Sunday’s Comin’ (Safiyah Fosua)

I am writing this blog post in the shadow of the bombings at the Boston Marathon today.  I had planned to write a different blog post but I am forced by circumstances to ask the question:  will we have forgotten the tremendous horror and suffering of our neighbors in the East by the time that Sunday worship comes?  By this, I mean will the bombings receive more than a sentence of the pastoral prayer as we rush to the happy clappy music that we have grown to love or will we sit in the ashes with them to grieve and pray – even for just a little while?

I was pastoring a church in Asbury Park, NJ when the planes of 9/11 changed the way that we relate to one another. We only had to drive a few miles up the coast to see and smell the flames that burnt for weeks; every conversation with pastors of neighboring churches revealed new levels of loss and pain.  Since much of the Jersey shore was a bedroom community for New York City, the losses were surprising:  church members who worked in the WTC building, sons and daughters of the area churches who worked as support staff in the massive high-rise.  One church lost most of its administrative council on that fateful day!   Those of us who were so close to New York, who had lost someone from our families or social networks, sat in pain and sorrow for months.  In downtown New York City, pastors experienced on-the-job training in helping the community (not just their members) work through grief and loss. My church was 75 miles away.  Ironically, as close as we were to the epicenter of the wave of pain that swept across the region, pastors found it difficult to allow the grief, and the questions that were undoubtedly directed at God, to come to church!  Once phone service was restored and we were able to talk to our friends across the country, we were saddened to learn that in many churches, our grief had been reduced to a footnote in the morning prayer. A few hundred miles and a Sunday or two removed, it was back to happy clappy as though nothing had happened!

As bombs and violence continue to break out in the most unlikely places, it has become “normal” for us to become desensitized to their impact. Sadly, it has also become normal for us to draw into the safety of family and close-friend circles while scanning our surroundings for potential (or imagined) danger.  The unintended consequences of needing to play it safe, is that we have so “contracted”  or drawn into safe places, that the arms of hospitality, friendship, neighborliness, and concern for people everywhere have also shortened.  To the extent that we may not have recognized that when Boston was bombed, our neighbors were bombed too!

Yet, the issue, I raise about today’s bombings and Sunday’s worship is more than sociological. I believe it to be more than our not recognizing our neighbors because we are so drawn into ourselves.  I propose that worship reveals both the community’s affirmation of faith and theological stance. Retired Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, often talks about the need for lament in the life of a congregation.  When things are not well with our souls, he encourages, this is the time to vary the order of worship and allow the entire community to engage in a time of a lament.  There are several examples of this in Old Testament life.

We have so many neighbors standing in the need of prayer.  On any given day, we are reminded of neighbors who have been flooded or quaked, bombed or shot, snowed in or displaced or challenged beyond their strength in any number of ways – the most recent being this tragedy in Boston!  What might happen if hundreds of churches across the continent and places beyond abandoned the order of worship in favor of a call to fervent prayer?  What would it be like to have an entire service devoted to intercession for those who grieve and for those who have been wounded in the process of just trying to live?  What would it look like to transform so many praise houses into houses of prayer?

Sunday’s comin,’ and though the evening news will have moved on to something else of interest, our neighbors out East won’t be able to move on for some time.  You still have time to make a few changes in the order of worship.

  • Safiya, that’s well stated. We are members of a much larger community, and we mourn with those who mourn. My hope is that we will do that for brothers and sisters in Boston–and also around the world. Christians are also suffering in Pakistan, Egypt, and Syria right now. Let’s remember them as well.

  • Wonderful and thoughtful message . you just changed my order of worship for Sunday . Thank you. Weeping prophets, unite.

  • Pingback: Boston Is My Neighbor | IWU Spectrum | News and events in the IWU Community()

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  • Ouch! Safiyah, You’ve just preached to my most inward being this morning. For the next 72 hours, I’ll be asking the Master to order my steps. I will seek out some appropriate scriptures, music and theme for Sunday order of worship; if you could share some liturgy (such as call to worship, prayer of confession, etc) I have bookmark this page. And I agree with my brother Lawrence. Until then Shalom to you my friend!.

    • Brother Caesar, I have just jotted down a few words of prayer. I hope these will help fuel your own thoughts.

