationships with God and may even point us toward our neighbors, but unfortunately, “…the orientations we have allowed our religious rituals to give us have been almost exclusively interior orientations to the self, a map of the human heart without a macrocosm, without exterior references except to a World Away From Here, “heaven,” we may call it.”7

It is more than past time to update our liturgy so that it also restores us to rightful relationships with all creation and allows us to be shaped into fellow Earth creatures who care for our siblings, all other created beings. As Lathrop would argue, those seeds have already been planted: “The cardinal directions in Christian liturgy are these: toward God, toward each other in the assembly, toward the needy, toward the earth.”8 However, just as a GPS in your car is unhelpful if it doesn’t give you turn-by-turn directions, these compass points can be similarly unhelpful without obvious arrows pointing toward their directions.

The Season of Creation is one way to make those directions more obvious. Beginning in the mid 1990’s, congregations all over the world have devoted several weeks to focusing on God the Creator and worshipping with all creation. “The Season of Creation challenges us to reorient our relationship with creation, with the Creator, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit…We return to see ourselves again as part of the very Earth from which we are made.”9 If we continue this trajectory to encompass all seasons of the church year instead of just four weeks, we can strengthen this reorientation, which is what the founders of the Season of Creation intended.

As we gather each week as communities of faith, we continue to turn back to God and to our neighbor. Now we can turn also to the Earth and the entire universe. As Ben Stewart states, “[Christian worship] is an act that ascribes worth to God, to us, and to the whole environment around us, stretching out to include the entire ‘very good’ cosmos.”10 Updating our liturgies can communicate how we value the earth and everything on it as we turn toward our hurting created siblings.

Worship draws our attention to the cries of creation.

In the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church, there are several places where the presider will say, “Let us attend!”11 In other words, pay attention! One could go through a worship service in a kind of mental fog, but these words call the congregation to be present and aware as important things happen. In the same way, now that our lives are so isolated from nature, we too could go through life in a kind of fog without fostering any kind of connection with God or our neighbors or the Earth. Liturgy itself already calls out, “Let us attend!” to the poor, to the needy, and to our loving God, but what of the creatures that cry out, or our wounded planet? Just as our worship reminds us to pay attention to the least of those around us as we go forth into the world, it can remind us of our siblings of other species and their concerns.

Similarly, there are several places in the Gospels where Jesus brings healing to those who cannot use their senses – though quite often, it is the disciples who are rebuked for seeing and hearing, yet not understanding. As earth-dwellers, our senses have become numb to the suffering of creation, and often when we do perceive what is going on around our fragile planet, we do not fully understand. The liturgy has a place in helping us regain our senses and our understanding of our place in the cosmos

It allows us to ask questions like, “What if authentic biblical religion and the liturgy that enacts and celebrates that religion really do mean to heal our eyes so that we may see the world itself held into holiness in God?”12 Eco-liturgy is the mud placed on our eyes, the fingers in our ears as God says, “ephphatha” – be opened – so that our senses may perceive what has been there all along: a cosmos in need of healing.

Creation itself is a sign that opens our senses and causes us to pay attention. As we hear the whispering of grasses, smell the saltiness of the ocean, see the beauty of majestic animals, taste the sweetness of honey, and feel snow falling softly on our upturned faces, we are called again to “attend” to creation and reminded of its need of healing. These material signs are a gift from our God who continues to offer tangible reminders to people who easily forget.

According to Martin Luther, God has always graciously condescended to our need for material signs:

For all the sacred accounts give proof that by His superabundant grace, our merciful God always placed some outward and visible sign of His grace alongside the Word, so that men, reminded by the outward sign and work or Sacrament, would believe with greater assurance that God is kind and merciful…Thus the church has never been deprived to such an extent of outward signs that it became impossible to know where God could surely be found.”13

These signs and opening of our senses point us toward creation and creation’s cries, as well as the ways that God is dwelling in the broken creation.

Worship demonstrates the sacramental nature of creation

As we become aware of how God dwells in the earth that God has declared very good, we also become aware of how the Word comes to the material elements of the cosmos, giving all creation a sacramental nature. While different theologians can argue over the intricacies of sacral versus sacramental, both positions share common ground in that God dwells in, with, and under all the earth, God has made a covenantal promise with all creation, and creation itself is an element containing the presence of God.

Thus: “…our transcendent God is not floating loose somewhere beyond, but is bound to creation. In this sense, creation is God’s home, even as we can think of it as our sanctuary. Hence, as we have said, all creation is sacral, not just the eucharistic meal.”14 While we can easily recognize water, bread and wine as participating in God’s grace, the rest of creation also points to God’s saving love for a broken cosmos. Furthermore, “The god whose presence fills Earth and who suffers with creation is also the God who through Christ is restoring creation and reconciling alienated dimensions of the creation.”15

God’s presence fills Heaven and the earth, pointing toward God’s grace through physical signs and symbols. All creation participates in this reorientation toward God’s saving love for the cosmos. This is shown also throughout the year as we celebrate different seasons of the church year. “So the liturgical year offers what we might call a sacramental approach to the earth’s seasons, approaching the earth’s great cycles as holy signs of Gods’ saving action in history, drawing us into worship alongside the whole living earth.”16

Just as Sunday morning helps us see ordinary bread, wine, and water as symbols of God’s expansive love for the entire universe, our worship can help us to realize the natural world is also pointing toward God’s grace. Thus all created things become sacramental, “…because the mystery of divine, self-giving presence is really mediated through the riches of the heavens and the earth. Participating in the glory of God, our whole planet is a beautiful showing forth of divine goodness and generosity.”17

Worship joins us to the liturgical life of all creation.

It could be easy to imagine that only humans have a relationship with the Creator, but in fact everything that God has made rejoices in the Lord. Because humanity is relatively new to the planet, we are becoming part of a worship service that is already in progress and has been for eons. “Christian worship has always been an act of joining the wider worship of the whole creation, a liturgy that began long before humans even existed.”18

This worship is mentioned throughout the scriptures, in like Psalm 19:1-4:

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another,

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language,

and their voices are not heard,

their sound has gone out into all lands

and their message to the ends of the world,

where God has pitched a tent for the sun.

Similarly, Psalm 148:1-6 declares:

Halleluia!

Praise the Lord from the heavens;

praise God in the heights.

Praise the Lord all you angels;

sing praise, all you hosts of heaven.

Praise the Lord, sun and moon;

sing praise, all you shining stars.

Praise the Lord, heaven of heavens,

and you waters above the heavens.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,

who commanded, and they were created,

who made them stand fast forever and ever

giving them a law that shall not pass away.

The psalm goes on to assert that sea monsters, fire and hail, mountains, wild beasts, and all people join in the worship of the Lord. This hymn of praise continues whether humans can hear it or not. Thus worship becomes a communal act throughout the entire cosmos rather than a gift only humanity can offer God.

Worship with creation can happen every week.

Reading through the principles, case studies, and guidelines in this study could cause one to think that this guide may be helpful around Earth Day or in a liturgical Season of Creation. However, if we take seriously the depth of humanity’s alienation from the rest of the cosmos and the urgency with which we must approach the planetary crises we are facing, these principles should be incorporated each and every week to begin to create the kind of transformation creation cries out for.

Even those responsible for popularizing the Season of Creation in the United States admit that those four weeks are only the beginning of a larger movement. As they say, “A Season of Creation has proven to be valuable in its own right. Yet we also need the Season of Creation to wake us up and show us another way to do worship all the time.”19

Worshippers may object to what could be considered a special interest taking over the liturgical life of a congregation. After all, incorporating all of these principles every single week could seem like pastors and worship leaders are trying to hit their parishioners over the head with their pet project. However, if truly believe that creation cries out for healing and that it is part of our Christian vocation to care for creation, then leaders will do the work to prepare their people for this liturgical revolution.

After all, we do not celebrate four weeks of justice for the oppressed, nor do we wait for one Sunday per year to proclaim God’s love. Those compass points are part of our worship practice in the way that eco-worship can and should be. Furthermore, because human beings are also created beings along with the entire cosmos, literally every human concern is a derivative of creation care. Wounded veterans, the poor and oppressed, the sick and dying, and others we pray for each week are all earth creatures in need of healing. If congregations can understand that, “According to the creation story in Genesis 1, this is what we are called to do: love God, love our neighbors, care for creation,”20 then every worship service can continue to point to our Christian vocation.

Final thoughts

The task before ministers, liturgists, and worship leaders is clear: humanity must be reconciled to the rest of the cosmos. As all creation continues to cry out in pain and brokenness due to human activity, our vocation is more urgent than ever before. But as we begin to be returned to our proper place in the cosmos, our senses restored to recognize creation’s brokenness, recognizing God dwelling in this very good earth, joining in the worship of the whole universe, and doing those things every week, we will come to perceive and join God’s work of healing and salvation for all the cosmos. Finally:

If God created the world as a place in which human life in inextricably woven into the rest of creation, then we need to make the natural world self-consciously an integral part of our worshiping experience. If worship means being restored to our proper place in the world in order to reorient us, to recall who we are, where we have come from, the things upon which we depend, and that for which we are responsible, then worship must be a celebration of all creation and a reorientation of ourselves to our proper place within it.21

Case Studies

As a Lutheran worship leader, I draw heavily from the hymnal and liturgical guide published by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. These case studies and the rest of this guide will reference material from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, or the ELW. However, the principles can be applied to other worship sources and resources from other denominations just as easily.

Prayers of Intercession

The prayers of intercession, or the prayers of the people, are a major part of reorienting the congregation toward creation as we intercede on creation’s behalf. Gradually, more of creation has been included in these petitions that are provided by the resource Sundays and Seasons (sundaysandseasons.com), so that at least one each week is geared toward the natural world. However, often these petitions subtly reinforce humanity’s dominance by praying that creation continue to benefit us and by excluding prayers for God’s restoring and healing power and focusing solely on humanity’s agency.

For example, prayers asking for blessing upon agriculture, hunting, or fishing are not intercessions on creation’s behalf for the sake of creation; they are intercessions that these parts of creation continue to be beneficially exploited by humanity. Similarly, prayers that humankind become better caretakers of this earth on which we live become prayers directed toward human agency as we clean up our own home so that we can continue to live in it.

For instance, look at the creation petition for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany in 2018:

For the earth and all living creatures, for those preparing fields for planting, and for favorable weather, that all of us who care for this life will find voice to help creation thrive, let us pray.22

While the beginning phrase “for the earth and all living creatures” turns us toward other created beings, and the phrase, “help creation thrive,” in a way can draw our attention to the parts of creation that are not thriving, the third and fourth principles are not realized. Since this genre of prayer has continued to be incorporated on most Sundays, it does continue every week. A different prayer could perhaps strengthen our reorientation for this single petition, as would a second petition specifically for human concerns as related to nature. For example:

Indwelling God, the earth is filled with your glory. We pray for the planet and all living creatures, especially creation in need of healing. Bring your power of redemption to the whole cosmos that all may continue to worship you.

And for humans:

God our provider, you have given humankind food and shelter on this earth. Bless those preparing fields for planting and provide favorable weather. Give us strength and courage to join your work of healing our common home.

Not every prayer each week needs to include all of the principles. However, the more principles that are included, the more a congregation can be turned toward the rest of creation. For example, while the prayer for the first Sunday in Lent for 2018 does not address the sacramental nature of creation or the ways creation worships God, it does turn those praying toward creation in a way that includes humankind in creation without placing humanity at the pinnacle:

“We pray for the world. For the well-being of both our own surroundings and of distant places. For favorable weather and sustaining rains. For creatures awakening from hibernation or beginning seasonal migrations. Provide safe habitats and abundant food for all. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer”23

One edit to make our place in creation even more clear would be to change “For the well-being of both our own surroundings and of distant places” to “For the well-being of all environments around the globe.”

One of the best prayers for creation in Evangelical Lutheran Worship can be found in the additional prayers section in the front of the hymnal. The prayer called Creation’s Praise centers creation’s worship and draws humanity into that praise without making the prayer all about humanity. While it might be tempting to read this prayer only on special celebrations, such as Earth Day or a season of creation, parts of this prayer can be adapted and used many times throughout the church year.

“Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, who in your self-emptying love gathered up and reconciled all creation to the Father. Innumerable galaxies of the heavens worship you. Creatures that grace the earth rejoice in you. All those in the deepest seas bow to you in adoration. As with them we give you praise, grant that we may cherish the earth, our home, and live in harmony with this good creation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”24

Eucharistic Prayer

Another large section of the liturgy that should be subjected to scrutiny and careful choices is the Eucharistic Prayer. There are several different options offered in the ELW, some used more than others. The first one offered is incredibly anthropocentric, to the point where it ignores the rest of creation altogether:

You are indeed holy, almighty and merciful God.