      Gracious God, we confess that we often pray with our eyes shut
      Lest we really see those around us
      Lest something be required of us
      Beyond this weekly hour.
      We confess that we often pray with our eyes shut
      and our ears stopped up and closed
      Lest we become occupied with their grief.
      But Lord, you see and you hear the cries of your people everywhere
      and we believe that sometimes you weep.
      You are attentive to both our joys and our sorrows
      and care about each one of us.
      So, we dare to ask that you open our eyes,
      Unstop our hearts
      That we might hear the sound of your weeping
      with those who suffer.
      [Silence for individual prayers, time may be concluded with one chorus of a prayer song like “Lord, Listen to your Children Praying,” or another suitable meditative song.]
      Lord, God, we recognize that we do not live in this world alone. We are surrounded by people created in your image, on every continent, of every nation tribe and tongue. As we lie on beds of ease, people around the corner from us are suffering. People around the globe from us are working all day for a scoop of rice, a bowl of porrige or a crust of bread, and while we slept many agonized and wished that their days were numbered.
      [could ask people to pray this in unison]
      Forgive us Lord, for the times when we have been too preoccupied with ourselves to hear you just asking us to pray. Forgive us Lord, when we are too occupied with our to-do list to volunteer help in some way.
      Forgive us Lord, when we are too occupied with our wish-list to give.
      [leader resumes]
      Free us, Lord!
      Unbind us from captivity to ourselves and our favorites so that we might open our arms and our hearts to both strangers and friends and share your love with all within our reach. Amen.

      • Thank You Sister Safiyah, I praise God for you and your ministry – you always come through. Because this confession is posted here, I believe it to be in domain; do I have your permission to place this prayer of confession on my facebook page with proper footnote or credit? Wow! this is soooo deep confessing. Again, thanks and Shalom to you my friend.

  • Well said, thank for sharing. Two of the most powerful words in Scripture, in my opinion, are “Jesus wept”. To know that our Savior grieves when we grieve is extremely comforting. In the same way we should also grieve with our brothers and sisters. Thank you for reminding us of this.

  • Safiyah, really thoughtful and powerful words—your work always speaks to the core of my being! I read the blog twice–last night and again today. Thank you for the reminder that we are called to be Intercessors on behalf of our City, nation and the
    world. We, the Church, have a responsibility to especially, pray for the peace and wellness of our communities where we are appointed. We are definitely taking a second look at our Order of Worship for Sunday. Bless you!

  • Thank you, Safiyah. Well said.

  • Jeanette Pinkston Jackson

    A very powerful and thought-provoking, Safiyah!

  • Pastor Lois

    I think part of the issue here is that around the country and world, there were reports of even more violence and death and things to care about and pray for. For some, it is a matter of “how do we address all of it?” Not only the Boston bombings, but the tragedy and loss of life in the explosion at the fertilizer factory and in acts of Syrian violence; anti-government protests in Bahrain, 20 million people facing starvation in the Sahel region, earthquakes, political infighting that affects jobs and futures of millions of people …. you get the idea. The Boston tragedy and its victims and perpetrators will be prayed for today in my worship service, but so will many others. To chastise “the rest of us” prior to Sunday for the choices we may or may not make in what we will or will not address in our churches today shows a lack of compassion for other tragedies that may be present in each setting. Some don’t hit the major news outlets, some do.

  • Reverend MAG

    Dr Safiyah-I am so guilty and I have come to this corner of the world to examine myself. On the Monday of the incident, I had already planned to incorporate a specific prayer for both the suspects and victims — on the following Sunday, I had forgotten, already. Lamenting… Marilyn Gill

  • Concerned Preacher

    I think the reason some of us seam unconcerned is that some of our Churches are located in war zones… Just to show you how crazy the conversation gets… When I ask for prayer for those in Boston… People say what about Chicago…Where Blacks are dying in epidemic proportion. Indianapolis will be there if we do not do something about it. I have been praying for the church of Acts to manifest itself here on earth. We need the power and presence of the HOLY SPIRIT NOW… I am tired of bumping into 24yr old youth who have never been inside anybody’s Church… I hope we have not become un-concerned Christians… My grandson who is fourteen on his own asked me if I would pick him up for bible study every Wednesday… Maybe there is hope…