You are most holy,

and great is the majesty of your glory.

You so loved the world that you gave your only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him may not perish

but have eternal life.

We give you thanks for his coming into the world

to fulfill for us your holy will

and to accomplish all things for our salvation.

In the night in which he was betrayed,

our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks;

broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:

Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.

Do this for the remembrance of me.

Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks,

and gave it for all to drink, saying:

This cup is the new covenant in my blood,

shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.

Do this for the remembrance of me.

For as often as we eat of this bread and drink from this cup,

we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Remembering, therefore, his salutary command,

his life-giving passion and death, his glorious resurrection and ascension,

and the promise of his coming again,

we give thanks to you, O Lord God Almighty,

not as we ought but as we are able;

we ask you mercifully to accept our praise and thanksgiving

and with your Word and Holy Spirit to bless us, your servants,

and these your own gifts of bread and wine,

so that we and all who share in the body and blood of Christ

may be filled with heavenly blessing and grace,

and, receiving the forgiveness of sin,

may be formed to live as your holy people

and be given our inheritance with all your saints.

To you, O God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

be all honor and glory in your holy church, now and forever.

Amen, amen, amen.25

The phrase, “We give you thanks for his coming into the world to fulfill for us your holy will and to accomplish all things for our salvation,” ignores the redemption of the cosmos and focuses on humanity’s salvation. As it asks, “that we and all who share in the body and blood of Christ may be filled with heavenly blessing and grace, and, receiving the forgiveness of sin, may be formed to live as your holy people,” this prayer’s praise and petitions are all focused on the congregation’s relationship with God to the exclusion of all else. This Eucharistic prayer orients the congregation toward God and the rest of the assembly, but not toward the needy or the rest of creation. It doesn’t acknowledge the cries of creation, admit to the sacramental nature of creation or join us to the liturgical life of creation. This prayer – in some ways the apex of the service – can play a pivotal role in reconciling people to the cosmos if some of these principles are incorporated.

Different liturgical seasons offer slightly more ecological guidance. The Eucharistic prayer offered for the season of Advent and Christmas begins:

Holy One, the beginning and the end, the giver of life:

Blessed are you for the birth of creation.

Blessed are you in the darkness and in the light.

Blessed are you for your promise to your people.

Blessed are you in the prophets’ hopes and dreams.

Blessed are you for Mary’s openness to your will.

Blessed are you for your Son Jesus,

the Word made flesh.26

By adding a blessing for the birth of creation and in darkness and light, this prayer orients us toward other species. However, the line, “Blessed are you for your promise to your people,” ignores God’s covenant with all creation in the Flood Narrative and the way creation also participates in God’s work of redemption.

Another option offered in the ELW is the sixth prayer. It begins:

Holy God, mighty Lord,

gracious Father:

endless is your mercy

and eternal your reign.

You have filled all creation

with light and life;

heaven and earth are full of your glory.27

By referencing all creation and declaring that all creation is filled with God’s light and life, this prayer both points worshippers toward the cosmos and demonstrates the sacramental nature of creation. This is a good option for a eco-Eucharistic prayer during ordinary time. However, the best option is the seventh prayer in the ELW:

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal:

you we praise and glorify, you we worship and adore.

You formed the earth from chaos;

you encircled the globe with air;

you created fire for warmth and light;

you nourish the lands with water.

You molded us in your image,

and with mercy higher than the mountains,

with grace deeper than the seas,

you blessed the Israelites and cherished them as your own.

That also we, estranged and dying,

might be adopted to live in your Spirit,

you called to us through the life and death of Jesus.

In the night in which he was betrayed,

our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks;

broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:

Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.

Do this for the remembrance of me.

Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks,

and gave it for all to drink, saying:

This cup is the new covenant in my blood,

shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.

Do this for the remembrance of me.

Together as the body of Christ,

we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes:

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

With this bread and cup we remember your Son,

the first-born of your new creation.

We remember his life lived for others,

and his death and resurrection, which renews the face of the earth.

We await his coming,

when, with the world made perfect through your wisdom,

all our sins and sorrows will be no more.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Holy God, holy and merciful one, holy and compassionate,

send upon us and this meal your Holy Spirit,

whose breath revives us for life,

whose fire rouses us to love.

Enfold in your arms all who share this holy food.

Nurture in us the fruits of the Spirit,

that we may be a living tree, sharing your bounty with all the world.

Amen. Come, Holy Spirit.

Holy and benevolent God,

receive our praise and petitions,

as Jesus received the cry of the needy,

and fill us with your blessing,

until, needy no longer and bound to you in love,

we feast forever in the triumph of the Lamb:

through whom all glory and honor is yours, O God, O Living One,

with the Holy Spirit, in your holy church, now and forever.

Amen.28

The very beginning of this prayer alerts us to the fact that we are not the only ones in relationship with the Creator. By declaring, “You formed the earth from chaos; you encircled the globe with air; you created fire for warmth and light; you nourish the lands with water,” this prayer points us toward the entire cosmos as benefiting from and participating in God’s creative power. We are again reminded of our place as one species of created beings among many.

This prayer also opens our senses to the cries of creation by declaring, “We remember his life lived for others, and his death and resurrection, which renews the face of the earth.” Humans are not the only ones in need of healing and renewal. The entire cosmos cries out in brokenness, and in his resurrection Jesus brings wholeness to all creation.

This prayer could more strongly fulfill the third and fourth principles, but by asserting Jesus is “the first-born of all creation,” it points to the sacramental nature of creation. Jesus is present in all the earth and dwells with all creation. The prayer also alludes to creation’s worship by stating, “You molded us in your image, and with mercy higher than the mountains, with grace deeper than the seas, you blessed the Israelites and cherished them as your own.” However, both of these could be strengthened.

Finally, this Eucharist prayer, or one that is similar, could be prayed every week. It is a bit longer than some congregations are used to, so it could also be shortened to leave the most essential parts. Or different principles could be highlighted each week without necessarily demanding that all be present.

Other illustrations

Everything throughout the liturgy can be evaluated with the five guiding principles and altered to form congregations into witnesses for our fellow created beings. Following is a guide through a traditional service from the ELW with various changes to make the creation orientation more obvious.

Gathering

Confession and Forgiveness

If, as Lathrop says, the cardinal directions in our worship are God, each other, the needy, and creation, the rite of Confession and Forgiveness is sorely lacking in the final aspect. While it may be helpful to add a specific petition for forgiveness from our ecological sins, you may also simply recognize our shortcomings in the first prayer for forgiveness like thus: “We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves; we have not loved all Creation with the love of the Creator.”

Thanksgiving for Baptism

The Thanksgiving for Baptism is perfect place to bring in language that illustrates the five principles mentioned above. One way to open worshippers’ senses to perceive creation’s cries is through the practice of aspurging, or flinging water over the congregation. This tangible reminder of baptism can help draw us back into relationship with water. This is also a good point to have children be involved in the service. Another way to bring actual water into the sanctuary is to include prayers for the health of the local rivers, lakes, streams, oceans, or watershed.

The prayers throughout this rite can be adapted to include the gift of water and the way it brings forth life. Lathrop includes this prayer from the Common Book of Worship in his discussion of baptism: “At the beginning your Spirt was at work, brooding over the waters of creation’s birth, bringing forth life in all its fullness. Through the gift of water you nourish and sustain all living things. Glory to you forever and ever.” 29

If you use the traditional Thanksgiving for Baptism in the ELW, you can make small changes like adding all creatures to “Through the waters of the flood you delivered Noah and his family.”30 There were two of every animal but only eight humans on the ark, yet somehow we only recall God’s saving power toward humanity. In fact, the entire rite should be less human-centered, in recognition of water’s sustaining power for all Creation. It would be appropriate to add a beseeching prayer for the health of nearby waters, or for all water in the globe. “Perhaps even mountains and rivers and seas – even solar systems and galaxies – could enter our prayers. Baptism must not be about saving us from this company, but with this company.”31

Gathering Song

As we begin the gathering song, there are several options. All of them preference the well-being of humanity and exclude the rest of creation. Not all songs must be about the entire cosmos, but these songs are expansive, singing for peace for the entire world. If we have already included all human beings, not just the ones in our assembly, denomination, or faith, we might as well include all other species who worship God.

Slight adjustments to the lyrics may easily alter the song and continue to draw us back into relationship with all other created beings. This is easy in some settings where the Kyrie is chanted and thus more adaptable to changing lyrics, or in churches where the songs are printed in the bulletin instead of sung out of a hymnal. If you are a hymnal church and you do decide to permanently change the lyrics, consider printing a small booklet containing the service hymns with the alterations for each hymnal so that visitor may also participate.

Kyrie

Most of the Kyrie used in the ELW is fine, but the second line is problematic:

“For the peace from above, and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord.”32

The line, “for the peace from above,” continues the earth-Heaven dichotomy that has led many Christians to treat this planet as disposable. If God truly dwells in the earth, if the earth is filled with God’s glory, then God’s peace is present in, with, under, around, and throughout the entire cosmos. It is not just descending from above, but rising from the deeps, and spreading out from each created being. An amendment that could recognize this might sound like:

“For the peace of the Creator, for the well-being of the church of God…”

Hymn of Praise

The first option for a hymn of praise begins and ends with the phrase, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth.”33 This anthropocentric song ignores the worship that creation is already and constantly engaging in. An adaptation could potentially sound like, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to creation on earth.”

The second option, “This is the Feast,” includes the line, “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.”34 However, this language obscures the fact that God’s power of redemption is for the entire cosmos, and not just one species. A more accurate and rhythmically similar adaption looks something like, “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood redeems us and all creation.”

Word

Sermon

Preachers are often willing to preach on creation during a special Season of Creation or Earth Day service, but what about the rest of the year? As part of the ordo, sermons continue the work that the beginning of the service has already started. “Preaching means to bring us again to faith and so gift us again with the reoriented view of the world that belongs to the whole liturgy.”35 While not every sermon has to have creation as its sole focus, there are other ways of bringing in lessons from the Book of Nature. One of the easiest is to include stories of time spent in nature.

For a January term class in seminary, I visited Holden Village – a Lutheran retreat and renewal center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington – to learn how the seasons of the Church were tied to the seasons of creation. Over the course of this class, other students gave presentations about different aspects of the liturgy, especially focusing on the cycle of daily prayer. We explored these topics through mystagogy, using our own experiences, stories, and metaphors to dive deeply into sacramental theology.

Beginning many sessions with prompts and questions like, “Think about your favorite sunrise,” or “What is a memorable scent for you?” allowed us to pull from our own natural experiences to explore theological topics like Gospel canticles and incense. It also demonstrated that almost everyone has cherished and memorable stories of creation that can be told with only a few moments of thought. These stories, of our relationships with creation, can be brought into any sermon as we continue to be reoriented toward our non-human siblings.

Not every sermon must include some sort of personal testimony of a creation experience, but including stories of time in nature throughout the year allows worshipers to continue being reoriented during the preaching event. There are many opportunities for this sort of story – stories of being lost in a wilderness during Lent, stories of new birth or growing things in Easter, stories of things dying through Advent, stories of light and darkness in Christmas and Epiphany, and many more throughout ordinary time.

Meal

The Eucharistic prayer has already been discussed at length, but there are other adaptations that can be made to the rest of the sacrament to strengthen the reorientation toward creation.

Offering

For example, during the offering, if your community has a garden some of the produce can be brought forward with the bread and wine and money. Similarly, flowers, changing leaves, and other parts of nature’s praise like rocks or shells could also be brought up as a representation of what creation is offering God in praise.

Communion

As for the actual physical part of the meal, consider offering vegan bread so that those who do not consume animal products can still partake. There are many excellent recipes online to guide you, and many are also gluten-free.

Conclusion

This guide is not intended to be the definitive answer on how to incorporate love for the earth into the liturgy, but merely the beginning of a conversation. The Holy Spirit will guide each community in their own respective contexts as to how we modify our worship to transform congregations into witnesses for all creation. Lathrop asks, “…does that assembly invite us to see the place on which we meet – and the earth all around the meeting – as holy ground? Do the stories we tell, the meals we eat, the rituals we keep, engage us in caring for the earth with which we live? Or not?”36

My hope and prayer for all worshipping communities is that they will be invited to know the place in which they meet – indeed, the entire earth – as holy ground, as they become reconciled to the rest of the created cosmos. As we are reoriented towards creation, sensing creation’s cries, being drawn to creation’s sacramental nature, joining creation in worship, and doing these things constantly, we will join God’s work of healing and salvation for the entire universe.

Bibliography

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Leaders Desk Edition. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006.

Habel, Norman C., Rhoads, David, and Santmire, H. Paul, ed. The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.

Johnson, Elizabeth. “Heaven and Earth Are Filled with Your Glory” in Finding God in All Things: Essays in Honor of Michael J. Buckley, S.J. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996.

Lathrop Gordon. Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

Liturgical Commission of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. The Orthodox Liturgy: The Greek Text of the Ecumenical Patriachate with a translation into English. Garwood, New Jersey: Graphic Arts Press, 1974.

Luther, Martin., ed. Jaroslav Pelikan. Luther’s Works Volume 1: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 1-5. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House,1958.

Nash, James. Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity and the CristianResponsibility. Nashville: Abingdon; in cooperation with The Church’s Center for Theology and Public Policy, Washington D.C., 1991.

Santmire, H. Paul. Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

Stewart, Benjamin M. A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2011.

“Sunday, February 4, 2018: Fifth Sunday after Epiphany/Lectionary 5,” Sundays and Seasons, accessed February 14, 2018,https://members.sundaysandseasons.com/Home/TextsAndResources ?date=2018-2&eventDateId=0#texts.

“Sunday, February 18, 2018: First Sunday in Lent,” Sundays and Seasons, accessed February 14, 2018, https://members.sundaysandseasons.com/Home/TextsAndResources/2018-2-18/0#texts.

Endnotes

1 Gordon Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009) 135.

2 Ibid., 146.

3 James Nash, Loving Nature: Ecological integrity and the Cristian Responsibility (Nashville: Abingdon; in cooperation with The Church’s Center for Theology and Public Policy, Washington D.C., 1991), 133.

4 Norman C. Habel, David Rhoads, and H. Paul Santmire, ed., The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 20.

5 H. Paul Santmire, Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 89.

6 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 17.

7 Lathrop, Holy Ground, 58-59.

8 Ibid., 63.

9 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 5.

10 Benjamin M. Stewart, A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2011), 10.

11 Liturgical Commission of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, The Orthodox Liturgy: The Greek Text of the Ecumenical Patriachate with a translation into English (Garwood, New Jersey: Graphic Arts Press, 1974), 25, 27, 71.

12 Lathrop, Holy Ground, 4.

13 Martin Luther, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, Luther’s Works Volume 1: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 1-5 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), 248.

14 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 45.

15 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 39.

16 Stewart, A Watered Garden, 52.

17 Elizabeth Johnson “Heaven and Earth Are Filled with Your Glory” in Finding God in All Things: Essays in Honor of Michael J. Buckley, S.J. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996), 93.

18 Stewart, A Watered Garden, 18.

19 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 4.

20 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 19.

21 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 18.

22 “Sunday, February 4, 2018: Fifth Sunday after Epiphany/Lectionary 5,” Sundays and Seasons, accessed February 14, 2018, https://members.sundaysandseasons.com/Home/TextsAndResources?date=2018-2&eventDateId=0#texts.

23 “Sunday, February 18, 2018: First Sunday in Lent,” Sundays and Seasons, accessed February 14, 2018, https://members.sundaysandseasons.com/Home/TextsAndResources/2018-2-18/0#texts.

24 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Leaders Desk Edition (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 152. (Hereafter cited as ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE)

25 ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE, 194-195.

26 ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE, 196.

27 Ibid., 199.

28 ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE, 200-201.

29 “Thanksgiving over the Water”, Book of Common Worship (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 422. As cited in Holy Ground 104.

30 ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE, 169.

31 Lathrop, Holy Ground, 113.

32 ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE, 170.

33 Ibid., 171.

34 Ibid., 173.

35 Lathrop, Holy Ground, 204.

36 Lathrop, Holy Ground, 125.

Litany for our Personal Covenant with Creation

L: For the marvelous grace of your Creation, we pour out our thanks to You, our God.

C: We praise you, O Lord
for plants growing in earth and water,
for life inhabiting lakes and seas,
for life creeping in soils and land,
for creatures living in wetlands and waters,
for life flying above earth and sea,
for animals dwelling in woods and fields.

L: How many and wonderful are your works, our God! In wisdom you have made them all!

C: But we confess, dear Lord,
As creatures privileged with care and keeping of Your Creation that we have abused Your Creation gifts through arrogance, ignorance, and greed.
We confess, Lord, that we often are unaware of how deeply we have hurt Your good earth and its marvelous gifts.
We confess that we are often unaware of how our abuse of creation has also been an abuse of ourselves.
For our wrongs, Lord, we ask forgiveness. We offer our repentance. We promise to reverence Your Creation as a gracious gift entrusted to us by You, our God. We promise anew to be stewards and not pillagers of what You have entrusted to us. We offer our covenant with creation to pledge our commitment to care for Your good Earth.

L: Creator God,
You have given us every reason to learn and promote this wisdom of lives lived in harmony with Creation. May You daily be present with us, gracing our service, our loving, our striving, through Christ Jesus, our Lord.

C: Amen

 

 

Season of Creation Commentary Archive (Years A, B, and C)

The First Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year B: Planet Earth Sunday (by Rob Saler) “Creation bears enduring testimony to God’s goodness.”
 
The Second Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year B: Humanity Sunday (by Rob Saler). “We are most fully human when we care for creation with humility.”
 
The Third Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year B: Sky Sunday (by Rob Saler) Scripture enjoins us to care for earth, sky, and sea as “the commons” we share together.
 
The Fourth Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year B: Mountain Sunday (by Rob Saler) Scripture changes how we view mountains. 
 
The Season of Creation in Year B: Saint Francis Sunday (by Rob Saler) Jesus and St. Frances showed deep tenderness towards creation and passionate advocacy against injustice.
 
YEAR C
 
Commentary on lessons for the Season of Creation in Year C (by Leah Schade)
The First Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Ocean Sunday.  Wisdom teaches that what God has gathered up in Christ, we humans should make healthy, free from toxins, cleaned of trash, and restored to abundance.
The Second Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Fauna Sunday. Wisdom leads us to change our relationships with our animal brothers and sisters in God’s creation.
The Third Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Storm Sunday. Finding the peace of God in the storm, we are called wake up to the storms we have created.
The Fourth Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Universe Sunday. There is one Wisdom, one Beauty, one Mind that flows through the universe.
For additional resources for the Season of Creation visit www.letallcreationpraise.org.

Worship as Reflection of our Care for Creation

Green the Congregation through Worship 
Reflections and Ideas by David Rhoads

Worship is the central recurring event in the life of a Christian community. Worship is a ritual. In ritual, we participate by immersion in a communal process that changes us by placing us in right relationship with God and with our fellow human beings. Worship is also an event. The call to worship, the proclamation of the Word, and the offer of Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine are actions of God that generate changes in our lives. They are events by which we as a church are transformed and renewed.

It is in the gathered community at worship that we celebrate our life together and affirm our identity as children of God and followers of Jesus. Worship is the place where we can be transformed anew each week as we seek to return from the struggles and vicissitudes of life in the world to restore our spiritual and moral rooted-ness in the life of God. Worship is also a central place where we articulate our fundamental beliefs and values. Therefore our love of God’s creation and our commitment to care for God’s creation should play an integral role in our worship life.

Worship as Re-Orientation .

One way to look at worship is to say that it is the place where we can express with the larger community the Christian life we have nurtured at home and work throughout the week. Another way to look at worship is to say that it is about reinstating our proper place in relation to God, ourselves, and other people when we have had difficulty maintaining these relationships through the week. It is like being lost in the woods and then stopping to orientate ourselves to the directions by means of a compass and our nearness to the edge of the forest—and then finding our way home. It is like being lost at sea and then stopping to locate ourselves from the stars in the sky so that we know where we really are—and then returning to solid ground. It is like using a global positioning locator to know just where we are in relation to everything else—and then being moved into the right position. Worship is a matter of getting/keeping our bearings and being situated in our rightful place in the universe. In this process, it is important to emphasize that it is not we ourselves who get our bearings. Rather, we put ourselves into a position to allow God to give us our bearings, to restore us to our rightful relationships.

Restoring relationships with God and one another : Through the rituals and events of worship, we find ourselves restored to right relationships. Through worship we are oriented to wholeness and our true purpose in life by being brought back into proper relationship with God, ourselves, and others. For example, by praise of God, we restore God to God’s rightful place in our lives as the one who created and sustains us. By thanksgiving, we recognize our human dependence on God for life and health. By confession and forgiveness, we seek to overcome our self-alienation and the brokenness of our relationships. By hearing the word of grace and challenge, we rediscover a proper sense of direction and our purpose in life. Through the offering, we give ourselves and our resources to this renewed vocation. Through prayer, we express a longing for all people who are lost or broken to be restored to a place of wholeness in relationship. By communing together, we return from alienation to a harmonious connection with others of the human community. With a blessing and a benediction, we go out with a renewed sense of who we are, where we are, and where we are going. We have become orientated. We have found our bearings, and we have reaffirmed who we truly are and whose we truly are—and, in so doing, we have found our home, our place of belonging in the world. Of course, it is our responsibility to seek to remain in these relationship from communal worship to communal worship.

 Restoring our Relationship with nature . Unfortunately, our restoration/reorientation to place often leaves out an important and, indeed, crucial relationship. We reorient to God, self, and others, but often without restoring our relationship to nature. Yet nature is the web of life out of which we have come and where we will go. Nature is the inextricable matrix in which we live and move and have our being. We are a part of nature. Along with all other living beings and non-living things, we are nature. And if we are out of sorts with the rest of nature, if we are displaced from harmony with the creation of which we are such an integral part, if we are sinning against the natural world from which we ourselves have emerged, then we cannot fully find our bearings or our place.

If God created the world as a place in relation to which human life is inextricably woven, then we need to make the whole natural world an integral and important part of our worshipping experience. If worship is restoring ourselves to our proper place in the world—to recall who we are, where we have come from, the things upon which we depend, and that for which we are responsible—then worship must be a celebration of all life and an orienting of ourselves to our proper place within it. Nature can and should be such a fundamental dimension of the Christian life that we reflect the triad: Love God, Love your neighbor as yourself, and Care for creation.

Worshiping with Nature . To be fully into right relationship, we are called not only to restore our relationship with nature, but also to experience our solidarity with nature in relationship with God. That is, we humans are to worship and praise God with nature. Remember that the Psalms call for the hills to clap their hands and the trees to shout praises, along with animals and sea creatures, the seas and the soils, the trees and the grain—thus calling: “All creation, praise the Lord.” Hence, we can think about nature as our partners in worship. Nature itself is part of our worshiping community. It is important then that we are both in nature and with nature in our worship.

Outdoor worship at Camp Calumet in Freedom NH

Worship as Counter-Cultural . Restoration to relationship with God, others, and nature is not the same as accommodation or assimilation into the society and culture around us. In fact, it may be quite the opposite. Reconciled relationships with God will orient us to values, actions, and structures that may go against the grain of the world around us. Reconciled relationships will place us in an alternative community that reflects the vision of God for human life. Reconciled relationships with others may set us at odds with the injustices, oppression, neglect, and discrimination of groups and individuals not sharing the values of the church. Similarly, reorienting ourselves to love of nature and care for creation may lead us to resist and oppose the practices of local and national government, businesses, corporations, and others who may contribute to the flagrant degradation of Earth’s natural systems and life. Worship can be quite radical in its call for discipleship. Worship can be subversive of the culture and an expression of counter-cultural thinking and acting. It can lead us to advocate for public policies and laws that foster love of neighbor and care for creation. At the same time, our re-orientation in worship may lead us to affirm many movements and actions in the culture that further the values and behavior fostered by our Christian way of being in the world.

Care for Creation in Worship.

There are many ways in which we can enhance our experience of nature, our connectedness to it, our solidarity with it, and our advocacy for it. It is helpful to think about the elements of worship and the seasons of the church year as contexts for incorporating care for creation. Following here are some reflections about this process.

Elements of Worship . The rituals of worship can integrate the place of all God’s creation with every part of worship and thus help to restore us fully to our place of health and wholeness.

  • Invoking the Presence of God: We can name not just the church but the whole of creation as the sanctuary wherein we worship. “The whole earth is full of God’s glory.”
  • Call to Worship: We can call to worship not only the human community but also we can invoke all creation as part of the worshiping community.
  • Praise: In worship we can celebrate the wonder of creation and marvel at God’s handiwork. We can praise the God who created the blue jay and the raccoon, the poplar and the gardenias, the mountain spring water and the rich soil of the field. There are many Psalms that celebrate creation. These Psalms also invoke the praise of all creation in worship of God.
  • Thanksgiving: We can give thanks for the air we breathe and for the water we drink and for the provision of food—and for the beauty and majesty of it all. We can give thanks for the whole of nature upon which humans depend. We can delight in all plants and all creatures for their own sake. We dare not take the rest of nature for granted.
  • Hymns: We can include hymns that express praise for God the creator and our relationship to the rest of nature. There are many traditional hymns as well as new hymns and hymnals that deal with the love of nature.
  • Litanies of confession: We can confess the greed and indifference by which we humans have despoiled and exploited the earth and other human members of earth community. We can incorporate into our litanies some specific confessions concerning our pollution of water, our defiling of the air, our arrogant use of creation without respect and limitations.
  • Litanies of concern: these can always include expressions of our longing for creation to thrive, as surely as we pray for peace among human creatures.
  • Declaration of Forgiveness: We can seek pardon for our violation of the hills through mining or our degradation of the air and water through pollution or our threat to the ozone layer and to the species whose survival is uncertain because of our human actions or for the human contributions to the global warming that may change the cycles of nature upon which we have come to depend. We can acknowledge how our actions have affected vulnerable human communities. Forgiveness can free us to act out of compassion rather than guilt.
  • Scripture Reading and Preaching: Through the Word proclaimed, we can announce the love of God for creation, the grace that God offers, and the mandates that God gives as means to address the eco-justice problems of our age. We can see the human harm we do when we exploit the earth, we can be reminded of the common graces of nature, and we can be summoned to the challenge to care for the Earth.
  • Prayer and Petition: We can pray for the capacity for all God’s creatures to thrive together on earth. We can intercede for endangered species, threatened eco-systems, and changing global conditions. We can grieve nature’s losses and destruction. And we can pray for the courage and wisdom to act.
  • Offering: In the offering, we can offer ourselves to the care and redemption of all that God has made—as agents of God to be guardians of nature, stewards of its resources, lovers of life, earth-keepers, and caretakers of the land.
  • Blessing: We can go out from worship with a blessing to till and tend this garden Earth on which we “live and move and have our being.”
  • Hence, in order for us to be truly oriented by our worship, we can incorporate love for, celebration of, concern for, prayer for, and a commitment to care for all creation into each dimension of worship. If worship is a transformation restoring us to wholeness by restoring our proper relationships in life, then our relationship with the rest of nature needs to be an integral part of that power of worship to change us.

Care for Creation in the Seasons and Days of the Church Year. Also, each season of the year lends itself to the thematic development of our relationship with all creation:

  • Advent Season : all creation groans together as we await redemption and restoration of all of life. Advent is a time to repent in preparation for a new age in which the leaves of the trees will be “a healing for the nations.”
  • Epiphany Season : here we celebrate the manifestation and glory of God not only in the arrival of the Christ child but also in the light and glory present in the whole natural order of life.
  • Lenten Season : During Lent, we recognize our complicity in sin, not only in relation to one another but also in our individual and corporate actions that have degraded the rest of nature. We grieve the losses to God’s creation and reflect on the sacrifices we can make to stop our sins against creation.
  • Easter Season : We celebrate the resurrection of human life and envision the restoration/ regeneration of all of life.
  • Pentecost Season : We reflect on the spiritual wisdom we need and the actions we can take—as individuals, as congregations, and as a society—to live a life in which all human and non-human creation can thrive together.
  • Season of Creation : We focus on God as creator and the wonders of creation, all designed to help us love creation as God does and commit ourselves to care for it.
  • Special Days . here are many special occasions in the year when it is especially appropriate that care for creation becomes the focus of the whole service, such St. Francis Day and Rogation Day. There are also days in the life of the US culture for celebrating creation, such as Thanksgiving Day and Earth Day Sunday. Special services might include a Blessing of the Animals, a tree planting ceremony, the greening of the cross, among others.

In all of these seasons and days, there is the opportunity to include all of God’s creation in our observances and celebrations. Seasonal decorations, banners, and sayings can keep this message before the congregation throughout the year. Furthermore, w e can enhance the experience of worship to bringing nature into the sanctuary: worship outside, place greenery/flowering plants into the church, give people seeds or seedlings to plant, decorate the sanctuary with natural art, and opening the sanctuary to natural light through windows and skylights. In all these ways, we can create an ethos in the congregation that will pervade worship with a care for creation and an experience of nature itself. .

Sacraments.

The sacraments are occasions to reflect on human relationships with the rest of creation. Different Christian communities recognize different sacraments. We will reflect here on the two most common sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The presence of an element of nature and the pronouncement of a word in relation to the offer of the element of nature assure us that the reality of Christ/God will be present in, with, and under the elements and the whole event, so that they are sacramental—capable of bearing the holiness and grace of God into our lives so as to transform us.

We often focus on the symbolic meaning of the elements used in sacraments: water, bread, and wine. But in the context of our concern for the environment, we can focus on the elements themselves. Notice how the status of grapes and grain and water as vehicles of the divine can in turn serve to give meaning to and to enhance our experience of these tangible realities of life for their own sake. For example, as a Eucharist or “thanksgiving,” Holy Communion can be an opportunity to express gratitude for all the natural order that sustains life at a material (and a spiritual) level, leading us to delight anew in the creation. To see the natural elements of both sacraments—water, grain, and grapes—as vehicles of grace is to realize that the finite can indeed bear of the infinite to us. This in itself elevates the goodness of nature as worthy and capable of being the means by which we establish a relationship with God and by which God establishes a relationship with us.

Baptism . Traditionally, baptism involves water for cleansing and for judgment or it symbolizes death and resurrection. However, what about also exploring the richness of the symbol of water in new ways in light of our contemporary knowledge and experience of water? We now know that water is the primordial context out of which life emerged and evolved to its present state. Why not connect this with the new creation at baptism? If baptism symbolizes a new beginning to life, then we can reflect on the new beginning to humanity that comes by immersing ourselves in water—so that we can, in a sense, re-emerge from water as a renewed humanity or as renewed life in all its manifestations—and in solidarity with all the life forms that led to human evolution.

Or could we not emphasize how vital water is to life—how our bodies are 90% water and we cannot live long without it? In this way, the water of life in baptism reinforces our gratitude for the water upon which we depend for life and health. Or baptism may remind us of how tragic it is to consider being baptized by water that is polluted rather than the pure living water that God created. Such a connection could lead us to see anew our vocation as baptized people to preserve clean water on the Earth. Or by baptism in water, we may acknowledge how much of the whole earth is comprised of water. In this way, the very fact that we are declared a child of God by immersion into nature itself can serve to get us in touch with our em-beddedness in nature as human beings. In all these ways we may re-connect the water of baptism to the water around us in nature.

The Lord’s Supper . The sacrament of Holy Communion is another opportunity to realize how integral is our humanity is embedded in nature. In the Eucharist, we are using natural fruits of Earth as a vehicle for God’s presence: wine from grapes and bread from grain. But it is more than that. Grapes grow from the vine that brings it forth, the ingredients of the soil, the water that nourishes the soil, the beetles that aerate the soil, the sun that shines on the plants, the air that surrounds the plant—and the composition and the combination of these elements is unique to the particular area or region where the grapes are being raised. Add to these factors the wood from the trees used to make the barrels in which the wine was stored and the ingredients employed as fermenting agents. We can reflect in a similar way on the bread used for communion. Some congregations use organically-grown, whole grain bread. Some congregations use bread made of multiple grains originating from several continents. In these ways, the elements of the Eucharist get us in touch with all of nature.

In addition, the Eucharist is connected to all of life in another way. It is a reminder of the death of Jesus, a recollection that all of life is a cycle of living and dying and resurrection. This is not to reduce the particularity of Christ’s death or the efficacy of it for salvation to the processes of nature. Rather, it is simply to recognize that the death of Jesus is an analog to the natural order in which death gives birth to life. The deaths of trees and other plants and the death of animals over the life span of the planet have made the earth into a great store of energy and one great compost heap that is the source of life and energy today.

The Sacramental Presence of God/Christ everywhere . Finally, it is important to observe that the elements of the sacraments are “common” elements of life—elements of food upon which we depend for life—assuring us that if God can be present in and through such common elements as bread and wine, then surely God is present to us everywhere in life. What difference does it make to our view of the daily food we eat and the daily drinks we drink knowing that bread and wine are sacramental? What difference does it make to our experience of water and soil and air, knowing that water is sacramental? The Eucharist is meant not only to lead us to experience the particularity of its symbolic meaning in the communion meal. It also leads us to think differently about all common elements of life—in such a way that our common experiences of them also become sacramental. That is, all elements of nature may convey for us the grace of God, that dearest freshness that lies deep down all things. As Martin Luther wrote, “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

When we see all of life as sacramental, it changes our relationship to and our responsibility for creation—concern for pure water, our desire not to waste food, the problems with pesticides on grain and grapes, and a host of other ecological problems to which humans have contributed. We re-dedicate ourselves in worship to stop our actions that degrade nature and to find ways to restore God’s creation.

Pastor Susan Henry, House of Prayer-Hingham Mass.

Preaching the Word.

Whether following a lectionary system or doing thematic preaching, here are some subjects that could and probably should be included in preaching: Human responsibility to care for the earth; Our proper human role/place in relation to the rest of creation; Our human degradation of creation; Reasons why we fail in our responsibility to care for creation; Reasons why we ought to care and act on our convictions; The inter-relationship between human justice and environmental problems; The scriptural connection between human sin and the languishing of Earth; Celebration of God as creator; Celebration of all of life for its own sake; The extent of human dependency on life around us; Gratitude for life; Exploration of Christian symbols that are rooted in nature; Connecting the sacraments to the realm of nature; New ways of thinking about God that foster our change of attitude and action; Proclamation of God’s enduring grace in and through creation; The extension of the efficacy of Christ’s death and resurrection to all life.

Personal Devotions .

It is important for Christians to incorporate their relationship with nature not only into corporate worship but also into their private devotional worship. We cannot depend on worship alone to rescue us each week from the fractured relationships that result from the vicissitudes of life. Rather, we are called to nurture and maintain our love of God, our love for others, and our care for creation on a daily basis. There are many resources available—devotional books, collections of prayers, poetry, selected scripture passages, exercises and experiences, among others—that can give our community members a daily experience of closeness to nature, the nourishments of its common graces, and the sense of responsibility for it that are so important in the world today.

Conclusion .

In order for us to be truly reoriented/confirmed by our worship, we should incorporate love for, celebration of, concern for, prayer for, and a commitment to care for all creation into every dimension of our worshipping experience. If worship is a transformation restoring us to wholeness by restoring and securing our proper relationships in life, then our relationship with the rest of nature needs to be an integral part of that power of worship to change us. Just as we cannot imagine worship without praise of God or prayer for those in need, so too we should not be able to imagine worship without expressions of our love for and our commitment to care for God’s creation.

By immersion and by osmosis, the weekly connection with nature through words and symbols and ritual actions and the presence of nature itself in and around the sanctuary will work a salutary effect on the worshipping community. A transformation can occur that leads people to see our profound connection with all God’s creation and that enables people to come to a place of renewed gratitude for nature and a sense of responsibility to care for creation as part of our vocation as humans and as God’s people.

Season of Creation: Focusing Worship on God as Creator

We offer creation focused commentaries for every week and lectionary cycle, but what about taking a step back and spend a whole season focused on God the Creator? The Season of Creation started in the 1990’s and has multiple expressions.  It is typically celebrated from the beginning of September until October 4th (St. Francis of Assisi Day).  For a specifically Lutheran take, check out this reading .  For a variety of ways to bring this to your church peruse the options below.  If you decide to recognize this season on your ELCA congregation please let us know so we can learn from your experience!
For resources from our ecumenical sister site, LetAllCreationPraise.org :

Ecumenical resources for the Season of Creation – Also Spanish translations!

Find some materials to watch/share with your council to describe the Season of Creation and how it is critical to our faith journey: Explore our YouTube Channel’s (see playlists). 

The Catholic Climate Covenant has a global perspective with inspirational events across the globe:  seasonofcreation.org